Keeping our feet on the ground: the message comes loud and clear from Luca Montezemolo, just two days after the triumph in Sakhir. Meeting with the technicians from Maranello during the post-race briefing, the president wanted to offer his congratulations once again.
"I don't forget where we were last November in Abu Dhabi. We have a well-built car, and we've started on the right foot; now we need to look ahead and stay grounded, working with humility and determination. The future of the championship depends on us".
After the meeting, a brief celebration takes place, effectively concluding the Bahrain campaign and opening the one in Melbourne. There are no particular regulatory changes expected for the Australian Grand Prix, despite pressure from various quarters to introduce elements that would make the races more exciting (the most popular suggestion being mandatory two pit stops). Bernie Ecclestone says:
"Let's not panic. Reacting impulsively won't help. Let's talk about it after China".
The British manager blames the lack of spectacle on the teams, who he says are treating the tire issue the same way they treated the diffuser issue last year:
"The truth is, everyone just wants to pursue their own interests: winning. Yet, I've explained to them that our business here is to race and entertain the audience, not play with computers and quickly complete a lap".
Fernando Alonso also emphasizes caution, reiterating that the road to winning the World Championship is still long.
"We need to stay grounded and remain calm and focused: Melbourne is a fresh start. Nothing has changed for me: there are four teams and eight drivers who can claim to fight for victory, and we'll have to give our best to try to stay ahead of everyone".
However, the Spaniard admits to feeling very comfortable on the Albert Park circuit.
"I like the circuit; it's quite technical with some interesting corners. Overtaking has never been easy, so qualifying results become even more critical, as is the case on all street circuits. Additionally, we'll need to see how the tires behave with different fuel loads and temperatures, which will be different from both the winter tests and Bahrain".
Regarding the last Grand Prix, Alonso continues:
"I think many of us gave rushed judgments in the heat of the moment. It's true that the Sakhir race may not have been extremely spectacular - although it was still beautiful and exciting for us - but it's too early to draw conclusions and think about regulatory changes. We need to see how several races unfold and then assess the situation calmly, without being emotional. The constant rule changes can be disorienting for fans".
On his part, Jenson Button is betting on McLaren-Mercedes, which had a disappointing seventh-place start to the season in Bahrain. However, in the second act of the 2010 World Championship at Albert Park, he is confident he can play a leading role.
"This circuit demands a lot of aerodynamic load and suits our characteristics. I'm optimistic; I wouldn't be if I didn't think we could have a good race. We gathered useful insights in the first race, and the whole team is ready to put it into practice next weekend".
Button, who won the Australian Grand Prix last year, starting his journey to the championship title, is convinced that his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, can also shine in Melbourne.
"Even Lewis has achieved excellent results here. For us, things have gone well in the past. We hope to have more successes".
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren's team principal, explains that:
"In the two weeks following the first race in Bahrain, there has been very little time to develop anything on the MP4-25".
So, no major revolution on the car.
"We do have some small elements that we aim to incorporate before the race. We've reflected on it, and I think our season's start has been extremely encouraging".
He says this primarily thinking about Hamilton's third-place finish.
"Our race pace was more than acceptable; we were the fastest for a long time in the second half of the Grand Prix. Now we have a clearer idea of the adjustments needed for an ideal setup. Of course, we're not getting carried away; the competition will be fierce, and we know the race will be a battle. The Australian Grand Prix is a fantastic event, and we hope to provide great entertainment for everyone".
But that's not all:
"The podium? It would be an extraordinary result".
Karun Chandhok is gearing up for his second Formula 1 weekend as a driver. The Indian rookie had only a few laps behind the wheel of his Hispania Racing car in the Bahrain Grand Prix. In Sakhir, he completed 7 laps in qualifying and not even 2 laps in the race.
"I can't wait for my second weekend in Formula 1. I've never driven in Melbourne, but I learn quickly. I've worked on the simulator, and that will help me get familiar with it a bit".
The team, however, must mainly focus on getting two cars on track capable of lasting a few laps.
"The next step for our engineers is to make the car reliable for the race. The key to effective preparation is completing as many laps as possible in the Friday practice sessions to see where we stand".
Chandhok didn't have the chance to get on track in any of the three free practice sessions of the Bahrain Grand Prix. For the rookie team, which didn't even participate in any of the four tests held in Spain in February, completing the Australian Grand Prix would be a triumph.
"It would be a fantastic result".
Meanwhile, Mark Webber is leading a revolt: drivers and fans want action. After the boring Bahrain Grand Prix, many now share the sentiments of the Red Bull driver, especially since the Australian Grand Prix is shaping up to be a snooze-fest, with overtaking being virtually impossible. So, what does Mark Webber think?
"We can make as many pit stops as we want, but people want action on the track, and so do the drivers. I thought overtaking would be difficult in Bahrain, but there wasn't even a chance; you couldn't even smell it. That's what disappointed me the most; it was the biggest surprise".
And for Melbourne, it's best not to have high hopes.
"I believe it will be a race similar to Bahrain, unfortunately, that's how races are".
Yes, Formula 1 races: in the IRL category, there are dozens of overtakes in a single lap, not to mention NASCAR, where the audience's legs hurt from standing up due to continuous twists and turns in the race. Of course, these categories might be to real racing what wrestling is to boxing, but there must be a middle ground between deadly boredom and clownishness. However, the reason for the latest controversy rocking the circus in the hours leading up to the Australian Grand Prix weekend is different. Bernie Ecclestone, for economic reasons, has once again scheduled the start of the Australian Grand Prix at 5:00 p.m. This means that the final laps of the race coincide with sunset, which is the worst time for those behind the wheel, with the low sun directly entering their helmets. Fernando Alonso says:
"This truly makes me sad. Last year, we all protested together, we said it was dangerous, that things needed to change. And yet, this year, we're back in the exact same situation".
Even the reigning World Champion, Jenson Button, warns about the danger of the circuit at that time. But no one is listening. Felipe Massa recounts:
"I remember last year; at one point, I was even scared. In the final laps, you couldn't see the white lines at the edge of the track anymore. Everything was black, and at those speeds, it's a significant problem. We urgently need to find a way to be heard more. It's incredible that all the drivers have raised a safety alarm, and no one has listened. I understand there are valid commercial reasons, but safety is important. It would be appropriate to move it by an hour, but even half an hour would be fine".
Three days remain until the race, but at Albert Park, you can already sense the bitterness in the air. The frustration of the second drivers, the desire for revenge from those top drivers who, contrary to their hopes, ended up behind their teammates in the Bahrain season opener. Schumacher, Massa, Button, Webber, names with weight, men accustomed to seeing the world (and their opponents) from the reassuring perspective of a rearview mirror and not from behind someone else's exhaust pipes. This is the other, more competitively intriguing side of what was presented as the great game of driver pairs this summer. Now it's heating up. The most determined, at least in terms of reputation, is Schumacher. After the winter slaps during the tests, Rosberg gave him a good one in Bahrain, leaving him well behind in the race. And now, at the mention of his name, a few too many smiles start appearing around the circus. The Red Bull Racing team writes on Twitter:
"Schumi is our paddock neighbor, besieged by German fans looking for autographs. They still haven't realized there's another German driver in town".
Austrian humor is what it is. However, the intention is clear. Old Michael doesn't seem fazed; he continues to force his smile, take incomprehensible lunch breaks at Ferrari (yesterday it was spaghetti again, the Mercedes chef must reflect), give advice-dictates to the mechanics, and work hard. He has already won in Melbourne four times. The impression is that soon, very soon, Rosberg's Sunday afternoons will become considerably more complicated. Certainly, the next one will be very challenging for Vettel. His teammate, Mark Webber - one of the standout personalities in F1 - is at home in Melbourne and is determined to make a good impression. Bahrain didn't go well for him, but he was also very unlucky at the start. Jenson Button, on the other hand, deserves a separate chapter. The Englishman has an extra motivation compared to the others: he is the reigning World Champion, but he still has a lot to prove, perhaps everything, given that last year's World Championship is constantly under discussion due to the issue of the use of illegal diffusers.
"I'm really optimistic for Sunday; the circuit is great, and the car is performing well".
Lewis Hamilton is aware of his teammate's intentions and acknowledges them:
"We are professionals, and it's normal that everyone wants to beat each other on the track. But with Jenson, we're also friends…".
"When you enter Ferrari, the matter becomes a bit more delicate. Massa has processed Alonso's victory on the Sakhir circuit quite well and, above all, what happened at the start, when Alonso overtook him fairly aggressively (though correctly). Many at Maranello were pleased that the Brazilian didn't fiercely defend his position on the track. However, the time for kindness ended in Bahrain, and a cannibalistic Massa is expected for the weekend. The team hopes that the competition remains within the bounds of common sense. Also, because the season is long, and at the moment, Stefano Domenicali has other things to worry about. The F10 has a cooling issue, and it has already cost a change of engine for each driver (up to eight changes are allowed during the year, after which heavy penalties are incurred). From this perspective, there is both good and bad news: the good news is that the climate here in Melbourne tends to be cool. The bad news is that from Melbourne onwards, starting with Malaysia, it will get hotter and hotter. Beyond a certain point, even opportunism becomes a class act. Just after the triumphant march in Bahrain, Fernando Alonso spoke up to sound the alarm about overtaking in the 2010 Formula 1 season.
"Unfortunately, without refueling during the race, it will be really difficult to see overtakes this year".
Thus began the annual controversy about boredom in F1, opening the door to many prestigious colleagues who, in the following days, called for urgent rule changes. On Thursday, March 25, 2010, on the eve of the Australian Grand Prix, Fernando takes a completely opposite stance. The boredom alarm? Nonsense. The regulations? Shouldn't be touched, for heaven's sake. Formula 1? It's fine the way it is; if you don't like it, change sports. It's a spectacular flip-flop, actually quite logical, by Alonso: Ferrari's official line, as expressed by Domenicali, is different from his (F1 needs stability, no need to upheave the rules again), and promptly, he aligns himself. With the same unnatural speed with which he dedicated his first win in red to President Montezemolo. A champion is also judged by the ability to harmonize with their surroundings, and there is complete harmony between Alonso and his new environment. Alonso, let's talk about the boredom alarm...
"It's Formula 1, this... If you want accidents, Safety cars, and that kind of stuff, then change sports; there are many other beautiful ones. Formula 1 has always been about technology, perfection, the fight to gain tenths".
Ecclestone proposes using only the Soft tires to make it more exciting.
"Ridiculous, this is F1, not Cirque du Soleil".
Many of his colleagues also say that the rules need to change.
"I don't understand why there's a need for it. Formula 1 has always been like this. Last year, Button won six out of seven races and raced alone. And nobody talked about boredom. Schumacher won five consecutive championships. Was that boring? I really don't understand".
Can you explain why it's difficult to overtake then?
"When you get behind another car, its turbulence causes a loss of downforce for your car. It makes your aerodynamics work worse, and it feels like you're driving a car without wings... It's a sensation similar to when the track is wet. So, you can't overtake. But this year, it doesn't seem worse than last year".
Are you optimistic for the race weekend?
"Yes. This is a good circuit. I think we'll do well. Although we have to stay grounded (as Montezemolo says, note). We can't afford to think about what people are saying about us in Spain or Italy. Only 10% of those things reach us. We just need to keep our heads down and work and try to be faster than those who were stronger than us in Bahrain".
The Red Bull.
"Yes. But we have to be careful. Being fast is one thing, winning races is another. It's like in football: playing well is one thing, getting the three points is another".
Is it true that Red Bull is lighter? It's said they carry 6-10kg less fuel than you.
"These are paddock rumors. We line up on the grid, and we certainly don't think about how much the others weigh. We think about ourselves, being fast, and so far, we can't complain".
Schumacher keeps coming to the Ferrari hospitality... does it bother you?
"No. It's okay with me. He comes for lunch, and at the moment, Ferrari undoubtedly has the best catering in the paddock".
Friday, March 26, 2010, is the first action day at Albert Park. Teams are getting ready to hit the track for an hour and a half, preparing for the upcoming race on Sunday. The track temperature is about 36 °C, while the air temperature is 25 °C.
Bridgestone is supplying two compounds for the race weekend: the soft and the hard tire. The speed limit in the pit lane has been reduced from 100 km/h to just 60 km/h for the entire weekend. The first driver to get out on track is Jarno Trulli, followed by the other Italian Liuzzi, Buemi, Vettel, and the debutant Paul di Resta. Three minutes later, Hamilton, Massa, and Alonso hit the track. The three drivers are followed by the Red Bull pair. Grip levels will continue to build throughout the session, which is why teams are struggling to gather important data. Everyone has now been on track at least once. However, halfway through the session, Kobayashi damaged his front wing on the kerb, leading to the session being stopped to clean the track. The first drivers back on track are the Red Bull teammates, Vettel and Webber. After an intense battle between Rosberg and Button for the fastest lap, the Briton comes out on top before a second red flag of the session. It appears that Kobayashi's new front wing has broken off again, and the track is once more littered with debris. The marshals remove the car from the turn 3 run-off, and the session can restart. With only approximately 20 minutes to go, it should be a busy conclusion to the first session as the drivers want to get the best out of the set of tires they must hand back. At the chequered flag, Robert Kubica sets the fastest lap with an impressive time of 1'26"927, followed by Rosberg, Button, Massa, Vettel, and Alonso. Hamilton finishes in 7th place, more than 3 tenths slower than his teammate. Buemi, Petrov, and Liuzzi complete the top ten. Michael Schumacher finishes 12th with a lap time of 1'28"850. Meanwhile, the new teams have successfully completed a few laps. In the afternoon, drivers experience mixed weather with a few showers during FP2. At the start of the session, the track is not wet enough for intermediates but not dry enough for slicks, making conditions tricky. Despite this, some drivers hit the track, but they struggle to set proper lap times. Halfway through the session, conditions improve, and Rosberg sets the fastest lap of 1'27"464. Hamilton and Button also post fast sector times. Every driver except Glock, Senna, di Grassi, and Chandhok set a lap time. Chandhok has stopped his car at the pit exit, likely due to gearbox issues. Rain returns, causing all drivers to return to the pits, waiting for it to stop. Eventually, it does with 15 minutes to go. Glock finally leaves the pit for the first time, while di Grassi remains in the pits. Vettel goes off track and into the gravel at turn 6 but manages to return to the pits. The second session ends with Lewis setting the fastest lap, followed by his teammate Button, Webber, Schumacher, Petrov, and Buemi. Fernando Alonso had been a bit of a prophet:
"In Australia, we'll start from scratch".
And indeed, that's what happened: the free practice sessions showed a Ferrari in serious difficulty, while McLaren and Mercedes (with Red Bull as a third contender) set impressive lap times. As usual, in the first free practice session, drivers and teams were getting acquainted with the track, reserving their best times for the second session. In Melbourne, the McLarens posted impressive times: before the rain took over at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Lewis Hamilton lapped in 1'25"801, and Button in 1'26"076. Mark Webber's Red Bull came in third, followed by Michael Schumacher's Mercedes and a surprising Renault driven by the Russian driver Vitaly Petrov. But what's going on with Ferrari? Felipe Massa explains:
"It's been a tough Friday, especially in the second session. Due to the on-and-off rain, we couldn't do exactly what we wanted. We focused on race preparation while perhaps other teams had different programs than ours. So, it's useless to try to understand the situation just by looking at the timesheet. But our goal tomorrow is to prepare well for qualifying, which on this track will be even more crucial than usual. From what we've seen, there doesn't seem to be significant tire degradation, but it's still a bit early to draw a final conclusion. I really like the Albert Park circuit; I've always been fast here, but for one reason or another, I've never managed to finish the race in the points, except in 2007 when, after a difficult qualifying, I finished sixth. Let's hope for better luck this time".
And what about Alonso? Is he worried about McLaren?
"No, because qualifying is tomorrow. We'll see how much they've improved and what we can do as well. From what we've seen, it's Red Bull that is the most concerning".
Many teams, including Ferrari, seem to want to copy the driver-activated wing system used by McLaren?
"I don't know anything about this development for our car, I don't know if it will come or not. If it does, we'll do what the team tells us to do; they pay us to work".
The Spanish Ferrari driver then talks about possible key elements of the race at Melbourne's Albert Park:
"We need to see how the tires behave, if you can keep them under control. It will be a race where you have to do many laps with one set of tires, and you have to control them as much as possible in case you need to attack another driver or defend your position. In Bahrain, the problem concerned the rear tires; here, I think it will be a problem with both the rear and front tires. The wear is more or less the same; we have to keep them under control".
After Sauber and Mercedes, Ferrari is also preparing to develop the F-Duct system designed by McLaren engineers and approved by the FIA in Bahrain. Unlike Sauber, which has the device ready and is testing it here in Australia, and unlike Mercedes, which seems to be quite advanced in development, the timing and the way in which Ferrari will modify their car are still unclear. This explains Alonso's reluctance to discuss the topic in the press conference:
"To be honest, I don't know where the engineers in Italy stand. And, to tell the truth, I don't even know if this system will actually be used or not in the end. What I can say with certainty is that whatever modification Ferrari wants to introduce on the car, I will accept it gladly, and if it's necessary to increase the number of maneuvers in the cockpit to make the car faster, I'll be ready".
When he talks about increasing the number of maneuvers, Alonso is referring to body movement, the knee (which is why it's approximately called the "human wing"), with which the two McLaren drivers activate the aerodynamic system capable of stalling, and thus rendering ineffective, the rear wing in a straight line, meaning when the wing serves no purpose and, in fact, creates drag, reducing speed. The exact functioning of the mechanism devised by McLaren's engineers is not yet known in detail. What had been understood so far is that everything revolves around a small hole in the cockpit, connected to an air intake. When the driver closes this hole, the rear wing stalls; when they open it, the rear wing activates and produces aerodynamic downforce. Pedro de la Rosa, the Sauber driver and a former McLaren test driver and one of the foremost experts on the subject, as well as a likely conduit for a lot of information passed from one team to another, explained a bit more:
"The driver has to activate this system. It doesn't matter whether he does it with his knee or with his hand; he can do it with any part of his body; the important thing is to activate it. When he does, the car performs better at higher speeds. We at Sauber are still experimenting with it. But we need to hurry because in the next few races, many teams will have this system, and the sooner you have it, the sooner you'll be able to use it correctly. Which is not easy".
Changing the topic, will Jacques Villeneuve be right when he says that in a few races, Michael Schumacher will return to his old self? But for the moment, there's no trace of the German driver. And not even outside the car, given that the Mercedes driver makes a statement he would never have made in other times:
"My comeback? Certainly, I didn't expect it like this. I had dreamed of coming back and kicking all the other drivers in the rear. But I'm not a magician".
These words sound like a concession, even though those who know him well continue to swear it's not the case.
"I know that people expect a lot from me, and I'm proud of that, but, I repeat, I'm not a magician. I'm also behind my teammate, something that hasn't happened often in my career".
These words triggered bitter memories in Rubens Barrichello, the former teammate of the German driver during his time at Ferrari. But this time, the Brazilian first smiles and then taunts his colleague's moment of difficulty:
"I think Michael can do well this year. It's also true that he has more to lose than to gain".
Meanwhile, the current reigning World Champion, Jenson Button, tells the journalists who want to interview him:
"Okay, let's talk, but don't look at my arm".
The stamp of the VIP room in a nightclub on the first day of the track almost tells the whole story of Jenson Button, the 2009 World Champion with the controversial Brawn GP and now a McLaren driver alongside Lewis Hamilton. In particular, it tells the story of his stubborn desire to have fun and smile despite everything, a characteristic that saves him from the twilight vein to which he would otherwise be condemned by his condition as a talentless champion and now in his thirties. Let's talk about F1. What are the competitive values at play?
"Ferrari and Red Bull are ahead of everyone. But we're not that far behind. In fact, here in Australia, the car is working well, better than in Bahrain. The balance is good, and tire wear is also fine".
How much does your reputation as a champion who won due to a rigged car bother you?
"Not at all. There are eighteen races in 2009 that stand there to prove to the world that I won a World Championship. My name is on the roll of honor. Jenson, 2009".
And what about the story of the 'paracarro,' as Briatore called it?
"Flavio was very angry at that moment. Anyway, there's not a single driver in the history of F1 who has won a world championship with a non-competitive car. Moreover, for a good part of the season, I didn't have the fastest car".
Why did you decide to leave after winning?
"After seven years, I needed a new challenge. Ross had done a fantastic job. But McLaren and Ferrari are two teams that represent the essence of F1. Now I'm happy".
What are the main differences between Brawn and McLaren?
"I don't think it's fair to make a comparison. I had a fantastic relationship with Brawn. But McLaren also made me feel at home right away. Of course, it will take some time...".
Schumacher disappoints even though he inherited your car?
"The same applies to Michael as it does to me. He needs time, he has to get used to the new environment. Having a very strong teammate is positive. I'm sure he will show why he has won seven World Championships".
Your teammate, Lewis Hamilton, isn't an easy character.
"If you beat him by finishing 15th, it wouldn't be a great result. You have to try to win, meaning beat the one in front. If that's your teammate, all the better".
The paddock is divided: is your girlfriend (Jessica Michibata) or Lewis's (Nicole Scherzinger) prettier?
"It's a matter of opinion".
On Saturday, March 27, 2010, during the final practice session where traffic was heavy, Webber set the fastest lap of the weekend so far with a lap time of 1:24.719, which was set during the session's closing minutes. Alonso (who was fastest for four minutes of the session after making changes to his rear suspension and front ride height) was two-tenths of a second slower in second. Schumacher set the fastest time in the first sector to record the third fastest time. He was followed by Vettel and Rosberg. McLaren teammates Button and Hamilton were sixth and seventh. Sutil, Massa, and Liuzzi completed the top ten ahead of qualifying and were within one second of Webber's pace. A few hours later, grey skies again covered the circuit, as the forecast anticipated more showers throughout the day. The day started with the third and last practice session of the weekend. Liuzzi was the first man on track, followed by the rest of the grid for a busy start to the session. Hamilton was the fastest one so far, with a lap time of 1’25"706: indeed, the fastest lap of the weekend so far. Meanwhile, his teammate completed a lap into fourth place. There were some problems with Bruno Senna’s car as it seemed that the HRT was stuck in gear. He had to pull to the side of the track. With 20 minutes to go, Alonso managed to beat Lewis's lap time, with a lap of 1’25"559. Schumacher was in his flying lap, setting the first two purple sectors. He finished the lap and came on top, being less than 1 tenth faster than the Spaniard. After 3 minutes, P1 changed again as Webber set a time of 1’25"309. With only 5 minutes to go, everybody was now back on track for a last try. Webber improved his time and was the first one to break into 1’24"719, followed by Alonso and Schumacher. Chandhok had caused a yellow flag as he had pulled to a stop at turn 7, causing an early start of the session. Fourth was Vettel, followed by Rosberg and the two McLaren drivers Button and Hamilton. Sutil, Massa, and Liuzzi completed the top 10. It looked like there would be a frantic battle for the top positions on the grid.
It was now time for the most important appointment of this Saturday: qualifying time. Track conditions were likely to change due to a major crash that occurred at the start of the GT support race an hour ago. Indeed, this left oil and debris on the circuit, especially at turn 1, and marshals had been busy cleaning up ever since. The green light signaled the start of the first session of qualifying. The top teams were likely to run several laps on the harder tyres as they were quite confident of escaping Q1. Liuzzi is the first one on track, and he is followed by his teammate Sutil. Felipe Massa also hits the track, along with Chandhok and the two Mercedes drivers. Liuzzi sets the first lap time of the session, but he is immediately overtaken by his teammate Sutil. Meanwhile, Felipe Massa is the quickest man in sector 1, but Alonso manages to top the timesheets with a lap time of 1’26"162, while Sebastian Buemi goes fourth and Robert Kubica second. Webber now takes P1 with 1’25"951, but Alonso responds by regaining the top spot. Schumacher is third behind the Spaniard and the Aussie. The McLaren drivers are now going out on track for the first time: Lewis Hamilton goes fastest in the middle sector but only manages to set the seventh-fastest time. There is an intense battle between Webber and Alonso as they keep trading fastest lap times. Sebastian Vettel now tops the timesheets with the other Red Bull, setting an incredible lap of 1’24"774, confirming that the RB16 is performing exceptionally well today. He is followed by Button, who takes the second-fastest lap, and his teammate Hamilton is up to third. Meanwhile, Massa is trying to find some pace as he is only 6 tenths away from the elimination zone in 14th place due to trouble warming up the tires. However, he manages to bring his Ferrari up to the 6th position. Nico Rosberg sets the second-quickest time on a late push lap with harder tires. Petrov is the first one out of Q1, and he is now on his last try, but his effort is not good enough as he falls short by two tenths. The second part of qualifying is starting now under grey skies as there is a possibility of showers during the session. Almost every driver is heading straight to the track since the chances of rain are very high. The first two out are Webber and Liuzzi, followed by the Ferrari and McLaren drivers. The two Mercedes drivers are also out now. Alonso is currently setting purple sectors and tops the timesheets with a lap of 1’24"459 in front of Webber, who is running on hard compound. Meanwhile, Rosberg goes third with 1’25"245, but Massa goes fastest and takes his place.
A minute later, Rosberg is back in front of Massa, but Vettel goes faster and claims the third place. Nevertheless, Webber is actually quicker, on a tire that is expected to be half a second slower than the soft one. Lewis Hamilton is currently on a softer compound and is 3 seconds away from 10th place. However, he is now improving and gets into seventh place, while Schumacher can only manage eighth. With 2 minutes remaining, Vettel improves to the second-quickest time, meanwhile, Kubica and Schumacher improve to ninth and sixth, respectively. As Q2 comes to an end, Vettel is on top with his teammate right behind in second place, and Alonso is in third. Hamilton has dropped to 11th, while everyone in front of him has improved their lap times. He becomes the first driver eliminated in Q2, having faced a difficult end to the session, even having to return to the pits as he didn't have enough fuel for another attempt. The other six eliminated cars are Buemi, Liuzzi, de la Rosa, Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, and Alguersuari, who made a mistake at turn 14. It's now time for the last session of this Saturday, which will decide the top ten for tomorrow. The teams need to decide whether they prefer to do a longer stint during the race with the hard tires or have a better grid position with the softer compound. The battle for pole position is now underway as the Ferrari pair are the first ones out on track, followed by Webber (who is running with the soft compound for the first time), Barrichello, and the two Mercedes drivers. They are all going out now to cover the threat of rain. Alonso is the first to set a time. Meanwhile, Webber is the quickest in the first two sectors. Indeed, he crosses the finish line and takes P1. Schumacher comes third, ahead of Barrichello. Here comes Vettel with an amazing fastest lap of 1’23"919, currently topping the timesheets. Rosberg moves up to fourth, and Button takes fifth place in his first attempt. With 4 minutes to go, most cars are back in the pits, except for Button. He tries again to improve his time benefiting from a clear track and manages to get the third-fastest time. Nico Rosberg is leaving the pit lane with the harder compound, as is his teammate, while Massa moves up to fifth place after his second attempt. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso is improving in each sector, but he remains third. In the meantime, Webber is on a flying lap, but his effort is not good enough to take P1 away from his teammate Vettel.
With one minute to go, nobody seems to be improving, and as they take the checkered flag, Vettel secures pole position for the Australian race weekend. It's a great effort from the team, securing the front row, and an amazing job from Vettel, who has taken his second consecutive pole position. Blue, sparkling, Austrian. The anatomy of the new rival is a very fashionable subject in the paddock these days. Depending on who you talk to and what aspects of competition the person cares about, the new phenomenon in the world of motorsport rapidly changes attributes and references: it's either the extreme Red Bull by Adrian Newey, the talented one driven by Sebastian Vettel, or the powerful one managed by Christian Horner. The truth is that behind every mask, there's always the same figure, the king of the blue cans, Dietrich Mateschitz, and the strength of his colossal investment. After the first free practice session, Fernando Alonso confirmed the sensation that everyone had:
"The Red Bull is the car I fear the most".
A technical superiority that had been aptly captured by Lewis Hamilton even before arriving in Melbourne:
"It's ridiculous, it's as if they could play with their opponents and the championship".
Many believe that such an advantage is the result of Adrian Newey's magic pencil and a typically futuristic project (the positioning of the exhausts and the inclination of the Red Bull's rear suspensions have been defined by several technicians as revolutionary). Others attribute a key role to the talented Sebastian Vettel, who says:
"If I start at the front, I think about victory. But the fundamental thing is to finish the race. A long race awaits us. We know that everyone will start with a lot of fuel, so it will be more difficult to control the cars".
Some credit the Renault engine, which supposedly consumes less than the competition and allows the team to start with a car that's about ten kilograms lighter. Finally, there are those who suspect irregularities or semi-irregularities. Among them, Martin Whitmarsh, the head of McLaren and chief of the FOTA, who immediately expressed his opinion in the paddock after Vettel and Webber's exploit: Red Bull would benefit from a movable system capable of adjusting the car's ride height (and therefore its setup).
"A solution that many of us thought was prohibited by the regulations".
The evidence for this would be the fact that Red Bull maintains the same ground clearance whether the fuel tank is full or empty. Inevitably, a big controversy is expected to arise in the coming hours, even though teams are already gearing up to copy the idea. However, the new powerhouse of F1 has a weak point: reliability. And that's precisely what the old rivals will try to exploit. As demonstrated by the Ferrari one-two finish in Bahrain. Lewis Hamilton explains:
"Just because Vettel has the best car doesn't mean he's already won the championship. McLaren, for example, breaks down much less".
That's how it goes in sports. When the horizon is filled with enemies, it means you're on the right track. Regardless of how the Australian Grand Prix ends, Ferrari will return home with the certainty that they have once again become a top team. The measure of this newfound status is precisely the number of enemies that the men from Maranello have been able to count on, not without a hint of pride, throughout the weekend. Starting with Michael Schumacher.
After spending the winter sneaking into the Ferrari hospitality area to eat spaghetti cooked by chefs Carmine, Felice, and Tore, the German finally drops the act. This happens after the qualifying session. Schumacher gets out of his Mercedes and approaches Alonso, with a grim expression:
"Didn't your engineer tell you anything?"
Alonso remains stunned:
"No. What should he have told me?"
"To be careful because I was coming up behind you".
The Spaniard, not having understood his colleague's complaint, pretends not to notice, forcing the German to give up. However, not before lodging an informal protest with the head of the FIA inspectors, which is unlikely to have any effect.
"I was doing my last flying lap, and Alonso slowed me down. He was doing his first lap, so it's quite normal that he was focused on something else rather than looking in his mirrors. But the team should have warned him. And on Friday night, during the drivers' briefing, Alonso and I had talked about this and said that we should be careful in cases like these...".
But Michael Schumacher is not the only enemy of the 2010 version of Ferrari. There's also the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, a rock-solid war machine motivated by the inventor of the great energy drink illusion, Dietrich Mateschitz, and, above all, the force of his colossal investment: a marketing masterpiece that rose from the ashes of Jaguar in 2004 to shape a team capable of challenging ancient and prestigious rivals like Ferrari and McLaren. As mentioned, this miracle has put Vettel in pole position and Webber in second, ahead of Alonso (with Massa in fifth). But above all, it has exhibited a technical superiority that reminded some of last year's Brawn GP. No wonder Fernando Alonso says:
"These were positive qualifications. We know it was difficult to stay ahead of the Red Bulls, so we worked hard to maximize our potential. Third place is a great result. The race is long, we want to finish on the podium and continue to score points. It will be a long race with safety cars, accidents, problems. That's why the priority is to finish the race; then, we'll see if we're fast enough to aim for victory".
And while Alonso is confident, Massa can't be completely happy with his qualifying.
"It wasn't the qualifying I expected on the eve of this Grand Prix. Since the temperature dropped, I've had trouble finding the best way to get the tires up to temperature. Yesterday morning, for example, when it was warmer, the situation was significantly better. With today's temperatures, I had no grip, which is not particularly encouraging. I hope it gets a bit warmer tomorrow. At the end of qualifying, I still managed to get a decent placement. Of course, it's not ideal for aiming for victory, but I'll still try to bring home a good haul of points. The race is very tough, also because anything can happen, as we've often seen in the past".
Next to Red Bull, there's McLaren, whose boss, Martin Whitmarsh, is attacking the Maranello team on the political front, pushing for a sudden change in rules, as, according to the English, the current rules make the races boring and unwatchable, like a Latin mass. Ferrari disagrees. First, because they suspect that behind all this eagerness, there's a strategic motive (the goal is to nullify the technical advantage that the Maranello team seems to have over the British team), and second because they believe that only stable regulations can restore some credibility to a sport that came out battered from 2009. But Whitmarsh insists and promises a tough battle. It's a different stance from last year when the worst Ferrari in recent years found itself full of friends and allies and sympathies. Given how that season ended, it's understandable that many in Maranello are content with this state of affairs. It’s race day at Albert Park in Melbourne on March 28, 2010, and everyone is gearing up for the second race of the season. Overnight showers have hinted at what's to come today, as the forecast predicts light showers throughout the day. Track conditions have shifted from dry to slippery and back to dry. The air temperature is warmer today compared to previous days, but there's a strong north-western breeze, making conditions very tricky. Luca di Grassi and Timo Glock are the only drivers not starting the race from the grid. Instead, they will start from the pitlane after Virgin Racing replaced the fuel collectors on both cars. These changes differed from the original specification, and the team had to modify the suspension setup as a result, leading to the pitlane start penalty. Drivers are heading to the grid, and they might go through the pits again for a second reconnaissance lap to assess the track conditions since there's no need to conserve fuel anymore. Indeed, the Ferrari pair decides on a pitlane run and an additional lap to the grid. With 15 minutes to go before the race start, rain starts to fall on the track, complicating the strategy. Now, teams must decide which tire strategy is best to start the race. Intermediate tires seem to be the best choice, especially with more rain expected. This means that the dry tire rule of using both compounds won't apply if wet tires are used at the start. The pole-sitter is the first to opt for intermediate tires, and most other drivers follow this decision as the track is declared wet.
Drivers are now completing the formation lap, and the race is about to begin. The five red lights go out, and the Australian Grand Prix is underway with a good start from Vettel. Jarno Trulli failed to start the race due to a hydraulic pump failure. Webber faces early pressure from Massa, who passes Alonso and Button. However, Button and Alonso collide after Button touches Alonso's right rear wheel. Alonso spins and damages Schumacher's front wing in the process. Meanwhile, Massa overtakes Webber for P2, and Kubica incredibly finds himself in fourth place after overtaking the two Mercedes cars. Buemi lands in the gravel, along with Kobayashi and Hulkenberg. Buemi lost his front wing, causing him to lose control and take out the other two drivers, resulting in the deployment of the safety car. Schumacher takes advantage of the safety car to pit for a front wing change, while Alonso is down to 18th. On lap 5, the safety car comes in, and Vettel makes a strong restart, with Massa maintaining second place. Webber is under pressure from Kubica but manages to hold his position. A lap later, Bruno Senna retires as his car stops on the track. Lewis Hamilton executes a good overtaking maneuver on his teammate Button at Turn 3. On the same lap, Massa appears to be struggling, and Webber regains third place. On lap 7, Button pits for slick tires as the track begins to dry. However, he slides off track at Turn 3, indicating that it may still be too wet for the change. Meanwhile, Alonso is working his way up and is now in 13th place. Two laps later, Hamilton's pace drops, and Rosberg overtakes him. The track is drying out, and Button sets the fastest lap. Nearly all drivers, except for the two Red Bulls and Luca di Grassi, decide to pit. On the following lap, Vettel also switches to slick tires, while Webber loses a lot of time on intermediates. Petrov becomes the next retirement of the race as he spins into the gravel at turn 14, followed by Sutil, who is also out of the race. On lap 11, Webber finally pits but resumes behind Massa. Three laps later, a few drops fall on the track, but it's not expected to last long. Alonso, now in eighth place, overtakes Barrichello, with his next target being Hamilton. On lap 16, Webber passes Massa at turn 1, but Hamilton overtakes both of them. Webber loses control and goes off track into the gravel, allowing Hamilton and Massa to pass. He drops to 8th place. The battle is between Massa and Hamilton, with Massa regaining his position while Alonso is closing in on them. In front, Vettel is 4.1 seconds ahead of Button.
Hamilton eventually overtakes Rosberg, but Button is leading the race after Vettel runs into trouble. Vettel misses a corner, locks the rear brakes, and gets stuck in the gravel, ending his race. Button takes the lead, and Vettel is out. Button, Kubica, and Hamilton are the top three. Webber overtakes Massa for fourth place. Di Grassi faces issues with his car and heads to the pits, likely retiring from the race. Hamilton is battling Kubica for second place but fails to overtake the Renault driver. Alonso continues to tail Massa, who appears to be struggling for grip. With 20 laps to go, Hamilton is 20.5 seconds behind Alonso, and it appears that the Ferrari pair won't be pitting. Button maintains a significant lead of 12 seconds over Kubica. Hamilton sets the fastest lap, closing the gap to Alonso to 17.5 seconds. On lap 42, Hamilton gains another 5 seconds on the group ahead. Massa goes wide in the final sector while attempting to pass Kubica. This brings Lewis Hamilton even closer, with a gap of 9 seconds. On lap 45, Massa has been told from his engineer that he needs to pass Kubica in a very short time or he will lose his position on Hamilton. Webber is also currently finding back some pace as he follows the McLaren of Hamilton: he is only one second behind. Meanwhile, Liuzzi in eight is losing some pace and de la Rosa is now closing the gap to him, with Barrichello, Alguersuari and Schumacher following him closely. Timo Glock pits, but he is parking his Virgin car in the box. After just 5 laps, Hamilton is only over a second behind Alonso as the Spaniard is struggling with the tyres. Indeed, Hamilton will also have a straight-line speed advantage thanks to McLaren’s F-duct. Hamilton is right behind Alonso, with Webber right behind the McLaren. On lap 53, Hamilton communicates to his race engineer that his tyres have gone off as he got stuck behind the dirty air of Alonso. He is now regretting his second pitstop as he was battling for second before the stop. In the same lap, Barrichello overtakes Pedro de la Rosa for the ninth place, chasing now Tonio Liuzzi in eight. With 3 laps to go, Hamilton still struggles to get Alonso and Rosberg is now behind the group too. One lap from the end, Alonso closes the door and Webber, who was trying to get an advantage too, bumps into Hamilton, sending both into the gravels. Hamilton ends up in sixth, while Webber is forced to pit for a new front wing.
On lap 58, Schumacher gets past de la Rosa to grab the final point. It’s chequered flag as Button takes the win for this Australian Grand prix, after a superb call to pit before anyone else. Robert Kubica finished second in his Renault, with Felipe Massa taking third and completing the podium. Fernando Alonso is fourth with Rosberg in fifth. Lewis Hamilton is able to finish only 6th, ahead of Liuzzi, Barrichello, the Aussie Webber and Schumacher. The first out the points is Alguersari, together with Pedro de la Rosa, Kovalainen and Chandhok. It’s time for the celebrations on the podium as the top three finishers are going to get their trophies. Under a McLaren-colored sky, at an Albert Park battered by a hot stormy wind, suddenly, Formula 1 rediscovers itself. Heroics and cunning, talent and damnation, courage and luck. Everything and all together, overflowing, just like the rain that fell on the circuit to revive a spectacle that seemed dead, killed by years of chatter, quibbles, and various foolishness. So on an ordinary day of Australian autumn, car races return to be what they once were. Pure competition. Jenson Button wins, Briatore's gatekeeper, the champion by pretense, the talentless phenomenon. And the funny thing is that on a day of a thousand overtakes, accidents, and mistakes, he, the smiling Jenson, wins without even overtaking a single car. Almost humming on the radio. Without the aggressiveness of his rival-companion Lewis Hamilton, the animalistic speed inclination of young Vettel, but also lacking the perfection of Alonso, Button relied heavily on his unique qualities: intelligence and the wounded pride of a reigning World Champion, rated at twenty to one by disrespectful bookmakers. And after a wet and chaotic start, he realized before others that the race would be decided by strategy, and that the right strategy was a single pit stop. On just the seventh lap, when the track seemed to be drying up, while everyone was fighting to gain one or two positions, he returned to the pits and put on the soft tires. A gamble, because the track was still slippery. But to win, you have to take risks. And his bet was clear. Two laps of struggling and steering work, then paradise, with warm tires and others futilely chasing. Starting with Sebastian Vettel, who didn't have time to measure his own superiority with the Englishman's move: a technical failure, this time with the brakes, and the end of the race. Meanwhile, behind, everything was happening. Kubica immediately understood the meaning of Button's move and copied it.
Delivering himself to a race different from the others, very effective, almost perfect, which earned him second place. Rosberg, Massa, Alonso, Webber, and Hamilton, on the other hand, opted for a kind of brawl. Alonso (damaged at the start by Button himself) and Hamilton, in full recovery mode, started passing everyone else. And amidst overtakes, mistakes, contacts, and counter-overtakes, they kept Albert Park on the edge of their seats throughout the race, which, in the end, was decided, as Button had understood on lap 6, by strategy. Massa and Alonso, who had opted for a single pit stop, managed to secure third and fourth place, mainly thanks to the crystal-clear class with which Alonso drove Hamilton and Webber mad. They had changed their tires and were at least a second faster. But overtaking the Spaniard was an impossible task. And so, in the end, the collision between the pursuers - who lost crucial seconds - was almost a foregone conclusion.
"I thought I had made a disaster. Instead, it was the right decision".
On the damp asphalt of Melbourne, the British driver was the first to switch to slick tires. The McLaren-Mercedes #1 skidded for a few seconds, then took off towards victory.
"It was a risky choice, but in the end, it was decisive. I saw that there was a dry line on the track, so I thought it was worth a try. Actually, as I was coming out of the pit lane, I was afraid I had made a disaster since the asphalt there was still wet. I thought it could be a catastrophe. Fortunately, things went decidedly well in the race. It was my decision. For the driver, it's easier to gauge the track conditions. From the pit wall, they can see the approaching clouds, but we can sense the conditions on the asphalt. With the intermediate tires, I didn't have balance, so I decided to change. I started overtaking and realized I had done the right thing. We couldn't have devised a better strategy. I never thought about the possibility of making another pit stop; it was planned that I would complete the race with just one pit stop. I maintained a pace that allowed me to manage the tires without destroying them".
Fernando Alonso crossed the finish line in fourth place, but today he seems more satisfied than when he triumphed in Bahrain. The Spaniard tries to explain this feeling with a financial metaphor, but no number can truly capture the epic nature of his feat. To understand the essence of a race that leaves everyone with the impression of having finally built a great team, you must listen to his story. It begins with an admission:
"I had a terrible start. I'm not exactly sure what happened. I believe it had a lot to do with the white lines on the starting grid in front of my car. As soon as I released the clutch, I encountered that slippery paint, and it took me a long time to gain speed".
The situation worsens at the second corner.
"There were three cars aligned, and we touched. I think I had it worst, as I went into a spin, then Michael [Schumacher] broke his front wing, while Button got away with it".
Alonso slips from third to eighteenth place. But the car is performing brilliantly, and he can feel it.
"I thought, today I either make a comeback or I go all out, and I started pushing".
Within a few laps, the Spaniard overtakes one car after another, passing even two cars per lap until he rejoins the leading group, right behind Massa. He is faster than the Brazilian and even attempts a couple of attacks.
"But fighting with your teammate is not like fighting with someone else. Every time you go wheel to wheel, you think about your team boss. Plus, I have to admit that the peak performance of my car had been a few laps before, so when I caught up to Felipe, my tires were already worn".
However, the single pit stop strategy was already decided, so both Massa (third) and Alonso (fourth) must make do with that set of semi-worn tires. Hamilton and Webber, with fresh tires and therefore at least one second per lap faster, are rapidly closing in from behind. It is at this point that Alonso's performance takes a leap.
"They kept telling me over the radio: Hamilton is coming. He's 1.7 seconds behind. He's 1.6 seconds behind. At some point, I told them: Stop. Don't tell me anything more. I'm here, and when he arrives, we'll see what to do".
It doesn't take long. Ten laps from the end, Hamilton is just a meter away and starts pushing like crazy. Up ahead, Massa seems to be struggling a bit. Fernando has no choice but to defend his position. His marking is fierce, on every corner, on every trajectory, lap after lap.
"I was going through the chicane a bit slower than usual to try to slow down Hamilton and Webber. Then, on the exit, I accelerated a bit earlier than them, when they least expected it".
He continues like this for four or five laps, until Hamilton begins to show signs of nervousness. That's when Alonso decides to spring his trap. Three laps to go.
"At the chicane, I went slightly over the curb, and they took advantage to pull alongside me. But I was confident that, under braking, I could still keep them behind, and that's what I did. I braked late, and they made contact with each other".
End of the race. Webber will apologize to Hamilton, but the damage is irreparable.
"They were much faster than me. Two laps were left, and it would have been tough for them to catch up if they hadn't collided".
Fernando Alonso, the protagonist of an incredible comeback due to the incident at the start, solidifies his lead in the championship standings.
"You certainly can't call it a boring race; in fact, it was very entertaining. It's a shame about the incident at the start, but that's a racing incident. However, we had a solid race and gained points on all our rivals, from Hamilton to Schumacher".
Alonso also praises the tactical choice made by the Maranello team to go for a single pit stop and therefore a single tire change.
"After the incident, everything went perfectly. The team had an excellent strategy: I was seventh, and I finished fourth; everything went perfectly. Thanks to the strategy, we were able to achieve this result. The car was perfect, and we were able to do a long stint on the soft tires. When I found myself behind Felipe, maybe I had the chance to go even faster, but we know it's very difficult to overtake in Formula 1, and you certainly shouldn't take unnecessary risks with your teammate. If we had managed to pass Kubica, then the story might have been different, but it wasn't possible. Instead, we had to defend against the attacks from Hamilton and Webber, who had fresher tires than us. Of course, after such an exciting and eventful race like this one, I imagine there won't be talk of boring races for a while".
And what about Felipe Massa?
"I'm happy to have finished third in such a challenging race. Thanks to the team, at the beginning of the season, I had never scored this many points".
Felipe doesn't hide his satisfaction with the podium finish in Australia, following his second place in Bahrain. The Brazilian Ferrari driver, who is chasing his teammate Fernando Alonso in the World Championship standings, had a strong start but then faced some difficulties in terms of race pace. However, he didn't lose touch with the front-runners.
"It's fantastic; this is my best result here in Australia. I had a good start, then I lost positions during the pit stop. This result is important, especially considering what I went through last year. I'm really happy".
In any case, Stefano Domenicali and Ferrari are satisfied with the result:
"At the end of a race full of incidents, we managed to get one driver on the podium and the other, who was last after the first corner, to fourth place. Fernando had a fantastic comeback, and perhaps he could have achieved an even better result, but we know that overtaking is always difficult, especially when comparing cars with similar performance. His defense against Hamilton in the final stages was perfect".
Stefano Domenicali expresses a similar sentiment when talking about Felipe Massa:
"Felipe had a great start, which was the key to his result. He had a challenging weekend, and I'm sure that this second consecutive podium makes him happy. Reliability remains the decisive factor, as we saw today. In terms of the championship, today's result is very positive; the strongest rivals at the moment have scored very few points, and we have also gained ground against other drivers. Now we need to stay focused and prepare as best as possible for the race next week in Malaysia, where we will face different conditions than in the first two Grands Prix".
Sebastian Vettel is furious:
"I'm fed up. It's a shitty situation. I had a problem with the brakes, I noticed it on the lap before I retired. I wanted to return to the pits for a check, but I couldn't even make it back. I started feeling vibrations on the left side of the car, and then at turn 13, it happened: the brakes failed, I went straight into the gravel, and there was nothing I could do".
The morale is extremely low:
"Honestly, right now, I wish I could fly home. Today, I couldn't have done any better. The situation is frustrating: the season has just started, but it would have been better to leave Australia with 50 points. Instead, I only have 12. Life goes on".
With a Red Bull car this fragile, dreaming isn't the current option.
"Today the conditions were really challenging. To think about finishing first, first, we need to finish a race. We are doing our best, working hard. It's not anyone's fault, but we need to find reliability to have a solid race in Malaysia and see the checkered flag".
Michael Schumacher spent fifty laps behind Jaime Alguersuari, the second driver of Toro Rosso, someone who made a mistake last year and tried to refuel at Red Bull's pit stops. Then, he got passed inside by Glock, the Virgin driver, perhaps the worst car in the history of Formula 1. Finally, he had to do everything to overtake Buemi, the other Toro Rosso driver, to finish tenth and grab a meager point in the drivers' standings. But the worst part of the German driver's infernal Sunday is something else: the press conference in the evening, the face-to-face with the grieving German journalists, a symbolic representation of a nation that expected so much from the return of their beloved son to Formula 1 under the Mercedes star but now finds itself dealing with an aging driver in evident midlife and performance crisis.
"I had a lot of fun; I'm happy to have earned this point. I believe that if we can maintain this spirit, we will achieve great things. I could have had a good race, but unfortunately, I was hit right after the start".
His car was involved in the incident between Jenson Button's McLaren-Mercedes and Fernando Alonso's Ferrari. Schumacher had to return to the pits to replace the front wing after his car was hit hard by Alonso's Ferrari.
"Obviously, that incident decided my Grand Prix. These things happen, in these cases, you just have to say: that's racing".
The afternoon at Albert Park's asphalt turned into a long chase.
"For the rest of the race, I had to start from the last position. I must say that, despite everything, I had fun. Our pace today was promising, and for part of the Grand Prix, we were even faster than the front group. We can confidently face the next race, another challenge".
It was evident that Schumacher's Australian Grand Prix didn't start on the right foot, already on Saturday evening, he, driven by a sort of persecution mania, had confronted Alonso right after the qualifying session and accused him of obstructing him during the qualifiers. Not receiving any satisfaction from the Spaniard, Michael then went straight to Charlie Whiting, the race director, where he also reported Hamilton (guilty of the same offense). There was a time when Michael's outbursts in Whiting's office almost automatically produced significant effects. On Saturday, however, Schumacher's complaint went unnoticed, which must have intensified that feeling of powerlessness that the German is reluctantly learning to live with.
"We're fast. In fact, at times, we were the fastest. And in Malaysia, we will do even better".
The faces of the journalists in the press room aren't convinced. Who knows what will happen in Germany. Anyway, in Malaysia, perhaps, he will manage to stay ahead of his teammate Nico Rosberg, who won the second season duel with today's fifth-place finish.
"It's a positive result. I had a poor start, and then I lacked pace. The rear tires deteriorated significantly, so we opted for a second pit stop. It's an acceptable weekend. We need to keep scoring points while improving the car".
In Formula 1, even the last-place finish in a race, five laps behind the winner, can be celebrated. Karun Chandhok savors the accomplishment in the Australian Grand Prix: the Indian, in his first season in the circus, brought the Hispania to the finish line, the most mysterious among the cars that debuted in the 2010 World Championship. No winter testing, a few laps just two weeks ago in Bahrain, and today, surprisingly, the feat that ignited the enthusiasm in the team's pit.
"It's a fantastic day. Crossing the finish line was very challenging. Given the race conditions, the result is even more satisfying. I dedicate it to the mechanics and engineers who have worked tirelessly since the Bahrain Grand Prix. It's a fantastic day for the team, a huge step forward".
The day after the Australian Grand Prix, Formula 1 wakes up with a general and somewhat incomprehensible frenzy. After the rain and overtaking storm at Albert Park, all the major teams - with the notable exception of Ferrari - are dealing with internal reckonings. The most intense of these is undoubtedly happening at McLaren, where Lewis Hamilton is beside himself.
"The team threw away a 1-2 finish, made a strategic mistake, and it damaged me".
Hamilton's explanation is a continuous lament:
"I started from eleventh place, but I had the race of my life. The tires were fine, I had an excellent start, and I started gaining positions right away, up to third. I was third, I repeat. All happy that the car was performing well, and they called me in to change tires. I don't know why, but they called me in".
He doesn't say it, but there's an evident suspicion that someone within the team may be pushing to favor Button over him. Fear? Suggestion? Imagination?
"With this move, we lost a potential 1-2 finish. Maybe I would have had some difficulties towards the end, but that's exactly what the others did".
Lewis Hamilton's anger is very similar to Sebastian Vettel's, who is shaking up Red Bull.
"This time, I'm really pissed off. We're all here pushing like crazy, trying to do our best, and the car keeps breaking. I know it's not anyone's fault, but it's really time to put an end to this and at least finish a race. We hope to see the checkered flag in Malaysia".
Vettel's anger is explained by having the best car, being the fastest driver, and yet having zero points due to two breakdowns. In Bahrain, there was a mysterious electrical problem. Here in Australia, it's a brake issue.
"It was really a great pity".
At Mercedes, things aren't any better, although the drivers, for now, continue to maintain a more composed demeanor. But Michael Schumacher's discomfort becomes more evident by the hour. As mentioned, after spending the afternoon checking Alguersuari's exhaust, he said he was happy with the point earned. But it was clear that he was lying. Moreover, a few meters away, his teammate Nico Rosberg was smiling: not that he did anything extraordinary so far, but with the fifth place, he reached 20 points in the overall standings, while Michael Schumacher only has 9. And what about Ferrari? They watch the others quarrel and enjoy the moment while staying focused. The men from the Maranello team lead in all the rankings, and yesterday they put valuable points between them and the currently considered most formidable opponent, Red Bull. The drivers showed decent maturity on the track, avoided dangerous clashes (this especially applies to Alonso, who could have had a couple of opportunities), and brought the cars and points home.
The only source of concern is the engines, which suffer a bit too much from the heat (two of the sixteen available, eight per driver, have already been used in Bahrain). Managing the issue seems to be fairly efficient at the moment. Although the test in Malaysia (where there will be intense heat) will be crucial to understand the real extent of the problem. Fernando Alonso says he's surprised by the convincing start to the season after two Grands Prix leading the Formula 1 World Championship with 37 points, thanks to the opening win in Bahrain and yesterday's fourth-place finish in Australia.
"I certainly didn't expect to find myself leading the world championship after two races; this result exceeds my expectations. It has been an incredible start to the championship. Both in Bahrain and last weekend in Australia, we have shown that we are competitive at the highest levels, and this should make us satisfied and proud of what we have achieved so far, not only on the track but especially in the factory this winter".
On the Melbourne circuit, the new Ferrari driver, a two-time World Champion, finished fourth, behind his teammate Felipe Massa.
"The F10 has proven to be very good even on a semi-urban circuit like Albert Park. It's an easy car to drive, I saw that from the first test in Valencia, and it's quite straightforward to find a good setup on all types of tracks. Furthermore, it's a very consistent car, in the sense that its behavior doesn't change significantly between qualifying and the race. This is a very important factor this year, considering that there is a significant difference between chasing the time with the minimum amount of fuel on Saturday afternoon and starting the race with a full tank on Sunday. If we also consider its characteristic of not being too hard on the tires, since yesterday both Felipe and I completed 50 laps on the same set of soft tires, then the picture is complete. It's difficult for me to say exactly where we stand compared to the others, but what is certain is that we have started off on the right foot".
With satisfaction after the Australian leg and an overall more than satisfactory result, it is already time to think about the next race, scheduled for Sunday, April 4, 2010, at Sepang.
"In Melbourne, we extracted the maximum from a situation that seemed compromised after the first corner, managing to increase the advantage over what I consider to be our main rivals in the title fight. However, there is no time to relax because in a few days, we will be back on the track for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The race takes place on what is definitely one of my favorite circuits: there are corners of all types, and it is truly a pleasure to drive a Formula 1 car at Sepang because you can push it to the limit. I can't wait to race in Malaysia for the first time behind the wheel of a Ferrari. We need to continue on the path we've set in the first two races. It won't be easy, but we must have confidence in our abilities".