Sebastian Vettel races with his eyes closed in Melbourne

And just like that, Formula 1 is back. Getting through the winter season always feels painfully long, however, getting through this specific season felt like forever. The last moment of 2010 racing was filled with such emotion: Sebastian Vettel becoming the youngest F1 champion ever and Fernando Alonso missing out on his third championship, and first for Ferrari, by only four points. It was an incredibly close season, one where four world champions took part in. This year we see five champions. Pirelli, moveable rear wings, and KERS are only several of the newly introduced words for 2011 and Melbourne was where everything unfolded.

Before we go into any analysis, Melbourne 2011 was probably Sebastian’s most dominant appearance ever. Practice is always practice – experimentation with various car components resulting in fluctuating lap times. Come qualifying, however, Sebastian clocked his pole position lap a full 0.778 of a second from Lewis Hamilton in second with 5 minutes to go in Q3. He came in, the team changed his tires, and on his final lap, he managed faster S1 and S2 sectors than his previous fastest lap. He was definitely in the zone.

His race pace proved his weekend dominance, enjoying a 3 second gap to Lewis within in first 2 laps. Half way through the race he could have practically driven with his eyes closed. Lewis was struggling with a damaged floor board in second but still managed to clock pretty decent laps. Vitaly on a two-stop strategy was just grateful to be in 3rd and focused on keeping it rather than challenging for more. Sebastian had no problems for the season opener and started his championship defense as he would have wished.

Now onto the sport. A lot had gone on during winter testing. Did it pay off?

1. Pirelli tires.

Grip levels were decent and proved to give us an exciting show. Prime (the harder compound) and Option (the softer compound) were the choices and driver’s can use whichever tire for as long as they choose – the entire race or not. Webber went from option to prime and (after realizing how much slower he was) back to option. Alonso went for two stops and managed pretty well in terms of grip.

2. KERS

The Kinetic Energy Recovery System is back after a year off and I’m not quite sure now was the time to re-introduce it. Let’s take a look at Button and Massa’s battle for 4th place. Not only was Massa putting up one hell of a fight to stay in front of a slightly faster McLaren, he was also using his KERS when needed. The problem here was that Button was also using KERS at certain points. It almost felt as though the system in this situation cancelled itself out – Massa used KERS to try and stay in front and Button used KERS to keep up.

What they should have done was wait until 2013 for KERS. With the smaller engines and turbo power, KERS would have made a bigger difference and would have aided in F1’s going-green image.

3. Lotus Renault

Petrov took his first podium ever with Renault. Heidfeld finishing 1 lap down from the leaders was not what I expected from a driver with eleven seasons under his belt. I would have given Raikkonen a call instead.There is a reason why Heidfeld hasn’t won a race since his debut in 2000. Except Petrov to cast a large cold shadow over Heidfeld for a long while unless the German can find some pace.

4. Pit stops

Webber was the first of the front runners to pit (on lap 12) from soft/option tires to hard/prime tires. A second slower on his second stint, he pit on lap 27 and chose the quicker soft tire. Webber was on a three stop strategy pitting for the final time on lap 42.

‘Wheels starting to go, wheels starting to go,’ said Webber on the end of Lap 9.

Alonso, who was on the same strategy as Webber, pit on lap 13, 28 and 43, running option tires for the entire race. As he exited the pit after his first stop, he set the fastest lap three laps later, illustrating how the Pirelli compound heats up almost instantly.

Massa pit on lap 14, 32 and 49. Vettel pit on lap 15 and 36.

‘Rear tires are starting to go,’ says Vettel on end of Lap 10.

‘No grip left, no grip left,’ said Vettel on lap 36 as he began to struggle keeping his tires warm.

5. Massa and Button fight

Button’s battle with Massa from the start of the race proved to be quite exciting. On lap seven Button radio-ed the team and complained about Massa’s defending. Seriously? The team has nothing to do with your ability to overtake or not. I would have liked to see Button do less nagging. It was obvious he had the faster car and Massa was just defending superbly. Lap 11, Button managed to get past by cutting the corner. ‘Incident involving cars number 4 and 6 are being investigated by the stewards,’ read the prompt on the TV screen. Button had argued that his front wheels were in front of Massa when they entered Turn 11 side-by-side, that is why he didn’t feel yielding the position was necessary. ‘Drive through penalty for car number 4 – track limits.’ They have a window of three laps to respond to the steward penalties before they will experience an even larger penalty if the first is ignored. Button responded to the penalty on lap 18, two laps after the penalty had been given and admitted after the race that the penalty ruined his race. If he had simply given up the place immediately after cutting the corner, things would have been quite different.

Round 1 done.

What did you think?

The first phase of the race definitely proved to display much action. The second half slowly started to resemble 2010. They can’t get it right on the first try now can they. The FIA said they will review the added regulations come China.

Next stop: Malaysia.

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