Detailed review of the weekend here:
A sunny start to the 2013 season, not a cloud in the sky. Very little action to begin with teams opting to save some rubber on such a green track. Red Bull on the pace from start, not many believed that RB had the pace after pre-season testing or so they said. But I had that feeling that they were just keeping everyone guessing. Ferrari’s for a change were looking good, at least way better than what they were last year this time around. Vettel ended P1 with Massa P2 & Alonso P3. Sahara Force India were looking pretty strong among the midfield teams with the returning Sutil, impressive right from start ending P8 while his team-mate ending at P13 after he spun in the end damaging the car’s floor. For the time being, SFI were looking in a better shape than McLaren.
And it continued post lunch, bright & sunny all the way. I will add Australia’s weather can be deceptive really, you will know as to why later. Any ways, the results seemed similar to what we saw in FP1. Here the times were on supersofts which were used for the first time in Australia. Vettel ended P1 with home hero Webber at P2 and Rosberg stepping up to P3 before retiring at the dying moments. Sutil was on form again, it looked like he never left (we will see plenty of that moments later in the article). He ended a strong P9 while Di Resta ended P12 as he was troubled by the damaged floor due to that off-track moment in FP1. SFI ended ahead of McLaren again and also the likes of Sauber & Williams.
Now you will know, why I was saying that Australian weather can be deceptive. After a scorching heat of almost 40 degrees on Friday, it was raining like anything on Saturday. The session saw little running from the teams, with them saving tyres for qualifying. They ran on inters mostly as Grosjean ended P1 , Alonso P2 & Massa P3. SFI enjoyed the little session as Di Resta looked very happy after finishing P4 and Sutil ending at P8. More rain was predicted during qualifying, perhaps this little session helped teams analyse a bit as to how they will fare under damp conditions.
The practice sessions saw a two way battle at the top with Red Bull & Ferrari locking horns for pole position. Though Lotus & Mercedes weren’t too far away but RBR’s one lap pace was tough to beat overall by any other team. SFI were looking really strong as the midfield team, they beat McLaren straight out and kept Sauber, Williams behind them by some margin. Many after pre-season testing didn’t believe could happen.
Here we were for the first qualifying session to begin for 2013 season, it had been a long wait certainly and that 30 minutes delay wasn’t helping our cause as well. Anyways, the green light was on and the first Q1 of 2013 was a go. With HRT out, there were 6 cars to be out at the end of the session which meant a midfield team will always feature among the 6. With such damp conditions, it was difficult to conclude the pace as the track was getting better lap by lap. Rosberg ended P1 while Alonso P2 & Grosjean P3. Both SFI made it to Q2, Di Resta improved considerably to get through safely but Sutil was pretty close to be knocked out, though in the end it was enough to get through. With the two Marussia’s & Caterham’s, Maldonado & Estaben were out in Q1.
The second session literally took ages to start, of course it was known it would as rain helped in every way for it to be postponed to Sunday morning. After Suzuka 2010, this was the second time in recent times for such thing to happen. It meant hectic work all the teams in Q2 while Marussia, Caterham could relax and prepare for race. It was still damp on Sunday morning but good enough for the session to go full distance. Rosberg ended P1, Webber P2 & Hamilton P3 as McLaren’s Perez the big scalp out go out in Q2. Di Resta after making a late improvement made it to Q3 but Sutil was pushed down by late improvements by other drivers, pushing him to P12 on his return.
The final session to determine the first pole sitter of the season. Rosberg was looking in great touch in the wet conditions but the weather was changing and track was getting dry. All eyes were on Vettel who had a silent sort of qualifying session till Q3. Now we know, he was saving the best for last as he zoomed past his teammate to take pole with Webber P2 making it Red Bull 1-2 while Hamilton finished P3. Di Resta ended P9 beating Button, thus rounding off a good start for SFI.
Qualifying ended on expected terms with Vettel taking pole and other teams trailing Red Bull as it seemed that the one lap pace of RBR was unbeatable. SFI ended as the best of the rest team even beating McLaren there. For quite a many, the pace shown by SFI was something they weren’t expecting. I was if I can add my thoughts. One can say the race was still be done but I’ll say we won the first battle and we will win the next round as well, over-confidence or optimism, your choice.
Finally the time we all were waiting for as we got to see those similar scenes of teams preparing in the garage and then on the grid. That singing of national anthem, various performance in front of fans, driver’s parade, first lap nervousness and celebrities going up and down the grid. It wasn’t bright and sunny but there was no big threat of rain, although the temperatures would remain cool all through. There was bad news for ex-SFI man Hulkenberg as he had to retire even before the race started with leak in engine.
The moment arrived as the “Five red light illuminated and the 2013 season was a Go, Go, Go”, Vettel took a good lead as Webber fell behind loosing large chunk of places. Ferrari duo took the charge as Massa quickly got behind Vettel with Alonso behind his teammate and Hamilton chasing Alonso. SFI duo had a good start with Di Resta moving to P8 & Sutil to P10. The former was on SS tyres while the later on a different strategy with Med compounds. Behind them things looked calm as there wasn’t any bid drama though we did get a report that van Garde & Chilton touched each other.
Up ahead Vettel was consistently chased down by Massa who was pulling away from Hamilton but with being on SS tyres, it soon started to loose performance and pit stop saga started with Vettel the first man to pit. While others were pitting, we got 7 different race leaders which was amazing to see considering this is only the first race of the season. By now a clear field was getting to be seen, Kimi & Alonso benefitted a lot in this as both jumped ahead of Vettel, Massa, Hamilton to get a track position. At the back of the field, it was good to see Bianchi keeping the Caterham’s at bay while even going an extent to fight with Williams. McLaren’s were all lost with Button reeling at the bottom of the top 10 while Perez was fighting for positions outside top 10, not what they wanted but surely would have expected.
SFI duo after having a good start, made the most of the conditions to get track position. It was simply outstanding to see Sutil lead the race and the fact that SFI lead a race for the second time in two consecutive races made it much more joyful. It never looked that Sutil was out for one year, the way he fought with Vettel keeping him and the Ferrari duo behind, it was surely impressive. Di Resta meanwhile being on different strategy was a bit compromised and was fighting towards the bottom half of top 10 but was running strongly. Midway through the race, it was looking a great start for the team as certainly they looked like the fifth best team.
A quite but a brilliant performance from Kimi saw him win the race comfortably ahead of the provisional leaders. He made the two stop look very easy when all others went for 3 stops. Alonso after having jumped Vettel, Sutil & Massa in pit stops finished P2 while Vettel finished at P3, not the thing RBR would have hoped for after a strong qualifying performance. The pace just wasn’t there for RBR surprisingly while Lotus & Ferrari looked quite strong. Bianchi led the battle of new teams and was very impressive with his GP debut, clearly the best rookie even beating Bottas who had a better car. SFI ended on a big high with Sutil finishing at P7 & Di Resta at P8. Yes, towards the end Sutil was in little trouble after losing places to both Hamilton & Webber but he quickly got his act back to secure P7. Di Resta had a quite race but a strong one as he came close to beat his team mate but was told to take it easy and bring home the important points.
I think the race was the perfect start one could have hoped for , for the 2013 season. Throughout the weekend it was tough to decide as to who will or can be the clear winner. It looks a 3 way battle at the top for the moment but things can change quickly with Mercedes & McLaren hoping for improvements. SFI just showed how good their car is, there were lot of talk about their financial situation and other things but think it was the car which did the talking. One can say that P5 for Sutil in hand but 10 points in first race is the best start the team has got since they got into F1, most importantly they are ahead of McLaren and then their main rivals Sauber & Williams. There is less time left for Malaysia, another place where it will be everything unexpected. We just love back to back weekends, don’t we?
Thanks for reading,