Lewis Hamilton admits he never expected to score so strongly in the Australian Grand Prix after finishing fourth, only to be promoted into third as a result of stewards inquiry.
The McLaren driver started at the back of the grid after taking a penalty for changing his gearbox after qualifying.
But an aggressive race strategy allied to some sensational overtaking manoeuvres – including a pass around the outside of Toyota’s Timo Glock at the high speed section of the Albert Park track – saw the defending world champion running as high as fifth before his second pit stop.
Hamilton was promoted to fourth when Robert Kubica and Sebastien Vettel collided with each other in the dying laps and on paper finished behind Jarno Trulli after the Toyota driver overtook him under safety car conditions.
But Hamilton was awarded third place after stewards deemed Trulli’s actions to be illegal and reprimanded the Italian with a 25-second time penalty.
“We scored way more points than we could have realistically expected, said Hamilton after the race. “I was looking to try and get one point, so to get six is a great achievement.”
“We’ve definitely not forgotten how to win: our strategy was perfect and the team did a fantastic job. Considering the package we’ve got, I wrung every last ounce of pace out of the car, drove one of my best ever races and absolutely raced my heart out – I’m so satisfied.”
“Also, my heartfelt congratulations to Jenson he’s driven brilliantly all weekend and both he and his team really deserve this success.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh was impressed by Hamilton’s performance.
“Today was one of those days on which Lewis demonstrated very clearly just what a fantastic racing driver he is. Throughout the race he showed great speed and tenacity, tempered when necessary by commendable patience.”
“The car we supplied him wasn t as competitive as we d have liked it to be we ve made no secret of that but we re working flat-out, night and day, to improve it.
“The points Lewis scored today are of course very welcome and, as and when we regain our form, we hope they ll take on a greater significance still.
Hamilton and McLaren admit that they still have a lot of work to do before they can challenge at the front, and Heikki Kovalainen’s accident at the first corner was a stark reminder of the problems that come from racing further down the grid.
“Obviously, my race was very short,â€ Kovalainen said afterwards. “Webber had a moment at the first corner and his front wheel hit my left-front. It was a racing accident these things unfortunately happen.â€
The world is taking a collective breather after the incident-packed Australian Grand Prix this morning. The 2009 season looks exactly as if it is going to continue where 2008 left off – with controversy, incidents, wheel-banging and upsets. But after all the conjecture of recent months, what can judgements can now be made about the relative pace of teams? Who looks likely to be able to maintain their speed? And who will definitely have to improve?
Brawn’s one-two finish was not a surprise, particularly after yesterday’s qualifying session. They are clearly the form team and have – as predicted – a considerable time advantage over the rest of the field in normal conditions.
Similarly, as predicted, Toyota and Williams (the other two members of the ”diffuser gang”) were also rapid. Toyota’s charge up the field – manifested in both their drivers’ good performances – was top notch. Renault were as average as most expected they would be, as were Force India. Ferrari more or less stuck to pre-season predictions – fast, and within touching distance of the front, but vulnerable to reliability issues.
However, there are many reasons why today’s multiple incidents make judging form very difficult indeed. Brawn are the obvious candidates. They won and came second. But they were not so far ahead of the field as they might have been, and Vettel and Kubica’s coming-together was very fortuitous for the Brackley team. They wouldn’t have come second and Kubica might even have challenged for the lead if he hadn’t collided with Vettel. They are ahead, but not by as much as was forecast.
BMW Sauber are clearly very good, but have nothing to show for it from Melbourne. Heidfeld went out at the first corner, scuppering his chances of showing what he could do. Kubica is beginning to remind observers of Alain Prost – a calculating and devastating driver. Sebastian Vettel was superb until his mistake – another incident belying an almost flawless weekend from Red Bull. Barrichello’s haste at Turn 1 on the first lap effectively put paid to Mark Webber’s race too.
Lewis Hamilton, moreover, should not have been fourth. That he was is testament to a fantastic drive from the young Englishman but it would be blinkered to say that it was all down to his talent. The world champion benefited hugely from the attrition that took place around him as he chucked his recalcitrant McLaren around Albert Park. The McLaren is a lot further back in real terms than it was today – and it seems absurd that if the ”diffuser gang” are ruled illegal, Hamilton will have won the race.
So form cannot be judged truly, and fans will have to wait til Malaysia to get another view of who’s good and who’s not. But among the incidents, there were also mistakes – incidents which do give a guide to form insofar as they reflect on the lack of it. Barrichello’s two rash challenges in the opening laps spring to mind; he has to be the luckiest man in Australia today. Nakajima’s losing it on the power in mid-race that ended with him in the wall. And Nelson Piquet showing how good every other F1 driver is by not managing to use his cold brakes effectively when the Safety Car came in.
But bring on the next races, if incidents are to be the order of 2009. What entertainment!
Robert Kubica has blamed Sebastien Vettel for dashing his chances of winning the Australian Grand Prix after the pair collided with each other in the dying laps.
Kubica was chasing Jenson Button for the race victory in the closing stages of the race as the Brawn GP driver struggled on the softer compound tyres.
The BMW Sauber first had to pass Sebastien Vettel, also on the soft tyres, but when the Pole attempted to dive around the outside of the Red Bull driver at Turn 3 the duo collided with each other and crashed their cars at the following corners.
Kubica says that Vettel was “a bit too optimistic” in his defence and believes his actions were uncalled for given that there were still three laps remaining.
“Sebastian went wide in corner one and then he braked early,” he explained.”
“I was already in front, but he didn’t want to let me by. Then he had a lot of understeer and touched me. My front wing was under the car, therefore I crashed in corner 5.”
“I think Sebastian was a bit too optimistic. Had this been the last corner okay, but there were still three laps to go and he really had no realistic chance to defend his position because I was so much quicker.”
Kubica is adamant that he could have challenged Button for the race victory had he not tangled with Vettel.
“I had a chance to win this race because Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel were on soft tyres and struggling, while I was on the harder compound and was able to drive much quicker,” he said.
“We both had a great weekend up to this point and we leave Melbourne with nothing. That’s a real shame! My car was very good, particularly in the second stint when I set the best lap times. That’s racing!”
Teammate Nick Heidfeld also notched up a DNF after being involved in a tangle at the start caused by Rubens Barrichello.
The Brawn GP driver found himself out of place at the first corner and, attempting to make up ground, ran into the side of the Red Bull s Mark Webber, who in turn bashed wheels with Heidfeld writing off his BMW.
“Today’s outcome to the race is extremely disappointing for me,” said Heidfeld. “I had such a good start and was able to make up positions straight away. My strategy was promising too.”
“Then in the braking zone for the first corner I felt safe because when I looked there was no car next to me. I was in the middle of the track but suddenly I got a big bang.”
“I had to pit for new tyres and a front wing, but the damage to the car was a lot more than that and driving with it was hopeless. I think at least the KERS helped me to defend my position with such a slow car. But in the end it didn’t matter much because who cares if you finish 11 or 13.”
BMW Sauber Team Quotes:
Mario Theissen (BMW Motorsport Director): “As quite often happened in the past we had another race in Melbourne with a lot of drama. Nick’s hopes had already gone in the first corner. After a collision, which wasn’t his fault, he was not only a long way behind, but also his aerodynamics were ruined, which made it impossible for him to catch up. Robert drove an excellent race and got himself up with the leaders in the final laps of the race. He was on the harder tyre compound, and had every chance to catch the two cars in front of him to win the race. The collision three laps before the flag ended the race for him and also for Sebastian Vettel, so both drivers lost a podium and points. On the positive side, I can say that today we were very fast on the harder tyres.”
Willy Rampf (Head of Engineering): “This was a turbulent start to the season, particularly for our team. Nick lost his chances in the race immediately after the start following a crash, which was not his fault. Robert was even unluckier. First he was catching the leading cars. And then, just a few laps from the end, he was able to attack the frontrunners. Because of our tyre choice, Robert was on the harder compound on the last stint, unlike his competitors on the soft. At this stage our car was much quicker than the two leading ones. When Robert overtook Sebastian Vettel he was already in front when Sebastian touched him. This cost us second place or even the victory.”
Williams have withdrawn a formal protest it lodged with stewards over the the legality of the Ferrari and Red Bull cars.
The nature of the protest has not been disclosed but reports from Melbourne suggest the Grove-based outfit called into question the legality of the cars’ sidepod arrangements.
The investigation ran deep into Saturday night, but before stewards delivered their verdict Williams announced that they were withdrawing their protest “in the interests of the sport”.
The team said in a statement: “After further detailed consideration, Williams has withdrawn both protests in the interests of the sport.
“Williams recognises the possibility that in this area there could be more than one interpretation of the rules and therefore does not feel it appropriate to continue with the protests.”
The affair follows similar complaints made by Ferrari and Red Bull Racing against Williams’ own diffuser design, but team chiefs have insisted this is not the reason for their follow-up protest.
Williams technical director Sam Michael told autosport: “Let’s be 100 percent clear, if someone thinks our car is not legal, we have no problem with them going the stewards at any time throughout the race weekend or the championship and saying we think x on that car is illegal.”
“So we don’t have any problem with what people have done this weekend.”
The line-up for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix has now been made official with the demotion of the Toyota drivers standing as the sole change.
Felipe Massa has said that his Ferrari team can profit from the high attrition rate which normally characterises the opening Grand Prix of the season.
The Brazilian, who despite being upgraded to sixth on the grid by the demotion of the Toyotas, is these days unaccustomed to mid-pack tussles. However, he expects there to be accidents and unreliability issues for other teams tomorrow.
”The first round of the season here in Australia is always a step into the unknown, especially as the track is slippery and accidents are a strong possibility. We will try to get to the finish and to pick up as many points as possible,” said last year’s world championship runner-up.
Team principal Stefano Domenicali echoed Massa’s sentiments, but added that he was disappointed by the performance of the car today.
”[Today] we did not live up to our potential. We have to work out why that happened and at the same time, prepare as well as possible for a race that is bound to be very difficult and uncertain.”
Meanwhile Kimi Raikkonen in the other Friday admitted that a hydraulic problem had cost him his morning practice session.
‘This morning, a hydraulic problem meant I pretty much missed out on the third free practice session: a shame, but better that this should happen on Saturday than Sunday. The car was far from ideal for qualifying but I think we are in pretty good shape for the race,” said the Finn, optimistically.
There were only two questions that mattered going into qualifying for Sunday’s historic season-opener in Melbourne: just how fast are Brawn GP, and just how slow are McLaren?
The crucial one hour session threw up a unanimous answer to both – very.
The Australian Grand Prix weekend was always going to be unpredictable of course given the sweeping new regulations introduced for this year, not to mention that Brawn GP had a head start on just about everybody in responding to them – ironically as a result of Honda’s failings and the decision to abandon last year’s car.
But nobody could have anticipated the scale of the reversal or the sight of the sports stalwarts – McLaren, Ferrari and Renault – struggling to break into the top ten.
Great Britain finds itself both fronting and bringing up the rear on Sunday with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton at polar opposites from where they were less than seven months ago.
In fact, only five weeks ago Button’s then Honda team, or what was left of it, had no buyer, and the future looked very grim. But the resilience and hard work of the Brackley-based squad over the last two years has paid off – the pleasure of seeing their car’s name at the front of the grid, whatever tomorrow may bring.
Is this role reversal a mere trading of position though – and potentially an unsustainable one at that – or can Jenson find some of the luck and reliability that has so consistently alluded him further down the grid?
Can Brawn win the race? At a conservative estimate, with fuel loads factored in, Brawn have about a third of a second per lap over the rest of the field. With that kind of advantage they are expected to scamper away, with the possibility of unreliability the only threat. From the others, Vettel and Kubica might be in with a shout. Kubica’s third place is especially remarkable considering he was not carrying KERS.
In many ways the most interesting battle tomorrow could be in the midfield. It will be very interesting to see Alonso, Raikkonen and Hamilton in close combat with each other and the mere mid-pack mortals. Felipe Massa too is undistinguished in dogfights, but his relatively high grid position (7th) could be a springboard if his race pace is superior to his qualifying.
Kazuki Nakajima will be disappointed not to have made the top ten, on the grounds that in his team-mate’s hands the Williams was 5th. Equally, Nick Heidfeld’s 11th will be considered an opportunity missed. Finally, Nelson Piquet Jr’s failure to make Quali 2 will be a source of frustration to him and to his bosses.
Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli have been sent to the back of the grid for the Australian Grand Prix after Toyota were found to be in breach of the regulations surrounding flexible wings.
Glock and Trulli qualified sixth and eighth for Sunday’s race, but FIA race stewards inspected their cars after the session and found the rear wing on the Toyota to be in breach of the rules.
Flexible or moveable wings are currently banned in Formula One under article 3.15 of the technical regulations.
The FIA said in a statement: “The Stewards have received a report from the Technical Delegate that the upper rear wing elements of cars No. 9 and 10 are showing extreme flexibility in contravention of Article 3.15 of the 2009 Formula One Technical Regulations.
“The Stewards have heard the explanation from a representative of Panasonic Toyota Racing and have examined the cars in question.
“The Stewards concur with the opinion of the Technical Delegate and find the cars contravene the requirements of Article 3.15 of the 2009 Formula One Technical Regulations.
“It is the Stewards decision that cars number 9 and 10 be excluded from the Qualifying Session Official Classification.”
Toyota confirmed that they accepted the finding and would not be appealing the decision.
The team said in a statement: “Toyota Motorsport has been informed that the rear wing of the TF109 has been found to demonstrate “extreme flexibility” by the Australian Grand Prix stewards.”
“The design has passed our own internal test procedures which are designed to reproduce twice the proscribed official load tests. In light of this decision it is clear we must review these procedures to ensure there is no repeat of this situation and we will also review our production processes to ensure there is no variation between parts.
“We naturally accept and respect the decision of the race stewards.
“We intend to modify the components overnight and we are confident these modifications will not result in any performance drop.”
Jenson Button (Brawn GP) – 1st: “To put the car on pole at our debut race is a fantastic achievement and I have to give so much credit to Ross, Nick and everyone at the factory in Brackley.
The last four months have been incredibly tough for the team and to go from a situation where you don’t even know if you are going to be racing to achieving pole at the first race of the season is just incredible.
Tomorrow is obviously the most important day of the weekend and there is a lot of work to be achieved to come away with a successful result however we have to remember where we have been and really enjoy this moment.”
Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP) 2nd: “It has been a great day and I want to congratulate the team for an outstanding job. I was hoping that I could put the car on pole and it was looking good in the first two sessions but in Q3 I developed some understeer in the car which comprised my final runs. However the first row for both cars is a real credit to the team and gives us a great chance in the race tomorrow. We have a really good car which everyone deserves credit for and I am just so happy to be racing at the front again.”
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 3rd: “It’s been a difficult two days leading up to qualifying. I only had the pleasure of completing one lap in the first practice, then I made a mistake in the second, which meant we couldn’t run through our programme. Then we had a failure this morning, which cost us some track time, so it’s been anything but ideal! Nevertheless, I think we pulled everything together; we’ve been looking deeply at the data and trying to prepare well for qualifying. I think we succeeded, so thanks to everyone.
Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber) – 4th: “I’m quite happy with fourth on the grid. Looking at the first practice sessions of the weekend, this was more than we expected. We made progress with the car, and I was able to put in some really good laps. In particular, my lap in Q2 was very good. Unfortunately on my second run in Q3 Nico Rosberg went wide in front of me in corner 14 and put some dust on the track. As a consequence my tyres lost massive grip in the final corners of that lap. Most probably I could have finished third, but still I’m satisfied with my performance.”
Nico Rosberg (Williams) – 5th: “I think it is a good thing to be a bit disappointed with fifth place! Our qualifying session itself was consistent with everything else I have experienced so far and the car has been nice to drive all weekend. From the work we have done today, we are in a good position to start the race, perhaps better than we would have imagined when we arrived here.
“We are among the fastest cars but it will be interesting to see what fuel load everybody is running. The start tomorrow of course will be important, but thankfully we will don’t have too many cars running KERS close by us and possibly challenging us off the line. The big factor tomorrow will be tyres, but I think we have a good strategy and positive reliability, so we have all the tools to do a good job in the race.”
Timo Glock (Toyota) – 6th: “We struggled a bit in second and third practice to find the right balance but we worked hard to find a solution and we did some set-up work which got the car into the right set-up window. I think with a bit more fine-tuning maybe we could have been further up the grid – we were only a tenth behind the top three so it could have been better but I am quite positive about the result.
“The car feels pretty good now and we are clearly not far away so let’s see how it goes tomorrow in terms of strategy. I am pretty happy and reasonably confident.”
Felipe Massa (Ferrari) – 7th: “We reckoned it would be possible but very difficult to get into the top five and this turned out to be the case: we ended up seventh, which is definitely not very satisfying but it represents the best we could do this afternoon. Now we must concentrate on tomorrow’s race, which will be extremely tough.
“The first round of the season here in Australia is always a step into the unknown, especially as the track is slippery and accidents are a strong possibility. We will try to get to the finish and to pick up as many points as possible.”
Jarno Trulli (Toyota) – 8th: “That was a really hard qualifying for me. I expected a lot more from today so I am disappointed. Of course I will fight as hard as I can in the race but I don’t know what to expect because the car felt different in qualifying compared to final practice.
“I don’t know why but the tyres just would not warm up as expected and I was sliding around quite a bit. On top of that I had some issues with the brakes so it was really difficult for me.”
Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 9th: “This morning, a hydraulic problem meant I pretty much missed out on the third free practice session: a shame, but better that this should happen on Saturday than Sunday. The car was r from ideal for qualifying but I think we are in pretty good shape for the race.
“A points finish is possible even if we could have been further up the grid. From what we have seen today, clearly we lack a bit of performance compared to the quickest guys, but the race will be very long and we will see what we can manage to do.”
Mark Webber (Red Bull) – 10th: “I’m not rapped with my last lap. My previous flying laps had gone well, so I would have liked a better result, but that’s where we are so we’ll try to make something from the race. The bumps were quite bad in Turn nine on the final run. The team’s done a good job and we’ve worked well through our programme over the winter. It’s a shame I didn’t get the best time in qualifying, but we’ll see how we go from there tomorrow.”
Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) – 11th: “We have been improving the car in every session and in qualifying it was okay. Also my final lap in Q2 was okay until the last sector where I just didn’t get it right, and especially in the last corner I had too much oversteer. Eleventh is certainly not what I was aiming for after the winter tests were quite promising, but at least it is an advantage compared to tenth because I am now free to choose my fuel load. I am hoping for a good race and some points. Using the KERS might be a small advantage just after the start, although here the straight before the first corner isn’t really long.”
Fernando Alonso (Renault) – 12th: “We arrived here to fight for the podium, but this might not be the case tomorrow. We were very close to Q3 times, only two or three tenths of a second off, but I made a mistake as I tried to make up some time in the final corner. I’m disappointed as I thought I could be fifth or sixth on the grid. However, last year I started in 12th and got up to 4th in the race so I’m still confident that tomorrow, if we have an eventful race, I can get a good result.”
Kazuki Nakajima (Williams) – 13th: “The car was good enough to make it into Q3 today, but I made a small mistake and it cost me quite a few places. There is however plenty to consider tomorrow and I think I still have a good opportunity, so it will be important to concentrate and get absolutely everything right. As it the first race I think there will be plenty going on, which will make it exciting, but challenging.”
Nelson Piquet (Renault) – 17th: “I knew it was going to be a bit tough today, after a difficult weekend for us. At the start of qualifying the car seemed okay, but then I started to struggle. This track is not one I enjoy particularly. I was pushing a little too hard and made a mistake in the last sector.”
Giancarlo Fisichella (Force India) – 18th: We knew that it would be difficult today, but considering what we have done so far this year, with the limited pre-season testing, being just two tenths slower than the 2008 world champion is a good result. Being so close shows it’s already a very challenging season. I had a good lap and I am happy as I have been struggling a bit with the brakes and locking all weekend and I’m not driving as I want. But all this considered, there is really good potential in this car so we are looking forward to working it through. For tomorrow, first of all we need to get to the end of the race – that’s the main goal and then we’ll see.
Adrian Sutil (Force India) – 19th: For sure we were hoping after yesterday’s performance to be able to make it into Q2 but in the end it was not possible. Things looked better in practice but perhaps the others were not showing all their potential. We know we have plenty to work on, our main problem is that we need a lot more downforce. My main goal now will be to make it to the end of the race tomorrow and then let’s see where we are. It’s even tighter than last year.
Ross Brawn is refusing to get carried away with his team’s domination of qualifying ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.
Jenson Button heads an all Brawn front row going into tomorrow’s season-opening race with teammate Rubens Barrichello looking strong behind the Briton on a potentially heavier fuel load.
Button’s pole lap of 1m 26.202 around the Albert Park circuit was over half a second quicker than that managed by Brawn’s GP nearest rivals confirming their impressive pre-season form.
But Brawn, who masterminded many of Michael Schumacher’s race victories at Ferrari, is under no allusions that it is tomorrow’s race strategy that matters most.
“Whilst this is a great achievement and gives both drivers an excellent opportunity in the race tomorrow, the job is only half done and our full focus is now on getting the best result possible in the race,” he said.
While Brawn GP are in many ways a new team part of their success has been a result of having top class facilities at Brackley, courtesy of Honda backing over the past few years.
There have been fears that the team may not be able to sustain their success without Honda’s financial backing, but a new sponsorship deal with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group – unveiled this morning – should secure the long term future of the team.
Branson was present in the team’s garage when Jenson Button grabbed pole position.
“Watching our two cars top the timesheets throughout qualifying capped an excellent day for the team which began with the announcement of our new partnership with Virgin this afternoon,” Brawn said..
“The track conditions were more favourable than we experienced yesterday and we found that the tyres worked in a more conventional way. In addition, the changes that we had made following yesterday’s practice sessions proved positive and both drivers had a well-balanced car which allowed them to concentrate on maximising the lap times.”
Jenson Button meanwhile was delighted to claim his fourth career pole position, his first since Canada 2006.
“To put the car on pole at our debut race is a fantastic achievement and I have to give so much credit to Ross, Nick and everyone at the factory in Brackley,” he said.
“The last four months have been incredibly tough for the team and to go from a situation where you don’t even know if you are going to be racing to achieving pole at the first race of the season is just incredible.”
“Tomorrow is obviously the most important day of the weekend and there is a lot of work to be achieved to come away with a successful result however we have to remember where we have been and really enjoy this moment.”
Teammate Rubens Barrichello admitted he was disappointed not to have taken the top spot himself will be hoping that he can overtake the Briton with his race strategy.
“It has been a great day and I want to congratulate the team for an outstanding job,” he said. “I was hoping that I could put the car on pole and it was looking good in the first two sessions but in Q3 I developed some understeer in the car which comprised my final runs.”
“However the first row for both cars is a real credit to the team and gives us a great chance in the race tomorrow. We have a really good car which everyone deserves credit for and I am just so happy to be racing at the front again.”