Vettel wins comprehensively in Australia

Sebastian Vettel today won the opening race of the season in Melbourne, Australia, in a controlled and imposing manner.

The German was blindingly quick from start to finish, and although it occasionally looked as though he was getting through his tyres quickly, no one could touch him in terms of outright pace. He did not even use the KERS that theoretically provides a distinct performance advantage.

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton crossed the line in second place, although his car might not yet pass stewards’ scrutineering on the basis of a broken undertray.

Vitaly Petrov took a great third place for Renault, underlining the car’s potential.

He was hounded towards the end by a charging Fernando Alonso who was only ever on the coat-tails of the leading pack in terms of pace. The same went for Mark Webber, whose fifth place evinced his heavy use of the Pirelli rubber.

Jenson Button was sixth, an early drive-through penalty being given to him after he ran off the track when battling Felipe Massa. Rookie Sergio Perez only stopped once and accordingly finished a superb seventh on his debut.

Felipe Massa was eighth with Perez’s team mate Kamui Kobayashi’s ninth place reinforcing Sauber’s impressive start to the season. First of the lapped runners Sebastian Buemi followed him into tenth place.

The Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Scottish debutant Paul di Resta will not be unduly disappointed with eleventh and twelfth places respectively, and Alguersuari, Heidfeld, Trulli and d’Ambrosio were the other finishers in that order.

Both Mercedes drivers retired after contact with other cars, and the perpetrator of Rosberg’s demise, Rubens Barrichello, was the other big name not to finish.

PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS

The Australian Grand Prix
Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia;
58 laps; 307.574km;
Weather: Sunny.

Classified:

Pos Driver Team Time
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h29:30.259
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 22.297
3. Petrov Renault + 30.560
4. Alonso Ferrari + 31.772
5. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 38.171
6. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 54.300
7. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 1:05.800
8. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:16.800
9. Massa Ferrari + 1:25.100
10. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
12. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
14. Heidfeld Renault + 1 lap
15. Trulli Lotus-Renault + 2 laps
16. D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth + 3 laps

Fastest lap: Massa, 1:28.947

Not classified/retirements:

Driver Team On lap
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 50
Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 49
Rosberg Mercedes 22
Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 19
Schumacher Mercedes 19
Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 10
Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1
Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1

Australian GP 2011: as it happened

6.45am Hello and welcome to Forumula1.com’s live coverage of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia.

The drivers have just observed a minute’s silence for the disaster victims in recent times, with particular relevance to Japan.

In F1 news, though, the paddock is whispering about Red Bull and their awesome speed. Whispering about their KERS system, which the rumour mill is doing its best to discredit. I wonder who starts these rumours. It’s all irrelevant anyway, since neither of the drivers have used their system this weekend up to now.

“Absolutely not,” Christian Horner tells the BBC when asked if there is anything dodgy about his team’s KERS. “KERS has advantages and disadvantages… it is an interesting technology…as ever, our car complies with the regs.”

He goes on to pay tribute to Vettel’s amazing lap yesterday, which, when you watch it back, seems even more incredible in terms of where he finds the grip.

“Sebastian was in awesome form, he produced two laps that were phenomenal.”

Meanwhile it’s a glorious sunny late afternoon in Melbourne in contrast to a bleary cloudy morning in South London.

It’s anyone’s guess who will win this race, but with the Red Bulls on the pace that they are, you’d have to put money on them. I’ve got a feeling the variables are going to come into play, though, just because there are so many.

They’re off on the formation lap. They are mostly all on old soft tyres, except for Michael Schumacher, who has a brand new pair of boots. Could be a good shout there. No one knows how quickly the Pirelli rubber is going to disintegrate at race pace.

Lap 1 And they’re off! Down to the first corner they go, and Vettel leads! Hamilton lost out off the line, but he seems to have recovered. Yes, he is in second.

As they sweep over the line it’s Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Petrov (!), Massa (who made a great getaway) and a hounding Button. There’s a Williams in the gravel trap.

Michael Schumacher is just in the pits now with a right rear puncture, so so much for his tyre choice! There may have been some contact though.

Lap 3 The Drag Reduction System has been enabled, meaning the drivers can now use their rear wing technology.

Button uses his KERS to try to take Massa over the line, but it’s not enough! Massa stays ahead, driving excellently defensively.

That was Rubens Barrichello in the gravel after a coming-together with Sergio Perez, and Michael Schumacher was tagged by a Toro Rosso into Turn 3.

Lap 5 We’ve got a stalemate here…Vettel looked, on the basis of his first few laps, that he might run away, but Hamilton is keeping him honest.

Lap 6 “How is he getting away from me on the straight like he is?” bleats Button on the radio. He is being brusquely rebuffed by the Brazilian.

Lap 7 The order is Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Petrov, Massa, Button, Alonso, Rosberg, Kobayashi, di Resta, Buemi, Sutil, Heidfeld, Barrichello, Perez, Maldonado, Kovalainen.

Lap 8 So much for overtaking having been improved. Button cannot get past Massa, and Alonso is bearing down on the pair ominously. Buemi gets past rookie di Resta, who is now being threatened by his team mate in close attendance.

Lap 9 “My tyres are starting to go,” says Mark Webber from third. That’s interesting.

Lap 10 Hamilton was six tenths quicker than Vettel on the previous lap. Is the Red Bull hard on its rubber? As if to confirm the theory, Vettel radioes to say his rears are feeling a bit worse for wear.

Lap 11 Pastor Maldonado is parked at Turn 9. Out of the way, though. And now Button is past Massa! But he had to go through the escape road to do it…and now Alonso is past Massa too! So does that mean Button will have to let them both through? Sounds as though he will.

Lap 12 Webber pits.

Lap 13 Alonso is now pitting. This will complicate things re the Button situation. He goes onto brand new soft Pirellis.

“My front wheels were in front of him when we entered the corner,” says Button, the case for the defence.

Lap 14 Hamilton is chopping Vettel’s lead down at the rate of 1.2 seconds a lap.

Massa pits, too, which translates Button’s potential punishment into a drive-through.

Lap 15 Vettel pits. He emerges behind Jenson Button which could hurt him, but then, as if the gods favour Vettel, Button is given a drive-through. Not entirely unjustified, even if Button will complain.

Lap 16 Button tries to hold Vettel up a bit, but not for long. He’s past Button at Turn 5.

Hamilton is in the pits. And he’s out, but behind Vettel.

Lap 17 Why, I hear you ask? Because Vettel did an amazing out lap, once he’d got past Button. The Red Bull seems very quick on the fresh rubber, but perhaps harder on it long-term.

Lap 18 Button serves his drive through.

There’s now six and a half seconds between Vettel and Hamilton. The order is now Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Petrov, Alonso, Massa, Perez, Rosberg, Kobayashi, Barrichello, Buemi, di Resta, Sutil, Heidfeld, Glock, Alguersuari, Kovalainen, Trulli, d’Ambrosio and Schumacher.

Button pits, officially, and Glock is slowing. The Virgin is perhaps not long for this world.

Lap 21 “The DRS doesn’t seem to be doing anything,” says David Coulthard. He’s absolutely spot on. Peope are using it, and not getting by. Pointless waste of money.

Lap 22 Barrichello makes a lovely move to get by Kobayashi for ninth into Turn 3.

Vettel is about 1.5 seconds a lap quicker than his team mate. Further proof that the Australian’s tyres are going off.

Michael Schumacher has retired from the race.

Lap 23 Barrichello, who was flying, stuck a mad one up the inside of Nico Rosberg and smacked him amidships. Barrichello spins, but recovers, and poor Rosberg is smoking. It looks terminal.

Lap 24 It is. Rosberg retires, through no fault of his own.

Lap 25 The villain Barrichello pits to change his nose.

Button uses the DRS to get past Kobayashi. Hooray. It doesn’t seem very sporting or useful, this system. Jury’s out, though.

Heikki Kovalainen retires.

Lap 26 Not the most exciting Australian GPs of recent times. There’s that one and a bit second gap between most people that seems to stay stable.

Lap 27 Webber pits for the second time. He emerges into what Martin Brundle calls “a nice clear gap”.

Lap 28 Fernando Alonso pits. It wasn’t the cleanest one ever…the right rear seemed to stick a bit. But he too is in clear air when he comes out, and stands poised to score big if anyone comes a cropper in front of him.

Lap 29 Barrichello gets a drive-through for his attack on Rosberg. The order is Vettel, Hamilton, Petrov, Massa, Webber, Alonso, Button, Kobayashi, Buemi, Sutil and di Resta.

Fernando Alonso sets a fastest lap of 1m30.097. He is more than a second quicker than Webber in front of him.

Lap 31 “The [punctured] tyre destroyed the floor…on top I had damaged suspension. I think the team quite rightly decided for safety for me to come in,” says Michael Schumacher by way of explanation of his abbreviated afternoon.

Lap 32 Massa pits for a second time.

Lap 33 Lewis Hamilton is off the track at Turn One. He has a broken undertray, which could be seriously detrimental to his race. “It was definitely broken before he went off track,” says the eagle-eyed David Coulthard.

Lap 34 It’s not clear whether Hamilton can carry on from either a performance or a legality point of view, with his undertray scraping on the floor.

Lap 35 Alonso continues to hunt Webber, but elsewhere there’s not much going on. “Tyres starting to go off,” reports Vettel. He now always sounds as though he’s about to burst into tears on the radio.

Lap 36 Hamilton may face a grilling at the end of the race if his plank is not thick enough. Never thought I’d write a sentence like that. Vettel is into the pits and now Hamilton is too. Petrov joins them.

“We have 21 laps to go, we do not want to make another stop,” McLaren tell Lewis Hamilton after his stop.

Lap 38 Button pits from sixth. It was very slick, that stop, 3.8 seconds. You get the distinct feeling that it could have been a very good afternoon for Button if things had gone slightly differently for him.

“The letterbox is open but there may not be an invitation to pass in there,” is Martin Brundle’s excellent verdict on the DRS.

Lap 39 Alonso is looming large now in Webber’s mirrors. This has the ingredients of combat, although they both may pit again.

Lap 40 Hamilton, believe it or not, is catching Vettel. Yes, that’s Hamilton with bits of his car hanging off. Maybe Vettel had traffic…or maybe, just maybe, he will need to stop again.

Lap 41 Alonso opens his rear wing a mite early onto the pit straight and catches the car beautifully. He is now all over the back of Mark Webber.

Lap 42 Webber pits for a third time. Alonso is released. Webber emerges, and down to Turn 3 runs off the track slightly as the tyres are cold.

Lap 43 Alonso pits. And he is out ahead of Webber! The order is now Vettel, Hamilton, Petrov, Alonso, Webber, Massa, Button, Perez, Kobayashi, Buemi, Sutil, di Resta, Heidfeld, Alguersuari, Barrichello, Trulli, d’Ambrosio, Glock.

Lap 44 Webber is threatening Alonso now. He doesn’t seem to be using his KERS, though, which might hurt him. His DRS makes him hit the rev limiter as he chomps down the straight.

Lap 45 Webber is wide into the last turn, meaning he cannot capitalise down the straight. They are setting a blistering pace, the two of them, as they battle over fourth and fifth. Ferrari remind Alonso to use his KERS.

Lap 47 Vettel’s lead is eleven and a half seconds.

Lap 48 Button is hunting down Felipe Massa and he is through! Excellent use of the DRS from the Englishman. Sergio Perez (!) is threatening Massa too now.

Lap 49 Massa pits, which allows Perez into seventh. The Mexican debutant has only stopped once. “Can the boy walk on water as well?” asks Martin Brundle.

Lap 50 Vettel looks assured at the front.

Lap 51 “It hasn’t been a stunner,” says Martin Brundle by way of a verdict on the race. It is one with which many bleary eyed Brits will concur. Definitely some food for thought, though. One of the areas of interest is Sauber’s incredible ability to maintain good pace and preserve their rubber at the same time. Perez, as we say, has only made the one stop, and Kobayashi two.

Lap 52 Barrichello has retired.

Lap 53 Massa nearly comes together with Buemi as they battle for ninth place.

Lap 54 This is a fierce battle between the two. One that might shortly involve race leader Vettel as he laps the both of them.

Lap 55 Massa through into Turn One.

Alonso is catching Petrov at a rate of knots. He’s got three laps to catch and pass the Russian, who will have good memories from Abu Dhabi of keeping the Spaniard’s Ferrari well and truly behind him.

Lap 56 Alonso is fair chucking that Ferrari into the corners as he chases down Petrov. Time is running out, though.

Lap 57 It’s the penultimate lap. It doesn’t look like Alonso will do it unless Petrov makes an error.

Lap 58 SEBASTIAN VETTEL WINS THE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX

Hamilton is a provisional second, with Petrov third and Alonso fourth. Mark Webber is fifth, and he promptly parks his Red Bull at the end of the pitlane. Button is sixth, with the excellent Sergio Perez seventh and his team mate Kamui Kobayashi eighth. Massa was ninth and Buemi tenth.

A sensational drive from Vettel, who controlled the race expertly. A drive from a world champion, no doubt. He may have more pace in the locker, and you get the distinct impression this will not be the last dominant performance from the young German.

Hamilton’s second place is very much open to contention on account of his broken undertray. It would not be much of a surprise if the McLaren did not pass scrutineering, but the Englishman did a great job in the circumstances.

Vitaly Petrov takes an excellent third place, well-deserved. There were doubts over whether he could adequately fill the gap left by the absence of Robert Kubica but he rose to the occasion today.

That’s all from me, thanks for following.

Webber: I’m disappointed with third on the grid

Mark Webber has said that he is “disappointed” by his third slot on the grid for tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix.

The Australian could not match the pace of team mate Sebastian Vettel and was even pipped to second by Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren.

“I couldn’t do the times today,” he said. “I was disappointed with my performance.

“Sebastian [Vettel] put in a good lap and I’m disappointed to get bumped off the front row. Mystified by the gap to Sebastian, and I’ll have to look at where I can improve. The guys have done a great job not the best job from me but the bar has been raised.

“Today didn’t go to plan. It was absolutely serious, we put everything forward and I wasn’t in the fight for pole so I need to address that and take it into tomorrow’s race.”

He paid tribute, nevertheless, to the team and the car, which looks awesomely fast.

“The most important thing out of today is to see potential of the car,” he added. “The team has done a phenomenal job, looking forward to tomorrow, we will learn a lot as we have learned a lot today.

“We got a snapshot today of what we might expect, there are still some questions but not as many, we have had a reasonable build up of testing. The team has got some good data to lean on to go into the grand prix tomorrow and put that all there…”

When asked if he could win in front of his home crowd, he played down the possibility.

“It’s never impossible,” he said, “but unfortunately I have let Lewis on the front row as well. It is a long season. Today you can get disappointed of course but we will go into tomorrow’s race trying to get [the] best result possible.”

McLaren pair very happy with qualifying effort

McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have said they were pleased with today’s qualifying for the Australian GP which saw them take second and fourth on the grid respectively.

The performance represents a substantial step forward for the Woking team, whose car had previously been thought to be behind the Ferraris and way off the Red Bulls in terms of outright pace.

But Hamilton declared himself “thrilled” by today.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be up here today,” said Hamilton. “The guys at the factory have done an unbelievable job. We have really got ourselves on the right track.”

He added: “A fantastic and super effort back at the factory, it was a very brave and tough decision to pull back what we did over the winter test. We decided to come back and go in another direction. It was very rare, we have never done that before, but the results from the wind tunnel looked good.

“Th guys work harder than ever, the car feels a huge improvement for us and a great stepping stone for us and a great foundation for us to step on.”

Meanwhile, Button said he too was content despite not having got the maximum from his machinery.

“We are very happy with that. We didn’t get the best out of it, but we I think we should all be very happy with the package that we have.

“It’s a massive step forward to what we had in testing, so we should all be very pleased with what we’ve done this weekend.

“It’s still in the early state this car, because we haven’t done much testing, so for it to be reliable and reasonably quick we should be very happy.”

“I’m really looking forward to the race. I think we can have a good race from fourth. I had a good race from fourth last year. We’ll see.

“Sebastian put on a very good lap but we don’t know what their race pace is going to be like. We have to be positive and think we can win.”

Australian GP qualifying: Vettel takes dominant pole

Sebastian Vettel today took a dominant pole position for tomorrow’s opening race of the 2011 season, the Australian Grand Prix.

Vettel showed that he has every intention of continuing where he left off last season by setting a time nearly a second clear of the rest of the field.

The German was quickest in all three sessions, but especially so in the last where he was 0.8 seconds clear of the next fastest man, Lewis Hamilton. The two are both thought not to have had their KERS working during the session.

“It was a bit of a funny winter beause a lot of things changed, the car changed a lot, and we all had to work our way with the [new] tyres, but coming here it looks quite promising,” he said.

“The key is to finish the race, to see the chequered flag, because last year I had to retire halfway through. But we’ve had a very, very good preparation, we hardly had any reliability issues, and the car is not too slow, so things are looking good. Today was the base, and it couldn’t be any better.”

Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber will be third on the grid, with Jenson Button fourth.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso had a disappointing time in the first competitive session of the season, setting a time only fast enough for fifth.

“We were not super-competitive today (compared to) practice,” Alonso told the BBC.

“We knew if we took a big risk we may be fourth, if we are safe, we go fifth or sixth, so no need to take risks in the first qualifying of the season.
“Position we are happy, distance from pole we are not happy, so we need to look at that overnight. Overall grip was where we lacked. We were not so bad yesterday, so we missed something today. I suspect this was not normal pace from us and we will get better and better tomorrow.”

Renault’s Vitaly Petrov reinforced the suspected potential of the R31, going sixth quickest, and Nico Rosberg will not be unhappy with seventh after a challenging winter.

Felipe Massa will line up eighth, with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi underlining their improved testing performances with ninth and tenth respectively.

Michael Schumacher was very close to getting to the final Q3 shootout, but missed out on account of a poor out lap before his last Q2 effort. He starts 11th.

Jaime Alguersuari in the much-improved Toro Rosso will go from 12th on the grid, followed by a trio of rookies in the shape of Sergio Perez (Sauber), Paul di Resta (Force India) and Pastor Maldonado in the Williams. The latter two have the unusual honour for debutants of outqualifying their team mates – Adrian Sutil was the first to be undone by the new technology when he opened his wing flap by accident and was lucky to avoid a big crash, and Rubens Barrichello made an elementary error into Turn 3 and ended up in the gravel. Sutil will start 16th and Barrichello 17th.

From those to go out in Q1, the big name was Renault’s Nick Heidfeld, whose performance will have to improve if he wants to retain Robert Kubica’s coveted seat. The usual suspects were at the back, the Lotuses of Kovalainen and Trulli leading home the Virgins of Glock and d’Ambrosio. The Virgin team will be happy to have qualified at all, but the HRTs were outside the 107% cut and will have to rely on special dispensation from the other teams to race tomorrow.

Pos Driver Team Time
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m23.529s + 0.778s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.307s + 0.866s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m24.395s + 1.250s
4. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.779s + 1.445s
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m24.974s + 1.718s
6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m25.247s + 1.892s
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.421s + 2.070s
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m25.599s + 2.097s
9. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m25.626s + 3.537s
10. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.066s + 2.442s
Q2 cut-off time: 1m25.882s
11. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m25.971s
12. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m26.103s
13. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.108s
14. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m26.739s
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m26.768s
16. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m31.407s
17. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
Q3 cut-off time: 1m27.222s
18. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m27.239s
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m29.254s
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m29.342s
21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m29.858s
22. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m30.822s
23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m32.978s
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m34.2932

Button sets pace on final Friday practice

Jenson Button this morning set the fastest time of all in the final practice session before qualifying tomorrow for the Australian Grand Prix.

After a winter of discontent from the Woking team, the times will go some way to restoring their confidence, although most observers believe Red Bull and Ferrari are yet to show their full pace.

Button told the BBC that he was nevertheless happy with today’s work.

“Reliability something we’ve not had all winter, so to have a car that runs for as many laps as we want it to is very satisfying,” he said.

“It also means we can get stuck into our set-up work and improve the car. I don’t think there’s much to be gained from looking at today’s times though, so I’m not going to get too carried away. The new exhaust has definitely brought performance to the car – it feels much better, makes the handling more ‘complete’. When you have downforce at the rear, you can also add it at the front, and then you put temperature in the tyres – there’s so much that comes with downforce.”

His team mate Lewis Hamilton was cautiously optimistic as well.

“The grip level today felt like a big step forward,” he confirmed. “We don’t know what fuel loads the others are running, but our car feels like a big improvement from where we were just a few weeks ago.”

Elsewhere in the session, Fernando Alonso was third fastest in the Ferrari, while the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were fourth and fifth respectively.

All the other teams managed to get out on track at some point, even HRT, for whom it had looked doubtful.

Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.854s 32
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.986s + 0.132 31
3. Alonso Ferrari 1m26.001s + 0.147 28
4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m26.014s + 0.160 35
5. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m26.283s + 0.429 33
6. Schumacher Mercedes 1m26.590s + 0.736 31
7. Massa Ferrari 1m26.789s + 0.935 34
8. Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m27.101s + 1.247 39
9. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m27.280s + 1.426 34
10. Rosberg Mercedes 1m27.448s + 1.594 23
11. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.525s + 1.671 31
12. Petrov Renault 1m27.528s + 1.674 29
13. Heidfeld Renault 1m27.536s + 1.682 22
14. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.697s + 1.843 30
15. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m28.095s + 2.241 35
16. di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m28.376s + 2.522 33
17. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m28.583s + 2.729 31
18. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m29.386s + 3.532 29
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m30.829s + 4.975 22
20. Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m30.912s + 5.058 23
21. D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m32.106s + 6.252 36
22. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m32.135s + 6.281 30
23. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth No time 1

All Timing Unofficial

Cope with new buttons and get on with it, senior drivers say

Senior drivers Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher today told the new crop of drivers to stop complaining about the amount they will have to do behind the wheel in 2011.

The new season, which starts this weekend in Melbourne, sees a raft of new regulations and will involve the driver’s direct participation in the use of KERS and a moveable rear wing, in addition to their other tasks of adjusting the brake balance, talking to the team, working on rolling strategy and actually driving the car.

The new Pirelli tyres’ degradation will be an added distraction.

But Alonso and Schumacher are convinced that drivers will be able to cope.

“These past weeks, there has been a lot of talk about the possible difficulty of managing all the controls we have in the car, especially on the steering wheel,” Alonso said in his blog on the Ferrari website.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think there will be any problems, at least on the safety front. When all is said and done, we are professional drivers and we have to be capable of adapting to any situation. Even when it comes to running the moveable rear wing, I don’t think there will be problems.”

Schumacher agreed in a Q and A session yesterday, denying there would be a safety issue.

“Absolutely not. If you see last year people running one-handed through Eau Rouge, and the same people now complaining of safety, I think it is a much safer rear wing by now to operate. We know already! That is why you do winter testing, that is not a big factor. I think those drivers who manage to enter F1 they are the best guys around and they easily manage to push two buttons in the car!”

Schumacher: we cannot fight for the championship

Michael Schumacher has today played down his chances of winning the world championship this year, ahead of Sunday’s opening Australian Grand Prix.

The German believes that his car is not a match for the Red Bull and that his first target is to get on the podium.

“I think this year our target and our realistic possibility would be to fight for podiums and if things go very well then maybe to win a race. Does this put us in a position to fight for the championship? No. You have to be careful with this one. I don’t think we are yet ready prepared and developed for this. If the opportunity comes we will be there,” said the seven-time champion in a Q and A session.

Schumacher was inevitably asked about his motivation and whether a win would satisfy him.

“I expressed myself last year very clear and it hasn’t changed. The most important [thing] is to fight for the championship at the time we are ready for it. To be on the podium would be great, but does it really change anything? No. What does change is if we can achieve our target to win a championship together with Mercedes. That is what I want to achieve and that is what I am here for and that is what we are fighting really hard for. Are we ready right now? No. Can we win a race? Maybe. Would it satisfy me? Absolutely, I would be thrilled about this, no doubt, and it is all about winning at the end of the day.”

Moveable wings “a distraction” – Webber

Red Bull ace Mark Webber has called the new moveable rear wings a “distraction”, and hinted they could even be dangerous.

The Australian, speaking at a Red Bull press event today in Melbourne, admitted that he did not fully understand the new regulations surrounding the use of the wing, which theoretically increases a driver’s straightline speed while open.

“I don’t quite understand why we have to use the wing all through qualifying,” Webber said.

“For qualifying, it is an added distraction and loading which we don’t really need. It is not helping the show it is another session where you want to do the ultimate lap time but everyone has the same tools to get that lap time, so why overload the driver? There is no real gain for doing it.”

Last season’s F-duct device, which also brought a performance advantage in a straight line, has been banned for this year after concerns that it distracted the driver and in some cases encouraged one-handed driving.

Webber was asked if the moveable wing represented a worse distraction than the F-duct.

“Yes, I think so,” he responded.

“We only had one thing. We like to be challenged at this level, and all the drivers like that, but when everyone has got it, what is the advantage of complicating it? And also, going around Singapore for example trying to use the button….

“If you look at Eau Rouge at Spa that is why I am saying for qualifying why not just have it at the same points we have it for the race? On the straight. Everyone does it, it is easy. If you take Eau Rouge, Copse, or Becketts it is not improving the situation. For us, it is making it a little bit more sketchy.

“We know the teams are pushing us completely to the limit and it is not nice to open the door up for them. It was for racing, so I don’t see why we need to be trying to get through Eau Rouge with an open rear wing. We tried that with the F-duct, it was a little on the edge and Charlie wasn’t too happy with that…”

History Made: Button Drives Mount Panaroma

VODAFONE FORMULA ONE V8 SUPERCARS BATHURSTJenson Button made history today driving an F1 car at Mount Panorama.

Ahead of the 2011 season, Button became the first ever race driver to take on becoming the first-ever race driver to take on Australia’s iconic Mount Panorama circuit in a Formula One car

Thousands were at the event to watch Button drive five laps in his MP4-23 car before five-time Bathurst champion Craig Lowndes took over the helm, earning him the title of being the first ever Australian driver to take an F1 car around the track.

The unique event, organised by Vodafone with the support of Bathurst Council, was inspired by Button himself, who after taking Lowndes’ team mate, TeamVodafone driver Jamie Whincup’s V8 Supercar, for a spin around Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit last year, declared his desire to have a crack at The Mountain

For V8 Supercar legend, Craig Lowndes, the event was a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to drive a Formula One car around a track he knows (arguably) better than anyone else.

Both Button and Lowndes thanked the fans for attending the historic day and also thanked them for their donations to the Queensland and Victoria Flood Appeal.

“These guys are crazy they really are,” Button said. “This place is fantastic. Television just doesn’t do it justice.

“When I drove around earlier in a Mercedes road car it even felt fast. I think I’m going to have more fun in the V8 car than the F1 because you can actually use all the kerbs and get a good flow. I’m really excited about the challenge. It’s the second time I’ll be driving a V8 and I’ve got so many good memories of watching the V8s on TV and hopefully one day I get to drive one for real and it not just be four laps.

“As a driver you have your favourite tracks. Like Macau and Silverstone for instance. But this is the one I haven’t had the possibility of driving and I’m going to fulfil a childhood dream in not only a V8 but also in a Formula 1 car which I think is pretty special myself.

Button revealed Lowndes had given him some advice before he took to the track.

“He [Lowndes] jokingly said it’s flat everywhere and that if you don’t come back with wing mirrors that’s pretty normal!

“This is an iconic race track and it’s great to celebrate the unofficial fastest lap in a F1 car. That was phenomenal. It was such a rush. Once you get over the straights being quite hard to control the car over it is such a pleasure. It’s just a pity I don’t have more laps to test it out.

“I didn’t expect so much grip. It took me a while to get used to it. I haven’t hammered a car over kerbs like that for 12 years so it was a new experience for me and something I’ve missed.

“I was holding on tight all the way. It takes everything out of you. It was the experience I’ve wanted to have for many years and I’ve finally done it. In a way it’s probably not a good thing because it’s made me more hungry to come back.”

“Imagining an F1 car around Bathurst initially seemed a bit crazy,” Lowndes added. “But it’s here and we’re going to enjoy it for what it is. It will be a hell of an experience. I never thought in my lifetime we’d see this.

“Potentially it [the lap] could be a lot quicker but realistically I’ve been told to bring it back in one piece. Today is more about sharing the experience with Jenson show him the track and the car and vice versa.

“When I first went out it was the acceleration but when you go through turn two you really realise how much acceleration you have. In comparison the V8 seems to labour up the mountain.”