The 2012 F1 season has certainly kicked off with a bang.
The debut race in Australia saw what Jenson Button described as “dominance” from the McLaren forces: a win for the 2009 World Champion and a third place finish for Hamilton secured a bundle of points for the team.
Interviewed straight after the race, Button described how the team “had a strong winter – yesterday's qualifying race really showed that – so it's nice to come away with a victory today (at the) first race of the season” – a victory which Button has achieved three times in the last four years.
Sebastian Vettel also had a strong opening to the season – powering to a second place finish in his Red Bull. However, recent attention on Vettel has been directed towards his abilities as a racer now that the mechanics of the car itself no longer seem to present the threat and dictatorship that Red Bull have commanded in previous seasons.
It will be interesting to see, as the season progresses, whether the Red Bull team have had their day and consequently, whether or not Vettel can prove himself as a force to be reckoned with when he is no longer a consistent starter from pole position.
On the flip side, the Lotus team (previously Renault) are showing potential to be on the up with Romain Grosjean qualifying at third position in Australia – a stunning achievement and perhaps a telling indicator that the winds have changed and Red Bull may no longer be the biggest kids on the block.
Melbourne saw an intensity which pushed some drivers on, and some off the track – quite literally – and out of the battle for those all important first-race points. Despite starting in a comfortable third place on the grid and showing promise, Grosjean was forced to retire in the opening lap. He was joined by a number of others including Massa, Senna and Schumacher, before the race was over.
Other notable races in Australia came from a Webber – Alonso rivalry; the intensity of which was fought to the very end and secured a fourth and fifth place finish for the respective drivers.
Also to note, Raikkonen returned with a solid seventh place finish and Sergio Perez demonstrated some strong driving, finishing just behind in eighth.
Within a week the drivers were presented with the second hurdle of the season in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The design of the 56 lap circuit offered the drivers no opportunity to catch breath post -Australia. The abhorrent conditions and torrential rain was a key feature throughout the weekend in Malaysia and proved to have a definite influence on the race outcome.
The rain worked to the advantage of the Ferrari team whose amazingly quick pit stop changes certainly contributed to enable Fernando Alonso to quickly establish a seven-second lead when the race resumed following a downpour – induced stoppage.
Despite consistent pressure from Sauber's Sergio Perez throughout the remaining laps, Alonso secured his position at the pinnacle of the podium. Despite a powerful win in a gripping yet frantic race, Alonso said that his surprise victory “changes nothing” regarding Ferrari's need to improve their car – perhaps a space to watch as the season continue.
Alonso was flanked by Perez in second and McLaren's Hamilton in third. Despite starting in pole position, Hamilton repeated a third place finish and another fifteen points. Hamilton stated that he was “satisfied” with the outcome of the race, but also felt that he was “pretty fortunate” to have been able to “stay out of trouble with the conditions changing constantly.”
Team mate Jenson Button was less fortunate and struggled to a fourteenth place finish, denying him any more points to add to the 25 he secured in Australia. Shortly after the race, Button tweeted that he “didn't expect that!!” and that he wanted to “put that one behind (him) pretty quickly.”
By contrast, Williams-Renault's Bruno Senna had what has been described as “the race of his life” in Malaysia, finishing in a strong sixth position which was a massive boost for the Williams team as a whole. Schumacher scraped the last available points, finishing in tenth place while Vettel was left disappointed in eleventh. Rosberg and Massa were also left at the sidelines in Malaysia; managing thirteenth and fifteenth place finishes respectively.
As it stands, Alonso leads the championship with 35 points, followed by Hamilton on 30, Button on 25 and Webber closely behind on 24. However, with China soon approaching there is no time for the drivers to relax.
Australia and Malaysia have showcased a world-class collection of drivers, cars at the forefront of automobile engineering and an unprecedented thirst for victory that has already defined the 2012 season as one that will fast-paced, brutally fought and remembered for many seasons to come.