McLaren-Mercedes driver Jensen Button of Britain (C) celebrates winning Formula One's Australian Grand Prix 2012 in Melbourne. Button won the race from Red Bull-Renault driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany (L) with McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (2/R) third. AFP/William West
Jenson Button's victory in Melbourne was just what Formula 1 needed. After a year and a half of Sebastian Vettel domination, there were fears before the race in Australia that Red Bull Racing would simply go on winning. That was not the case at all, and after the race the German admitted that there was no way that he could have beaten Button.
"Jenson deserved to win," he said. "He was out of reach for us."
Vettel's second place was in part thanks to the Safety Car, which allowed him to get ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
"I think we would have had a good shot at Lewis without the Safety Car," Vettel suggested. "It would have been close, but the Safety Car did help me a little bit."
Despite that he was positive about the result.
"I'm very happy with second, especially after the difficult qualifying we had," he said. "I think we had a better car in the race and it seems to have a lot of potential. It is up to us to get to it. McLaren did surprise us in qualifying, but it was better for us in the race. Nonetheless, they are the ones to beat at the moment."
It's all relative
Trying to figure out why one car is quicker than another in F1 is virtually impossible. One gets a snapshot at every race as to the relative competitiveness of the different teams. All are pushing hard to develop the cars and each race is a reflection of where they are. Did the change of rules regarding blown diffusers affect the performance of all the teams? Yes, but that meant all the teams started in the same position, and so it is fair to say that the McLaren team did a better job than Red Bull over the winter.
Mercedes looked very good in qualifying, but suffered from tyre degradation in the race. That was true in the winter testing as well, and this is where the team will be working hardest.
"We are positive we can improve quite a bit in race pace," said Michael Schumacher.
"We have to do a better job in terms of race pace. I think that probably fifth place was the maximum we could have done. We have good ideas about how to improve, but it is going to be a challenge," said the German former world champion.
The redesign of the Pirelli tyres was another element to be taken into account, but the intention was always to create better racing.
"We wanted to give the drivers more grip," said Pirelli's director of competition Paul Hembery. "We also wanted to have fewer marbles and a smaller difference in lap times between the different compounds."
Progress all around
Most of the teams seemed to be happy with the progress they made over the winter.
Lotus impressed in qualifying, while in the race Williams was mighty. That was not down to rule changes, but rather to the fact that the team had completely rebuilt its technical team following the disastrous showing in 2011. In Formula 1, failure results in change. The new Williams technical team did a decent job, and the new Renault engine deal helped, even if the drivers threw away the chance to score points.
Across the board the teams seemed pretty positive, even HRT, which failed to qualify either of its cars.
The feeling was that if the team had managed to test the cars a little bit before the event, qualifying would not have been an issue.
"Some major mechanical issues took up a majority of our time," said Narain Karthikeyan. "Several systems were not working properly and that made the car difficult to drive. Over one lap that was worth probably a second, so as soon as we can get on top of these niggles there will certainly be the pace we need to qualify."
The author has attended every Grand Prix for last 24 years