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GP Week : Issue 145
IN the end, then – after all the pre-season chat – the Qantas Australian Grand Prix gave us two McLarens, two Red Bulls and then a Ferrari. Not a quantum shift, you might say. Within that result, however, lies a hammer-blow: Lewis Hamilton, on the pole, was out-gunned at the start by the guy on the dirty side of the grid – by one Jenson Button. Thanks to a late-race Safety Car that fell nicely on queue for Red Bull Racing, Lewis also found himself in P3, behind Jenson and Sebastian Vettel, as they began the sprint to the finish. He pushed hard: he pushed as hard as his new rear Pirelli primes would allow. By the time the chequered flag flew, though, Lewis was in defence mode. Mark Webber’s RB8 filled those flashy new MP4-27 mirrors as they crossed the line. Jenson had reached it four seconds earlier, Seb two seconds after that. I say this because F1 in 2012 guise is going to be as much about intra-team rivalry as it is about sidepod downwash, stepped noses and pull-rod fronts. And that rivalry is never going to be more intense that at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, where two World Champions – we now know – will have at their disposal the cars with which they can win. Not “take the fight to Red Bull” . Win. And, if you’re good enough, there’s no-one you want to beat more than your team-mate. It has always been thus. Fangio-Moss. Andretti-Peterson. Mansell- Piquet. Senna-Prost. Alonso-Hamilton. Hamilton-Button. So what happened? How did Lewis Hamilton, the pole man, ‘lose’ 10 clear points to his nearest rival in Race One? Put another way, how did Jenson Button eke out a ten-point advantage? The latter question is relatively simple to answer: Jenson perfectly matched clutch lever against revs off the line, found the grip, sweetly timed his upshifts ... and took advantage of being on the inside for the first right-hander. All he needed to do was be there: geo-physics would take care of the rest, for no-one was going to turn right before he did – not short of a titanic, first-corner carambolage, at any rate. After that, Jenson pulled away. No turbulence wake to disturb him. No distractions. Just those beautifully- symmetric corner exits of his, outside rear Pirelli flat and square to the road, absorbing the power at precisely the right rate of throttle opening and steering (un)load, variables such as a high-but- changing fuel load and improving circuit grip described by foot- and handwork that in turn is wired to the eyes, fingers, palms, spine and legs. This is not reflex, or that clichéd ability to “carry a lot of speed”: this is feeling the surface of the road with every sense in his body and applying that information to his peerless management of the loaded tyres. From the outside of the Clark cur ves, Jenson, as ever, appears to be driving on rails. “So smooth!” the less inebriated would exclaim. “So effortless.” As indeed it is. In harmony with his car, on a clear track, P1, Jenson’s pulse rate is probably in the 120s. Max. Lewis? Lewis is the faster racing driver. He knows it. That is why he took the pole, even on a circuit as mundane as Albert Park, where an ultimate, Lewis- type corner – some sort of almost- flat-in-fifth, blind left-hander – simply doesn’t exist. His margin over Jenson was tiny – just over 0.1sec – but still it was enough. It couldn’t be defined by sector times or telemetry. It wasn’t any one thing. It was Lewis, riding perfectly on his innate balance, maximising the car under braking. There was margin enough – Lewis’s native car control is JENSON PERFECTLY MATCHED CLUTCH LEVER AGAINST REVS OFF THE LINE, FOUND THE GRIP, SWEETLY TIMED HIS UPSHIFTS ... AND TOOK ADVANTAGE OF BEING ON THE INSIDE FOR THE FIRST RIGHT-HANDER. After a super start, Button was gone in a flash ... 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> AUSTRALIA