The Opening Race

teabagyokel

#dejavu
Valued Member
By Turn Three at Melbourne last year, Sebastian Vettel was clear of the field. His win at Albert Park was rarely threatened, as he crossed the line 22 seconds in front of Lewis Hamilton in 2nd. Last year, as so often, the first race provides a microcosm of the season to come.

Winners of the first race so often take the title. Even when they don't there are often clues as to who will. In Bahrain in 2010, Alonso won the opener (and, admittedly, nearly the title) but the real story was Vettel streaming away off the front to be stymied by unreliability. In 2005, Giancarlo Fisichella won on début for Renault, however he'd got a lucky break in qualifying. More representative was Alonso's fight from 12th, and Raikkonen not starting from the place where he'd qualified due to unreliability.

2003 saw Schumacher into 4th, but he was in the old F2002. The race was won by David Coulthard in the MP4-17D, as the surprise of the season was McLaren's competitiveness in the 2003 in a car not competitive in 2002! Anyway, 2003 signaled that Schumacher wasn't to have it quite as easy! There was DC's other opening win, in 1997, which was won with the benefit of seeing eventual champion and pole sitter Villeneuve in the kitty litter at the first turn, although McLaren weren't ready to beat Schumacher over the season as they were on the day.

And despite not producing a title winner, 1999's Australian GP really did set the tone for the season. Schumacher effectively out. McLaren fast, but to finish first...! Six different constructors in the points, and surprising success for Irvine, Frentzen and Ralf. (Also both BARs retiring!) It didn't see the champion win, but it did show the first sign of a crazy season.

It is not always so. In 2002, the season decided to use up its entire quota of excitement in Ralf's attempt to climb mount Barrichello at Turn One, taking out 6 other drivers in the chain reaction. One thing did ring true, though, Schumacher's waltz to victory. The F2004's debut saw a Ferrari one-two and certainly set the tone for the most dominant season in memory; the F2000 also scored a one-two, but that showed up McLaren's ability in the millenium year to be faster but somehow stuff it up - there were two Mercedes popping within 7 laps of each other.

Its not only at the front that the tone is set for the season. Who can forget Honda beaten in qualifying by their own 2006 car, painted in Super Aguri's colours. Thats when we knew the RA107 wasn't just an abysmal livery. And there was 2009, McLaren's zenith. However, the comeback on Sunday (regardless of the DQ for lying) showed the resilience that allowed them to return to the front by midseason. And what can sum up Seb Vettel and Red Bull in 2009 more than getting into an unnecessary collision from a decent points scoring position?

In summary, looking at the first race of the season can often tell us a lot about the season ahead if we know where to look. I mentioned some times the eventual World Champion didn't win the opener. Those are the only times that has happened since Nigel Mansell won his first race for Ferrari in 1989.
 

Road of Bones

MTC Mole
Contributor
2009's opener saw another microcosm - Vettel's promise in the Red Bull in his first outing for them (until he tangled needlessly with Kubica of course!).
 

teabagyokel

#dejavu
Valued Member
Yeah, I (sort of) mentioned that. Those 6 points, had he elected to stay behind Kubica, could have kept him in the Championship at least after the Brazilian GP, and could have caused an Alonso-esque pressure eruption at Abu Dhabi.

There have been too many examples to mention without going on and on; BARs recovery in 2000, Montoya losing from a promising position in 2003, BAR withdrawing in 2005, Lewis promising but no cigar in 2007. And I'm only confining my attention to the stuff I'm in a position to remember here...
 

RasputinLives

Leave me alone I'm on Smoko
Contributor
Great Article.

You could also have said about 2003 that the season could be summed up in the opening race by the fact that Montoya was heading for victory with a clear lead and with just eight laps left, with no pressure whatsoever he chucked it off the road and eventually finished 3rd.

I have to say it reminds me of the old days when teams would turn up with their old cars to the opening races and more often than not get beat by whichever team had risked their new car. It used to frustrate the hell out of me - especially Mclaren who seemed to do it a lot - and i remember having a big rant about it just before the 2003 season aimed in Mclaren's direction only to end up with egg on my face - Still don't understand how that 2002 car was so much more compeitive in 2003!
 

teabagyokel

#dejavu
Valued Member
You could also have said about 2003 that the season could be summed up in the opening race by the fact that Montoya was heading for victory with a clear lead and with just eight laps left, with no pressure whatsoever he chucked it off the road and eventually finished 3rd.

I have to say it reminds me of the old days when teams would turn up with their old cars to the opening races and more often than not get beat by whichever team had risked their new car. It used to frustrate the hell out of me - especially Mclaren who seemed to do it a lot - and i remember having a big rant about it just before the 2003 season aimed in Mclaren's direction only to end up with egg on my face - Still don't understand how that 2002 car was so much more compeitive in 2003!
I thought of saying that. The upshot of the whole MP4-17D's competitiveness is that we never actually saw the MP4-18. The Men in Anthracite kept saying "next race, next race", but they never ever bothered.
 
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