Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Driver of the Day: Australia

In a new feature for the site for 2012, after every race I will be making nominations for driver of the day, before then deciding the winner of the award.

Comfortable race winner. Button made a really strong start from 2nd on the grid, jumping his team mate, and never really looked back. The British driver led by three seconds very quickly, after driving a storming first lap, and after issues for Hamilton, but not to take anything away from Button's brilliant pace, he was as far as twelve seconds ahead. But the most impressive thing for me was the safety car restart. He had Vettel, Hamilton, Webber and Alonso all behind him, and it was up to him how he played it. He had to set the pace - it was his decision when to speed away. And he got it perfect. As Vettel and Hamilton battled, Button bolted away, setting a stunning lap, and getting away from the pack. Although Vettel did close in on him, Button was never troubled. A superb drive to his third Melbourne win in four years.
Couldn't really have contrasted more from his 2011 drive, where he dominated to victory, leading home Hamilton by 22 seconds. However, in many ways, his 2012 drive was better. After qualifying a, by his standards, terribly disappointing sixth, he needed to perform well to get anywhere near the McLarens, particularly when they were actually looking faster than the Red Bulls. The double World Champion started brilliantly, making up a place, before on Lap Two, one of his finest overtaking moves, passsing Nico Rosberg into the outside of Turn Seven, which was very probably overtake of the race. Later on, he used a clever strategy to get ahead of Lewis Hamilton at the safety car period and into 2nd place. The double world champion said of his day in Melbourne: "I’m very happy with myself today – I think it was the most we could have achieved. I felt good in the car. Even before the safety car, I think we would have had a good shot at Lewis towards the end, as we were getting close."
If you look at the statistics, Fernando Alonso is not someone who'd probably be in a position to get driver of the day. 21 seconds off the lead, qualifying twelfth and finishing fifth. However, Alonso had a sensational race, which will certainly rank up there with his best ever. Lets get one thing straight: The F2012 is a dog, both with regards to looks and speed. Alonso, renowned for hardly ever making mistakes, made one on Saturday. For me, that shows just how difficult the car is to drive. But Alonso's race was flawless. Starting twelfth, he made a brilliant getaway, as he always does, and was eighth before the end of Lap One. The rest of his race was just as strong, performing way beyond the car's capabilities and keeping Mark Webber behind him for some time. The F2012 may be a disaster, but Alonso is as good as ever, with Sky commentator Martin Brundle stating that Alonso "could drive a one-wheeled wheelybin fast." Alonso said of the race:  I got a great start and managed a few passing moves in the early stages and later, after the Safety Car, there was a tough fight with Maldonaldo. As for the positive points to come out of today, they would be the start, the pit stops and the strategy."
Saturday was a shocker, and Kimi Raikkonen's first qualifying session back couldn't really have gone any worse, with an error on hius flying lap meaning he was eliminated in Q1 and began the race eighteenth. However, it was clear from the first lap that Raikkonen still has it. He made a fantastic getaway and was up to twelfth by Turn One, brilliantly navigating his way through the chaos at the first corner. And then later in the race he proved that he has lost absolutely none of his talent and prowess - making several great overtakes including one on the outside of Kamui Kobayashi at Turn Four - which is an early contender for move of the season. Raikkonen certainly seems to have it, and the 2007 World Champion said of his day in the Lotus: "It feels like I've never been away. Yesterday we made some mistakes which cost us quite badly so it could easily have been better in the race. I made a good start but then there was an accident in front of me at the first turn, so we lost a few places there as I had to almost stop and move onto the grass to avoid it. That made the race harder again as we had the speed, but a lot of traffic to get through. When you look at all these things we could have finished in a much better position."
This young Mexican driver got my rookie of the year award in 2011, and is looking in fine shape this season. Perez's Saturday wasn't good by any means, in Q1 he was impressive and at the top of the timesheets, but in Q2 he has a gearbox failure, which meant he couldn't go out and was seventeenth. However, as Perez had to change his gearbox, it meant he was starting twenty-second. His start was very good though, and incredibly was soon up into twelfth, just behind his team mate Kamui Kobayashi. Perez, who became famous with his one-stop performance at his debut, also in Melbourne last season, displayed his brilliant talent for managing the tyres once again. Perez was very late to come in, such was his confidence that he could stay out for some time and keep them going. He managed to keep Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton behind him for some time as he continued with these shot tyres. He was seventh going into the final lap, but that became eighth when he was passed in the last corner madness. A great drive from Perez, making up fourteen places.
After somewhat controversially keeping his seat after a troublesome 2011 season, Pastor Maldonado had (and still does) a lot to prove. However he went a long way to doing that this weekend in Melbourne. After a brilliant qualifying session saw him start eighth on the grid, Williams were expecting a good race. And it was clear that Maldonado was going to deliver that. He drove well all race, propelling the Williams into a great position, which was set to be his first score since August and his best ever result. He was fighting with the big boys throughout the race, and after the safety car came in, pressured the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. While the Ferrari clearly isn't strong, this was great stuff from the Venezuelan as he attacked the Spaniard, and put him under a lot of pressure. Maldonado was on the final lap and nearly had him at Turn Three, but sadly, he went over the artificial grass at Turn Seven, and crashed the car heavily. Although he crashed on the last lap, it was an excellent performance from Maldonado. With the Williams looking much better than the 2011 car, he could be in for a strong season.

DRIVER OF THE DAY: Fernando Alonso

After every Grand Prix this season I will be awarding a driver of the day, with the winner this time Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

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