The teams travelled 10,000 miles to escape the European winter and Melbourne didn’t disappoint, at least for a few days. Tuesday of last week marked the ninth consecutive day – a record – that the mercury hit more than 30 degrees. Nice.
Team personnel sweated buckets while setting up shop at Albert Park; drivers trained outside, using the conditions to help acclimatise to the heat expected in Malaysia next week and the fans headed to the beach at St Kilda. F1 and Melbourne rubbed along happily, like it has for the last 18 years.
Temperatures cooled as the week progressed, but conditions remained pleasant when the on-track action started on Friday. The temperature was in the mid-20s, rather than the mid-30s, but the teams were able to do lots of dry running on higher track temperatures than those experienced in Europe. Red Bull looked strong, Mercedes ditto; what would happen on qualifying day?
The answer was not much! The famously unpredictable Melbourne weather struck mid-afternoon, from which the F1 paddock could do little more than try and stay dry. After a 20-minute delay Q1 was completed, but the remainder of the session was abandoned following further rain and race director Charlie Whiting took the decision to complete qualifying on race morning.
There are precedents for qualifying taking place on race day (at Suzuka in 2004 and ’10), but never before in the history of F1 has a qualifying session started and not been completed on the same day. As team personnel watched the rain hammer against the garages, the heatwave from earlier in the week seemed an age away.
Raceday dawned grey and blustery, but it didn’t deter the fans. More than 100,000 people were lining the 5.3km track by 11am, when qualifying got underway. Drizzle during the early stages of the session kept team strategists on their feet because the switch from intermediate tyres to dries proved critical. Red Bull executed the switch to perfection and their cars lined up first and second on the grid, reigning champion Seb Vettel ahead of local hero Mark Webber. Lewis Hamilton made a stunning debut in the Mercedes, qualifying third.
As race day progressed, the conditions improved and by mid-afternoon the sun was shining. Clouds then started to envelope the track by the start time of 5pm, but the race remained dry throughout. Tyre wear proved critical, with only one front-running car – the Lotus-Renault of Kimi Raikkonen – managing a two-stop strategy. That was the winning formula and Kimi came home 12s ahead of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. There were three world champions in the top three.
A swig of champagne on the podium was just about all the partying that the drivers had time for because within minutes of the chequered flag dropping the paddock’s attention turned to the heat and humidity of Malaysia. Vast lorries appeared in the pitlane, onto which each team loaded 40 tonnes of equipment, and within 24 hours, it would all be in the pitlane at Sepang, scene of next weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
F1 doesn’t wait for anything – except for the weather.