Feature Image: foxsports.com
A New Era
Heading into the 2010 season, things were getting very exciting. Brawn GP, the holders of last year’s Constructors World Championship, were bought out by the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, meaning that Mercedes would compete under their own name in Formula One for the first time since 1955. Still under the same leadership with the legendary Ross Brawn as team principal, they signed an up-and-coming Nico Rosberg and partnered him with someone who isn’t a stranger to a World Championship, or 7, in Michael Schumacher after a three-year hiatus from the sport.
McLaren took the opportunity to snap up the reigning World Champion, Jenson Button, after contract negotiations with the new Mercedes GP team fell through and an underperforming 2009 for Heikki Kovalainen who instead took a seat at the new Lotus F1 Team. The Hamilton/Button line-up for McLaren was also the first double champion line-up for a team in Formula One since 1989, when Aryton Senna and Alain Prost lined up for McLaren in the middle of a brutal but thrilling rivalry.
Robert Kubica set Friday practice alight, getting to grips with his Renault R30 by setting the fastest lap early in the session which was suspended prematurely after Kamui Kobayashi lost a part of his front wing at turn 11 and ended up in the gravel after turn 12. The second practice session saw a glimpse into the forecast for Sunday’s race. With intermittent showers, Hamilton took the fastest time with his teammate in second place. On Saturday, Sebastian Vettel took his second pole position of the season by beating team-mate Mark Webber by a tenth of a second.
This secured Red Bull Racing’s first ever front row lockout in qualifying, a feat that would be achieved another seven times throughout the season. Button took P4 in qualifying, sandwiched in between the two Ferrari’s of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in P3 and P5 respectively. After being held up in traffic in Q2, Hamilton could only get himself into P11 which meant he had it all to do in Sunday’s race.
A rare rainy Sunday in Melbourne saw the grid lining up in white-walled Bridgestone intermediate compounds even though the conditions at the start of the race had started to dry slightly. As the lights went out, Button creeped up the inside of turn one which caused Alonso to instantly shut the door and cut him off, causing the Ferrari to spin itself into P22 and taking Schumacher’s front wing with him. Two turns later, Kobayashi damaged his front wing for the third time of the weekend and went plowing into the side of Hulkenberg and Buemi at turn six which bought out a safety car. Somehow, in the midst of the first lap chaos, Robert Kubica found himself up into P4.
The safety car pulled back in at the end of lap 4, and two laps later Button found himself being overtaken by his team-mate. The track was a lot drier at this point and Jenson saw this opportunity to take the risk and throw the slicks on even though race engineers warned of more rain by lap 13. He took to the pits on lap 7 and on his out lap he found himself in the gravel at turn three, managing to get out of them before being beached.
Two laps later the rest of the field followed suit after seeing the McLaren setting purple sectors, and by lap 13 Button had found himself in P2 trailing Sebastian Vettel. With Kubica in P3, Hamilton fought his way past Feliple Massa and Nico Rosberg with a gutsy overtake of the German around turn 11 and 12. Rosberg tried to fight back heading into turn 13 but was forced to yield because of the yellow flags entering the corner. Only seconds earlier, Vettel’s left front brakes failed on the entry to the corner and he flew into the gravel trap, forcing an early retirement. With everyone now gaining an extra place, Hamilton set his sights on Kubica in P2, but it was never going to be an easy overtake. The traction that the Renault was getting out of the slippery corners was something that the MP4-25 couldn’t compete with, and Kubica stayed ahead of the Brit until McLaren questionably brought him in for another set of softs on lap 35 which put him behind Alonso in P5.
18 Lap Battle
The race had begun at 5pm local time and because of the dark clouds above, the visibility of started to decrease after two thirds of the race had ran. On lap 40, Webber and Hamilton began to eat away at Alonso’s advantage at around 2 seconds per lap. The Spaniard was part of a three-way battle for P2 with his team-mate and Kubica but found it difficult to overtake due to the ‘dirty’ aerodynamic air from his team-mate in front and didn’t have the benefit of the Drag Reduction System (DRS) which was the following season. With Kubica defending valiantly, Hamilton and Webber caught the pack by lap 49 and struggled with overtaking his former McLaren rival due to the dirty air.
As the lap counter kept increasing, Hamilton needed to make a move to try and salvage a podium after it was now clear that McLaren had made a mistake in bringing him in for a second set of the soft compound. On lap 53, a furious Lewis Hamilton asked over the team radio, ‘Who’s idea was it to bring me in? Frickin’ terrible idea!’. His day was about to go from bad to worse after he had to run on Alonso down into turn 13 and attempted to go the long way round. Alonso promptly shut the door on him, and he instead attempted a switchback move.
At this point Webber saw a gap down the inside and went straight into the McLaren’s back right wheel as Hamilton attempted the switchback, sending them both spiralling into the gravel. Button’s risk on lap 7 meant that he would take the chequered flag for the second Australian Grand Prix in a row, and his first win for McLaren. Kubica took home his penultimate podium in Formula One, a podium which made Renault extremely happy and made Ferrari take an interest in the Polish driver.
Felipe Massa had a very difficult race for him, but through his precision defending and pace he secured the bottom step of the podium and placed himself in second place in the Drivers’ World Championship. A lot of people may have forgotten about Kubica’s previous Formula One performances after his recent stint with Williams, but in the right machinery, he was and still is a very serious driver.
[This was originally posted in November 2020 on DriveTribe.com]