The team line ups for season 3 were finalised after a hectic silly season. Season 2 champion SOJ said farewell to McLaren to take up a new challenge at Scuderia Ferrari, with teammate Toggsie in tow. In the fallout from the "McLaren Missile's" departure the F1 stalwarts withdrew from GP2 competition to focus on their Atomic F1 superteam of dual AF1 WDC winners Flouncy and Lambo.
The off-season drama wasn't limited to McLaren, as 2-time GP2 WCC winning Mercedes also found themselves short in the driver department. Both Oz and NightFire made the jump to the AF1 category in what is becoming something of a trend for the Silver Arrows. Unlike the boys from Woking, Mercedes wouldn't be giving up their chance to make it 3 GP2 WCCs in a row, signing former STR driver Wingnut and rookie Predz. Given the pedigree of Atomic drivers that have gone before them (Oz, NightFire, Intense and Modz, all currently in AF1), the pressure will certainly be on.
Red Frog Racing parted company with veteran driver Nobody, signing former AF1 star ET ROM to partner Fredzfrog. In a last minute deal, Nobody moved to Sahara Force India to mentor rookie driver Minnow. STR replaced Wingnut with former AF1 and GP2 race winner Jase, forming what is considered one of the strongest driver pairings on the grid with millen. Williams, Lotus and Sauber all retained their season 2 line ups despite delays in contract signing from zdievo and PessimistPrime.
The first qualifying session of the year gave us our first insight into the relative pace of the teams. Fine weather greeted the field, much to the relief of all the drivers. The newly monikered 'Maranello Missile' was right on the pace from the outset with an impressive 1:25.800 and despite shaving off a few hundredths more he would be topped by Jase with a 1:25.620 in an impressive return to GP2. It was close right through the field: Ploddy and rogue eclipse were separated by 3.5 hundredths of a second on the second row; ET ROM and millen were even closer, just 1.4 hundredths of a second apart on the third row. Toggsie and Sora continued their rivalry from Season 2, lining up side by side on the 4th row. zdievo showed his improved pace, qualifying ahead of Fredzfrog on the 5th row. Nobody and Wingnut struggled through the first session of the season - Nobody beset by technical gremlins that seemed to have followed him from RFR to Force India; Wingnut still getting to grips with the new machinery at Mercedes.
As the lights went out for the first race of the new season some things remained eerily similar - rogue was quick off the line, as were Jase, Ploddy and Toggsie, whilst the Maranello Missile again misfired on the launch. The Ferrari nearly lost out to the Lotus at turn 1 and turn 3, but held position with some canny defensive work. Further back Toggsie was hit with a penalty for causing contact - it would be one of many in a nightmare season opener for the sophmore driver.
We were treated to some fantastic racing during the opening laps as SOJ crawled all over the back of Jase whilst trying to hold off a fast charging Ploddy. A mistake by rogue on the penultimate corner of lap 1 lead to a race highlight as millen, rogue and ET went three wide down the start finish straight - ET would win that battle in the short term.
Early penalties and pitstops saw Fredz and Wingnut exit the pits as the lead group came through, leading to drama on lap 5. At turn 3, ET out-braked himself and collected Ploddy, sending them both into the gravel, as Fredz did well to keep out of the way. millen and rogue eclipse were able to take advantage, the Williams narrowly sneaking through behind Wingnut as they re-entered the track. It would prove a pivotal moment in the race, allowing millen to chase down Jase and SOJ and positioning rogue ahead of Ploddy and ET, who copped a drive through penalty from the stewards for his troubles.
Jase was forced to pit early after his excellent defensive work holding off SOJ took too much life out of his option tyres. The early stop would cost the STR driver a podium finish in the end as he needed to pit again late in the race as his prime tyres gave up the ghost.
Laps 6 through 10 produced some tense racing between rogue and Ploddy, the Lotus making a pair of impressive passes under DRS only to have the Williams reclaim the position as Ploddy ran wide. The pair stretched their option tyres to lap 11 and pitted in tandem, rogue finally gaining the upper hand in the early laps on the prime tyres. The battle would be renewed in the final laps as Ploddy closed fast, but ultimately fell short after some DRS issues.
ET recovered well from his early penalty, but there is no doubt it cost him dearly as the RFR driver clearly had the pace for a better result. Sora showed good pace, but as with last season, had a few nervous moments that undid all his good work - he'll be one to watch if he can improve his consistency.
zdievo put in what was certainly the strongest race of his young career, at one stage running P6 and bringing home the Williams in P8. Fredz and Toggs persevered well to claim important championship points after difficult weekends. Wingnut and Nobody were the race's only retirements, both late in the race.
Despite a valiant chase from millen, SOJ continued on his winning way, claiming victory in Melbourne for the first time after a podium on debut here last season. The STR driver took a well earned second, his bold tyre strategy, raw pace and clinical driving catching the attention of the grid. rogue eclipse held off Ploddy to take the final step on the podium, an equal personal best finish and just the third podium of his career.
"Very very happy to win with Ferrari, we had a few technical issues with Toggs' car so we will need to fix them to compete in the constructors', but the team are awesome and I'm sure we'll get it right before the next race. The whole paddock atmosphere was great this weekend and felt very relaxed, even with it being the first race back everyone drove well. It's also nice to see everyone getting quicker. Bring on the next one." - SOJ - Ferrari
"Couldn't be happier with how my race unfolded, it was a big surprise to finish where I did. Drove a nice consistent race, had very few errors and some good speed. Coupled with my tyre strategy, it all came together brilliantly, we now need to keep this going into Round 2. The championship is going to go down to the wire for the minor placings again this season, so I have to be on my game each week." - millen - Toro Rosso
"Absolutely stoked to get on the podium in Melbourne. What a thoroughly enjoyable race to start the season. Great performance all round from the team this weekend." - rogue eclipse - Williams
"The car felt fantastic, I am really comfortable with my setup now. The tyres were on the edge for this race, but they held up nicely. The race itself was a blast - everyone was competitive but behaved in true gentlemanly fashion, I thoroughly enjoyed it." - Ploddy - Lotus
"Really good racing all round. It was VERY enjoyable. I am really looking forward to the rest of the season." - E.T. - Red Bull
"I'll need to get a handle on the tyre life if I'm going to compete with SOJ and millen. Congrats to SOJ on the win and well done to millen on second place." - Jasegp - Toro Rosso
"During my F1 time in Melbourne I was able to chat to Sebastian Buemi and he was able to instruct me how to do well in Melbourne, particularly the last corner. Given some set up tips from Toro Rosso mechanics and the points by Buemi I was able to string together a decent result." - roxas3sora3 - Sauber
"VERY happy for Williams F1 to take away some healthy points in the season opener. Much more to come from the Williams outfit this season I'm sure." - zdievo - Williams
"Did you see me save those kids from that bear down at St.Kilda beach last season? That was awesome." - Fredzfrog - Red Bull
"Ai Ai Ai! Che disastro! P10 and 1 point. Yeah. The Ferrari is equal first, cos of me." - Toggsie - Ferrari
"I honestly think track knowledge is my biggest issue. I think all I need is time." - Wingnut - Mercedes
|2||3||millen||Toro Rosso||+0 laps||35||6||18|
|3||9||rogue eclipse||Williams||+0 laps||35||4||15|
|5||4||E.T.||Red Bull||+0 laps||35||5||10|
|6||5||Jasegp||Toro Rosso||+0 laps||35||1||8|
|9||13||Fredzfrog||Red Bull||+0 laps||35||10||2|