2006: Alonso cruises in crash-fest
After 10 years as the season-opening race, Melbourne hosted the third Grand Prix of 2006 following the Commonwealth Games, and it was worth the wait. Renault’s 2005 World Champion Fernando Alonso took his maiden win in Australia in superb style, keeping his head while chaos reigned behind him.
Alonso’s teammate, Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, stalled on the front row at the start, and the first of four Safety Cars came into play on lap one after Ferrari’s Felipe Massa smashed into the Williams of Nico Rosberg. Mark Webber briefly led in the sister Williams during the first round of pit stops before a transmission failure put him out of the race a lap later, and there were red faces in the Ferrari garage when seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher crashed heavily at the last corner on lap 33.
The drama lasted until the final lap, when the engine in Jenson Button’s BAR-Honda erupted as he came onto the start-finish straight for the last time.
Pole: Jenson Button (BAR-Honda) 1:25.229
1. Fernando Alonso (Renault)
2. Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) +1.8secs
3. Ralf Schumacher (Toyota) +24.8secs
Fastest lap: Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) 1:26.045 on lap 57
2007: Raikkonen wastes no time
Michael Schumacher’s name features prominently in most categories in the Ferrari record book, but Kimi Raikkonen did something the great German never could by winning his first race for the famous Italian marque. The Finn took pole and then was rarely troubled in the race, with all eyes quickly gravitating towards the stunning debut of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.
The Brit made his mark as early as the first corner when he scythed past teammate Fernando Alonso, and while Alonso overtook him in the pit stops later in the race, Hamilton’s third place was the best result for a debutant since Jacques Villeneuve finished second in Australia in 1996. Felipe Massa’s charge from last on the grid to sixth following a crash in qualifying was noteworthy, while Mark Webber’s first race for Red Bull was blighted by a stuck throttle; the Australian finished a disconsolate 13th.
Pole: Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:26.644
1. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
2. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +7.242secs
3. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) +18.595secs
Fastest lap: Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:25.235 on lap 41
2008: Heat no hindrance for Hamilton
The temperature was a scorching 37 degrees at race start, but Lewis Hamilton kept his cool with a dominant lights-to-flag victory in the first race of what was to be his championship-winning season. The race had just seven finishers, the fewest in a Grand Prix for 12 years, and three separate accidents on the first lap saw five retirements, one of them being Mark Webber.
Hamilton simply drove away from the rest, opening up an 11secs lead before the first round of pit stops, and regrouped after a late safety car period following Timo Glock’s big shunt in the Toyota at Turn 12 to win by over five seconds from BMW-Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld. Nico Rosberg took his first career podium for Williams, while Rubens Barrichello’s first chance of a points finish in any race since 2006 evaporated when the Honda driver was disqualified for running the red light at the pit lane exit.
Pole: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 1:26.714
1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2. Nick Heidfeld (BMW-Sauber) +5.478secs
3. Nico Rosberg (Williams) +8.163secs
Fastest lap: Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren) 1:27.418 on lap 43
2009: Brawn brains the rest
The writing was on the wall after pre-season testing in Europe, when the Brawn GP team, born from the ashes of Honda’s withdrawal from F1, used its controversial double diffuser to annihilate the opposition. Not much changed when the teams opened the 2009 season on the other side of the world. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello qualified on the front row before recording the first 1-2 finish by a new team in its debut race since Mercedes-Benz won the French Grand Prix in 1954.
Button sailed to a comfortable win, but Barrichello’s afternoon was more fraught as he botched the start and ran into the back of Red Bull’s Mark Webber at the first corner, ruining the Australian’s race. Barrichello was fourth with three laps remaining when Webber’s teammate Sebastian Vettel and BMW-Sauber’s Robert Kubica clashed while fighting over second place, sending Kubica into retirement and leaving Vettel to limp home in 14th.
The race finished under the safety car, with Jarno Trulli securing an extraordinary podium for Toyota after starting from the pit lane.
Pole: Jenson Button (Brawn GP) 1:26.202
1. Jenson Button (Brawn GP)
2. Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP) +0.807secs
3. Jarno Trulli (Toyota) +1.604secs
Fastest lap: Nico Rosberg (Williams) 1:27.706 on lap 48
2010: Button backs up as Bulls falter
Red Bull came to Albert Park with the fastest car in the field, locked out the front row in qualifying, and then left Australia with just two measly points to show for their dominant pace. Sebastian Vettel led Mark Webber in an ominous display by the Red Bull duo on Saturday, but a Sunday afternoon rain shower turned the race upside down.
Vettel looked on course to break his run of outs in Australia before a problem with the left front wheel pitched the German into the gravel at Turn 12 on lap 26, while Webber’s slow start and compromised pit stop strategy saw him bottled up in the midfield before a late-race passing attempt on Lewis Hamilton went awry, leaving the Australian to finish a disappointing ninth.
The changeable conditions caught many drivers out, but Jenson Button made the right call at the right time, changing to dry-weather tyres as the rain eased and preserving them brilliantly to make it back-to-back wins in Melbourne. Renault’s Robert Kubica was a superb second, while Ferrari’s Felipe Massa stood on the Albert Park podium for the first time.
Pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) 1:23.919
1. Jenson Button (McLaren)
2. Robert Kubica (Renault) +12.034secs
3. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) +14.488secs
Fastest lap: Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing) 1:28.358 on lap 47