2012 Formula One World Championship - Round One - Australian Grand Prix (16-18 January 2012) After nearly 4 months without any Formula 1 racing action the 2012 season is about to get underway with the traditional season opener at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne. As usual here is Mark Webber's lap of the track: [youtube]ZZMsc5WoOeA[/youtube] 2012 Teams and drivers: Red Bull Racing - 1 Sebastian Vettel/2 Mark Webber Vodafone McLaren Mercedes - 3 Jenson Button/4 Lewis Hamilton Ferrari - 5 Fernando Alonso/6 Felipe Massa Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team - 7 Michael Schumacher/8 Nico Rosberg There are no driver changes in the top four teams, although McLaren have swapped driver numbers for Button and Hamilton as a result of Button finishing 2nd in the 2011 drivers championship. Lotus F1 Team - 9 Kimi Raikkonen/10 Romain Grosjean Lotus F1 (previously Lotus Renault) have completely revamped their driver lineup with Heidfeld, Senna and Petrov no longer with the team. Raikkonen returns to Formula 1 after his Ferrari contract inspired exile. Sahara Force India F1 Team - 11 Paul di Resta/12 Nico Hulkenberg Hulkenberg replaces Adrian Sutil at Force India Sauber F1 Team - 14 Kamui Kobayashi/15 Sergio Pérez No changes at Sauber Scuderia Toro Rosso - 16 Daniel Ricciardo/17 Jean-Éric Vergne Like Lotus, Toro Rosso have two new drivers after dumping Buemi and Alguersuari Williams F1 Team - 18 Pastor Maldonado/19 Bruno Senna Senna replaces Barichello at Williams and the car is now Renault powered (previously Cosworth) Caterham F1 Team - 20 Heikki Kovalainen/21 Vitaly Petrov Petrov comes in for Trulli at Caterham (previously Team Lotus). The Caterham car has KERS this year. HRT F1 Team - 22 Narain Karthikeyan/23 Pedro de la Rosa Pedro De La Rosa replaces Liuzzi at HRT. The car is rumoured to have KERS at some stage during the year, but will start without KERS. Marussia F1 Team - 24 Timo Glock/25 Charles Pic Charles Pic replaces d'Ambrosio at Marussia (previously Marussia Virgin). The rookie drivers this year are Jean-Éric Vergne (Toro Rosso) and Charles Pic (Marussia) Last Year Qualifying Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull were in a class of their own in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, his 0.8 second advantage over Hamilton was an early marker for what was to become a dominating first half of the season for the German. Webber disappointed in third in a car that was clearly way ahead of the rest. After a disappointing testing campaign the McLarens returned to form with some hasty modifications to the rear of the car. The McLarens changes were so new the team did not have enough time to make them from carbon fibre and they were fabricated in titanium instead. Further down the grid Schumacher failed to make it into Q3 and at the back of the pack the HRTs failed to make the grid with a car that had failed to turn a wheel during any of the 2011 pre-season testing days. 1 Sebastian Vettel 1:23.529 2 Lewis Hamilton 1:24.307 3 Mark Webber 1:24.395 4 Jenson Button 1:24.779 5 Fernando Alonso 1:24.974 6 Vitaly Petrov 1:25.247 7 Nico Rosberg 1:25.421 8 Felipe Massa 1:25.599 9 Kamui Kobayashi 1:25.626 10 Sebastien Buemi 1:27.066 11 Michael Schumacher 12 Jaime Alguersuari 13 Sergio Pérez 14 Paul di Resta 15 Pastor Maldonado 16 Adrian Sutil 17 Rubens Barrichello 18 Nick Heidfeld 19 Heikki Kovalainen 20 Jarno Trulli 21 Timo Glock 22 Jérôme d'Ambrosio 107% time: 1:31.267 23 Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1:32.978 24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:34.293 Race The main question before the start of the 2011 race was whether or not the Red Bulls had KERS or not. Although Vettel had easily qualified in position one it was uncertain whether he had used KERS during qualifying. As the race unfolded it was clear that Vettel in the lead could hold position without KERS and therefore the race came down to tyre strategy. After the race it was revealed that Red Bull had not fitted KERS to either car for qualifying or the race. Vettel, Hamilton and Petrov all went for a two stop strategy and duly ended up on the podium. Webber and Alonso pitted three times and finished 4th and 5th. The one stopping Saubers of Perez and Kobayashi finshed the race in 6th and 7th position but the team was subsequently disqualified due the a rear wing infringement which promoted Button and Massa, who had had an absorbing duel during the race, into 6th and 7th. 1 Sebastian Vettel 1:29:30.259 2 Lewis Hamilton +22.297 3 Vitaly Petrov +30.560 4 Fernando Alonso +31.772 5 Mark Webber +38.171 6 Jenson Button +54.304 7 Felipe Massa +1:25.186 8 Sébastien Buemi +1 Lap 9 Adrian Sutil +1 Lap 10 Paul di Resta +1 Lap 11 Jaime Alguersuari +1 Lap 12 Nick Heidfeld +1 Lap 13 Jarno Trulli +2 Laps 14 Jérôme d'Ambrosio +4 Laps Not classified Timo Glock Retired Rubens Barrichello Retired Nico Rosberg Retired Heikki Kovalainen Retired Michael Schumacher Retired Pastor Maldonado Disqualified Sergio Pérez Disqualified Kamui Kobayashi The tyre choices at the Australian Grand Prix are the medium and soft compounds. Last year the choice was between the hard and soft and, as a result, the difference in performance between the two tyres should be smaller. This could have an important effect on the grid with the teams at the back of the grid not getting the performance boost that they got last year during qualifying. This means that some of the back markers may struggle to make the 107% time. Significant 2012 Rule Changes The most visible change to the 2012 cars is as a result of changes to the height of the nose of the car. The nose height has been reduced to 55 cm from 62.5 centimetres (24.6 in) above the ground to minimise the risk of driver injury in a side impact scenario. The noses were becoming higher than the mandatory head protection around the cockpit, in some areas this is as low as 55cm. It was possible that a high nose tip could easily pass over this area and strike the driver. Exhaust blown diffusers are banned in 2012. The exhausts must now sit in small allowable area, too high and far forward to direct the exhausts towards the diffuser. The exhausts must feature just two exits and no other openings in or out are allowed. The final 10cm of the exhaust must point rearwards and slightly up (between 10-30 degrees). Allied to the exhaust position, the system of using the engine to continue driving exhaust when the driver is off the throttle pedal has also been outlawed. Last year teams kept the engine throttles opened even when the driver lifted off the throttle for a corner. Pre-season testing. All teams have had the opportunity to test their 2012 cars over 12 days of testing at Jerez (4 days) and Barcelona (2 x 4 day sessions). Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Sauber, Force India, Caterham and Williams have all tested on each available test day. Lotus found a chassis problem at the 2nd test session and missed the majority of that test opportunity whereas Mercedes waited until Barcelona to debut their new car. HRT and Marussia did no testing at all and launched their 2012 cars at the start of this week. Launching at a "media" day does not allow any meaningfull testing apart from system checks. There has been no clear winner during pre-season testing and the lap times have been relatively close, although tyre choice and fuel loads can make the times pretty meaningless. Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus have all appeared strong and at this stage appear to be the favourites going into the first race of the year. The radical 2012 Ferrari looks like it has potential, but the team has downplayed their chances leading into Melbourne.