If pressed, one would have to suggest that Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso had the drive of the race. You could argue that HRT or Lotus’s Heikki Kovalainen did a great job as well. Perhaps you could argue Antonio Liuzzi kept Force India alive or Rubens Barrichello placed an under performing Williams in a position it didn’t deserve. You could certainly make the point that McLaren’s Jenson Button deserves the accolades as he ran an intelligent, Button-esque race that won the day.
For my money? The drive of the race may just go to Renault’s Robert Kubica. The Polish driver gambled, just as Button did, on one set of tires and drove an intelligent, conservative and competitive race. Renault is not on par with the likes of Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull or even Mercedes but the former BMW driver made a podium finish out of what could have been a mediocre day. Robert said:
â€œSecond place today is a fantastic result for the team after all the hard work we have done over the winter. It was a difficult race to call in terms of strategy and I pitted to change my intermediates for slicks as soon as we saw Buttonâ€™s pace. I managed to jump Massa in the pits and I came out ahead of Button, but it was my first lap on slicks so I could not hold him off. I thought I would pit again later in the race, but the team said we didnâ€™t need to if I could look after the tyres until the end of the race. I tried to take care of them as much as I could, which wasnâ€™t easy because I had Hamilton behind me and then Massa, but in the end my tyres lasted and we managed to get this great result. We have put in so much hard work this winter, and we know there is still a long way to go before we are really competitive with the fastest teams, but this is a brilliant boost for everybody in the team.”
While I am admiring the tactics and tenacity of Kubica, it must be said that Button made the call himself and that could be the difference between the drivers results. Button changed first and managed to run more laps on one set of slicks than anyone else. Kubica equally joined the tactic after his team saw the disparity between dry-weather tires and intermediates.
Vitaly Petrov, Kubica’s teammate, had a less satisfactory day:
â€œI made a good start to gain eight places and enjoyed the first few laps in the wet when I was inside the top ten. We made a change to slick tyres at the same time as most of the field, but when I was on the slicks I got caught out in the braking zone for turn three and got stuck in the gravel. Iâ€™m very disappointed because I think I could have scored points today. Still, this is a great day for the team and Robertâ€™s second place shows the potential of the car.â€
A DNF is never good but I think we can have some quarter for a rookie in the wet on dry tires. Not the result they wanted and it would have been interesting to see how his strategy played out.
Eric Boullier, Team Principal, said it was a fantastic result. Taking the helm of an uncertain future at Renault can’t be easy but Boullier has to be pleased with their finish:
â€œThe second place today is a fantastic result for Robert and the whole team in Enstone and Viry. We worked really hard over the winter and we can be very proud of this result. Although we still need to improve the car, this podium gives us all a lot of motivation to keep pushing. Robert drove a perfect race, looking after the car and fighting hard. I also have to say a big well done to the mechanics, who did an excellent job to get Robert out ahead of Massa in the pits, which was crucial for the final outcome of the race. It was a disappointing end to the race for Vitaly, but he is still learning about F1. His start was very strong, and with his strategy he could have been challenging for points.â€
What does Robert Kubica think of his day? Let’s join the Q&A offered by Renault:
Robert, congratulations on your first podium for Renault. Did you expect this result when you lined up ninth on the grid?
Before the season, I think after two tests, I called my friend and I said â€˜I think in Australia it will be possible to finish on the podium.â€™ That was around two months ago. However, as we saw yesterday, our pace was far off the podium, but with this strange race we were able to make up a lot of places and finish second.
You decided not to take a second pit stop for a new set of tyres. How hard was that call for you?
It was difficult because we have struggled with tyre warm-up, so when we saw Jenson being very quick we just pitted on the same lap as Felipe did. The mechanics did a fantastic job and I overtook Felipe in the pits, but Jenson was much quicker with one or two laps already on the tyres so it was difficult to fight with him. I thought we would pit again later in the race but the team said if we could manage it we should stay out, so I took a bit more care with the tyres. But it wasnâ€™t easy because I had Lewis attacking me before he decided to pit. Then I had Felipe behind me again, so I was just taking care of the tyres but also keeping up good speed so that we could keep the second place
This is the first time you have finished in Melbourne. What does this result mean for you and the team?
Unfortunately, Australia was never lucky for me. I have been very quick each year and could have finished easily on the podium in the last two years if it was not for two crashes. We were not expecting to finish on the podium, so I think for Renault and myself it is a very special result after all the hard work over the winter, and I have to say a big thank you to everyone in the team. But we have to remain realistic: we are not on the pace to fight for the podium in a normal race, so we have to keep pushing, keep working and I am sure we will manage sooner or later to catch the top teams.
How much of a challenge did you have from the Ferrari?
I had more of a challenge from Hamilton and I was very surprised he pitted. First of all I thought he had a drive through penalty because for me it was strange that he was pitting. He had quite a difficult time to catch me, although there were a couple of places where he was very close to me and I think once he overshot the braking and nearly touched me. Felipe caught up with me quite quickly, but I knew the cars behind would struggle even more with the tyres, so I just settled into what I thought would be a reasonable pace without mistakes and brought the car home.
Do you think the higher temperature today were better for you, whereas the low temperature yesterday wasnâ€™t so good?
We know where we are struggling and I think yesterday was unfortunately a good example. We were very strong in P1 on Friday where there was a lot of sunshine and hot track conditions. Then unfortunately clouds came in for the rest of the weekend, the temperature dropped and we were struggling to get heat in the tyres, especially in qualifying. So we are still not on the pace of the top cars, but today was a good example of not giving up, and with hard work sometimes you get paid back.