The week in Melbourne is over and I'm sitting in Tullamarine airport waiting for my flight to Kuala Lumpur for the start of another adventure and the hope of many more questions being answered. After such a hectic seven days in Australia, it will be a relief to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of another Emirates flight, even if in the dead of the night!
Melbourne, from my point of view at least, was a roaring success. Unpredictability, uncertainty and excitement all featured in equal measure throughout the weekend and for once it was nice to wake up on a Sunday morning not having a clue who was going to win that evening. Red Bull's time in the spotlight has come to a shuddering halt, but for how long we shall have to wait and see.
McLaren had had a decent pre-season according to many, but question marks still lay over their relative pace to Red Bull, with the reigning champions having brought a significant upgrade package to the RB8 for the final two days of testing. Because it had failed to complete considerable mileage during those two days, the jury was still out on its effectiveness, but post-Melbourne it's clear the RB8 needs more work to return the team to its dominance of 2011.
Just behind the leading two teams, Mercedes were raising more than a few eyebrows in the paddock, not least for their innovative DRS F-duct rear wing. Christian Horner told the press on Sunday night that he and other teams would be seeking further clarification from the FIA over the matter and suggested protests could be in the pipeline, as they believe the device to be illegal. Interestingly, McLaren do not, with rumours in the paddock suggesting they have their own DRS F-duct currently in development.
Ferrari was another talking point on Sunday and Monday after the race, not least for the contrasting performances of their drivers, yet again. After their oh-so troubled winter, it was with amazement that Fernando Alonso was able to wrestle his F2012 to a commendable fifth place during the race behind both McLarens and Red Bulls, occupying the position he held for much of 2011.
Felipe Massa was just as talked about and his ever-dwindling future prospects at Ferrari. He spun on Friday, then qualified one whole second behind Alonso on Saturday despite the Spaniard having spent much of Q2 in the gravel. Things didn't get any better on Sunday, when a collision with Senna led to his retirement. While it's blatantly obvious he has no future at the team beyond the end of the year, the consensus seems to be that he is safe for 2012, although the threat of Sergio Pérez replacing him will undoubtedly increase as we continue. The question mark over Kubica may just save his skin.
Lotus had a weekend of highs and lows, with Grosjean qualifying a commendable third on Saturday before being shunted out of the race on lap 2, and then Räikkönen getting knocked out in Q1 before racing back in champion's style to claim 7th. There was much laughter in the press room when he asked on the radio "Why do I get blue flags all the time?" only to be told that they were in fact for those behind him!
Williams was another massive surprise from the weekend, although Maldonado's last-lap brain-freeze less so. The overhaul of the team's technical department, as well as a new engine and a new driver has already paid dividends and the FW34 was arguably the third quickest car in Melbourne, a far cry from 2011 when they were battling with Lotus (now Caterham) at times.
Sauber's C31 has massive potential too, although it wasn't shown at the weekend because of Kobayashi and Pérez's qualifying woes (traffic and a gearbox failure respectively). Force India's potential is also unknown due to Hülkenberg's first-lap exit, while Toro Rosso look none-too-shabby having qualified and raced strongly despite an inexperienced line-up.
Arguably the biggest disappointment from the weekend was Caterham and their failure to break into the midfield on their third year of asking. They were 1 second off the pace in qualifying and were well off the pace during the race also, with their double retirement asking yet more questions. Marussia by contrast got both cars classified – albeit with Pic retiring before the finish – despite their non-existent pre-season testing programme.
The final word goes to HRT who failed to qualify within 107% at the season-opener for the third consecutive year. The fact that neither car had DRS at its disposal for qualifying combined with their severely restricted mileage prior to Saturday and dodgy reliability meant de la Rosa and Karthikeyan were always going to be sitting out the race, but speaking to team principal Luis Pérez Sala on Sunday, he is confident of making the 107% target in Malaysia, so long as they can fix a number of small but laptime-critical issues.
As always, a much better picture of the 2012 grid will unveil itself this weekend in Kuala Lumpur, not least because the Sepang circuit is a much more typical F1 track than the Albert Park street circuit. One team to watch out for is Mercedes as they get their DRS F-duct into full swing along Sepang's long straights, while the battle between McLaren and Red Bull will once again be intriguing.