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What we learnt in Melbourne

Last weekend was one of the most highly anticipated opening races in F1 history. With so many rule changes, and the old pecking order being ripped up there were so many questions coming into this race.

So what have we learnt from the Round 1 of the F1 season?

Brawn GP’s pace is real

Throughout winter testing many held the view that Brawn GP were running underweight, and refused to believe how quick the car was. This weekend confirmed that this is a very quick car, and Brawn GP have to be considered serious contenders for the 2009 world championship. Their one lap pace was particularly impressive. Jenson Button’s pole position lap was 0.6 tenths quicker than the first non-Brawn GP car, and Button was on a fairly heavy fuel load.

In the race I don’t think Brawn GP showed their true pace. The safety car made the race closer, and gave the advantage to the cars that started on the unfavourable super soft tyre. Also a fumbled second pit stop lost Jenson at least 4 or 5 seconds.

Despite these difficult moments Button was calm, and had the race perfectly under control. He dealt with the last stint on the super soft tyres with superb ease. I think he could have gone quicker if he needed to.

Rubens Barrichello also did very well to fight back to 2nd after a very poor getaway.

This 1-2 result for Brawn GP is an absolute fairytale, and shows that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.  It’s amazing that a team that was all but dead a few months ago, has come back to deliver this incredible result.

Mclaren’s woes are also real

Mclaren’s poor pace over winter testing was another story, which fans were very sceptical about. Some suggested they were sandbagging and playing games. As a Mclaren fan I was hoping the people who held these views would be proved right.

As it turned out in Australia Mclaren do have a lot of work to do, if they want to be challenging for race victories later this season. The Mclaren at the moment is around 1.5 seconds off the pace of the Brawn GP cars. That is a huge chunk of time to make up, even for a team with the huge resources and brains of Mclaren.

Looking at the onboard shots of the Mclaren it didn’t seem like too bad a car to drive. It seemed quite well balanced. The handling wasn’t as dreadful as a lot of other cars I have witnessed in F1. The drivers were able to hit the apexes on each corner. The problem is that the car is lacking the downforce and the speed. The car isn’t nailed to the track.

In a way the fact that the car doesn’t handle too badly is a nightmare situation. If the car handles badly then it’s something the team can quickly rectify, and immediately gain a healthy chunk of time by doing so. However the handling isn’t the car’s biggest issue issue. The car is just slow, and lacking downforce. It won’t be easy for Mclaren to find the time they need to gain on the frontrunners.

Some insiders at Mclaren say they have a huge upgrade planned for Spain (the 5th Round of the season), and that the car will fly there. I have my doubts whether that will happen. Let’s wait and see.

Hamilton has taken to the challenge of having a slow car brilliantly

Everyone wondered how Lewis Hamilton would fare as soon as he was given a slow car. Throughout his racing career even before Formula 1, he has been used to driving the best cars. All great drivers in F1 history have pulled off great results in slow cars. We have all be eagerly waiting how Lewis would fare this weekend.

Overall he has been very positive weekend. He hasn’t walked around the paddock with his head down, and looking miserable. He has done everything he can to encourage his team and kept their spirits up. He hasn’t constantly complained about his team as other drivers may have done. He has just jumped into the car, and did the best he possibly could.

To finish 3rd in the race coming from the back off the grid is an astonishing result. He pulled off a few great overtaking moves on cars faster than his (Piquet and Rosberg for example). He pushed hard every single lap, and drove with great spirit.

Of course the fact that Melbourne was a race of attrition did help him out too. However Lewis kept his head whilst others lost theirs. Most of the DNFs in the race were due to driver error rather than reliability. Lewis maximised the situation in the race, and got the best result he could possibly have hoped for. Those 6 points will be very useful indeed. In my eyes he drove like a champion in this race.

Ferrari have kept their weaknesses

This was a very bad weekend for Ferrari. Just like last season Ferrari scored nil points in Australia. Their biggest issue was in qualifying. Despite the change in regulations, it seems that Ferrari still have trouble warming their tyres up for a single flying lap. In cooler conditions as we had in Australia this issue is even worse. When you take fuel loads into account, Ferrari were over 1.0 second off Brawn GP in qualifying.

In race trim their pace was better, but their ability to get tactical decisions wrong remained. Starting on the super-soft tyres turned out to be the wrong move, as was the decision to put Felipe Massa on a 3 stop strategy. In the end the safety car almost made that wrong tyre call the right one.

Kimi Raikkonen was suddenly on the right tyre when others had to use the super-soft. There was a chance that he could have charged to 2nd, but he made a mistake, and brushed the wall so that chance was over. Kimi Raikkonen’s attempt to impress backfired on him.

Massa was driving a very solid race, and he could have had a strong result in the end, but a reliabily issue ended his race.

So in conclusion Ferrari showed off all their biggest weaknesses from last season, all in the first race of the 2009 season.

I am sure they will bounce back in Sepang. The heat may well suit them much better. But it’s hard to see them repeating their dominance in last season’s race. They don’t have the quickest car, by any stretch of the imagination at the moment.

There seemed to be a noticeable improvement in the amount of overtaking

The racing was definitely much better in Melbourne than in recent seasons. There was far more wheel to wheel action, and attempts at overtaking.

The two best moves of the race in my eyes were Nico Rosberg’s move on Kimi Raikkonen down into turn 1. Turn 1 is a very difficult place to pass. Rosberg was extremely brave there. Timo Glock’s daring move on Fernando Alonso around the outside of turn 4 was also excellent. To go around the outside of Fernando Alonso is an extremely brave thing to do.

These two examples are the kind of moves that we haven’t seen enough of in the past four or 5 years. Melbourne isn’t the best track for overtaking, which bodes well for Malaysia and Bahrain, which are two of the best overtaking tracks in F1.

The cars also seem to be able to follow each other closely far more comfortably than before. Thanks to less turbulent air behind the cars there appeared to be less field spread too. In the past the field has spread extremely quickly. So this is an improvement too.

However the Spanish and Hungarian GPs, will be the biggest test in whether the new rules have worked or not.

I am sure that KERs, and the new tyre rules will also have had their part to play in more overtaking.

KERs did seem to be an advantage in the race

In qualifying it didn’t seem that KERs gave much of an advantage at all. Out of the 7 KERs cars only 2 made it to Q3 (the two Ferraris). In the end in Q3 the Ferraris were over 1.0 second off the pace.

In the race it did prove quite useful. The two Ferraris got a brilliant start down into turn 1, and got straight into the action.

It also helped to get a slipstream on the cars, that weren’t using the KERs system. It acted as a good form of defence too, when a quicker car was behind.

Overall pace wise KERs wasn’t a big advantage in Melbourne. However in Sepang and Bahrain, which both feature long straights, KERs could well be a better advantage pace wise.

It will be very interesting to see how the KER’s teams fare at those two tracks. It’s doubtful that it will be enough to worry Brawn GP though.

Buemi proved that he wasn’t such a bad choice for Toro Rosso afterall

Many questioned Toro Rosso’s decision to hire Sebastien Buemi. Many thought that Red Bull were just desperate to run someone from their young driver programme, which apart from Vettel hasn’t delivered much successful talent. Many shared the view that a driver, who didn’t feature heavily in the GP2 title battle, should never have been promoted to F1.

I have been one of those people who had doubts over Buemi. I am happy to say that he proved many people wrong this weekend. He had a difficult day on Friday, and was running around 2.0 seconds off the pace. On Saturday though he out-qualified team mate Sebastien Bourdais by over 0.5 seconds, which was very impressive.

In the race he was very calm. He was quick and made no mistakes. He drove a perfect race. He comfortably kept a much quicker Nico Rosberg behind him for a large number of laps. He even overtook a Ferrari. To get a points finish on his debut in his car, which has had its teething problems so far was extremely commendable.

Piquet Jnr did nothing to show that he deserves a second season in F1

Piquet Jnr had a very poor weekend. He failed to make it past Q1 just like he did on numerous occasions in 2008.

In the race he did show that had some solid race pace. However he ruined that with a silly mistake after the safety car came in. Whilst going wheel to wheel with Rosberg he got carried away, when he should have been being careful, (as the tyres were very cold) and got stuck in the gravel trap.

Piquet Jnr is under immense pressure in Sepang. If he delivers a similar performance, there is no doubt his place in the team will be under close scrutiny.

I don’t think race pace is the issue anymore. That seems ok now. The main problem is qualifying. He just doesn’t seem to get it together over one lap. It’s no good having good race pace, if you start the race near the back of the grid.

The stewards are still clueless

The stewards caused many moments of controversy in 2008, and unfortunately it doesn’t look like that situation will change in 2009. Their key race involvement was the Vettel/Kubica incident.

The pair collided when Kubica was going for P2 at turn 3. Having watched the incident many times myself it looks that Kubica is more at fault. He got himself ahead of Vettel, but he gave him absolutely no room. Vettel had nowhere else to go other than to hit Kubica. Vettel himself was perhaps a little bit too optimistic. He was perhaps better off just conceding the position.

At the end of the day these were two young chargers, who simply didn’t want to concede their position.

The 10 place drop penalty on Vettel was very harsh. He has already suffered enough punishment by losing the 6 points in this race. I don’t think he deserves more punishment in Malaysia. Especially as in my view of the incident Kubica was more at fault.

I don’t think the stewards need to dish out 10 place penalties every time two cars collide. These drivers are racing each other hard, and sometimes they collide.

That’s racing!!

Red Bull is the top non -questionable diffuser car

Over the winter Red Bull started testing well but then didn’t look spectacular in the Catalunya test. As it turns out they did much of their testing on a high fuel load, and weren’t doing single lap runs on low fuel.

Red Bull brought the car to Melbourne and it did extremely well. Vettel qualified third, and in the race he kept in touch with Jenson Button. He didn’t let Jenson drive into another postcode. His race pace was strong and consistent. Such a shame he got involved in that incident that Kubica. A podium place for him and Red Bull would have been such a fantastic result.

If the diffusers on Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams were to get banned, then Red Bull would be right there challenging for wins.

As it stands they are not that far off the ultimate pace at all. Excluding Brawn GP, Red Bull were the team that impressed me most in Melbourne.

Overall it has been an absolutely brilliant first weekend of the season. F1 2009 is looking in great shape at the moment.

Roll on Malaysia this weekend!!

 

 

 

 

 

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April 2, 2009 - Posted by | Race reviews

1 Comment »

  1. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

    Comment by matt | April 2, 2009 | Reply


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