What an exciting start to the season. I don’t suppose it’s the done thing to yelp at 7am on a Sunday morning and wake the neighbours up, but I think that’s what I did.
First of all, hats off to the Brawn team. They’ve been through a lot over the winter. Let’s face it, as the Honda team they’ve been through a lot in the past two years. Their 1-2 finish in Melbourne is a just reward for the effort they have put into this car, and for what they have had to put up with from the high-ups at Honda.
And good riddance to them. By now it is banal to point out that Honda must be kicking themselves. They poured all that money into the development of the car, and have given that car away to a private team that they are subsidising in return for nothing. It makes Honda look pretty stupid for giving away such a great car. To the distant observer, it must look as though Honda have the reverse-Midas touch. Which, in fairness, they do.
Jenson Button’s victory was fairly uneventful, but Rubens Barrichello’s route to 2nd was more interesting. The Brazilian had a terrible start when anti-stall kicked in, and then got involved in a first-corner accident which damaged his car on the front and on the rear. His front wing got damaged further during a botched attempt to overtake Kimi Räikkönen. After the race Barrichello noted that the Brawn must be a good car if he can crash it so much and still finish 2nd.
Barrichello was lucky to inherit 2nd, of course, when Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel took some silly pills and decided to crash each other out. That was a disappointing incident for me because I like both drivers and to see them both hit the self-destruct button like that was not what you’d like to see from two such promising drivers.
Most observers agree that blame must be shared fairly equally between the drivers. It was Vettel’s original mistake that allowed Kubica to get so close, but the Pole was far too optimistic trying to take Vettel the way he did. Vettel was most apologetic on the radio to his team, and to BMW’s Mario Theissen after the race (Vettel obviously had one eye on his future BMW contract). But I’m not sure if Vettel did much wrong during the move itself. Maybe he could have backed off, but why should he?
In the rush to make something out of the mess, both drivers ended up compounding their problems by simultaneously slamming into the wall. Kubica’s incident was quite scary in a way because two of his wheels came off. In fact, one of the tyres came very close to striking his head. The tyres were then left lying close to the racing line on the circuit, bringing back bad memories of Alonso’s accident at Interlagos in 2003. I found it surprising that the tethers failed to do their job in Kubica’s accident, and I should think the FIA are investigating.
Vettel caused his own danger by continuing trying to race with three wheels on his wagon. Well, the team told him to at least. Red Bull have been fined $50,000 for that, and quite right too.
Very definitely not right is the 10 place grid penalty handed out to Vettel for forcing Kubica off the track. As far as I’m concerned, it’s as much Kubica’s fault for being in that position in the first place. It’s yet more evidence that the FIA stewards are only interested in bureaucracy, and are not interested in allowing the drivers to race.
All-in-all, Vettel had a disappointing weekend. He had to pull over with mechanical problems on Friday morning, and went on to spin off in the afternoon. He put in a strong qualifying performance to clinch 3rd on the grid, but his incident with Kubica was another black mark. Now there is a debate over whether his apologising shows that he doesn’t have a Champion’s menatlity.
Lewis Hamilton has been somewhat overshadowed by the fairytale of Brawn. Expectations were low as a result of McLaren producing a dog of a car this year. But with the spotlight turned away, Hamilton put in an excellent drive to make his way up to 3rd. You’d say there was attrition to help him, but there weren’t really that many retirements. All things considered, given the expectations McLaren must be chuffed to be 2nd in the Constructors’ Championship and sitting on 6 points to Ferrari’s zero.
As for Ferrari, they had a disastrous start, made all the worse by the fact that they weren’t expected to have a particularly bad race. Kimi Räikkönen was supposed to come back with renewed vigour. But he clumsily clattered the wall in a way which was very reminiscent of his worst moments of 2008. Meanwhile, Massa fell foul of a mechanical failure, confirming that Ferrari do not yet have a reliable enough car.
Toyota showed flashes of promise. The way both Trulli and Glock came through the pack after starting from the pitlane bodes well for the race pace of the car. Jarno Trulli’s 25s penalty seems harsh and there is some controversy surrounding it. It is true that the punishment doesn’t really fit the crime, but it was all the stewards could do in the circumstances.
Toro Rosso must be absolutely delighted with the way the race went for them. It may be as a result firstly of the Kubica–Vettel crash and secondly Jarno Trulli’s penalty, but they have scored 3 points and were the only team except Brawn to have two points finishes. I reckon Toro Rosso will find it very difficult to score many more points, but this is an excellent start to their campaign. It is also worth noting that rookie Sébastien Buemi put his team-mate Sébastien Bourdais in the shade this weekend.
Williams failed to fulfil the promise shown during practice. Kazuki Nakajima spoiled his race by slamming into the wall early on. Meanwhile, Nico Rosberg’s strong performance was totally ruined by his inability to make the soft tyres work for him. That may be a problem with the Williams car, in which case the team may be doomed as a result of the greater difference between tyre compounds this season. Nevertheless, 6th place is not a bad result.
For what it’s worth, I like the greater difference between compounds, and the on-track events this weekend appears to indicate that the rule changes have worked in their attempt to spice up the action. But that’s for another post.