Preview of Melbourne Grand Prix 2009
Given the field of drivers, the track, last year's chaotic race, and now the new rule changes, what can F1 fans expect to see this year in Melbourne?
First, they can expect to see a protest. With Williams, Toyota, and the new Brawn F1 team all being the subject of complaints about their diffuser design, this year is looking to start with more of the controversy that we’ve all become so used to over the last two years.
The alleged discrepancy concerns the diffuser being taller than the spirit of the regulations allow; however, the wording provides a loophole which would appear to have gained these three teams at least half a second per lap.
This gain would seem most apparent for Brawn F1, although the Honda for 2009 has been in the pipeline for a very long time.
At the recent Barcelona test, Barrichello and Button were both almost a second faster than anyone else, with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton lagging at the back of the field.
Thankfully, more complaints have been averted with the "winner takes all" approach (proposed by the FIA) being discarded, after numerous complaints from within the sport, most notably Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, and Michael Schumacher.
Instead, there will be a return to the points system of 2008. This is welcomed by the drivers, particularly those who can be consistently in the points even while not having the machinery to win.
On then, to the race itself. After the carnage on the opening lap of last year, can we expect more of the same? In fact, we can probably expect even more.
As the first time with all 20 cars in close formation, the first start with the grippier slick tyres and those enormous front wings, you can expect all the teams to be ready for a new nose cone at the end of lap one.
After that, who can we expect to be out front? After Brawn’s spectacular test form, they’re a tempting bet, but we have seen many times in the past that the test times don’t always translate in to race pace.
BMW and Williams have both been developing their cars well in advance of this season, Renault are always an outside chance, and you’d have to be foolish to truly discount McLaren or Ferrari.
There is the chance that with these new, less aerodynamically-dependant cars, the driver will play a much larger role in the performance than previously.
Both Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton have said that they prefer the balance of the new cars, with the grippier rear end suiting their styles.
This would suggest that they do not suit the styles of Fernando Alonso or Felipe Massa, although both have been performing well pre-season.
One driver who could benefit from this is Sebastian Buemi, the only newcomer over the winter. Replacing Sebastian Vettel at Toro Rosso, Buemi has very little knowledge of F1 to "unlearn."
Instead, he comes straight from GP2, where the cars have little aerodynamic grip at the rear. Keep an eye on him, because he might spring a few surprises (assuming anyone gets past the first turn).
The reliability of the cars should not be much of an issue. Despite the dramatic changes to the look of the cars, the mechanical bases have remained largely the same.
The only weak point will be the addition of KERS; however, whether any team will run it is dubious due to the sheer weight of such a system.
Overall, this is a tricky one to predict anything for. I personally can’t remember a season where the rules have changed so drastically, so quickly. It’ll be a learning experience for the drivers, for the teams, and for the fans.
Actually, one thing you can be sure of: it’ll be damned interesting to get all the answers this weekend.
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