The season opener always brings a terrific sense of anticipation that nothing else can replicate. The cars may have battled it out in qualifying but that was only for grid position and as everyone knows—you only get points in the race.
Pre-race opinion was that the Brawn GP was uncatchable and the battle for the final points paying positions would be between Williams, Toyota, Ferrari and Red Bull, however this was swiftly adjusted after Toyota were excluded from qualifying due to excessive flex in their rear wings.
There was drama from the off as Barrichello had an awful start that left him in a difficult position going into turn one, which was made worse when Kovalainen rammed into the back of the Brawn.
This resulted in a multi-car collision involving Webber and Heidfeld, which relegated them to the back of the grid for the rest of the afternoon. Heikki was soon out of the race with suspension failure but amazingly the Brawn survived and went on to finish second.
Sebastian Vettel put in a valiant effort in the Red Bull to demonstrate that Adrian Newey’s latest is one of the strongest cars on the grid, despite the lack of the diffuser found on the Brawn, Toyota and Williams’s, which is believed to be worth up to 0.5 seconds.
His challenge was ended by Robert Kubica who was charging down Button in the later stages of the race, thanks to the superior performance of his medium tyres, versus Button and Vettel’s super soft’s.
Kubica didn’t leave Vettel enough room and the pair collided, bringing out the Safety Car and handing Brawn GP a very convincing one-two on debut.
There were a number of very notable performances, from Williams and Toyota. Williams looked set for a strong race but Nakajima crashed out early and Rosberg got in the closing stages as he was unable to defend his position due to a lack of grip from the super softs.
Starting from the pit lane the Toyota’s never had a chance to win the race but Jarno Trulli finished three (before being penalised) and Timo Glock finished fifth, showing impressive race pace throughout the grand prix. It will be interesting to see what both of these teams can achieve in Malaysia.
Further back and three stalwarts of Formula One over the past 10 years (namely Ferrari, McLaren and Renault) all suffered further problems—none worse than Ferrari.
The Italian team posted a double DNF at the opening round of the season, which will be a bitter pill to swallow following Felipe Massa’s dominant victory in Brazil at the end of 2008.
Massa retired due to faulty power steering, suggesting reliability gremlins and Kimi Raikkonen lost the car under acceleration suggesting the car is still difficult to race at speed.
Although McLaren lost Heikki after the chaos at turn one, they still picked up a useful six points, thanks to a storming drive from Lewis Hamilton, who did a commendable job driving around the problems McLaren have been experiencing.
Renault also had a respectable start to the year, despite appearing well off the pace in qualifying. Fernando Alonso had a quiet afternoon but still managed to finish in fifth, while Nelson Piquet spun out with brake failure from a promising position in the top eight.
All in all this was exactly what Formula One needed—an eventful race, an unexpected winner, a ridiculously close field and cars which appear to be more than capable of overtaking each other, which is more than can be said about some of the 2008 models.
Brawn GP maybe dominating right now but expect the teams to close the gap by the time we get to Spain in May.