Think Again, Michael Griffin: The "Brawn Supremacy" Not Over
I had a discussion after qualifying yesterday with my colleague on this website about the results and their implications for today's race and the competition going forward.
He asserted that the fact Jarno Trulli qualified within a tenth of Jenson Button while having only one lap less fuel on board (it turned out to be two) signaled the end of Brawn's dominance of the field.
I asserted that the Brawn still had plenty of pace in it, that Button hadn't yet pushed it to the maximum, and that the race pace of the cars would be a whole different thing altogether from the qualifying pace.
Thank you in advance for your gracious admission that I was right, Michael.
Trulli did turn in an outstanding performance in qualifying, nearly matching the time of the Brawn over a lap, and the Toyota surely had a lot of pace given the performances of both Trulli and Glock.
Trulli's skill as a qualifier surely played a bit of a factor in this, but the Toyota did look to be at least the second strongest car in the field.
But the race pace itself was a completely different matter.
Button got off to a less-than-optimal start, while Nico Rosberg in the Williams got off to an outstanding start in getting around both Button and Trulli.
Ultimately slipping back to fourth behind Fernando Alonso, Button patiently and methodically made his way around the Spaniard and proceeded to mount a similarly patient and methodical attack on the two front-runners.
He routinely set and reset fast laps while remaining calm and smooth behind the wheel, not running the car to its limit.
Then, Button's time to strike came during the pit stops. Having multiple laps to run after Trulli and Rosberg pitted, he laid down two unthinkably quick laps, not only eclipsing the four-second deficit to leader Rosberg, but coming out well ahead of the German.
Button put on a true demonstration of just how devastatingly quick the Brawn is during this sequence, and had the race remained dry, he likely would have won by a Schumacher-esque margin.
But he wasn't the only one who showed the true level of supremecy of the Brawn in race trim.
Rubens Barrichello overcame a five-position starting grid penalty with a jump from eighth on the grid to fifth place at the start. After passing Alonso, he breezed away from the Spaniard at a rate similar to Button's.
Having more fuel on board, he came through the pit cycles within firm striking distance of Rosberg and Trulli for podium positions. Had it remained a dry race, he likely would have gotten by each of them and secured another Brawn 1-2.
We have a tendency in Formula One (journalists, commentators, pundits, and fans alike) to fall in love with single-lap times. I would suggest that, for a number of years, this was not a misplaced love.
With the aerodynamic wake the cars used to create and the fact that the grooved tires presented less of a wear problem, the cars have been severely constricted in showing their true long-run race performance potential. This made qualifying the absolutely preeminent priority for the weekend.
Everything has changed, now. The cars are not creating the aerodyanmic they once did, so the effect on the performance of following cars is not as great.
The new slick tires wear more quickly and severely, so tire management over a long-run becomes even more important.
Before, teams could perhaps mask aerodynamic deficiencies by running aggressive setups to generate grip and risk less severe consequences from tire wear.
Now, they must have all of their aerodynamic ducks in a row while setting the suspension to take care of the tires.
In the Malaysian Grand Prix, we have seen a race in which the Brawns did not put up dominating single-lap times as they did at Albert Park.
We have also seen the true advantage that they have over the rest of the field in race pace, and this advantage is clearly multiple tenths of a second.
The report of Brawn's decline is greatly exaggerated. Their competitors have hard work to do to catch them.
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