When Honda chose to fold its team in Formula One racing shortly after the recessionary effects of the economy were felt by the auto industry and abroad, there was suspicion that other manufacturers in the series would defect to a similar fate. The implementation of more stringent off-season testing regulations, a rigid salary cap at $60 million a season and the departure of lucrative sponsors—including RBS and ING—were enough to indicate that the complexion of F1 would be entirely different.
From aerodynamic modifications, to the proposed changes to the way in which the driver’s championship is tallied, a host of ideas seemed to infiltrate what used to be a solid racing league in the days of Michael Schumacher’s reign.
The freshest, and, perhaps, most impressionable manufacturer has been newbie Brawn GP, which made its first appearance at the Australian Grand Prix in late March. Not only did they qualify in pole position through former Renault driver Jenson Button in Australia, but Brawn claimed a 1-2 finish after Button and teammate Rubens Barrichello passed the chequered flag. It was a perfect start to their campaign and, of course, one only made possible by the evaporation of Honda on the racing charts.
In the second race of the year, the Malaysia Grand Prix, Button once again qualified first on the grid and followed it with another first-place podium finish, albeit only racing 32 laps due a combination of torrential downpour and twilight conditions.
To extend his already rapid ascent, Button clinched a third victory in four races as he ventured across the finish line in Bahrain on Sunday, securing a comfortable lead in the driver’s standings at 31 points. And it is an indication that Brawn-Mercedes is not solely after conquering the history books—Alfa Romeo was the last team to sweep the first two races of its inaugural season in 1950.
Even Toyota’s Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, a partnership that hasn’t begotten much success in previous years, is ahead of juggernauts McLaren and Ferrari in the race for the championship—both of which have had immense trouble not only with capturing a podium finish, but in simply acquiring points.
Ferrari was left fruitless before Kimi Raikkonen finished sixth in Bahrain this weekend, propelling the team back into some nominal form of competition at three points. McLaren, however, has been rife with controversy and saw the resignation of chief executive Rob Dennis coincide with the release of false evidence used to appeal driver Lewis Hamilton’s fourth place finish in Australia.
Hamilton has only notched nine points in his attempt to defend the title that he won last year.
Felipe Massa, who lost the championship last year after Hamilton secured a fifth place finish in Brazil, has recorded not a meagre point and, instead, watched the conclusions of two races from the pit as he retired early in the Australian and Chinese Grand Prix.
Neither he nor his Ferrari counterpart has really been a threat. In fact, this is also the first season in which Ferrari has not collected points in the first two races since 1992, well before Schumacher wielded monopoly over the sport for 10 years.
But much of Brawn’s premature success can be attributed to F1’s fresh schematic approach to several alterations made to aerodynamic specs and other technical changes in car performance.
One vehicular enhancement has been recently sanctioned by the FIA, F1’s governing body, which ruled the use of rear diffusers legal for any manufacturer. The ruling was incited by an appeal made by Ferrari, Renault, Red Bull Racing, and BMW—all of which did not have the technology readily at their disposal. Brawn and Toyota had implemented the diffuser from the onset of the championship, which helps streamline air through to the back of the car.
Although experience can be a sovereign virtue in a sport as competitive and challenging as racing, perhaps the changes made in this year’s edition of F1 have been best handled by the newcomers. Without a need to conform or bury old habits—overwhelming expenditures made by teams in the past—Brawn has certainly found the requisite edge.
Whether this bout of success will materialize into a solid bid for the championship, however, still begs an answer.