The Australian Grand Prix, the first Formula One race of the 2008 season, undoubtedly produced an exciting and eventful spectacle. Sebastien Bourdais, Scuderia Toro Rosso. Photo by xpb.cc. The loss of traction control was big news for...
The Australian Grand Prix, the first Formula One race of the 2008 season, undoubtedly produced an exciting and eventful spectacle.
We have returned to a situation where the drivers' skill is rewarded and their mistakes punished, and F1 is the better for it.
In a race of three safety car periods the competitors were dropping like flies, and with mere seven cars finishing the race there were some upsets. Ferrari struggled while BMW and Williams excelled. After all the incidents and retirements, S?bastien Bourdais was cruelly denied a superb fourth-place finish by an engine failure in the closing stages with just three laps to go. The 29-year-old Frenchman was helped by the safety cars in his debut F1 race, something he is well used to, having come from the Champ Car series.
The most spectacular off of the weekend has to go to Timo Glock. The self-induced incident saw the reigning GP2 Series champion run very wide at turn 12, and then launch off a small grass bank on the service road, into the air and back onto the track.
The disabled car came to rest at the side of the track. Thankfully Glock walked away from the accident.
The pit lane was not incident-free either; Rubens Barrichello was forced to come into the pits while the pit lane was closed due to the safety car being employed for the Glock incident. In haste the car was released before the refuelling rig was disconnected and three of Honda's pit crew were reported to have been injured, although none seriously. Barrichello, then running in third, was forced to come in for a 10-second stop-and-go penalty, and was later disqualified for leaving the pit lane through a red light.
Later while being interviewed by ITV he commented "I didn't see it, so crazy biz."
Now that the long-awaited first race of the Formula 1 championship has now been run and many of the pre season questions have now been answered.
Dennis to leave McLaren?
The main question dominating the headlines in recent weeks has been around the role Ron Dennis will play at his beloved McLaren team. Dennis kept a dignified silence over vicious reports that he was to be fired from the team, instead choosing to do his talking in Albert Park. The message was heard loud and clear as Dennis' McLaren delivered a master class in how it should be done, leaving all others in their wake.
The rumours that the was to be fired look frankly laughable now if they hadn't already: McLaren were the class of the field in Australia, only being denied a dominant first-and-second-place finish by the inability of other cars to stay on the track. Dennis did break silence at Melbourne quashing the rumours, when asked by UK television broadcaster ITV the said:
"Well I'm here, that's pretty obvious, I hold all three positions still. I think people don't really understand they overlap on each other these things.
"All the time I feel I can positively contribute to the racing, and of course I love it. I have to recognise that the vast amount of the work is done by other people in our organisation, it's never about one person."
When asked whether he would be continuing as team principle thorough out the year, he simply commented, "That's the plan."
It was a revelation to see Dennis so happy as he walked to the podium with Hamilton to share in the celebration, especially after the troubles in 2007.
In fact, the celebration should really have been more complete. Without the unpredictable appearance of the safety car no less than 3 times, both the McLaren cars would have finished at the front easily, indeed Lewis Hamilton would have lapped most of the field. The true dominance of McLaren in Australia was visible by the apparent ease in the way the speed was achieved. While most struggled to match the performance of the flying silver cars, many of the other drivers were forced to over drive to compensate destroying their tyres, making mistakes and breaking engines.
McLaren performed faultlessly, both drivers did a superb job, the pit crews were spot on and the tactics were near perfect. Hamilton reported that McLaren had been working on making the acceleration more progressive to compensate for the loss of traction control and it clearly worked. Hamilton looked like he was enjoying the new cars, watching his lap of his 3rd session qualifying gives a real impression of the commitment and skill of the young Brit, he was simply awesome. In the race he was in a class of one for much of the time.
There's no denying the Ferraris had serious pace but neither car crossed the finish line or ever really threatened the McLarens at any point. The weekend was a disaster for the Maranello based team, some pundits predicted reliability concerns with the red cars and that proved to be the story of the weekend. Kimi Raikkonen's car broke down in qualifying putting the Finn in a position which he stood little chance of rescuing. He pushed hard but the tyres suffered and he did not threaten the McLarens when on equal terms throughout the race. The desperation and the loss of traction control caused Raikkonen to make errors, spinning the car and running off the track. The reliability gremlins returned in the closing stages of the race and a very sick-sounding Ferrari ground to a halt before the chequered flag came out.
Felipe Massa had a better time in qualifying but still only managed fourth. He didn't stay there for long, spinning on the first corner, something he never recovered from. The desperation of the lack of a result crept into Massa's race and ultimately he retired after a collision with David Coulthard, something Coulthard felt was clearly Massa's fault in no uncertain terms. Reporters had to apologise for the somewhat colourful language of the Scot on live television.
The Ferraris did seem to wear the tyres more with both drivers suffering graining problems especially on the softer compound tyres, and worryingly for the team not only did Raikkonen's engine fail but also the Ferrari engine in the Toro Rosso of Bourdais.
Who will be the best of the rest?
Well, on results that would be Williams, as Nico Rosberg joined longtime friend Hamilton on the podium; they were both clearly delighted for each other. Indeed Rosberg had a good pace throughout the whole race.
Despite the incredible finish of the Williams, the revelation for the first race in 2008 was the second-place finisher BMW Sauber. After a somewhat lacklustre pre season BMW Sauber pulled it all together for Melbourne. It seems unfair to call BMW Sauber the best of the rest as they have made significant progress. Although running a slightly lighter fuel load, but only a laps worth, Robert Kubica almost stole pole from the pre season favourites Ferrari and McLaren. Kubica was pushing very hard in the final qualifying session clearly with the pole in his sights. He crossed the narrow line that defines the perfect lap and pushed just a little too much. That ultimately cost him the fraction of a second that would have put the BMW Sauber on the front of the grid.
In the race the cars were fast but Kubica was at the sharp end for much of the race but his aggressive style destroyed tyres on the hot track and it was the cool consistency of team mate Nick Heidfeld that produced the podium finish.
Renault, another of the contenders, were not as quick, but Fernando Alonso manhandled the car to a very respectable fourth place getting the better of Kovalainen McLaren when the latter accidentally hit the pit-lane speed limiter on the straight.
Will Super Aguri be on the grid?
Super Aguri travelled to Australia last week so the cars were going to be racing. Both drivers suffered from an almost complete lack of testing, making just one of the test sessions.
The team has been rescued by the Magma group fronted by Martin Leach former Ford and Maserati executive, with a last minute funding deal.
The next instalment will be next weekend in Malaysia. Despite the incidents and the fact they deserve to have done better, it was still McLaren's day. Team principle Dennis commented, "We are just so happy with the competitiveness of the cars." Will Ferrari have an answer in the Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur? We do not have long to wait to see, but so far McLaren have the momentum.