Now that the dust has settled on the temporary street circuit in Albert Park, I want to see if I can figure out what happened there at Sunday’s Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
It was a race of non-stop action, which cannot be said for many F1 races these days. It was also a race of attrition, as only nine of the 22 starters finished.
The biggest change from last season to this–and one which played a role in both the action and the attrition–is the loss of traction control. It’s quite amazing–and unbelievably complex–how much regulation TC had over wheelspin in seasons past. But it’s a whole new game now, and one which is sure to separate the true pilots of F1 from mere wingmen. There can be no hiding behind the technology anymore, especially when the rain starts to fall–and it surely will. I’ll say this: Watching Fernando Alonso in Australia as he reigned in his squirrely Renault corner after corner was simply inspiring.
As I said in my last post, the BMW Sauber boys weren’t really expected to add much to the festivities. But then they qualified 2nd and 5th, which I’m sure raised some eyebrows. Come race day, Nick Heidfeld scored a wonderful podium finish, racing well to 2nd place, while Robert Kubica got a race-ending punt up the rear diffuser from an over- anxious Kazuki Nakajima aboard the Williams Toyota. There were just a dozen laps to go, so that was a shame.
Congratulations are in order to McLaren and Lewis Hamilton. It is scary how commanding that kid is. Of all the teams on the grid, Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes has the biggest axe to grind this season, as 2007 unfolded with more industrial espionage, primadonna backstabbing, raw talent, and sheer drama than we may ever see again in the sport.
And of course there was the $100 million fine. They were the nearly- men of F1 for 2007, 0 for 2 in both the Constructor’s and the Driver’s World Championships. But Hamilton certainly looked on form in Australia, owning the circuit and his rivals from lights to flag.
It was clear early on that the BMWs couldn’t really match Hamilton’s pace. But it also seemed the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen were never able to get within striking distance of the BMWs.
Though Kimi’s first-lap charge from 16th to 8th only confirms how tough he will be this season.
It’s still too early to tell how things might shake out. Historically, the season-opening Australian GP is anyone’s guess. It’s a first-day- of-school affair, with plenty of nerves and new faces and endless sizing up. Drivers and teams who do well here can very easily disappear from the sharp end in a week’s time. Giancarlo Fisichella won here in his Renault debut in 2005, and he’s been outclassed in every race since.
The whole circus moves to Malaysia this week for round two. BMW Sauber must be feeling pretty good looking ahead, and if I had to bet on it, I’d say with some certainty the F1 podium has not seen the last of the men from Bavaria.
Photos: Kubica on the grid; Mario Theissen and Nick Heidfeld display the spoils of 2nd place. Courtesy of BMW Motorsport