March 12 2014 Latest news:
Michael Bailey , Formula One correspondent
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Not only are the omens good for Jenson Button following his superb victory in Melbourne – the omens are good for Formula One fans.
"Jenson must now believe he is in with a good chance of a proper title run this year… I think he is"
To say McLaren have their swagger back after a patchy 2011 would be an understatement – a swagger that probably had Lewis Hamilton thinking Melbourne would be his, given his sulk on the podium.
Of the last six winners in Australia, five have gone on to win the world title. I’m sure that’s a statistic Jenson is aware of. But don’t start thinking we are about to skip from one team dominating the scene to another.
That, in essence, would mean writing off Red Bull – and that is the last thing anyone should do.
Yes, they are behind and have yet to work out how to get the best from the RB8 – primarily because of limited time with their latest upgrade, which didn’t quite come together in the final Barcelona test.
• GW – Ross Brawn: The Mercedes chief once again caused a stir with his winter innovation. Shame it didn’t deliver the result their drivers aimed for.
• BW – HRT: Getting some running before the first race did little to help HRT make the first race. One to forget (again); Felipe Massa: Even after one race, it seems the Brazilian has his work cut out this year.
But while we all sighed in relief as Sebastian Vettel failed to put in that last ditch, lightening fast qualifying lap we saw so regularly last season, the race pace of Vettel and Mark Webber suggested they are within striking distance of those at Woking – which in itself promises to deliver a thrilling race to both championships this season, using a sample of one. There were signs Red Bull had worries over their pace before Sunday’s race – in one TV interview team principal Christian Horner looked edgier than I had ever seen.
I bet he had relaxed a little after seeing Vettel split the McLarens.
So we should have a real race on at the front this season – and seeing more moves like the one that Vettel produced to pass Nico Rosberg on lap two will probably do the German’s reputation some good as well.
The midfield looks closer than ever – as we expected. And clearly Felipe Massa feels more confident running his Ferrari in that pocket of cars than alongside Hamilton and co – although more weekends like his latest one in Australia and the Brazilian will have a lot more spare time on his hands come 2013.
Kimi Räikkönen’s bemused radio message about blue flags was a classic – along with him effectively mucking up his own qualifying chances.
But Lotus look OK and with a few races to settle in, Romain Grosjean may well push his team-mate close.
And Caterham? It was a weekend to forget – so here’s hoping the Malaysian storms and humidity of Sepang this weekend don’t offer a reminder.
• Aside from Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson looking a little lost in what appeared to be a padded cell with a giant touch screen, Sky’s Formula One debut was as you would expect – professional, in depth and pretty enthusiastic.
But while the BBC will continually be scuppered by the fact half of their coverage won’t be as things happen, I think this weekend did prove that everyone will be able to get their teeth into F1 this season – to some extent, at least.
Sky has the quantity but at the moment, the BBC’s quality is keeping it going – and hopefully that continues throughout the season.
• There is nothing like the opening race to bring a bun fight over some innovation the rest of the grid is not happy with.
Three seasons ago things exploded. Brawn GP’s double diffuser was a brilliant piece of lateral thinking by technical chief Ross Brawn that effectively booked Jenson Button’s eventual world title win.
And Brawn was at it again at the weekend, with Mercedes.
In short, the Brit has engineered on to the back of the W03 a device – being dubbed the super F-duct – that increases the effect of DRS when it is employed by the driver.
Red Bull and Hethel-backed Lotus see it as an aerodynamic aid controlled by the driver – something that is banned – while Mercedes obviously feel the effect is created as a result of DRS, and not at the whim of the driver. As always, whether the device is deemed legal will come down to interpretation – McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh feels OK with it, and given genuine innovation is fairly rare in Formula One these days, I hope the rule-makers agree.
Lotus and Red Bull more than likely feel put out they haven’t got it on their cars, or were given advice by the FIA that similar devices they were working on would not be permitted.
In the end, despite free practice promise, Mercedes’ performance in Sunday’s race probably eased the threat of any protest as the Silver Arrows gobbled up their tyres and spat out only a 12th place finish for Nico Rosberg.
A final verdict from FIA technical chief Charlie Whiting should come before this weekend in Malaysia. I know where I hope his decision heads…
• The language of Formula One really is something special – even ignoring every driver’s penchant for “for sure”.
Last weekend was the perfect example. Every team, right up until qualifying in Melbourne, relayed the line they had no idea what to expect from their cars, where they would be in terms of competitiveness and that there was simply no way of telling what we would see come the chequered flag.
Even after qualifying, the same vocal outpouring of ignorance continued over the cars’ respective race pace.
Fair enough. So what did we get after the race?
Well Williams, Caterham and Red Bull claimed they finished exactly where they expected – which given the previous three months of phoney war, was some achievement.
Now, if every team can eradicate those small errors and avoid all that traffic to show their car’s full pace and potential, they will certainly improve in Sepang this weekend.