The new Brawn GP team dominated the Australian Grand Prix on its Formula One debut after its two drivers, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello finished first and second in the race. It seems that radically-revised regulations this season have produced a new pecking-order in F1 racing.
The new Brawn GP team’s dominant performance in the Australian Grand Prix on its Formula One debut has surprised everyone.
The Brawn GP demonstrated its competitiveness and dominance from the pre-season testing to the real race. Britain's Button led from pole to chequered flag with a flawless display. Brazilian veteran Barrichello started and finished second after Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica collided three laps from the end while battling for second and third place.
Italian Jarno Trulli from Toyota crossed the line third but was given a 25-second penalty for overtaking Lewis Hamilton behind the safety car.
Meanwhile, traditional powerhouses such as Ferrari, Mclaren and Renault seemed to struggle in the new-look F1, with its slick tires, radically-revised aerodynamic regulations, and the new KERS energy recovery systems.
Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari started 7th and 9th but both failed to finish the race. Mclaren's defending champion Lewis Hamilton, who started 18th after a disastrous performance in qualifying, could never have anticipated a third-place finish had it not been for Vettel and Kubica's collision and Trulli's punishment.
It's true the innovative but contentious rear diffusers – a key component that governs the quick and smooth flow of air under the car to increase downforce – have given teams like Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams an obvious advantage in the race. But this advantage on its own would never have been enough to complete a sweep for Brawn GP. It was the new regulations that made the difference.
In the past, based on their huge spending in aerodynamic research, teams like Ferrari and Maclaren added as many winglets as they could to increase their cars' speed, which brought them good results. However, the revised regulations, which have seen most add-on aerodynamic elements – winglets, barge-boards, turning vanes and chimneys – stripped off the cars, have undermined the big teams' advantage in aerodynamic research. The new cars are more like traditional cars.
In addition, the return to slicks (treadless tires) after 11 years with grooved ones has put the emphasis on mechanical grip rather than aerodynamics. That is to say, mechanical grip and weight distribution, rather than aerodynamic design has become the key factor to influence the new car’s speed.
Red Bull's chief technical officer Adrian Newey, and Brawn GP owner Ross Brawn, both considered as top engineers, have plenty of experience in researching and developing traditional cars, which has led to the overwhelming performance of Brawn GP and Red Bull.
"If Brawn GP keep performing like this, then we'll be wasting our time," said Massa of Ferrari.
Nevertheless, it is still too early to say that a new order has taken shape in F1. Traditional powerhouses have time to adjust and improve their new cars to adapt to the new regulations. But it will take time and it will be unrealistic to expect much of an improvement in performance from their cars in the approaching Malaysia and China grand prix in April.
(China.org.cn by Xiang Bin, April 1, 2009)