The new F1 season is just around the corner, time to start with Australian GP previews. There is only one rookie on the grid this year so we already know, or should know, what we can expect from the drivers. The big unknown however are the teams. Before they show us their true pace this Saturday and Sunday we can only guess where they are based on their winter testing form. I attempted to rank them after Barcelona test, and here is how I see them after the final test in Jerez. I decided to divide the teams into 4 groups – top, in between, midfield and back of the grid.
Top – Brawn GP, Ferrari, BMW Sauber, Toyota
The pace of Brawn’s BGP001 has impressed many. The car was fast in qualifying trim, the car was quick and reliable over the race distances. It is possible that other top teams kept their true pace to themselves but nevertheless Brawn GP seems to be among the favourites at least at the beginning of the season. Well, they have been working on this car for over 15 month and “thanks” to Honda’s withdrawal could fit it with better engine …
Despite fighting for the 2008 titles till the last corner of last race of the season the signs are Ferrari also have done good job with their 2009 car. I would not be surprised if they turn up in Melbourne with car as quick as Brawn, despite Massa’s claims that Brawn GP pace is unreachable. Ferrari is the only one of my top four teams decided to run with KERS in Australia.
Then there are Toyota and BMW Sauber, both looking to be somewehere very near Ferrari. Both teams were very consistent throughout the entire testing season. These two may not have the glamour of Ferrari or the shock value of Brawn GP, but both teams fancy their chances in Melbourne.
The proper Cinderella story calls for Brawn GP win in Australia but all I say is the top four for me are Brawn GP, BMW Sauber, Ferrari and Toyota, in no particular order.
In between – Renault
I chose to place Renault in a group of its own . The car seems to be a bit behind the above four teams, but not too much. Combination of Alonso and R29 may be good enough to mix up the order at the very top in Australia.
Midfield – Williams, Renault, McLaren, Red Bull
Williams and McLaren recorded very quick times on their last day of testing in Jerez but those times could be more result of improved track conditions than improved pace. Hard to tell without seeing other cars on the same track on the same day… I do expect McLaren to climb up towards the front end of the grid but it may take them few races to get there.
In Australia it may be very even between Red Bull, McLaren and Williams. Unfortunately for them it looks like five other teams are arriving down under with stronger packages, the points will be at premium.
If I were to rank these three ahead of Melbourne I would probably go for McLaren, Williams and Red Bull.
Back of the grid – Toro Rosso, Force India F1
Toro Rosso drivers may suffer from lack of test mileage with STR4. Also they employ the only rookie of the season and his first target will be to bring the car to the chequered flag. Force India may have made a step forward, but looking at the rest of the field some lucky points in wet or high attrition races is the best they can hope for.
However, the Albert Park race can be tricky and we do not have to go too far back for proof. Remember year 2002 with massive pile up after the start and two Minardis finishing in top 8, or year 2006 when none of the Ferraris finished the race, or 2008 Australian GP when even DNF was enough for Raikkonen and Bourdais to collect some points. And who expected Heidfeld to finish 2nd, Rosberg 3rd and Alonso 4th last year …
Bring it on !
Photos: Bridgestone Motorports