Great atmosphere in the pits and paddock as the clock runs down towards the start of the race.
There is a general acceptance that the Brawn cars are going to drive away at the front of the field. Their pace over long runs is even more impressive that their qualifying pace. Rubens did a great job yesterday on low fuel in the early part of qualifying, because the Brawn team did not do any work on low fuel running during their all too brief seven days of testing. There simply wasn’t time with all the other things they had to do. Rubens got his car dialled in nicely for low fuel running, but the team knows that there is a lot more to come there over the next few races.
Jenson was able to exploit the car better with race fuel in it during the third part of qualifying and that is how he took the pole by three tenths of a second.
The chat in the paddock is of how long it will take McLaren, Ferrari, Renault and the rest to close the gap on Brawn. As I posted the other day, everyone has a trick diffuser being tested in the wind tunnel, in expectation of the appeal against the Brawn, Williams and Toyota diffusers failing on April 14th. You can expect to see most of them with something similar at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
The only possible exception to that is McLaren, because I’m told that they have an amazing manufacturing capacity and it’s possible they could turn something around by China or Bahrain.
But it would be wrong to think that Brawn’s success is only down to the diffuser, the car generates loads of downforce generally.
What is quite hard to ascertain is how much money Brawn has to develop its car. There are suggestions that they have been given a budget to impress from Honda, in order to find strong partners and sponsors for next year. But you also sense undertones that the money is not plentiful, that Virgin’s millions, if they can be secured in the next few weeks would genuinely make a big difference.
This is key to whether Brawn can figure in the eventual outcome of this championship, because Ferrari, McLaren and Renault will bring a huge amount of performance to the car in the next few months. I’d expect McLaren to find a second in the next four or five races. Brawn has to capitalise on it’s performance advantage while it still has it.
The other talking point in the paddock is why Williams protested Ferrari and red Bull last night, which caused the principals of all three teams and the stewards to have a late night, before Williams finally withdrew its protest.
I’m told that this is the first time anyone can remember that Williams have protested another car, so they didn’t do it lightly. My guess is that they had two motives in mind. First to give RBR and Ferrari a little bit of pain back for the protest and appeal made against them earlier this weekend. But also to be seen to be settling ‘for the good of the sport’, which is what ideally they would like Red Bull, Ferrari and Renault to do over the appeal.
There is a good chance of a safety car today and that could catch Jenson out. If he catches it into turn one and has to do a two minute lap before pitting, while a car running third can just drive straight into the pits, he can lose control of the race right there.
Reliability is his other enemy. A 10p seal could go at any moment and they haven’t done the mileage in testing to be overly confident.