Today’s qualifying session again showed that the Brawn cars do not have it all their own way when it comes to single lap pace in qualifying, but their performance in practice, where they seem to have focussed on long runs, indicates that they certainly have the speed to go for the race win tomorrow. But they face a number of complications which may take the race away from them.
Their lack of speed hurt them today and meant that they could not afford to carry much more fuel than their opposition for fear of falling down the grid behind Alonso’s Renault and Hamilton’s McLaren. They went for the best strategy they could under the circumstances and they will be stronger in the race over the long runs than they were today. Button will stop on lap 15, Barrichello on lap 14.
The fight for the win is likely to be between Trulli, Vettel and Button, with Barrichello an outside bet. Rubens has not been as happy with the balance of his car this weekend as Jenson.
Looking solely at the fuel weights, it appears that Sebastian Vettel did the best job in qualifying because he is third with the highest fuel load of the front runners. He will stop on lap 18 tomorrow. This certainly gives him a great chance of winning the race, but actually the star performer in qualifying was Jarno Trulli, who set a lap two tenths faster than Vettel when you make the fuel correction and half a second faster than Timo Glock in the same car! Trulli has 14 laps of fuel in the car, Glock has 12.
Trulli’s step up in performance from Q2 to Q3 is the truly remarkable part; fuel corrected he found 7/10ths of a second in himself and in the track.
Afterwards he said that he was surprised to be so strong as he had been focussed mainly on long runs with high fuel in practice. He feels confident for the race, but it is likely to come down to consistency and knowing when to push and when not to, so as not to destroy the soft tyres.
The super-soft tyre was not a success in Melbourne, but it’s working well here and is the preferred race tyre, so you will almost certainly see everyone starting on it and using it for the second stint too. The key to the race will be driving consistently on it in the intense heat and not pushing too hard and destroying it. Brawn again seems to be the easiest on the tyre, but the Red Bull was good in that area in practice too.
Button’s problem will be in getting some clear track on which to make some quick laps, as he is stopping before Vettel and will come out into traffic, it’s going to take some clever work by Brawn strategists to give him the clear track he needs.
One possible exception to the soft tyre starters might be Nick Heidfeld who is doing 31 laps in his first stint and may decide to start on the hard tyre.
BMW were very disappointing again today in qualifying, ending up 13th and 14th on a track where they took pole last year. I cannot help thinking that the team blew its chance to win the world championship last season when team boss Mario Theissen decided to switch development to the 2009 car after the win in Canada. You don’t get many chances to win world championships in F1 and, as Kubica pointed out at the time, you should alwasy pursue the title if it is within reach.
You can read a profile of Theissen elsewhere on this site, but I think he was thinking as a corporate man, driven by hitting targets, rather than a racer who sniffed an opportunity. That decision now looks wrong and has increased the pressure on him and the team at a difficult time for the car business. We are seeing him tonight for dinner so I shall look forward to hearing what he has to say about this.
Elsewhere in the top ten, Hamilton will stop on lap 15, same as Button and Alonso, while Massa will go to lap 20 and Raikkonen to 22. The KERS cars will make up places at the start, with the long run down to Turn 1. Hamilton will have a good chance to pass Button and Alonso should get Barrichello and may have a crack at Button too, another complication for the Brawns. That could be decisive for the race outcome and could help Trulli and Vettel.
Ferrari has to score some points tomorrow under the eagle eye of its president Luca di Montezemolo. The president is also here to discuss the ongoing situation in F1 regarding budget caps and rules for 2010 with the vice president of Toyota and others.