It’s official! The Brawn is the fastest car in the F1 field with two weeks to go before the start of the season! It is an extraordinary story.
The Barcelona test, which finished on Thursday, could well go down as one of the most remarkable events in recent F1 history, as a team which seemed dead in the water at Christmas, bounced back and not only set the fastest outright lap of the week, but showed that it is faster over the race distance than the Ferrari!
Amazingly for a brand new car, reliability was very good too. The car covered over 2,000 kilometres during the four days using the same Mercedes engine (!) and had very few technical issues.
It looks very much as though the battle for victory in Melbourne will be between Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, as long as the car lasts the distance. It has done two race distances in the last two days, so the omens are good. And the competition between the two Brawn drivers is fierce – yesterday Rubens was faster than Jenson was the day before over the long runs, but there was far less wind and the track was more rubbered in.
If you make a direct comparison between the race distance runs of Massa and Button on Wednesday and Barrichello on Thursday you see that Jenson does 19 laps below 1m 21, Barrichello does 14, while Massa manages just 2!
What is even more impressive is that on the 19th lap of his 20 lap first stint Rubens does a 1m 19.971 – startling proof that the Brawn looks after its tyres very well over a long run. The team really are in amazing shape! In contrast the Ferrari’s lap times tail off into the 1m 22s at the end of the 20 lap stints.
If I get some time I’ll work out exactly how far ahead of the Ferrari the Brawn would have been over a race distance.
In fact, so stunning was the Brawn’s pace in Barcelona, it has caused all the F1 teams to completely revise their targets for the season. As I write this, there are briefings going on in all the team’s factories as the full impact of the Barcelona data sinks in. Of course the teams will have big updates for Melbourne, which will make them faster, whereas the Brawn car is is Melbourne specification now, so the gap will close up.
Also Brawn flying is not the best advert for KERS, as the team is not using it and won’t be until later in the season.
Don’t forget, Barcelona is a great yardstick for the season as it rewards aerodynamic efficiency and good tyre management, so if your car goes well there it’s going to go well at most places.
One team engineer I spoke to remembers an meeting last season when the then Honda engineers said that they were going to be a long way ahead in 2009. Given where they were at the time, everyone laughed it off. They are not laughing now.