After a dominant performance in qualifying in Melbourne, Brawn GP has been made to work a lot harder here in Sepang by the Toyota team and I think Toyota can win this race tomorrow.
It looks as though the Brawn is about 2/10ths faster around here than the Toyota, but thats close enough for Trulli and Glock to put real pressure on Button, so he will have to keep the car on the limit, which could be interesting in this heat. Reliability is still not assured for Brawn, look at Barrichello’s gearbox, for example and they have not done much mileage in hot conditions, really only what they’ve done here this weekend.
In contrast Toyota had the most reliable car in winter testing and they did a big mileage in the heat of the Bahrain test. So it’s not going to be comfortable for Button tomorrow.
Let’s look at the fuel weights, just published by the FIA: what strikes me straight away is that Rosberg, Trulli, Glock and Webber are all carrying identical fuel loads. They will pit on lap 15 tomorrow. Looking at their qualifying performances then, we can make a direct comparison on pace. Trulli was half a second faster than Rosberg and Webber, whereas Glock was only a tenth ahead of them. This means that the Toyota, Williams and Red Bull are almost perfectly matched, but that Trulli did an exceptional job in qualifying.
Button has four kilos more fuel than these four drivers and he will probably stop on lap 16. Again this shows that the Brawn has a small margin, but that Trulli excelled himself today.
Kubica lines up sixth tomorrow, with more fuel in his car than the other front runners. He will go to lap 17. With only two laps more fuel in the car than Williams, Toyota and Red Bull and yet three tenths slower, it’s not a great picture for BMW.
As predicted Vettel has gone aggressive on fuel, in order to be able to attack in the race tomorrow from P13 on the grid (thanks to a 10 place penalty) He will stop on lap 11!
To make that work he’s going to have to be able to pass the KERS cars of McLaren, Alonso and Heidfeld, which will not be easy. They are substantially heavier than him – 40 kilos in Hamilton’s case, more for Heidfeld and that should make passable if Vettel really goes for it. I would say that this will be the area to keep an eye on in the opening phase of tomorrow’s GP.
Meanwhile Ferrari had another bad day with Felipe Massa. At the end of last season they said that they needed to work on better reliability for 2009 as well as to make fewer mistakes as a team. Already in two races we have had mistakes on strategy and today on over-confidence, as well as poor reliability with both cars in Oz. No wonder Stefano Domenicali the team principal says that this is falling way short of expectations.
There is a long way to go in this championship and Raikkonen, Massa, Kubica and Hamilton, the four guys you’d expect tom fight for the title, are all level on points – zero! Meanwhile Button has a headstart he can add to tomorrow.
Keep an eye on BMW though. Their first go at a 2009 car is a bit half cooked, but they have an updated chassis for Spain, which has been lightened to allow for the extra KERS weight with Robert Kubica driving. No doubt it will also have a trick diffuser.
I can see Kubica having the mirror opposite season to the one he had last year, where he started strongly then drifted away. He will be a contender at the end, so these early races are all about keeping the scoreboard ticking over.