MELBOURNE, March 30 – Formula One is looking at a potential new world order after Brawn GP's stunning one-two triumph over their established rivals in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
It’s been over half a century since a debut team finished first and second in their maiden F1 race, and the performance was all the more stunning because the Brawn team was formed in just a matter of weeks from the ashes of Honda.
Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, struggling in F1’s backwaters over the last few seasons with their under-performing Honda cars, are now behind the wheels of Brawn machines that currently lap faster than any of their rivals.
While it may be premature to burden the Brawn pair as title contenders, the win appears to be early affirmation that FIA’s new rule changes may taken the Ferrari-McLaren predictability out of the sport.
The return of slick tyres and the increase in the aerodynamic downforce to help the cars grip the road have had the desired effect on the evidence of the opening race heading into this weekend’s second GP in Malaysia.
Apart from the Brawn duo, there were encouraging competitive signs with the Toyota, Williams, Red Bull and BMW-Sauber teams that could only be good for the sport, which has faced fears for its future due to the economic crisis.
Brawn, along with Toyota and Williams, upset their rivals when FIA stewards cleared contentious rear diffusers on their cars. The diffusers led to protests, which are rumbling on until a hearing in Paris next month.
The diffusers, which are put on the underbody of the cars, make them more aerodynamic — and the Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull teams have claimed they are contrary to the rules.
They believe the controversial diffusers generate more downforce and give a lap-time benefit of as much as 0.5 seconds.
Commentators believe the new generation of cars, with their slick tyres and cleaned-up aerodynamics, are much more drivable.
"The new rules for this year were intended to give a 50 percent reduction in downforce, but the cars immediately lapped within a few tenths of a second of last year’s fastest time," said former Formula One driver Martin Brundle.
"The designers and engineers have again confounded the technical regulators. Right there you have the essence of F1."
But Barrichello said after Sunday’s race that the controversial device fitted to his team’s car might not have had that much effect.
The Brazilian’s diffuser was smashed in the start-line collision, from which he narrowly escaped, and he said the device made little difference to the pace of his car in the long run.
"Obviously it’s in the hands of the FIA to decide what to do but the FIA already checked the cars and already said that the cars were legal, so I’m not expecting anything different," he said.
Brawn’s cars are the developmental work of former Ferrari engineer Ross Brawn, who put together a management buy-out of the Honda team when it pulled out of F1 because of the global economic crisis.
"This car is a wonderful car to drive, well-balanced and looking after its tyres. So we have everything that we need to carry on," said Barrichello, who worked with Brawn at Ferrari.
Race-winner Button praised the aerodynamic features of the car.
"We have made some massive steps forward with the car," he said.
"I would say that mechanically we have improved a lot since last season, so it’s better in the low-speed corners, some of it again is helped by the slicks. "Aerodynamically, I think we are strong. I’m sure there is still room for improvement there and I think Mercedes have done a great job with the engine, the drivability of the engine has been good from the word go."