Old order show no real sign of recovery in first European quali

buttonbarcelonaJenson Button today stormed to pole position for Brawn at the Circuit de Catalunya, with young Red Bull hotshoe Sebastian Vettel in second and Button’s team-mate Rubens Barrichello in third.

In the context of this 2009 season, no surprises there. But the Ferraris, McLarens and BMW Saubers showed little sign of the recovery which might have been expected for the start of the European season.

With the exception of Felipe Massa’s fourth on the grid, the next of the established runners was Fernando Alonso down in eighth, and then Robert Kubica down in tenth. While the McLaren squad did tell the press that this weekend would not be a good one for them, fourteenth and eighteenth for Hamilton and Kovalainen respectively will nevertheless be very disappointing for them. Owing to a miscalculation, Kimi Raikkonen’s sixteenth is another embarrassment for Ferrari. It is the second time this season an error like that has cost the Italian team, and another high-profile bad call.

Much was made during the flyaway races of how things might change once the teams returned to their home continent. It was clear that Brawn, Red Bull et al could not afford to sit on their laurels. Cars had been tested during pre-season at this track; the aerodynamic playing field would be levelled by upgrades and modifications; and new parts could be brought into play. Would the world see a magnificent fightback from the established powers in the sport? Would the small fry be able to react?

But on the strength of this qualifying the bare truth is that the old order have not nearly made up the ground required to pose a serious threat to the Brawns, the Red Bulls or even the Toyotas and the odd Williams. Even Ferrari’s fourth-placed grid slot in the hands of Felipe Massa is not much of an improvement – the Brazilian qualified sixth in Australia.

The much-vaunted BMW Sauber aerodynamic upgrades may pay dividends tomorrow, as may the Kers of Ferrari, McLaren and Renault. But from where they are on the grid, and from where they clearly are in the pecking order, the big guns still have a lot of work to do. The fact that they have not yet caught up makes for exciting viewing for the rest of the season and great news for supporters of the underdogs.