Where was Kubica?

BMW Sauber 2007 nose coneBMW Sauber arrived in Melbourne with a bang after dazzling the paddock with their qualifying pace and clinching a superb second-place. But could they or is that should they have delivered more in Sunday s race?

No one quite knew where BMW would be come Melbourne after mixed signals from the Hinwil camp in pre-season testing. Then, on Saturday morning, the penny finally dropped as Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica blitzed the Albert Park circuit in practice en-route to an eye-brow-raising 1-2.

The team s sensational qualifying effort cemented the team s pace as Kubica well-and-truly took the fight to his old chum and rival Lewis Hamilton, almost pipping the Briton for pole.

Many in the paddock tipped the Polish driver to have the edge on his British rival after it became clear that a mistake on his final flying lap cost him the top spot.

The challenge never really materialised though. Heidfeld had an excellent race, avoiding the mayhem of three safety-car periods to finish second. But like his team-mate, the German driver was unable to match the pace of the on-song Hamilton who dominated the race from the start. Kubica was unable to hold on to British star in the opening stint and began to slip down the pecking order after his first pit-stop the Pole was eventually forced to retire after being shunted of the track by Kazuki Nakajima.

So what happened to the Kubica gauntlet laid down in qualifying? The BMW ace attributes his downfall to a switch in strategy which meant he spent most of his second stint tucked up behind the gearbox the much slower Torro Rosso driver of Sebastian Bourdais.

True as this may be, it doesn t really explain why he was unable to make an impression on Hamilton in the early laps.

A far more straightforward explanation is that the F1.08 simply wasn t able to live up to its searing qualifying pace. Kubica s fastest lap came on lap 15 with a 1m 28.735 some 1.8 seconds slower than his qualifying time of 1m 26.869. Meanwhile, Hamilton at the same point in the race was lapping in the mid 1m 27s, only 0.7 seconds off his pole lap.

Looking at it in another way, McLaren s race pace seems to be considerably stronger than their qualifying pace despite rumours to the contrary especially when benchmarking the Woking-based outfit s testing results against rivals Ferrari.

So what s the beef? BMW after all had a stunning race and appear to have taken a massive step forward since 2007.

Well this is it, have they? Australia was a bizarre race that saw three safety car periods and most importantly the absence of Ferrari at the sharp-end of the grid. Throw the Scuderia into the mix, as will surely be the case in Sepang, gift an unlucky Kovalainen with his rightful position behind Hamilton, and Heidfeld s second place quickly becomes a fourth or fifth, roughly where the BMW Sauber was finishing last year.

BMW are quick, no doubt about it. But the Hinwil and Munich based outfit still have a lot of work to do before they can fully justify the sand-bagging tag that was attached to the team in Melbourne.