Brawn GP made their public debut this week, and what a debut. Jenson Button topped the timesheets on more than one occasion, and Rubens Barrichello showed it wasn t a flash in the pan by being fastest on the final day too.
But for this team many had written off, what does this mean for the season ahead? Is the form going to be repeated throughout 2009? Could they even challenge for the championship?
On the strength of the performance so far, many observers would bet on their being at or near the front in Australia, at least. Fernando Alonso, no less, has said that he believes their form is genuine, because of the development time that BGP 001 has had. There were many fans thinking that the stillborn Honda RA109 would not have had enough tinkering. But long before it morphed into the promising Brawn GP car, the RA109 was being continually modified and developed in some of the best facilities in the world. Some F1 insiders estimate that the team more or less abandoned their dire chassis of 2007, wrote off 2008 and concentrated on 2009 almost two years ago.
Ross Brawn and Nick Fry said things to this effect before Brawn GP came into existence, but many dismissed it as talking up their prospects in order to tempt a buyer. Now, it appears that they were speaking the truth. The Brackley-based team has spent Honda s millions developing the 2009 car behind close doors, and according to 2009 regulations.
F1 s other top dogs definitely cannot be said to have done that, least of all McLaren and Ferrari, who were bringing updates to their cars right to the last few races of 2008 in order to improve their chances in the championship denouement. The regulation changes run in Brawn s favour, too. In a new season of the most radical rule changes for a decade, the well-prepared minnows stand to steal the limelight and profit from others confusion. Jenson Button has pointed this out: â€˜And watching everyone testing, we are looking at the other cars seeing that certain parts that we have tried on our car and it didn’t make us go that much quicker.
But there are also reasons why Brawn GP s apparent competitiveness may be misleading. Firstly, the oft-repeated mantra that testing is testing, and however fast a car or team appears to be, there are simply too many variables for anything concrete to be read into times. Seasoned hacks will tell you that many a year they have watched someone unexpected set the world on fire during pre-season, only to be a wet blanket at the opening race.
Cynics might add that the team are yet to find a significant sponsor, a must in today s sport. Running on fuel vapour makes times look great and sends an attractive message to those potential sponsors. No-one but the team knows how much fuel was in that car this week and every snippet leaked to the public will have conformed to the story that the pace was genuine.
Secondly, BMW Sauber s experience last year shows that modern F1 demands an ascending development curve throughout the season. It isn t good enough, any longer, to have a good car on day one and expect others not to improve. This bodes ill for Brawn GP, as no-one seriously believes the resources are there for that development after the first two or three races at most. Furthermore, the team s delay in preparation could have affected their long-term competitiveness. Button cited his team s lack of testing for expected reliability issues. â€˜I think the only issue will be reliability because we haven’t got the time to put the miles on all the parts that other teams have been able to do, he said.
Thirdly, better-funded other teams will catch up quickly. Whatever performance advantage Brawn have at the moment, the better-known front runners should have nullified by the time Melbourne arrives. If Ferrari, for example, haven t reduced the gap to Brawn by the second or third race, fans will be witnessing a truly extraordinary season.
Every romantic-hearted F1 observer should be cheering the Brackley-based outfit on, however. A truly British motor racing story might be coming to pass – the plucky underdog coming through adversity and taking on the world s best. They probably won t be championship material; they might not even win a race. But on the strength of this week s Barcelona test, they certainly should be there or thereabouts at the end of the month at Albert Park.
Quote credit official F1 website.