Australia: Incidents make form difficult to judge

incident-ausThe world is taking a collective breather after the incident-packed Australian Grand Prix this morning. The 2009 season looks exactly as if it is going to continue where 2008 left off – with controversy, incidents, wheel-banging and upsets. But after all the conjecture of recent months, what can judgements can now be made about the relative pace of teams? Who looks likely to be able to maintain their speed? And who will definitely have to improve?

Brawn’s one-two finish was not a surprise, particularly after yesterday’s qualifying session. They are clearly the form team and have – as predicted – a considerable time advantage over the rest of the field in normal conditions.

Similarly, as predicted, Toyota and Williams (the other two members of the ”diffuser gang”) were also rapid. Toyota’s charge up the field – manifested in both their drivers’ good performances – was top notch. Renault were as average as most expected they would be, as were Force India. Ferrari more or less stuck to pre-season predictions – fast, and within touching distance of the front, but vulnerable to reliability issues.

However, there are many reasons why today’s multiple incidents make judging form very difficult indeed. Brawn are the obvious candidates. They won and came second. But they were not so far ahead of the field as they might have been, and Vettel and Kubica’s coming-together was very fortuitous for the Brackley team. They wouldn’t have come second and Kubica might even have challenged for the lead if he hadn’t collided with Vettel. They are ahead, but not by as much as was forecast.

BMW Sauber are clearly very good, but have nothing to show for it from Melbourne. Heidfeld went out at the first corner, scuppering his chances of showing what he could do. Kubica is beginning to remind observers of Alain Prost – a calculating and devastating driver. Sebastian Vettel was superb until his mistake – another incident belying an almost flawless weekend from Red Bull. Barrichello’s haste at Turn 1 on the first lap effectively put paid to Mark Webber’s race too.

Lewis Hamilton, moreover, should not have been fourth. That he was is testament to a fantastic drive from the young Englishman but it would be blinkered to say that it was all down to his talent. The world champion benefited hugely from the attrition that took place around him as he chucked his recalcitrant McLaren around Albert Park. The McLaren is a lot further back in real terms than it was today – and it seems absurd that if the ”diffuser gang” are ruled illegal, Hamilton will have won the race.

So form cannot be judged truly, and fans will have to wait til Malaysia to get another view of who’s good and who’s not. But among the incidents, there were also mistakes – incidents which do give a guide to form insofar as they reflect on the lack of it. Barrichello’s two rash challenges in the opening laps spring to mind; he has to be the luckiest man in Australia today. Nakajima’s losing it on the power in mid-race that ended with him in the wall. And Nelson Piquet showing how good every other F1 driver is by not managing to use his cold brakes effectively when the Safety Car came in.

But bring on the next races, if incidents are to be the order of 2009. What entertainment!