Sunday 27 March
The Australian Grand Prix weekend continued more or less as it started with Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull dominating from lights to flag. It is the best start to the season Red Bull has ever had and the other potential frontrunning teams will be taking the long flight home to do a bit of head scratching.
At the end of the first lap of the race Vettel was 2.5 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton and one of the biggest worries for the other teams is how Red Bull and especially Vettel can get the tyres working that quickly to get that sort of performance.
McLaren did as well as it could with the updated package it brought to Melbourne and second position for Hamilton shows that it is leading the chasing bunch but the team will have a lot of work to do to close the gap down to a level that will allow it to challenge for race wins.
Mark Webber, Red Bull, Australia 2011 © Sutton
As far as drivers are concerned Mark Webber will be the one tonight looking deep into the empty glass to see if he can see any answers as to why his team-mate was so far ahead of him. He has the luxury of having the same tools to do the job as Vettel has but in reality when push came to shove on Saturday afternoon in qualifying and in the race he was getting on for nearly one second slower than Vettel and that will be a mountain to climb as Vettel's confidence is just going to go from strength to strength.
At Jordan in 1994 we had a reasonable little car and in Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello a fairly strong driver line-up. But Eddie's way of working was really to try to get inside his team-mate's head and Rubens' temperament allowed this to happen. With Eddie Jordan owning the team, me as technical director and us both from Ireland like Irvine, the Brazilian sometimes felt that the Irish Mafia was out to get him. This was never the case and to be honest if anything, I always favoured Rubens as he was a really talented driver and really nice guy but it is always difficult to defuse a situation like this after it has gained some momentum. The way this season has started with Vettel's domination and Webber's lack of performance it is very similar to how the 2010 season ended and Red Bull as a team needs to make sure that it does not allow this to escalate into something which will internally explode.
Sauber would lose its points finishes © LAT
On another note, the Sauber disqualification after the race because of a rear wing infringement is always a difficult thing to accept as a team. I have been there and it's not a nice place to be when you have the officials telling you that something you believe is completely legal does not comply with the regulations.
The regulations state that it is the team's responsibility to present the car at a race meeting complying with the regulations as written. This is really because it is impossible for the FIA to check everything, however after the race there will be some cars selected to have various different checks to make sure they comply and also the other teams' technical personnel will have been keeping a watchful eye over the opposition. I would not be surprised if some other team alerted the FIA to their opinion of this rear wing contravention. I suppose all is fair in love and war and I can assure you the days of helping each other out are long gone and if off the track one team can scupper another team it will definitely try to do so.
In the early 1970s when I was working for Bernie Ecclestone at the Brabham Formula 1 team you could always rely on other teams giving you a hand if you were stuck. I remember helping Lotus change an engine in its Lotus 72 after the warm-up at the Nurburgring - they took the engine off the back of the chassis, the car was still full of fuel and because of this the lower engine mount section of the chassis spread so it was impossible to put the fresh engine back onto the chassis. We ended up squeezing the back of the chassis in the sliding doors of the garage and levering the door closed with a piece of four by two timber which was enough to close up the lower studs and slip the engine on, job done.
Saturday 26 March
After 15 days of testing and two days of official practice we've finally got a picture of the field's form, and it's one that 11 of the 12 teams didn't want to see. Red Bull, and especially Sebastian Vettel, are on a different planet.
The domination they showed in Saturday morning practice and all three sessions of qualifying was just mind blowing. To have that advantage over the rest of the field must give the whole team so much motivation for the rest of the season.
Sebastian Vettel was on top form in qualifying © sutton-images.com
You can see in Vettel's driving that he really has quickly matured as F1's youngest ever champion and it has helped him raise his game further. As he himself says, he is here to win races and win championships and from what I saw today he has very few challengers.
I have never been in a position with a car as dominant as the Red Bull but it is immensely satisfying to arrive at a race meeting and overpower your main opposition. In Red Bull's case it is the rest of the field, in my days just to get one over on what was called the 'Big Four' back then; McLaren, Ferrari, Williams and Benetton/Renault, was always very satisfying and it would always put a smile on everyone's face in the teams when you could outperform one or two of them.
Mind you there always is the other side of it, fighting a battle to be ready in time just like HRT is doing now. I have been there. In 1992 Jordan arrived in South Africa for the first race of the season and although we had done a reasonable amount of winter testing - and I emphasise the 'winter' part of that comment - in South Africa with the combination of the altitude and temperatures in the high 30s we spent a couple of all-nighters cutting up bodywork and sticking in extra oil coolers wherever there was an opening available.
Having to do your dirty washing in public at a race meeting definitely wipes the smile off your face.
The drivers are free to use the DRS (drag reduction system) in qualifying whenever they feel it can be of an advantage. We all saw Adrian Sutil produce a very smoky 360 degree spin coming onto the main straight. This happened because he pressed a button to instigate the DRS just as he hit the kerb on the outside of the corner, and quicker than a blink, round she came.
Narain Karthikeyan gives the HRT a run out © LAT
So where does that leave us? Prior to qualifying, the FIA changed the position of where the driver activates the DRS system during the race to just before the last corner. In effect this means that the same sort of incident could happen in the race. I think it would be fully justified change, and actually a crucially important safety requirement to re-think this and change the start point back to just after the kerb at the last corner.
This season sees the return of the 107% qualifying rule and both the HRT cars failed to achieve this. Many people are saying that the team should have been allowed to race after all that effort, but I don't agree, the best thing for it is to pack up early, get to Malaysia and be ready for first thing Friday morning.
One of the rumours that I am hearing from Melbourne is that Red Bull has a start-only 'mini' KERS system. This would at least put Red Bull on equal terms as far as horsepower is concerned with the other cars around them on the grid, and this would be vitally important in the run down to the first corner as it is just a pure drag race of car mass verses horsepower. The other advantage is that Red Bull won't have the problem of recharging the KERS under braking which, as the tyres degrade, alters the brake balance dramatically and leads to locking up and potentially flat-spotting tyres.
On the negative side if any team has the system working correctly (which I doubt) and it doesn't create any problems under braking (which I doubt) then they have the added advantage of an extra six seconds worth of 80 horsepower per lap which equates to something in the region of three tenths of a second. Who has got it right? We will only find out post-race.
Friday 25 March
At last the 2011 Formula 1 season has finally got underway and before this weekend is out we will see where everyone lies as far as performance is concerned.
Day one started more or less where testing ended: Red Bulls and Ferraris are up front, Mercedes is knocking on the door and McLaren in the second session ended up first and second quickest.
Sebastian Vettel hunts down Lewis Hamilton with his moveable rear wing activated © sutton-images.com
But it is still difficult to really know the picture because with the different tyres available there are quite big steps in performance on offer for that one lap. On a green track as Australia always is for the first session the softer of the two tyres could be worth as much as a second on one lap and using the drag reduction rear wing section at the same time could very easily give big advantages.
In the midfield it looks like Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso are all in for a major battle and if any of them blink they could end up at the back of the pack instead of the front. So the midfield is going to be a very interesting part of the grid.
It also looks like Renault may have joined this bunch as opposed to leading it. On pure speed it will definitely miss Robert Kubica's ability to wring a car's neck when it mattered.
Little was seen of Hispania in practice © sutton-images.com
The three new teams from last year look as though they have fallen into their status quo with Lotus heading up Virgin and the two HRTs still to show what they can do as they still have not finished building the cars. I hate to think what would have happened if Bahrain had gone ahead. They would have had a bit of a problem, I think.
The FIA has finally clarified the use of the drag reduction system and extended the potential length of the straight where it can be used during the race. Perhaps this thing is a good idea but for me it is just adding another complication which is not really necessary. If overtaking is not possible with the current cars then the car regulation package needs to be looked at as opposed to adding another complication.
All in all it was a fairly tame start to the 2011 campaign with only Karun Chandhok blotting his copybook as he speared into the wall exiting the pits. Not the thing to do on your first day as a test driver with Lotus...
I am sure that tomorrow will bring a bit more action and at the end of the day we will really see who is sandbagging the most. It is definitely going to be an interesting race weekend but as far as true car performance is concerned Melbourne's Albert Park is a tricky one. It is more about keeping up with the track as the grip levels change during the sessions and it is very easy to end up with the car not in an ideal set-up on Sunday when the track is at its best and the car can show its true potential.
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