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F1's brave new world - a smashing triumph for Brawn

By Peter McKay, 30 Mar 2009 Motorsport

F1's brave new world - a smashing triumph for Brawn

AGP RACE WRAP: Fairytale as Brawn and brains delivers stunning one-two in AGP. Peter McKay reports from Melbourne.

The Brawn GP team didn't exists in February, not in name anyway. And on March 29, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello - two men who a few weeks earlier had good reason to fear for their racing futures - stormed to a remarkable, emotional quinella in the 2009 ING Australian Grand Prix.

Honda's decision to exit grand prix racing at the end of '08 meant a buyer needed to be found for the Honda F1 team, or mothball the operation. 

At the 11th hour, Ross Brawn and Honda agreed to buy/sell terms and the announcement that Brawn GP would contest the 2009 world championship came on March 6.

There was just enough time for Brawn GP to secure a Mercedes-Benz engine deal, order some simple team uniforms and squeeze in a few days testing.

No one could quite have predicted what followed.

It was at the test sessions that it became obvious that the Brawn cars had a comfortable margin over the opposition. The Brawns were rockets straight out of the crate. But would they be as quick in competition and would they be reliable?

The answers came on the other side of the world at the weekend at Albert Park, when Button and Barrichello clinched the front row, and then took the first two places in the 58-lap race.

The Brawns are fast, undoubtedly, but also strong judging by Barrichello's pace even after hitting and being hit.

Across the line third was the Toyota of Jarno Trulli, who started from pit lane after he and teammate Timo Glock were relegated to the rear of the grid after stewards judged their rear wings breached technical regulations. Then soon after the race, the hapless Trulli was pinged 25 secs for passing Hamilton during the final safety car period. This pushed the Italian back to 12th.

The diffusers (on the rear of F1 cars and key to the aerodynamic package) on cars from three teams - Brawn, Toyota, and Williams - attracted the wrong kind of attention from rival teams in the lead-up to the AGP. Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull protested these cars before track action began but Brawn, Toyota and Williams were cleared to compete.

The appeal is set for April 14th, after next week's Malaysian Grand Prix.

Brawn, Toyota and Williams certainly uncorked some serious pace during the race and depending on the outcome of an appeal against the decision on the diffusers, other teams will certainly be burning the midnight oil to introduce similar designs to their cars as the season unfolds. This is not easy and demands are wholesale re-design of the rear of the car.

The race, the opening round in the world championship, met all the expectations of the people who pushed through the new sporting and technical regulations which ushered in low-aero cars, brought back slick tyres after a decade of treaded rubber, and introduced optional kinetic energy recovery systems - KERS.

No one, including those teams that invested millions in KERS, could suggest the new push-for-power package was a resounding success.

The best placed KERS car was Lewis Hamilton's McLaren Mercedes, who was officially third, after starting 18th.

At BMW, Robert Kubica ran without KERS; Nick Heidfeld used the system. Heidfeld finished 10th while Kubica challenged hard up front and but for a rush of blood while trying to overtake the slowing Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull two laps from the flag, would have snatched second at least.

Vettel was later deemed the guilty party by stewards and fined $50,000 for continuing (on three wheels) after the crash.

Kubica escaped official sanction but Wheels found him guilty of abject stupidity for a rash overtaking move which almost certainly could have been easily managed soon after had he employed a modicum of patience and common sense. It was a case of Poland invading Germany and it didn't come off...

Mark Webber left Albert Park frustrated and annoyed after being embroiled in a contre temps in turn one on the opening lap and damaging his Red Bull. He struggled to the chequer one lap down and the last man, running in 13th.

But he and the Red Bull team could take some comfort from the pace of Vettel's healthy car. When the grid is back on a level playing field by mid season, the Red Bull cars should be rockets.

For the moment, we can say that the new regs have led to a change in the pecking order, a fairytale debut for Brawn GP, and the prospects of some unusual results, even if it looks like the Brawn GP drivers can raffle the early races among themselves.

The soft and hard compound slicks appear to be unnecessary novelties, but F1 seems infatuated by the need for unpredictability.

And, by the way, was that Button or Coldplay's Chris Martin who won at Albert Park?