• Mar 30, 2009
2009 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix – Click above for high-res gallery

Boring. Predictable. The world's most expensive parade. Sound familiar? If it does, chances are you've steered clear (so to speak) of Formula One for the past decade or so. And even the most red-blooded racing enthusiasts among us would have to admit that you had good reason.

As spectacular as it was, Michael Schumacher's domination of the pinnacle of motor racing got a little boring after a while. Schumi's long since retired – his lackluster brother Ralf, too – but the past couple seasons since have still been dominated by the rival powerhouses of McLaren and Ferrari trading places on the podium and hoisting the championship trophies. This weekend's Australian Grand Prix seems to have opened a new chapter in motorsports, however, kicking off a season that stands a fighting chance of bringing the disenchanted back to the fold. Follow the jump to find out why.






Okay, so we'll admit that the whole "Phoenix rising from the ashes" cliché has been done to death. But that's a shame, because if there was ever a story of a miraculous recovery, it belongs to Brawn GP. The story starts back in 2000 when Honda got back into F1 racing with British American Racing (BAR), which the Japanese automaker initially charged Prodrive chief David Richards to run before taking it in-house. Success did not come easy for Honda, but last year they managed to coax Ross Brawn, the master strategist who engineered Schumi's dominance of the sport while serving as Scuderia Ferrari's technical director, out of retirement to take on the challenge of turning the Honda team into a winning outfit. Unfortunately, hard times fell on the entire industry in the meantime, and Honda canceled its racing program before Brawn ever had a chance to complete his mandate. Undeterred, Brawn and company took over the team themselves, and after unveiling their new car later than the rest of the field, grabbed headlines by outgunning the big guns in pre-season testing. Speculation was that it was all for show, but the naysayers were left chewing on their own feet after Saturday's qualifying session, where Brawn GP's aging drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello took first and second on the grid, outpacing the rest of the field by a considerable margin. But would Brawn's Button and Barrichello be able to translate their blistering pace into race victory?



In short: yes. After 58 laps in the blinding sun of Melbourne's Adelaide Park, the checkered flag waved over Jenson Button, with Rubens Barrichello trailing in second. For Button it was easy sailing to his second career victory, but Barichello had to fight until the bitter end. The Brazilian driver, well accustomed to both Brawn's management and to coming in second from his years at Ferrari, hit the anti-stall button at the start of the race, causing him to drop way down the pecking order as half the grid moved around him. Button, meanwhile, pulled cleanly away, quickly establishing a commanding lead over his rivals and largely escaping the myriad of incidents that would plague the rest of the field over the race distance.



Brawn's boys weren't the only ones to impress on their debut, however. Remember Sebastian Vettel? He's the German wunderkindt who made a splash last year at Scuderia Toro Rosso – Red Bull's ostensible "b-squad" – by winning the Italian Grand Prix on supposedly "inferior" equipment. For this year, the young driver was called up to the senior Red Bull Racing team to replace the retiring David Coulthard, and despite a disappointing crash that cost him second place in his first race with the new team, waged a battle nearly as impressive as Brawn GP's. Having qualified third and moved up past a languishing Barichello on the starting grid, Vettel secured a solid second place behind Button and looked poised to stand next to him on the podium until an incident on the third to last lap cost him his laurels. BMW's Robert Kubica attempted to pass Vettel for second place, but instead the two ambitious drivers locked wheels and took each other out of the race.



Meanwhile, Barrichello was fighting his way back up the grid, tangling with nearly everyone along the way. In the first lap, the elder statesman of the F1 circus collided with both Mark Webber's Red Bull and Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber, sending Webber into Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren to end the Finn's race while Fernando Alonso ran his Renault wide to avoid the incident. Barichello lost part of his front wing in the collision, and later lost another part in another clash, this time with Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari.



The tifosi, meanwhile, had little to celebrate at this year's season opener. Both Raikkonen, who won there two years ago in his first race for Ferrari, and Massa, who fought Hamilton for the title last year right down to the wire, retired early from the race. BMW Sauber, which looked poised to take on Ferrari and McLaren this year, didn't fare much better, with Kubica classified just ahead of Raikkonen in 15th place and Heidfeld in 11th – both out of the points. Despite a thoroughly laudable performance by Vettel, Red Bull also missed out on the points, with Webber in 13th and Vettel limping home behind him with a broken front-left wheel to classify 14th. Their counterpart Sebastiens – returning Bourdais and newcomer Buemi – fared slightly better, as did Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrien Sutil. Williams' Nakajima spun out on lap 18, but his team-mate Nico Rosberg managed an admirable seventh, setting the fastest lap in the process. Two-time world champion Alonso took sixth after his team-mate Nelsinho Piquet likewise retired on lap 25. But after the Brawn duo, the real surprise finishes came from Toyota and from defending champion Lewis Hamilton.



After a frustrating qualifying session left him stuck in 13th place on the starting grid, Hamilton fought a diligent campaign to work his way up the field, picking his way through the wreckage to ultimately take fourth place and a solid five points for himself and his McLaren-Mercedes team. His battle was ultimately helped by the Vettel-Kubica collision, as the safety car allowed him to jockey for position. The safety car also helped the Toyotas of Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli, which started the race at the very back of the grid, move up the field. Trulli took his place on the podium next to the Brawn boys, with Glock finishing just behind Hamilton in fifth place.



Racing fans could hardly have asked for a more surprising, intriguing and stage-setting start to what is quickly shaping up to be the shake-up of the Formula One hierarchy we've all been waiting for. So will Brawn GP burn out as quickly as it rose up? Only one way to tell, so tune in again next weekend as the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship sails north to Malaysia for round two.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 42 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      There was a few drivers that deserved more praise than the report gives them. Hamilton started 18th, not 13th, and thanks to some brilliant driving (and, in the last 10-15 laps, a whole heap of luck) grabbed 3rd.
      It was mentioned that Rosberg set the fastest lap, but if it wasn't for a large delay in his first pit stop, he would have been challenging Button for the win.
      Oh, and calling Button, at 29 years old, 'ageing,' is a little harsh, dont you think? Damon Hill didn't become world champion until he was 36!
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'll say he is a better driver then Hill he drove the Liana faster !
        • 5 Years Ago
        Oh, and Nigel Mansell was 39 when he won his title. and Fangio was 46 when he won his 5th
        • 5 Years Ago
        Button entered F1 in 2000. Damon Hill in 1992, won that WDC in 1996 & retired out of F1 at the end of 1999. Jenson's career has been LONGER than Hill's with far less results. IMO, that's where the"old" comments are coming from.
      • 5 Years Ago
      One thing I noticed was a lot of passes were done on the OUTSIDE. I found this very interesting and quite fun to watch. I like the new cars + slicks already.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I agree. It was awesome to see passing on the outside of the turns. Crazy stuff.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "This weekend's Australian Grand Prix seems to have opened a new chapter in motorsports, however, kicking off a season that stands a fighting chance of bringing the disenchanted back to the fold."

      How true. I have not watched since Jaguar was still racing becuase i was bored of watching Schumi run a clinic. Last night I watched and i'm completely hooked again.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I never stopped watching but the post race crapola is starting to wear me down! They zap Vettel 50K for continuing to drive on 3 wheels(that provided news media a race highlight, IMO) & then assign him BLAME for the accident! WTF???

        Kubica invites stereotypical jokes about his nationality with his overzealous, banzai move to pass an obviously struggling RB5. He had 3 LAPS, but he forces the issue with a low percentage pass attempt ASAP. Vettel has to turn the corner too & he's not driving a SCORE offroad trophy truck... 1st the curb jump, mixed with youthful bravado.

        I can understand Kubica & Vettel SHARING a 10 place grid penalty, but to leave out one??? NFW!!! :( :( :( The BMW driver gave Brawn GP their story book ending (which was nice to see after off season struggles) but F'd up solid point finishes for RedBull & BMW. D-U-M-B

        To use a bit of Polish.... Kubica is a DUPA!!! :) :) :) I'd give him a 15 grid penalty
        • 5 Years Ago
        Vettel admitted the accident was his fault so you boys hush on loving that little man. I love that guy though... So not BS and just fast as hell. Suposively a REALLY friendly kid too

        Vettel did not knock into Kubica until after he had applied power since it was past apex. If Vettel had been under braking still then it definitely would have been his fault as well since he would have been over shooting the turn.

        Thing is, not the smartest move by Kubica... OFCOURSE the kid is going to drive like hell and try and keep the spot. I probably would have done the same thing since you're trying hard hard to keep your spot. Kubica did not leave Vettel room since he chopped him off a bit much. Kubica is insanely aggressive and Vettel just drives like hell no matter what. Should have been a bit more patient, he would have gotten by
        • 5 Years Ago
        @AZZO45b
        "I never stopped watching but the post race crapola is starting to wear me down! They zap Vettel 50K for continuing to drive on 3 wheels(that provided news media a race highlight, IMO) & then assign him BLAME for the accident! WTF???"

        I totally agree, fining Vettel is pure BS. If they didn't want him driving around on three wheels, they should have black flagged him and made him come in. Since they didn't throw the black flag on him, I don't see how they justify the fine. Hopefully Red Bull can appeal this ruling.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Wow man, the last four years have been incredible racing. Schu hasn't run the clinic since 2004.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I read Autoblog almost every hour, and I absolutely love the site. However, "After 58 laps in the blinding sun of Melbourne's Adelaide Park..." is slightly incorrect. A Formula One race was held on the streets of the city of Adelaide from 1985 to 1995, but the Australian Grand Prix has been held since 1996 in Melbourne at Albert Park.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Don't forget Honda has been developing the car which became Brawn for 16 months...
        • 5 Years Ago
        True, but they weren't planning on using Mercedes power that whole time. They did an impressive job of shoving that Merc engine into the Honda car in under 4 months. And I'm happy for Button to take the race...he deserved this win (unlike his first win in Hungary).
        • 5 Years Ago
        All the more reason to credit the team. They spent most of '08 to perfect the next generation of vehicle and it paid off very well, as was expected.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Don't worry, Mclaren and Ferrari will return to promenance once they get a chance to design rear diffusers like the others have.

      KERS doesn't seem to have any effect. I bet all the drivers will just end up using their 6.6 seconds all at the same places on the track.
      • 5 Years Ago
      That was some pretty seriously amateur driving by Vettel and Kubica at the end there. Vettel was apologetic, but that was just really dumb.

      I'm not quite sure where the excitement people talk about was located in the race. From what I saw, one guy wired the race. The biggest movement during the race was when Rubens got jumped up several places when Vettel and Kubica took each other out.

      KERS oddly didn't really play much of a role, no quick jump passes that it was kind of implied we'd see. Although KERS could still make a huge difference at Monaco I think. Where it's impossible to pass, making it merely very difficult to pass could make a huge difference. It is shocking to me that F1 is making the teams spend so much money to basically get push to pass. Why go through all the trouble of all the cost-savings measures and then have put a many million dollar figure on a feature Champ Car made it possible to throw in for free?

      I'm glad to see slicks back though.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Oh, and it was interesting to see the pit speed limiter raised. Low pit speed limits were mostly just an excuse to generate more lead changes through passing on pit stops. For example, could Button have maintained his lead with a "mere" 25 second lead if it took 25% longer to drive through the pit lane?

        Undoing this is shows maybe F1 is more interested in working on the excitement on the track than just generating passes on the score sheet.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Melbourne not a "power" circuit. Look for KERS to be more of a factor in Malaysia (where the track features longer & faster straights)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Spoiler alert nearly 36 hours after the race finished...odd.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Well, to be fair, some of us don't have Speed (have to pay for top-tier Comcast to get it here in Nashville) and can't watch it immediately. I just finished watching the race actually and am glad of the alerts.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Brawn is simply amazing. Against all odds, they get a 1-2 while just about everyone else stumbled. I have no idea what Ross Brawn does to make the laughing stock of yesteryears the current in-form team, but that man's a legend.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The previous Hondas were not that competitive so I belived they focus all their efforts on the new Brawn GP cars well in advance of their rivals and before the new rules coming into effect.

        Honda are no longer in F1 but Brawn GP have a lot to thank them for.
      • 5 Years Ago
      That was much more entertaining that most of the races I've watched since the US got, the lost, it's race.

      I can't remember if they took away the anti-slip control as well, but there was much more racing as opposed to the traditional 'follow the leader after the first lap'
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hamilton placed 3rd after Trulli was given a 25 second penalty for overtaking under the safety car.

      Had Trulli stayed behind Hamilton after going off the track, even if he thought he should have been able to regain his position, he would have placed 4th and got points instead of losing it all.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Tex:

        (1) Rubens hit KIMI not Massa & the contact knocked part of his front wing off & damaged NOTHING on Kimi's Ferrari. Those other "rams" were racin' deals in a hectic 1st corner.

        (2) Kubica had 3 laps & Vett-EL's RedBull was managing fading tires. The BMW driver has more experience, but did NOT drive like it.

        (3) KERS is nothing like nitrous... it doesn't run off the engine. Champ Car had "Power to Pass" button... that was more like "nitrous. Besides some team are NOT using it (including Brawn GP) so what's the big deal?
        • 5 Years Ago
        It seemed to be an honest misunderstanding on both team's part. Trulli slid off under the safety car, Hamilton passed him, and McLaren... especially cautious after the Spa debacle last year told him to give the position back. The most the FIA should have done was just promote Lewis back to third instead of penalizing Trulli. They make everything so difficult.
        • 5 Years Ago
        If you actually watched it, Hamilton let him have his place as a "Here you go" sort of measure. So greed wasn't at all the reason but rather a mistake on both teams' behalf.
        • 5 Years Ago
        NASCAR takes its lumps @ AB... but at least those boys send their fans (& TV viewing fans) "home" with knowledge of the finishing order!!! Perhaps it was my the 2-4:30 AM viewing period... but I missed the Trulli/ Hamilton deal.

        I'm a Lewis/ McLaren fan but even I think this is 1st class BS!!! Guess we can photoshop Jarno out of the podium images , eh? JMO, but can the FIA take 1-2 points away from the Toyota driver? Dropping the dude outta the points??? He joined Nico Rosberg without his Bridgestones failing him.

        More FIA "local" stewards overreacting & trashing another GP. :( :( :( F*@#ers!
        • 5 Years Ago
        I really dislike Massa, but Barrichello should really be penalized for his racing. He basically rammed Massa, and I forgot who else early in the race. If Massa or Hamilton had done what he did, people would be in an absolute uproar.

        Hamilton is my boy, so I am glad he got 4th (3rd), but not at the expense of poor driving on Rueben's part.

        All in all it was a good race. Vettle and Kubica was a mistake on both of their parts, and it's a shame they both got caught up in the moment. And in conclusion, KERS is cool as a technology, but I don't like it, it's nitrous for F1 cars plain and simple. F1 =/ Fast and the Furious.


      • 5 Years Ago
      It really was a good quality race, I enjoyed it.

      And AB, thanks for the spoiler alert and no give-aways in the picture. Well done :).
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