Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella had about as perfect a race weekend as one can have, capturing pole position, and more or less leading the entire Australian Grand Prix en route to his second F1 victory (and his first well deserved podium celebration). With the new two-session aggregate qualifying system in play, and rearing its ugly head due to torrential rains during the first session, the starting grid was noticably jumbled, with Michael Schumacher's Ferrari starting on the back row behind both Minardi's and Jordan-Midland's machines. The expectation of seeing good racing was quickly put to rest as it became apparent that regulations changes, designed to reduce costs and improve racing, were doing little to help the on-track action.
One of those rules, that an engine must last through two race weekends, was immediately shown to have glaring loopholes for teams to exploit. It would appear that both BAR Honda and Ferrari ?retired? Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher?s cars from the race in order to have the ablility to start the next race with a fresh engine. The fact that Button posted his fastest lap the lap prior to ?retiring? should raise a few eyebrows. The new tire rules, namely that a car must use a single set of tires for the entire race, should actually help the racing by forcing drivers to conserve their tires to last the entire race distance. That in and of itself should provide for some opportunity for some racing. However, FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting, quickly backpedaled on the rule, and would allow teams to change one tire per pitstop.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the race weekend was the pace of the new Red Bull Racing team, which finished with both cars in points (fouth and seventh), with David Coulthard in podium position for much of the race, and holding off BMW.Williams? Mark Webber for much of the race. It appears that Red Bull may have what it takes to get where Jaguar Racing so often talked about.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the race was the incident between Ferrari?s Michael Schumacher and BMW.Williams? Nick Heidfeld on lap 43. Schumacher having just pitted was still bringing his tires up to temperature, and a noticably quicker Nick Heidfeld was attempting to pass. Schumacher, threw a noticable blocking maneuver which forced Heidfeld onto the inside grass and as he corrected back into Schumacher spinning them both into the gravel. Heidfeld retired on the spot, while Schumacher was able to be pushed from the gravel by safety workers, but slowly made his way back around to the pits where he promptly retired.
The opening round showed where each team lies relative to one another, after race one, Renault appears to be the team to beat, but Mercedes-McLaren, BMW.Williams, Ferrari and perhaps even Red Bull if they can continue their form will be looking to continue to challenge. The Malaysian Grand Prix is two weeks away?