A new order reigned in Melbourne but a good season may be soured by legal wrangles
There was much to enjoy at the season-opening grand prix in Australia, and Giancarlo Fisichella’s win for Renault was a popular one. Testing had suggested that the Anglo-French team was going to be on the pace, but who would have thought that the weird circumstances of qualifying would help a Toyota to run second for the first chunk of the race and a Red Bull take that position for the middle stint?
It’s strange to say, but perhaps the biggest surprise of the race was Rubens Barrichello’s eventual claim on that runner-up position. Ferrari’s 2005 prospects had begun to look just a little shaky, and this was a reminder that it is always dangerous to underestimate the men from Maranello. Everything now rests on the new car, which may be rushed into service as early as Bahrain in early April.
It’s far too early to draw any firm conclusions on the impact of the 2005 rule changes. Firstly, in Australia we did not really see what the new aggregate qualifying is all about because of the huge gaps created in the soggy first session. Only when we get a fully dry weekend will we really have some edge-of-the-seat excitement on Sunday morning as teams play chicken with race-fuel loads.
Secondly, Sepang is far harder on tyres than Albert Park, so wear is likely to be much more of an issue in the Malaysian GP on March 20. And finally, for the first time most drivers will start the weekend with engines which have already been given a real pounding. The closing laps will be fascinating.
The saga over the participation of Minardi provided an unfortunate distraction over the Melbourne weekend, with media attention focusing on Paul Stoddart’s battles with the authorities. The local hero had some solid ground to stand on and support from many quarters, but his decision to take the issue into the Australian courts opened a Pandora’s Box.
At a late-night summit a reluctant Stoddart was persuaded to withdraw his course of action. But in the FIAs eyes the damage had already been done. Law is about precedent and, even if Stoddy didn’t make use of the judge’s decision in his favour, it will remain in the records. An FIA decision has been successfully legally challenged and it can now happen again.
The whole affair was very messy and it was just the latest round in what could be a very bloody battle in the coming months as the future of F1 is fought over. Some may have good intentions, but few key players seem to realise that the sport has a credibility problem with the wider public. And the politics will inevitably cancel out any good achieved on the track in the course of what should be a sensational season. It feels as though we’ve been here before.