Analysis - Ferrari leave rivals reeling 08 Mar 2004
Was Ferrari domination down to Bridgestone edge?
To say that Ferrari sprang a major surprise in Melbourne is an understatement. Everyone knew that the red cars should never be discounted, and that you under-estimate Bridgestone at your peril, but not even Sir Frank Williams could have foreseen that the F2004s would be so utterly dominant. Their crushing superiority left everyone clutching for straws of comfort.
"We got a roasting," a team Williams insider admitted. "But it was all about tyres today. It was just like 2002. Ferrari and Bridgestone did the same thing then, and then we went to Malaysia and finished first and second for Michelin. I think it was mainly a case of Bridgestone providing a more suitable tyre this weekend."
Schumacher himself advised people to wait and see what happened in Malaysia in a fortnight's time before drawing complete conclusions on the way the season is likely to unravel, but for sure there were a lot of people scratching their heads on Sunday evening.
Best of the rest were Renault, and while the R24 is an absolute jewel of a car, adjudged by many to be the best aero package in the paddock, few expected it to be superior to the BMW Williams, which had looked good all through winter testing. Yet on the day Fernando Alonso got more out of his car, tyres and set-up than either Ralf Schumacher or the accident-prone Juan Pablo Montoya, and third place was a fine reward.
You could cut the tension in the Williams camp with a chainsaw after the race, and not just because of the relatively poor performance of the FW26. Senior management figures were seething at yet another first corner contretemps by Montoya, which left him to fight back all afternoon. This is not what either Williams or technical director Patrick Head had in mind, let alone BMW.
Then there was the performance of McLaren. Or rather, the lack of it. The mechanics were going back to their hotels as late as three o'clock some mornings, such was the rate of work on the silver cars throughout the weekend, and a lapped eighth place for David Coulthard is assuredly not what was expected. Ron Dennis tried to put a brave face on things, but there is something approaching crisis at McLaren and you can be sure that steps are being taken in a hurry to rectify things.
"We will fight back and we are confident we can get back on the pace," Dennis said. But how long will it take? On Australian form the Mark 2 version of MP4-19 that he admits is taking shape in the new McLaren Technical Centre in Woking is needed sooner rather than later.
Toyota, too, had nothing to cheer as they were blown off in the race by Jordan Ford. "The good things are that the engine is small, light and has decent power," says technical guru Mike Gascoyne. "The chassis isn't up to much, but there are things we can do and we can do quite a lot with the TF104 package this year. But these things can only come at a certain pace."
One of the few teams that left Australia with their tails up were BAR. Though Jenson Button proved unable to hold on to his initial fourth place after a problem with the refuelling nozzle in his second pit stop, he still finished sixth for three points and the team proved their pace in qualifying when he set the same third fastest time as Montoya's Williams.
"Our target for this year was to challenge the top three teams, and this weekend we have successfully demonstrated that BAR is a force to be reckoned with. Of course, it's early days, but it's a good feeling to leave here with some points on the board."