Red Bull, Wiliams pleased: BAR, McLaren less so
The start of a new season always brings surprises and 2005 looks to be no different, as seen in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.
Few people will be shocked by Renaults performance - the French team having proved themselves a strong challenger at the sharp end of the grid for the last two seasons. But the pace of the new Red Bull Racing outfit, with fourth and seventh place finishes in its debut race, will have raised more than a few eyebrows in the paddock. The big question has to be whether the team will be able to keep up their impressive debut form throughout the season.
David Coulthards fourth place finish will feel particularly sweet - many were openly doubting that the Scottish veteran still had the pace and aggression necessary to compete at the front of the grid after he left the McLaren team at the end of last season. Strong qualifying performances and a solid race drive should have put paid to that and team mate Klien deserves special mention for his seventh place finish.
Toyota will also be hoping that its strong qualifying performance is indicative of the intrinsic pace of the TF105. The rain-sodden first qualifying session was certainly instrumental in helping Jarno Trulli to his P2 grid spot, but the Italian had no difficulties keeping his second place throughout the early stages of the race, only dropping down the order during the closing stages. Ralf Schumacher had a less happy weekend in Melbourne, his disappointing P15 grid spot becoming a lacklustre 12th place by the end of the race.
There is, of course, another interesting question: that of whether the former front-running McLaren team will be able to mount a serious challenge as the season progresses. Boss Ron Dennis admitted that he was disappointed by the teams performance, Montoya and Raikkonens ninth and 10th qualifying slots turning into sixth and eighth respectively by the end of the race in spite of what the team were predicting would be pace-setting performance.
The BAR team also failed to live up to pre-season expectations, in Melbourne at least. Jenson Buttons eighth place on the grid had turned into 11th by the end of the race. And having started from the back of the grid after failing to set a qualifying time, Sato only managed to climb to an eventual 14th place. After their strong performances last year, the Brackley-based team will be disappointed by its apparent lack of speed.
Ferraris two drivers enjoyed and endured very different races. Rubens Barrichellos masterful performance (and a well-applied burst of speed before the final round of pitstops) saw him bring his car home in second place. But world champion Michael Schumacher suffered from a nightmare afternoon, beginning from the back of the grid after setting no time in the second qualifying session and then crashing out after a heavy collision with Nick Heidfeld.
It will be fascinating to see how the season progresses