Friday preview - realism sets in 31 Mar 2006
Optimism takes some interesting forms. Prior to the opening race in Bahrain at the beginning of the month all of the top teams had it to spare. Now most of them are being quietly cautious in their aspirations.
Renault, unsurprisingly, expect to be very quick here in Melbourne and Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella have the look of men who know their true status as favourites. The world champion tips Ferrari as their prime opposition here, while last years race winner expects that aerodynamic changes to the McLaren, allied to more horsepower, could put Kimi Raikonen and Juan Pablo Montoya right in the hunt.
Mark Webber would dearly love to put in a good showing at home but it is not unlikely that Williams and Cosworth will rein themselves back in after their spate of unreliability in Malaysia.
Which leaves Honda. Rubens Barrichello couldnt have got off to a worse start in his new team, as far as results are concerned, but was buoyed by the performance of Anthony Davidson and James Rossiter in testing at Vallelunga last week. So was Jenson Button, whose primary aim this weekend is to keep scoring points. The general mantra in what promises to be a very close season is, if you cant win, score points until you can win.
Hopefully we will be competitive here, Button said yesterday. Weve had some issue with driveability via our traction control which we will have fully resolved by Imola, but we also have a very good tyre choice for here in the cooler conditions and I still think that Michelin is the better tyre right now. We have a very close relationship with Michelin, especially in the last few weeks, and it is very useful to us that all of their teams are very strong. Its been important to get our views across.
Button admitted that Malaysia was the first podium finish of his career where he was genuinely disappointed, believing that he should have been one step further up, but is pleased with his consistent points-scoring finishes over the last few races. If we cannot win, then we at least always want to be on the podium, he added.
The biggest thing is that it is so competitive now that you cannot afford to have any mistakes in the weekend, so I am looking forward to a trouble-free run.