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Analysis - no shocks, but some surprises 16 Mar 2007

Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 16 March 2007 (L to R): Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren with Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 16 March 2007 Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW29 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 16 March 2007 Anthony Davidson (GBR) Super Aguri F1 SA07 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 16 March 2007 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 16 March 2007

We examine the implications of day one in Melbourne

Following the first two practice sessions of the 2007 season, the running order up front is pretty much as expected: Ferrari narrowly ahead of McLaren and Renault.

The Scuderia brought along their F2007s in the same specification they ran in the final test in Bahrain, and both Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen were happy with the balance on a day when conditions were changing continuously over the course of the morning.

“It was one of those days, not exactly what we wanted, but we were able to try the different tyres and learned something,” Raikkonen said after finishing the day second to team mate Massa (1m 27.750s to 1m 27.353s). “I’m very happy. The car is suited to circuit; there are always things we can do to improve it, but we should be okay. The biggest thing is to find the balance and speed on one lap; I think we probably did that and just need to fine tune it.”

McLaren were also quite happy. They had brought along the latest aerodynamic kit which had not been available for Bahrain, and saw rookie Lewis Hamilton go third fastest (1m 27.829s) and Fernando Alonso seventh (1m 28.040s). It may be the case here that Hamilton’s style is currently better suited to Alonso’s on the harder Bridgestone tyres, but there is still a mood of optimism here, too. A betting man would suggest that each team has a great chance in Sunday’s race.

The mood was not quite so bouncy at Renault, where a problem in the fuel system eventually brought both R27s to premature halts. While rookie Heikki Kovalainen didn’t get to complete his programme, Giancarlo Fisichella (fourth fastest on 1m 27.941s) did run both tyres. His fastest lap was set on the softer Bridgestone; on the harder compound his best was 1m 28.344s.

“Our experience today was similar to that in testing,” Hamilton suggested of the new rubber: “The option tyre always three to four tenths faster, but I think everyone has experienced the rear tyres graining and going off. For sure it’s going to be tough on both types of tyres in the race.”

BMW Sauber proved that their F1.07 is close to the pace courtesy of Nick Heidfeld’s fifth-best lap of 1m 27.970s, and Robert Kubica (who missed the morning session to team mate Sebastian Vettel) was not far off with his ninth-best 1m 28.281s. Heidfeld had an exhaust problem in the afternoon and Kubica complained of a few minor issues, but they remain dark horses.

So do Williams, after Kazuki Nakajima’s performance this morning (sixth-fastest time) and then Alex Wurz repeating that late in the afternoon with his lap of 1m 27.981s. Nico Rosberg lapped in 1m 28.055s, so was right on his partner’s tail despite missing the morning session. Tellingly, the Austrian wasn’t that happy with his FW29’s balance, so clearly there is more to come from this package.

David Coulthard had a more fortunate day than Red Bull team mate Mark Webber. The Scot was able to try both types of Bridgestone and to jump up to 10th place with a lap of 1m 28.495s, but the Australian was left 17th on 1m 29.801s after his RB3 developed a similar problem in its transmission to the one that has dogged the car during testing. He was not amused.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Super Aguri’s new SA07 outran Honda’s RA107, something that is bound to be a major cause of embarrassment. That was good news for Anthony Davidson, as he snatched 11th-best time with 1m 28.727s and thus beat team mate Takuma Sato (1m 29.009s). There were no complaints in this camp.

Not so Honda. “It’s quite realistic in a way,” 14th-fastest Jenson Button admitted glumly. “We didn’t have the best winter, we were improving the car all the time but it’s still not where want to be. We are really struggling under braking as many drivers behind us found, we have a stability issue, but that’s not all of it, just a part of it. It’s going to be a tough weekend!”

Rubens Barrichello, 15th on 1m 29.542s, admitted that he had just lost the RA107’s nervous back end in the incident that led to the afternoon session briefly being red flagged.

Toyota were no happier than Honda, with Jarno Trulli 12th on 1m 28.921s and Ralf Schumacher 16th on 1m 29.574s. Neither had any specific complaints though, and Williams’ performance using the same engine will have raised several question marks.

There was general unhappiness in the Toro Rosso camp too, where the wayward rear end of the STR02 caught out Tonio Liuzzi and left him 22nd on 1m 31.693s. Rear wing and undertray damage kept him in the pits thereafter. Scott Speed did at least manage to beat the Spykers, however, with his 19th-fastest lap of 1m 30.383s. Both STR02s had new parts which had been untested, which didn’t help matters.

Adrian Sutil did an impressive job for Spyker, lapping in 1m 31.108s compared to experienced team mate Christijan Albers 1m 31.175s. Like several other teams, they encountered graining of the softer rear tyres, and are working on set-up improvements for tomorrow.

Altogether, an interesting day, even though many questions remain.