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Unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar places. 08 Mar 2003

(L to R): Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari and Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari in the post qualifying press conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 8 March 2003

Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello will start the Australian Grand Prix from the front row of the grid tomorrow. Juan Pablo Montoya will be third.

So much for change.

But behind those bald facts lies a different story, one of some unfamiliar faces in unfamiliar places. How about Heinz-Harald Frentzen fourth for Sauber Petronas? Olivier Panis fifth for Toyota? Jacques Villeneuve sixth for BAR?

Of course, everything will depend tomorrow on the individual fuel loads that everyone was running. The 0.928s gap between Schumacher and Montoya suggests that Ferrari and BMW Williams were running similar levels of fuel. Ralf Schumacher's position down in ninth is explained by a driving error, as is Kimi Raikkonen's disappointing 15th after he got on the dirt late in his lap. But both McLarens were clearly running high fuel loads. Coulthard, in 11th, may get away with that in the race; Raikkonen has his work cut out.

For all of the teams the new regulations have introduced myriad strategic problems that each will solve in a different way, but generally the single-lap qualifying has been adjudged a success, even if Minardi smartly chose to short-circuit the post-qualifying impounding and therefore gave itself an opportunity to change it cars before the race by not completing its qualifying laps. It remains to be seen how that that particular stable door remains open...