There was little ‘racing’ to speak of and the front-of-field positions running the same form as they did at the end of 2006 – apart from Honda.
Despite the absence of on-track excitement there was still much of interest coming out of the weekend.
Although Ferrari and McLaren were the teams to beat, I believe that McLaren will struggle to be at the sharp end all year. Both Hamilton and Alonso were clearly pushing to the limit, egged on by each other, and the need to prove themselves to the team, yet neither could get anywhere near Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari.
BMW’s performance looked ominous for McLaren and I expect Heidfeld or Kubica – if not both – to win a race in 2007. Unlike most cars the BMW looked drivable and right there on raw pace. If the car continues to develop it will be an extremely potent package.
Likewise the Red Bull, despite a turgid showing, seems to have the potential to develop into a front-runner as the season progresses. Complicated cars like Adrian Newey’s latest design often need a few races for those around them to acclimatise. As the team discovers the car’s secrets and the calendar takes the teams to more familiar territory expect to see the Red Bulls nearer to the front.
Renault had a mixed weekend, at the start of what could be a very turbulent season for the team. Rookie Heikki Kovalainen fell into to long shadow cast by Lewis Hamilton, and I believe that at the non-GP2 circuits this is likely to be the case.
Whereas Hamilton has a double World-Champion to feed off and learn from, Kovalainen has Giancarlo Fisichella, a driver who is unlikely to push the Finn to the limits of his and the Renault’s capability.
The colour scheme is butt-ugly too. Unlike test-driver Nelson Piquet Jnr whose obvious distress at being sat on the pit wall rather than in a car, while 2006 GP2 sparring partner Hamilton stole the headlines, was enough to make my weekend.
The Hondas aptly mirrored the core of Al Gore’s global warming message by threatening to spiral out of control at any moment. It’s a long time since a front-running team has come up with a car so obviously vile to drive – the 2004 Jordan and 2000 Prost spring to mind.
Of course Albert Park can do deceptive things to a car’s handling. But the absence of rear-end traction saw the Honda slow through the second and third gear corners, and the drivers scared to go much faster on the quicker sections – witness the diabolical twitches of Button’s car through the high-speed chicane late in his first stint.
Williams and Toyota were joint winners in the category of Most Anonymous Team – the Toyota’s echoing their road car cousins by being solid and reliable but also forgettable and, crucially for F1, not that fast. Did Wurz shut the door on David Coulthard just to get Williams some TV coverage?
Coulthard had a frustrating weekend. Not only was he far slower than Mark Webber, but his old, grey (not greying) features distressed families across the land over the weekend as they struggled to remember the cherubic, blonde Williams driver of 1994. At least the jaw line still bears striking similarities to the styling of 1980s Volvos.
Super Aguri were, for me, the weekend’s stars. Quicker than their big-brother team, and getting Sato into the top-10 was a fantastic achievement. Taku is probably already sizing up tyre-walls in Bahrain to celebrate in.
Finally the poor end of the paddock, both financially and in terms of performance. At Toro Rosso, both Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed did little to brush aside Gerhard Berger’s off-season criticisms and the car most certainly did not give its drivers wings.
Spyker seem destined for a long and hard season with neither the financial clout nor team infrastructure to compete with the big boys. Christijan Albers’ off was too soft for a driver of his level, whilst Adrian Sutil quietly got on with his first GP unnoticed by anyone except close family members.
All in all not a sensational start to the season, but an interesting one nonetheless