I thought I'd try a new feature on this blog, by writing a Grand Prix review after each race and trying to make it more of an actual review of the race and my view of what it means for the championship, rather than just reporting what happened. So, without further ado, here's the first:
Ever since it became the season-opener, the Australian GP has usually given the audience something interesting to talk about. Well, all good runs have to end sometime. That's not to say there's nothing to discuss here, just that there's very little compared to recent years.
You can see that the race itself is of little interest when most of the post-race discussion has been on just how bad the new single-session qualifying format is. It's obviously an idea that looked vaguely good on paper, but in practice, it's clearly a big mistake. I think that last year's format was fine, especially as it gave another reason for David Coulthard to moan about how it's all someone else's fault, and there wasn't really any reason to change it. Hopefully, the system will be changed back quickly - I can see that there may be technical reasons with the TV companies and the like that might make it hard to change it in time for Malaysia or Bahrain, but hopefully things will be changed by the time racing gets to Europe.
It was a rather dull race, but I'm not going to issue any dire warnings that this race could herald a dull season, as F1 has a tendency to confound expectations, especially those based on a single race - remember how doomed Ferrari looked after Hungary last year? - and it may just have been that it was a bad weekend for the Michelin teams. It may be that we're in for a rerun of 2002, with Ferrari dominating throughout, but it'll be a few races before it's safe to even think about making that prediction.
So, let's look at the teams and what they'll be thinking as they head to Kuala Lumpur:
: Well, duh. first and second on the grid, first and second on the podium, in fact, first and second throughout the entire race. Short of lapping the entire field, there's not much else you can do to have a perfect weekend. Barrichello does seem to be closer to matching Schumacher, which could lead to some interesting contests between them later in the season, but does that mean Barrichello has improved or is Schumacher beginning a slow decline?
: If Bernie Ecclestone ever retires from F1, there's a pefect replacement for his Prince of Darkness role in Flavio Briatore. That's not strictly relevant to this review, just a thought that came to me, but Renault did an excellent job in lowering expectations for the season, pointing out that they'd lost Mike Gascoyne to Toyota and were switching to a completely new engine design. Unfortunately for them, this weekend reminded the world that Renault have a certain Senor Alonso to drive their car and he may have got even quicker over the winter. He was the only driver capable of keeping even vaguely close to the Ferraris in the race and kept comfortable ahead of the Williams at the same time. Trulli had a good race as well, but will probably be disappointed at not catching Jenson Button.
: A team who learnt the hard way about the danger of raising expectations, many wondered if they'd forgotten those early lessons with their talk of possible podiums and the potential of Jenson Button. However, Button's speed in qualifying blew away those doubts, and their talk of finishing fourth in the championship does now seem within the realms of possibility. Importantly, they've now got reliability as well as speed and while Takuma Sato is clearly the number 2 driver in the team he seems up to the job.
: It's a mark of how far Jaguar have progressed that this was an average race for them. This time last year, it would have been a good one after the disaster of 2002. Webber showed his usual form in qualifying and was racing well till his breakdown and Klien allayed the doubts as to whether he was capable of driving in F1. Reliability will be a concern for them, but they seem to have maintained their level of performance over the winter so they now have a platform to build on.
: The 'average race' category seems to be made for Sauber, that most average of teams. A typical Sauber performance, really, in that you barely noticed they were in the race, but they seem to be running at about their usual level. Fisichella didn't quite reach the level expected of him, and he won't have appreciated the irony of being stuck behind Heidfeld's Jordan for so long, but both he and Massa will be feeling hopeful of the chance of points later in the season.
: Their win in Brazil last year hid the fact that they had a terrible season, so Eddie Jordan will be glad that this year's car has at least put some distance between them and Minardi. Heidfeld looks as though he's ready to take what may be his last chance in F1 and Pantano didn't embarrass himself on his debut. Again, like all the 'average race' teams, it's a good base to work from.
: Not quite the start to the season they were hoping for but they'll be glad that McLaren had an even worse one. The new 'walrus' design seems to be neither a help nor a hindrance and they'll be hoping it was a Michelin problem that kept them so far off the pace of the Ferraris. However, they'll be worried about the pace Alonso and Button are showing in the Renault and BAR, and if this is to be a season of Ferrari dominance, they could find themselves in a tough battle to hold second from Renault.
: When you expect to come last, it's hard to say you've had a poor race, but even by Minardi's standards this doesn't look like being a good season. Having to use two pay-drivers means that Minardi can't expect the same amount of hope they had in previous years where Paul Stoddart could pick an up-and-comer to showcase (like Alonso and Webber did in the past two years) and, to be frank, neither Bruni nor Baumgartner look like they could get an F1 drive without paying for it.
: How do you say 'going backward' in Japanese? Or, for Mike Gascoyne, 'I've made a terrible mistake, let me go back to Renault'? Rumours that this year's car was beaten by last year's in testing would appear to be true. Toyota have deep pockets, though, which is a good thing as they're going to have spend a lot to get anywhere near the form they started to show last year, especially if they're serious about trying to sign Ralf Schumacher for 2005.
: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Being beaten by Williams is bad, being beaten by Renault is worse, but finding themselves in a battle with BAR for eighth place in the race? Both cars looked slow in qualifying and the race and unless they can radically change things on their car, this could be a long and frustrating year for a team that was hoping to challenge for the championship. Coulthard's last-corner dash over the grass didn't help his weekend, but neither driver seemed able to get over the problems of a bad car. One problematic car (last season's never actually raced) is a fluke - two in a row start to look like a pattern.
Two weeks till Malaysia and another early morning start.