After months of speculation and build up, the 2009 Formula 1 season got underway today in Albert Park, Melbourne: a season that promises to produce many surprises with all the changes to the regulations. With the ban on in-season testing, pundits had expected a lot of running on Fridays at the races, but in today's first session, this did not seem to be the case. As usual on this very "green" track, apart from an installation lap, most drivers were reluctant to start lapping during the first half hour.
However, over the remaining time in the two 90 minute sessions, it was action all the way and the usual front running Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro duo completed a total of 115 laps with not so great results. Felipe Massa was seventh fastest in the morning and tenth in the afternoon, while Kimi Raikkonen's positions were third and eleventh.
The cars certainly look very different to the past, with taller narrower wings at the rear and a wide front wing, but the biggest difference is possibly an unseen one, in that Bridgestone is obliged to provide two types of tire with significantly different compounds. This, along with so many new 2009 rules is meant to increase the possibility of overtaking scenarios as drivers must use both types of tire again during the race.
One more factor that is specific to this race and possibly the next round in Malaysia, is down to the late start time, as the race gets underway at five in the afternoon local time on Sunday. Towards the end of free practice around six o'clock, the sun was sinking fast and causing potential dazzling for the drivers.
At the end of the day, the time sheet had some very different names to those usually seen at the top over the past few years: Nico Rosberg was quickest in the Williams-Toyota, ahead of Rubens Barrichello in the "new" Brawn GP car, powered by a Mercedes engine. Jarno Trulli was third for Toyota, with the only Australian driver, Mark Webber, fourth quickest in the Red Bull Renault. Jenson Button made sure that both Brawn cars were in the top six on their debut, with a fifth place, while Timo Glock was sixth in the second Toyota.
What does this new order mean? It is too early to say, but at least in the first two parts of tomorrow evening's qualifying session, all the cars will be running a minimum fuel load to set their best times, so a clearer picture will begin to emerge.
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