The 2005 Australian Grand Prix was a wonderful triumph for one of F1’s nicest guys, Giancarlo Fisichella who finally got to stand on the top step of the podium (despite this being his second win) after a thoroughly dominant performance in his Renault R25. Unfortunately it was also a travesty for the spectators who handed over large amounts of their hard earned cash to watch three days of very little action due to a combination of badly thought out rules, the arrogance of some of the teams who don’t seem to give a toss about the race fans, the bloody mindedness of the FIA and a circuit that does not promote overtaking.

First, the good stuff. Fisichella had a superb race in the Renault, leading comfortably for all but 3 of the 57 laps. Only teammate Fernando Alonso and Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello also had turns in the lead when Fisichella pitted for fuel. The Renault’s testing pace over race distances in the past few months had had most teams concerned and it was confirmed with Fisichella’s relatively easy win and the climb by Alonso from 13th on the grid to third place at the finish. The pace in practice of the McLarens, until they got screwed by the rain in Saturday’s first qualifying session, and that of Webber’s Williams, who topped the final qualifying session on Sunday, gives us all hope that we are not in for another Ferrari dominated bore-athon such as 2004. In fact the only time that the Ferrari’s looked fast (when they bothered to come out) was in the wet Saturday morning practice which was a demonstration of Bridgestone’s continued dominance over Michelin in the wet weather stakes. Barrichello turned in some fine laps at the end of his fuel runs in the race but it was more a case of Webber, and to a lesser degree Montoya, being stuck behind Coulthard for the entire race that gave him his well earned second place.

Not that there was anything wrong with Coulthard holding up the others. In his first outing with the re-badged Jaguar team (now Red Bull Racing) DC was quick and aggressive all weekend. Fifth on Friday morning, 12th on Friday afternoon, 7th and 9th in Saturday morning’s practice and 6th and 3rd in the two qualifying sessions meant that he lined up 5th on the grid. A blinder of a start and a fair amount of tyre smoke at turn one saw him leap into third place in front of Webber, who was clearly faster but could not find a way around on a track bereft of overtaking places, and Jacques Villeneuve, who saw his surprisingly good qualifying position evaporate into a lacklustre 13th place at the finish despite a spirited dice with Alonso for 9th place in the early part of the race.

In fact, the entire Red Bull team performed well above expectation all weekend. Fellow race driver Christian Klien had a fine meeting and started in sixth place, drove intelligently and quickly and finished in seventh between the much faster McLaren twins of Montoya and Raikkonen. Friday tester Vitantonio Liuzzi showed his great promise by being fastest of all in the Friday morning session.

McLaren was another team that showed good pace for most of the weekend. Third driver Pedro de la Rosa was quickest on Friday afternoon and Raikkonen topped the sheets in Saturday’s second session. Their fine efforts in the wet in Saturday’s qualifying found them in 10th and 11th and the fastest of those who had to go out in the rain. Somewhere that pace evaporated during Sunday and the outcome was not helped by Raikkonen’s car stalling on the grid and having to start from pit-lane. He still had a brilliant 1st lap to be in 16th and right up Michael Schumacher’s tail pipe, but there ha basically stayed. Both he and Michael made up places during the pitstops and when Michael took himself and Nick Heidfeld in the Williams out with a truly crass piece of driving, Kimi ended up in 8th place to score the final championship point. Montoya in the other McLaren had much the same problem as Webber in that he was stuck behind Klien for the entire first stint. He finished some 20 seconds behind Webber in 6th place.

Apart from being held up behind Coulthard for most of the race Webber had a good weekend in the Williams. From Saturday morning onwards Webber was the quicker of the two Williams drivers and proved his class with the quickest time in Sunday’s qualifying run and started 3rd on the grid. He was right not to try and block Coulthard’s lunge down the inside at turn one as there was no way that Coulthard could have stopped and avoided an accident. Whereas Coulthard had nothing to lose in this manoeuvre, Webber had everything to lose. DC was gambling that he could get in front of Webber without damaging his tyres too much and Webber was hoping that DC’s tyres would be badly enough effected by the lock-up and possible flat spot that they would deteriorate so much that he could get past later in the race. DC 1 – Mark 0. Webber did briefly get past Coulthard only to pit at the end of the lap and see DC retake the place during the pit-stop sequence and there he stayed. Faster, frustrated and fifth.

Jarno Trulli in the Toyota had generally been quicker than his teammate, Ralf Schumacher and took advantage of some good luck weather-wise in Saturday’s qualifying to line up alongside Fisichella on the front row, a first for Toyota, and ran comfortably in second until the first fuel stop. Unfortunately as so often happens with Trulli his pace from then on was just plain slow. This time he blamed a rear tyre for his drop in performance and just after his second stop he dropped as low as 12th place before recovering to 9th. Ralf in the other Toyota had an even more dismal weekend never running higher than 12th in the race and being a whopping 2.1 seconds slower than Trulli in Sunday morning qualifying.

At the tail of the field it was a fairly good performance from all the rookies. Karthikeyan and Montiero, still driving an updated version of last year’s awful Jordan, both were consistent and sensible all weekend and proved that they deserved their places in the field. That the Minardis were there at all was a miracle and Albers and Friesacher did as good a job as anyone could have under the circumstances. Albers was the victim of the day’s only true mechanical retirement, suffering a gearbox failure on lap 16.

Now for the bollocks. The rule that states that teams must use an engine for two races may have resulted in Jordan being able to get a supply of reasonably cheap Toyota motors, as it was intended, but whoever the clot was that wrote them should be taken out behind a shed and given a thick ear. It was decided that there would be no penalty at the following race to any car that didn’t finish the present one, as not finishing one race was considered penalty enough. The fact that Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari used two engines this weekend and can have a new one in the next race in Malaysia without suffering any real penalty is just a bloody joke. He only lost one grid spot (not ten) for changing his engine after his failure to register a competitive time in the wet first qualifying and there was no major damage to his Ferrari after the contact with Heidfeld but as he had gone down a lap and was not likely to score points, the car was retired for no other reason than to get the fresh engine for Malaysia. That both BARs intentionally retired on the last lap (they were both well out of the points) and can therefore have new engines in Malaysia without a penalty is even worse.

The penalty MUST carry over to the next race if this rule is to have any clout. Perhaps it should be a penalty of five grid places at each of the two races per engine change. That way Michael still would have started at the back of the grid here and would lose at least five grid spots in Malaysia. If they elect to change the engine again after not finishing here then they would lose a further five grid places in Malaysia (a total of ten) and another five at the next race. That would have probably kept Michael in the race here and the BARs would not be looking at fresh engines in Malaysia.

I am quite happy with the aggregated qualifying idea but not in it’s current form. Sunday morning is just plain stupid. Many TV broadcasters are not covering it and if someone does have an off there is very little time to repair the car. Too little time to do a proper repair job is just not safe. It should revert to sessions on Friday and Saturday so there is adequate coverage and overnight suspense and if Bernie wants to have something else for the fans on Sunday morning, either bring back the morning warm-up or put on another race. A Formula 3 race on Sunday morning would keep most fans happy. Grid penalties that roll over to the next race for teams that did not bother to put in a proper effort in either session, such as those by Schumacher, Massa and Sato would also prevent another farce like the one we had here when only 16 drivers bothered to turn out (maybe less, Barrichello being three seconds off Webber’s pace was pretty dubious as well). Perhaps even scrap the single timed lap idea and go back to the old system of everyone going out when they want but having a minimum number of laps (say 12) that they must complete in each session. For every lap they fail to complete (baring accident or mechanical failure) they lose one grid spot at that or the next race. That would mean that even if one session was wet everyone would still be out and running and giving the spectators, you know, the ones that all that sponsorship is aimed at, value for money.

The Ferrari/FIA/Minardi fiasco was just crass bullying on the part of Ferrari and the FIA. Ferrari wanted to get its own back for Stoddard making them look like pricks over the test ban agreement that all the other teams have signed and the FIA was simply having a hissy fit because someone actually dared to question their authority. If the FIA were to ban racing in all countries whose legal system could overrule the authority of the FIA then it would be only holding races in countries that had no independent judiciary. What would happen if Stoddard decides to put his case to the courts in every country that the F1 circus visits and Max bans them? You could kiss goodbye to every European GP and those in the US, Canada and Japan as well for a start. A storm in a B-cup. Max Moseley and the rest of the FIA would do better to get on with fixing the current state of affairs than acting like spoiled brats.

As for high aero grip and grooved tyres, don’t get me started………….

Sam Snape