With Renault kicking off 2006 where they left off last season, with a victory in Bahrain, I'm analysing whether the winter has been kind to BAR-Honda. In pure test programme terms they seem to have delivered, with more track miles than you can shake a monkey wrench at. However, are they up there with Ferrari, Renault and McLaren? Those 3 seem to continue to be the top teams, but on the strength of one race; i.e. total conjecture, BAR-Honda may have closed the gap a touch. OK, so they still don't appear to compare in head-to-head terms, but I think they're closer than last season and if their claimed reliability holds true and one of the top 3 put a foot wrong, BAR-Honda could start to rack up some serious points. Of course, that means 6 cars need to grind to a halt before Button get his much vaunted first victory...Hmmm.
If Button and Barrichello had spent less time in the opening laps trading manouevers, it might be easier to tell if their cars could hold with the pace of Ferrari and Renault. Ok, so Button was closing on Raikkonen in the closing laps, but Kimi was probably nurturing a vehicle which had come from the back of the grid to overhaul all but two cars. Incredible achievement.
Whatever happens, I think the first race bodes well for the season. An apparently exciting qualifying format. Close racing between the top two teams. An undoubtedly fast McLaren. Williams putting in a fastest lap from a fresh F1 talent in the shape of Nico Rosberg, and proving that the privateers stand a chance against the might of the manufacturer backed teams. Lots of overtaking in the midfield with much to play for between Red Bull, Toyota, Midland F1 etc. Tyre changes are back (wahoo). The questionmark over whether the V8s will go the distance in Malaysia. Oh, and the occasional irreverent remark over the pit-to-car radio... nice one Giancarlo.
Tags: F1, Formula One, Formula1, sport