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David Coulthard column

David Couthard
By David Coulthard
BBC Sport in Melbourne

A jubilant Jenson Button celebrates getting pole position in Melbourne
I can't recall seeing such a close grid and fight for the top 10 positions in qualifying

David Coulthard

What a fantastic story Brawn GP are writing at the Australian Grand Prix.

This is the team that was Honda last year. They went through a winter of uncertainty when Honda pulled out of Formula 1 as they tried to find a buyer and now they have locked out the front row of the grid.

Jenson Button had several months out of the car and didn't even know if he would have a drive this year and here he is on pole position in Melbourne. I am delighted for him.

When I saw him run the car for the first time in Barcelona earlier this month, he had a grin from ear to ear and that's always a good indicator that a driver is at one with the car.

Now he is back where he deserves to be. He is a world-class driver and I think we are going to see great results this year.

What can we learn from what we've seen so far at the Australian Grand Prix? Well, one thing is for sure, it is going to be a tight race.

I can't recall seeing such a close grid and fight for the top 10 positions in qualifying.

The spread of times was much closer than I expected - just one tenth of a second meant a difference of several places.

Brawn have established themselves as the firm pace-setters but from third place backwards it is incredibly close.


We could be set for a very interesting race indeed between the two Brawn team-mates.

Rubens Barrichello's strength is his race performance, while Button has good pace and racing abilities too.

At 29, he may not have quite as much experience as Barrichello, but he is not new to F1 either.

We will have to wait and see what the fuel difference between the two Brawns is as they won't have the same amount on board on race day.

If Barrichello has two or three laps more fuel, that will definitely give him an advantage in this grand prix and may give him the chance to pass Button at the pit stops.

It has also been a very rewarding weekend for Red Bull, for whom I work as a consultant, after Sebastian Vettel, who has filled my shoes at the team, finished third.

Sebastian Vettel is third in the Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel will start in third on the grid for Red Bull on Sunday

Brawn GP, along with Williams and Toyota, are running with the two-tier diffuser that is subject to a protest from three rivals teams.

So there is a lot of talk about Red Bull being the first non-controversial car on the grid, which is interesting.

Red Bull ran a winter strategy of concentrating on their own car and ironing out their reliability.

They did not do any low-fuel running during testing so now that they dropped some fuel they have delivered a good lap time.

When you consider the sport's governing body has just introduced the biggest regulation change that we've seen for 25 years, I would have expected some teams to get the new-look 2009 car very right, and some very wrong.

Instead, the 2009 rules appear to have levelled the performance between the cars.

The idea behind reducing the aerodynamics in 2009 was to cut the downforce levels but what we are seeing is that the teams have been able to claw back a lot of performance from their wind tunnel work.

So even though the new rules initially reduced downforce by 50%, the teams are probably back at the same level or not far away from where they were in 2008.

It just shows the constant evolution that the designers are able to come up with.

What the times also show is the strength of the slick, non-grooved tyre - also new for this year - which allows the drivers to feel the car more and exploit the extra grip.

Albert Park is a temporary surface and can be a bit slippery, and the slicks have more contact with the road and so lay down the rubber more quickly than the grooved tyres F1 has used since 1998.

That is the reason the track conditions have improved so quickly and will continue to do so over the weekend.

I think the race will be won or lost on how the teams use the tyres and their pit-stop tactics.

Lewis Hamilton had gear box trouble in qualifying
Lewis Hamilton had gear box trouble in qualifying on Saturday

One thing for sure is that Lewis Hamilton will be relying on a lot more than that if he is to get into the points.

He will start from the rear of the pack and his only hope is if we have an unusual race.

We have seen cars going off at the first corner in Melbourne and the safety car come out to level the field in the past. I won here in 2003 from 12th on the grid so it is possible to have that kind of race.

But I think Hamilton is going to be out of the running for a couple of races at least.

David Coulthard was talking to Sarah Holt.

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see also
Button on pole for stunning Brawn
28 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Button hails 'amazing' Brawn pole
28 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Australian GP qualifying photos
28 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Virgin to sponsor Brawn F1 team
28 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Date set for F1 diffuser appeal
28 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Australian GP practice photos
27 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Brawn rises from Honda ashes
27 Mar 09 |  Formula 1

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