After stealing a march on the opposition Brawn GP may have held on to take both world titles this year - but their rivals' season-long pace improvements show big budgets are more than a match for innovation.
The dramatic debut of the BGP 001 car back in March immediately set the scene for the start of the season, with Brawn's innovative double diffuser concept steering through a loophole in the regulations and putting the team around 0.6 seconds ahead of the pack straight out the box, the smiles on the faces of Jenson Button and the team's engineers in the Barcelona paddock showing they could hardly believe it.
The diffuser is such an integral part of the car's design it's just not possible to simply put a different one on and get going - because it sits at the rear, it affects the entire aerodynamic flow over the car ahead of it.
Once rival teams like McLaren and Red Bull, who initially both missed the loophole, had taken the major step of implementing the change, however, the teams with larger budgets available - McLaren in particular - made rapid improvements while Brawn virtually stood still, the legacy of six wins from the first seven races the only reason they took the title.
Formula One now fears that with relatively small design changes due for next year the budgets will tell with the less well-funded teams like Brawn struggling in 2010 - and if proof of that were needed, it could be found in the pace of development this season.
Looking at the improvement shown by the different teams over the course of the year shows, unsurprisingly, that McLaren were the biggest winners. After initially creating a self-confessed dog of a car, the well-financed engineers at Woking were able to gain 2.8s per lap as they chased and overtook Brawn.
Ferrari would likely have done the same had they not made the decision that, with a design that was too difficult to adapt to make the double diffuser concept as successful as their rivals, they would do better to concentrate on an all-new machine for 2010 rather than improve their current car through the season.
The next best improver was Force India, gaining 2.6s, and while they certainly are not big budget there may have been some pointers sent their way by McLaren as their effective 'sister team'.
Next up was Red Bull, who improved by two seconds, then BMW at 1.8s and Toyota, who themselves started with a double diffuser, still making up 1.6s. Brawn, in comparison, improved by just a second per lap over the course of the year, which is an extremely small number over any season, let alone one that started with such an upheaval of rules.
McLaren's improvements saw them score 80 per cent of their season points total in the final eight races while BMW saw 78 per cent of their tally coming in the final eight races. Brawn, conversely, took only 34 per cent of their points from the final eight races, with 66 per cent of their tally coming from the advantage they had during most of the first nine events.
So although Brawn innovated their way to the front at the start of the season, McLaren blasted past with their big budget and larger workforce allowing them to take an iterative approach to design, with more man hours to spend on investigating the detail development, which is the sure-fire way to gain those tiny tenths that all add up.
Some insiders have suggested that Brawn GP had developments in the bag towards the end of the year which they could have used if things had got too close but chose not to use them so they can keep them a secret for next year.
Brawn's drawing board does, apparently, have some innovative concepts on it for next season, so we could see the same happen again in 2010. But McLaren's rapid improvement clearly demonstrates that if no team comes up with an idea like the double diffuser we had this season, it is almost certain to be back to the big-budget battles of old next time around.