The most important job in the first race of a new season is actually making the distance. A quick look at last year's Australian Grand Prix proves the point, with just eight of the 22 cars in that race still running after the full 58 laps (307.574km) — giving a retirement rate of 64 per cent.
Ferrari, Toyota and Force India all suffered technical problems in that race while nine drivers were eliminated in collisions or stopped due to damage caused by a crash.
It all points to reliability and driver composure being the key to success this weekend.
Renault chief Pat Symonds admitted the Melbourne race "generates lots of incidents and accidents" because of its slippery track surface and bumpy braking areas — and also because everyone has a point to prove on the first competitive weekend of the year.
Now there is even more for the drivers to think about. It will be the first time they are in a competitive environment with moveable front wings to get used to and, for some, there will also be the need to get used to KERS and how to make the most out of having it on board. All these new go-faster gadgets could cause distraction.
But this year, more than ever, reliability could be the key — because of a dramatic reduction in the amount of pre-season testing.
In the build-up to the 2008 season, BMW Sauber, Williams, Ferrari, Toyota and McLaren all completed around 28,000km each. Even Force India ran almost 20,000km and the only team to do limited distance was Super Aguri, on just less than 4,000km.
This year, BMW Sauber has done the most testing, but at just over 15,000km that's half the distance they had last year. And that's not even the full story — because almost half of that was clocked up using 'mules' of 2008 cars with development parts before the 2009 machines hit the track.
While the 2007-08 cars had lots of cross-over parts, this season has called for significant design changes and, with most teams launching their new cars in January, at best there was a maximum of five main test sessions (plus the odd shakedown or private test) with the new cars before the start of this season.
Looking at new cars alone, then, it is Williams who lead the way.
They clocked up the most distance with their 2009 machine before Melbourne, completing just over 8,000km with Ferrari 300km behind and BMW a further 300km back. Toyota are third and McLaren fourth on just less than 7,000km while Renault completed around 1,000km less than that and Red Bull have done just under 5,000km.
Brawn, Force India and Toro Rosso have each done less distance than Super Aguri managed ahead of last season — so of the front runners, in terms of reliability alone, Brawn could be looking a little fragile.
But then, with the most tested car clocking up between a quarter and a third of the reliability-relevant miles achieved by the most tested car in last year's pre-season, all teams will be watching the monitors carefully hoping nothing goes wrong.
Approximate testing distances with new cars:
Williams - 8,083km
Ferrari - 7,785km
BMW - 7,435km
Toyota - 7,111km
McLaren - 6,938km
Renault - 5,841km
Red Bull - 4,775km
Brawn - 3,282km
Force India - 3,073km
Toro Rosso - 1,568km
DATE PUBLISHED ON: 26 MARCH 2009
- Force India