Mike Stevens | Mar 30, 2009

Photo by coldtrackdays.com

After enduring the Ferrari-McLaren-Renault domination of the last decade, Formula 1 fans have finally been rewarded for their loyalty with what promises to be the most open championship in memory.

With the front of the grid no longer the domain of the larger, bigger-spending outfits, drivers now have an opportunity to show their wares in a new environment - one that appears to reward technique and ability.

The FIA introduced the new technical specifications in an attempt to enliven the Formula 1 season, specifically targeting the lack of overtaking that has marred the sport for years.

But while yesterday's event showed little indication of this trend subsiding in the near future, the radical changes have succeeded in creating a more level playing-field.

brawngp_01Photo by coldtrackdays.com

The world was given a hint of things to come during pre-season testing, as the 'Diffuser Three' – Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota – stormed towards the top of the timing charts. The extent to which the field was shaken up was, however, unexpected.

Pundits speculated the teams in question were running severely under weight in an attempt to muster corporate support in the lead up to round one, especially in the cases of Brawn and Williams.

The former had risen like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes following Honda's withdrawal from the sport, and were without any major sponsors. The Williams Grove-based outfit had lost a major partner in the Royal Bank of Scotland, a casualty of the financial chaos that has enveloped the globe.

However, hypotheticals soon made way for reality, as the Friday and Saturday practice sessions demonstrated without question, that a new dawn had arrived in Formula 1 and the era of the 'minnow' may now be upon us.

vodafone_01 Photo by coldtrackdays.com

Even expected backmarker Force India, powered by the same Mercedes engine fitted to the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovaleinen, was consistently running near 10th spot, displaying the type of consistent pace that gives credence to owner Vijay Mallya's stated aim of rising through the F1 pack.

Another of the teams expected to bring up the rear of the grid, Scuderia Toro Rosso, secured a double-points finish as the Sebastien's fought through the incident-packed event, emerging unscathed from the wreckage scattered across the track.

Indications of this new period presented itself last season - most notably at the Italian Grand Prix - as Toro Rosso, the Red Bull junior team still operating out of Minardi's unassuming Faenza factory, secured a lights-to-flag finish, a scenario considered outside the realms of possibility until the last six months.

But as we pause to reflect on the season before us, a word of caution must be advised; the pace of the Brawns, although a novelty at present, will quickly become tiresome if Button and Barrichello dominate unchallenged right through the season.

Will that happen? Doubtful; it looks like we've got a contest on our hands.

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