Is BMW going to be the surprise of the 2008 Formula One season? According to Saturday's practice and qualifying times for the Australian Grand Prix, the answer is 'yes'. Robert Kubica will start 2nd. Had he not made a mistake in turn 12 during his final qualifying lap, he would have beaten Lewis Hamilton to the top spot.
I believe that they are much closer to the top 2 teams than everyone had anticipated, which puts than as contenders for race wins this season. Well, someone had anticipated that: Nico Rosberg. He mentioned to journalists a few times that, based on his observations from testing, BMW was going to fight for than 5th place in Australia (as published by F1-Live.com). He said that they were very fast during the winter, although lap times did not show. Would that be the biggest case of 'sandbagging' ever? Maybe... It would be good for F1 if that was the case.
Nick Heidfeld's 5th place at the starting grid, though, seems more like reality for BMW. As fast as they may be, I do not believe that they are at the same level as McLaren and Ferrari, especially for the long runs between pit stops during the race. Nick is probably on a heavier load of fuel than Robert, and seems to be in better shape for the race. He will fight for the podium, but I am not sure about the race win.
On the other hand, if I am wrong and Kubica pits with the other contenders, watch out as he may win the race!
One final note is that Rosberg also pointed out that what impresses him the most about McLaren is how they simulated race starts. That is something easy to understand. F1 has a single supplier for the electronic control units this season, and the company behind it was already a supplier to McLaren last season. Therefore, I am expecting a great start from both Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen. Heikki will start 3rd, and the odd side of the grid has preference going into the first chicane. I expect McLaren to be leading 1-2 before turn 3. Deep inside, though, I am cheering for Kubica to go for it and add fun to this championship.
Let's not forget that Ferrari's Felipe Massa also seems to have a car to fight for the win. The only certainty after qualifying is that F1 fans all over the world have more than enough reasons to want to watch the Australian Grand Prix.