- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 28, 2009

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Brawn became the first Formula One team in 39 years to take the pole position in its debut race when Jenson Button secured front place on the grid for Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Button’s time of 1 minute, 26.202 seconds edged out teammate Rubens Barrichello by 0.30 seconds, giving the F1 newcomers both positions on the front row for Sunday’s race.

It was the fourth pole position of Button’s career _his first since the 2006 Australian GP _ and completed a remarkable turnaround for the England-based team, which may have disappeared when former owner Honda pulled out of the sport after the 2008 season.

Before former Ferrari strategist and Honda team principal Ross Brawn took over the team, Button and Barichello faced the prospect of looking for a new job and watching this weekend’s action on television.

“Going from not having a drive and no future in racing to putting it on pole here is just amazing,” Button said. “This is a great moment, not the most important of the weekend, but a great start.”

“This is where we deserve to be, after the difficult times we have had,” the British driver added. “Roll on the season, I am so excited about this year.”

The Brawn performance may be a welcome taste of novelty for F1 fans, but rival teams were less enthusiastic. The team is racing under appeal, with a protest over the design of its rear diffuser to be heard by the sport’s governing body, FIA, after the Malaysian Grand Prix, jeopardizing any points gained in the season’s first two GP races. Williams and Toyota are also subject to the appeal.

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel will start from third on the grid at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit, ahead of BMW’s Robert Kubica and Williams’ Nico Rosberg. Toyota pair Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli qualified sixth and eighth respectively, but were then sent to the back of the grid after stewards ruled their rear wings were too flexible.

None of the top six drivers are using the KERS power-boost system this year, illustrating how problematical the technology is proving for teams as they balance its power boost against its additional weight and effect on car design.

The highest of the KERS runners is Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, who will start sixth, one place ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who had a hydraulic failure in pre-qualifying practice. Australia’s Mark Webber will start eighth in his Red Bull.

Brawn’s achievement in taking the pole in his debut was the first time that had been achieved since Jackie Stewart’s effort for Tyrell at the 1970 Canadian GP.

It had other teams fearing that Brawn may run away with the championship this season, unless its rear diffuser is deemed illegal.

“If they carry on like that, they will win the championship by the middle of the year,” Massa said.

“Its hard to believe a month ago they were sitting at home, now they are ready to fight for the world championship,” Renault’s Fernando Alonso said.

Alonso qualified in 12th.

Another disappointment was reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, who will start from the back of the grid. The McLaren driver only scraped into second qualifying by 0.05 seconds and then elected to change his gearbox and not take part in the second session. The automatic penalty for the gearbox change means he will start from the back, with only the penalized Toyotas behind him.

In 2006, when he had the pole, Button eventually finished only 10th, blowing his engine within sight of the finishing line.

“Hopefully it will go better than 2006, I’m sure it will,” he said.

It was the first time that one team had claimed both front-row positions for the Australian GP since Barichello and his then-Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher in 2004.

“The dominant time we had with Ferrari, we had probably 20,000 kilometers (of testing) before coming into the first race. This is very different. I had three tests,” Barichello said.

The Brazilian, the oldest man in the field at 36, was relishing another chance at F1 and was not satisfied with merely qualifying well.

“To be here and drive a wonderful car, is fantastic,” Barrichello said. “But as a human being, you always want more. You want to qualify well, and you want to win.”

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