As I embark on writing about this season, it scares me just how much has taken place – it’s been an epic year for the sport! There have been mixes covering every aspect and, to coin a phrase from the great man Murray Walker himself,“anything can happen in Formula 1, and it usually does!”.
Wise words indeed, so sit back as we take you on a personal journey through F1 2009.
We suitably start off at the beginning of the year, and it was a turbulent time. With new rules and regulations, many of us didn’t know what to expect and, as a long term Jenson Button supporter, I was keenly keeping up with current news. His website had been going quiet for some time, and it didn’t look good at all, but with the announcement of Brawn GP in late February, everything suddenly started to feel very positive.
Ross Brawn had been commenting for some time that he felt the 2009 design was a “championship winner”. It certainly takes a man of his caliber to know – after all, he played a key part in the rise of the Benneton and Ferrari teams in recent years – and later results would prove he wasn’t wrong. Following an early tes,t the team not only hit the pace, but they absolutely demolished it! Dominating all sessions straight out of the box, it was all the more impressive when you consider that the Mercedes engine powering the car was stuffed in at the very last minute.
First impressions of these new cars hardly set the world alight, with the limitation on aerodynamic parts resulting in simpler designs, along with the reintroduction of big, slick tyres. This all gave more mechanical grip and control back to the drivers but, as ever, change is never easy and takes time to adjust to, much like the sea-change back in 1998. As with then, new rules always bring new challenges and new dominating forces – back then, it went from Williams to McLaren. Of course, the only thing not changing would be the dominance of the car designer, with the top of the class being the ever talented Adrian Newey.
Jenson gives the new Brawn GP challenger its first shake down.
The big news for the start of the season would be the incredible performance of Brawn GP. Like a phoenix from the ashes of the old Honda F1 outfit, Ross Brawn’s team would come to utterly dominate the first half of the 2009 season, but not without controversy.
The new regulations apparently left a loophole for a double diffuser, which many teams would initially choose to ignore. However, the interpretation would be proven to be correct and legal, in effect giving a vital head start to the team while Jenson Button dominated on track. Meanwhile, the season kicked off very negatively for reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, with a controversial incident of sportsmanship in regards to letting Jarno Turulli overtake behind the safety car. It was a silly move that resulted in the loss of vital points, the loss of a senior McLaren member of staff and a bruised ego for Lewis. It was tough on many fronts for him to find his personal resolve, but 2009 would be a character building year for Lewis.
So, there were changes on the track, but the biggest threat to the sport would be a vote by FOTA to consider breaking away, due to a disagreement over cost cutting measures. These would bring the sport to breaking point in an ultimately fruitless exercise, but thankfully for us all, common sense prevailed and an agreement would be found. This set in motion the foundations for the years ahead, making it cheaper to run a team, enabling the possibility of more teams entering the sport and, as a result, the cash would be distributed more evenly and fairly.
Race after race kept on going to Jenson Button and the Brawn team, with teammate Rubens Barrichello unable to make a dent. Red Bull was caught off-guard, due to the diffuser incident, and were still working on improving their car and maximising it to the new regulations. As with any GP season, though, there is always a tide that turns and the second half of the 2009 season would see Red bull make a push besides the revelation of performance in the invigorated McLaren.
Things were even changing within Brawn: the tables would turn with Rubens beginning to come back on his team mate, which was at this point the season would take a sour turn within Brawn. The relationship between Rubens and Jenson began to noticeably deteriorate, with Rubens appearing obsessed, but very negative towards Jenson. It was a darker side to the man, revealing his obvious inner pain from his years playing second fiddle to Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. This pain would negatively affect the team and, at times, impair Jenson’s performance.
It would be at this stage that the Brawn camp would split. With Rubens using the word “hate” in referrence to his team mate as a driver and his “blah, blah, blah” response after blocking Jenson at the Nurburgring, it would become an ever more public separation.
Red Bull would prove to be the strongest challengers.
Ferrari would continue to struggle, and following Massa’s unfortunate accident, his replacements would not aid their cause. Raikonnen’s win at Spa retained some respect in the camp, but 2009 will be a season Ferrari will look to forget.
Another team looking to move on will be Renault. Fighting through the race fixing saga of Singapore 2008, Nelson Piquet Jnr gave vital evidence against team boss Flavio Briatorie, resulting in him being removed from the sport while the team lost their lead sponsor, ING. It was an incident of race fixing that was blatantly obvious as it was wrong, though for many justice was never fully done. with Fernando Alonso getting off scot free. explaining he had no idea what happened. Yeah, pull the other one, Fernando…
With so much happening off track, you would think the racing would be secondary and, in years gone by, that would have been the case. But the sudden drop of form from Jenson would see a whole raft of rivals attempting to gain a foothold, with wins going to Vettel, Webber, Hamilton and Raikonnen, and it was this spread of drivers battling against each other that would ultimately enable Jenson to retain a vital upper hand in the points standings. This all eventually come to a climax at the Brazillian Grand Prix, where Jenson would put in the drive of his life and secure his name as the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion.
With a race in hand, it was a relaxed Brawn camp at the new Abu Dhabi GP and what a spectacular location to finish the season. If Bernie Ecclestone needed any example to demonstrate his vision of the future of F1, this would be it. A spectacular end to an extraordinary season.
Soon afterwards, news of new teams confirming their drivers for next season kicked off with Jenson Button announcing his move to McLaren. Did the team split cause Jenson to feel uncomfortable within Brawn? Did actions earlier in the season influence this decision? We’ll never really know, but with this much water under the bridge moving, it didn’t appear as big a shock to the regular fans as you might expect.
Jenson leaves Brawn while they welcome Schumacher.
Moving onto 2010, and we have Michael Schumacher set to make a return. When pairing up with Ross Brawn, anything is possible, but of course the looser here was Nick Heidfield. Nick has never really been an exciting or dynamic driver either inside or outside of the car, but he does provide excellent results and is still one of the most consistent drivers on the grid. However, his lack of fan and press following hasn’t aided his cause and again, he looks to be an unlucky looser. Maybe he’ll end up back at Sauber alongside late season sensation Kamui Kobayashi?
Kobayashi, the late season sensation. A potential GP winner?
But what are the real reasons behind Michael’s return? Does he just miss the sport? Was he pushed by Ferrari in the first place? Or is there an aspect of redemption or atonement for previous deedsin there? Despite his many wins, Michael has never been seen as the greatest – either he had major technical advantages or support from team mates, or had the rules exploited to suit him or took rivals out. In many ways, he still has a point to prove, that is the pressure.
And he has pressure in the form of a fresh star at Brawn-Mercedes – Nico Rosberg. Speculate all you like, but one thing is for certain: Rosberg is a super talent, and will probably be his toughest team mate ever. It’ll be interesting to see him up againts a reinvigorated Michael in a car that we’re assuming will have the potential to win races and championships.
With Jenson and Lewis, will McLaren be the team to beat in 2010?
On the whole, it’s a bit of a messy driver situation for this time of year, but undoubtedley lots more will be revealed in the coming weeks. Either way, 2010 looks to become one of the most exciting prospects in F1 history, and VVV will be there to give its impression on every step.