Formula 1 2009: preview part 2

March 23, 2009

This year’s Formula 1 World Championship is potentially the most open in decades, with a raft of new technical regulations and a last-minute change to the scoring system thrown into the mix.  I’ll be taking a look at the prospects of the teams and drivers for the year ahead every day this week.  Today, we’ll look at the the chances of Force India Mercedes and “newcomers” Brawn GP Mercedes.

FORCE INDIA MERCEDES

Team principal Vijay Mallya Technical Director James Key Base Silverstone, Northants, UK Car Force India VJM02 Engine Mercedes Benz FO 108W Designers Mark Smith, James Key 2008 10th place, no points

Force India’s second season of Grand Prix racing sees the team trying to break its duck.  Last year they began, as expected, bringing up the rear.  However, the team grew in competitiveness from mid-season onwards, especially after they introduced their seamless-shift gearbox, the last team in the field to do so.  They were desperately unlucky in Monaco last year, where Adrian Sutil was running a competitive fourth late in the race before an over-optimistic lunge by Kimi Raikkonen at the harbour front chicane mortally wounded his car.  The car looks neat and tidy, and has switched from Ferrari power in 2008 to last year’s driver’s championship-winning Mercedes unit in 2009.  However, it remains to be seen whether or not sacking the experienced and canny Mike Gascoyne as technical director last autumn will hamper the team’s development and progress if the car doesn’t hit the ground running.

In the 20 car will again be Adrian Sutil.  Sutil arrived in F1 in 2007 with a reputation as a coming man, but now in his third year in the sport he is going to have to start making strides.  He is undeniably quick in the wet and at Monaco, two traditional indicies of a talented driver.  However, he is yet to really take the step up in performance compared to a teammate which might earmark him as a long-term star of the sport.

One such driver with longevity is his teammate for a second year, Giancarlo Fisichella in car 21.  This site’s enthusiasm for Fisichella has and will always be lukewarm at best, but nevertheless the Italian enters his 13th full season of Grand Prix racing.  A solid and reliable driver of some elegance, the questionmark over Fisichella will always be about his ability to compete at the very cutting edge, which is unlikely to hinder him in the Force India this year.  If the car is good enough, he’ll score points with it.  Just don’t expect anything above or beyond its capabilities.

Sutil at a glance: Born Starnberg, Germany  Age 26.   2006 Japanese Formula 3 Champion.  First GP Australia 2007  GP starts 35  (Best result: 8th)  Points 1

Fisichella at a glance: Born Rome, Italy  Age 36   1994 Italian Formula 3 Champion  First GP Australia 1996  GP starts 212  (3 wins, 2 pole positions, 2 fastest laps)  Points 267

BRAWN GP MERCEDES

Team principals Ross Brawn, Nick Fry, Caroline McGrory Technical Director Jörg Zander Base Silverstone, Northants, UK Car Brawn GP BGP001 Engine Mercedes Benz FO 108W Designer Jörg Zander 2008 (as Honda F1) 9th place, 14 points.

Following Honda’s financial woe-related pull-out of Formula 1, the search for a buyer for its old team was the big story of the close season.  Ultimately, its old technical director Ross Brawn stepped up to the plate.  Early testing of the BGP001 car has showed why he felt he had to do this.  After disastrous seasons in 2007 and 2008, Honda started work on what would have been its RA109 challenger for 2009 in the winter of 2007.  The resulting car has been sensational so far, albeit in the notoriously fickle and unreliable world of winter testing.  Even so, Brawn GP will go to Australia amongst the favourites to be frontrunners.

Driving car 22 will be Jenson Button.  It’s increasingly hard to know what to make of Jenson.  His position as the Great British Hope now comprehensively blown out of the water by Lewis Hamilton, he was also largely shaded by his teammate last season, for the first time since his difficult second year in the sport at Benetton in 2001.  There’s little doubt he’s one of the smoothest drivers out there, nor can it be denied that he is also very quick.  The question mark hanging over him is perhaps his level of motivation when things are not going well.  Having stared the possibility of his GP career being over squarely in the face as late as February this year, 2009 now looks to be Button’s first chance since 2006 to run with a properly competitive car.  He’ll probably be looking for another race win to more firmly cement his place in people’s thinking in case the same thing happens again.

Button’s teammate for the third consecutive season will be Rubens Barrichello in car 23.  Now the most experienced driver in the history of the sport, Barrichello fought off Bruno Senna for the drive thanks to a brilliantly spirited 2008.  Despite his Honda’s endless shortcomings, Rubens never gave up and dragged the car around kicking and screaming with a desire which you’d not expect from someone now entering his 17th season of GP racing.  Barrichello remains, perhaps, the sport’s single most outstanding wet weather driver and his podium finish at a sub-aquatic British GP contributed the lion’s share of the teams 2008 points total.   His popularity in the paddock and elsewhere also remains unparalleled, so no-one – not even Bruno Senna – could begrudge him another shot at F1 with a competitive team.

Button at a glance: Born Frome, England  Age 29   1998 British Formula Ford Champion.  First GP Australia 2000  GP starts 153  (1 win, 3 pole positions)  Points 232.

Barrichello at a glance: Born São Paulo, Brazil  Age 36.   1990 British Formula Opel Lotus Champion, 1991 British Formula 3 Champion.  First GP South Africa 1993  GP starts 268  (9 wins, 13 pole positions, 15 fastest laps)  Points 530.

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