Formula 1 2009: preview part 3

March 24, 2009

The wonders of technology will never cease.  Away for the weekend, I scheduled the first two parts of this preview to be published in my absence.  During which time, of course, the FIA backed down over it’s winner-takes-all scoring system under pressure from FOTA.  Thanks, FIA.  Anyway, onwards!

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 Red Bull Renault and  Williams Toyota.

RED BULL RACING RENAULT

Team principal Christian Horner Technical Director Geoff Willis Base Milton Keynes, UK Car Red Bull RB5 Engine Renault RS27 Designer Adrian Newey 2008 7th place, 29 points

Let’s face it, last year did not go the way Red Bull had planned in perhaps the most emphatic way possible.  The only outfit in the pitlane with a dedicated ‘junior’ team saw their baby brother win the Italian GP, finish ahead of them in the World Championship and outpace them race after race.  This year should be better.  The elegant RB5 is designed by Adrian Newey, a legend in his own lifetime and exactly the sort of man who you want on your side when there’s such a fundamental shift in technical regulations.  Furthermore, the Renault engine, desperately down on power in 2008, has had an FIA-sanctioned unfreezing of its design so that it’s huge horsepower defecit could be addressed.  The unit won last year’s Singapore and Japanese Grands Prix.

Also on Red Bull’s side is their signing of the man so responsible for their humiliating defeat by Toro Rosso in 2008, Sebastian Vettel in car number 15.  The youngest man ever to win a Grand Prix had a brilliant first full season in Grand Prix racing, including that day at Monza.  He now needs to prove that he can take the step up and be a consistent threat from season to season, not just from race to race.  Personally, I have little doubt he can achieve this and then some.  The sky seems to be the limit for Vettel.

His teammate this year is Mark Webber in 14.  Now approaching veteran status, Webber is one of the small band of drivers in this year’s championship yet to win a race at the top level.  There’s no doubting his speed, particularly in qualifying.  Nor can it be said that he’s not a tenacious race driver.  I get the feeling, though, that if a big step up were to have happened for him, it already would have.  That said, he’s easily got the talent to win a race or two if the car is good enough.  However, first of all he’s going to have his hands very full keeping up with Vettel.

Webber at a glance: Born Queanbeyan, Australia  Age 32.   First GP Australia 2002  GP starts 121  (Best result: two 3rd places)  Points 100

Vettel at a glance: Born Heppenheim, Germany  Age 21   First GP USA 2007  GP starts 26  (1 win, 1 pole position)  Points 41

WILLIAMS TOYOTA

Team principals Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head Technical Director Sam Michael Base Grove, Oxfordshire, UK Car Williams FW31 Engine Toyota RVX-09 Designers Sam Michael, Ed Wood and Jon Tomlinson 2008 8th place, 26 points

Williams endured a trying 2008, the majority of their points coming from Nico Rosberg’s two podium finishes which practically bookended the season.  Otherwise they generally struggled for any kind of consistent pace.  This year they are another team hoping that a fundamental change in technical regs can mix things up.  To that end, the team have been characteristically innovative, introducing a flywheel-based KERS system rather than the battery type favoured by the rest of their rivals.   The car has, on occasion, been very quick in testing but any step up in performance seems more likely to see them consistently challenging for points rather than podiums.

Now in his 4th season with the team, the highly-rated Nico Rosberg drives car 16.  Still only 23 years old, Rosberg has nevertheless seen some of his coming-man sheen burnished by a couple of seasons of struggle.  A more competitive car will, however, reawaken his finest racing instincts and remind everyone of why he was so hotly rumoured to be Fernando Alonso’s McLaren replacement last year.  A dark horse.

For the second season he is joined by Kazuki Nakajima in car 17.  Like Rosberg the son of a former Grand Prix driver, Nakajima comes as part of the Toyota engine package.  This said, he did not disgrace himself in his first full season of F1.  Nor, however, did he distinguish himself particularly.  Nakajima really needs to take a step in both consistency and scoring in 2009 – basically, to be a regular challenge to Rosberg in the sister car – before Sir Frank and Patrick lose their patience.  Especially with the rapid Nico Hulkenberg still waiting in the wings.

Rosberg at a glance: Born Weisbaden, Germany Age 23.  2005 GP2 Champion   First GP Bahrain 2006 GP starts 53  (1 Fastest Lap, Best result: 2nd)  Points 41

Nakajima at a glance: Born Aichi, Japan  Age 24.  2003 Japanese Formula Toyota Champion   First GP Brazil 2007  GP starts 19  Points 9

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