Formula 1 2009: preview part 5

March 26, 2009

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 BMW Sauber and  Renault.

BMW SAUBER

Team principal Mario Theissen Technical Director Willy Rampf Base Hinwil, Switzerland and Munich, Germany Car BMW F1.09 Engine BMW P86/9 Designers Willy Rampf and Walter Riedl 2008 3rd place, 135 points

Last season saw further positive developments from the team most likely to break the Ferrari and McLaren duopoly at the head of the Formula 1 pack.  Thir maiden win came ahead of their meticulously prepared schedule, sending the engineers scurrying back to their Hinwil windtunnel to begin work on the 2009 car early.  Whether or not this will be a good strategy, time alone will tell.  However, BMW have a hugely rich and distinguished history throughout motor sport, so it’s difficult to see them eventually turning things into success.  Expect more wins and a title push come 2010.

The drivers are unchanged.  Robert Kubica drives car 5, after a brilliant 2008 which proved any doubters left over from a patchy 2007 wrong.  His win in Canada, coupled with superb consistency, saw him challenging for the world crown up until the penultimate race.  The one black cloud on his horizon is perhaps his size… as one of the tallest and therefore heaviest drivers in the field, Kubica may find that the weighty KERS system proves a hindrance as much as a help.  Nevertheless, I expect to see Kubica win again in 2009.

Winning will be something very much on the mind of Nick Heidfeld in car 6.  This will be the German’s 10th season, and he’s yet to make the top step of the podium.  Last year was hugely disappointing, as he was simply not able to get enough heat into his tyres over a single lap to qualify well.  His skill as a racing driver helped redress this as often as not on Sundays, but coming from further back meant he was mainly left with the title duel’s scraps.  Being humbled by Kubica will not be something he’s keen to repeat.  If BMW provide a car good enough for Kubica to win in 2009, there’s no reason why Heidfeld shouldn’t break his duck at last.  He would deserve it.

Kubica at a glance: Born Krakow, Poland  Age 24.  2005 World Series by Renault Champion   First GP Hungary 2006  GP starts 40  (1 win, 1 pole position)  Points 120

Heidfeld at a glance: Born Moenchengladbach, Germany  Age 31.  1997 German Formula 3 Champion, 1999 International Formula 3000 Champion.  First GP Australia 2000  GP starts 151  (best result: seven 2nd places, 1 pole position, 2 fastest laps)  Points 200

RENAULT

Team principal Flavio Briatore Technical Director Bob Bell Base Enstone, Oxfordshire, UK Car Renault R29 Engine Renault RS27 Designer Tim Densham 2008 4th place, 80 points

Renault had a season of two halves in 2008.  Until the FIA allowed the team to address the large performance shortfall of their RS27 engine, they were floundering in the midfield.  With this addressed, we saw glimpses of the form which gave them two world titles in the middle of this decade.  Their technical team is solid and full of experience, particularly Pat Symonds, the man who oversees all engineering and former race engineer for Michael Schumacher in his Benetton days.  The car is perhaps the most ungainly looking of the 2009 crop, but no-one at the team will mind if it continues their upward growth.  Testing has been largely inconclusive, but opportunities for wins may well present themselves as the season develops.  A return to championship winning form, however, seems unlikely.

If the car is anywhere near decent, Fernando Alonso (car number 7) will take it all the way.  Alonso is, in my opinion, still the sport’s outstanding driver, the man who – all things being equal – all his rivals would want to beat.  Currently the most successful driver in the field, he’ll extract every single ounce of performance from the car every single time, the only variable being how well the team can prepare his vehicle.  Unless he wins the title this year, I expect him to end up at Ferrari in 2010, which would really strike fear into the hearts of his rivals.

His teammate will again be the Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr in 8.  Piquet did not have a particularly auspicious start to his Grand Prix career, qualifying poorly and racing badly.  Only until after the team started to get some performance back into the car was it clear how much of this may have been down to Alonso making the R28 look much better than it was.  From mid-season, his performances improved and Piquet began to look like the racing driver who cut a large wake through the junior formulae.  This improvement must continue in 2009, because Flavio Briatore’s is an itchy trigger finger.

Alonso at a glance: Born Oviedo, Spain  Age 27.  1999 Spanish Open Fortuna by Nissan Champion, 2005 and 2006 Formula 1 World Champion First GP Australia 2001  GP starts 122  (21 wins, 17 pole positions, 10 fastest laps)  Points 551

Piquet at a glance: Born Heidelberg, Germany  Age 23.  2002 SudAm Formula 3 Champion, 2004 British Formula 3 Champion  First GP Australia 2008  GP starts 18  (best result: 2nd)  Points 19

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