Formula 1 2009: preview part 6

March 27, 2009

In this final part of my preview of the 2009 season, I’ll be taking a look at the prospects of  McLaren Mercedes and  Ferrari. Then I’ll really put my foot in it and predict the way I think things will finish in this year’s standings.

McLAREN MERCEDES

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh Technical Directors Paddy Lowe and Neil Oatley Base Woking, UK Car McLaren MP4/24 Engine Mercedes-Benz FO 108W Designers Neil Oatley and Pat Fry 2008 2nd place, 151 points

All change at the top of one of F1’s most enduring teams, as Ron Dennis steps down after nearly 30 years as team principal.  Whilst this will present no difficulties to an organisation such as McLaren, a more vexing issue is likely to be the pace of the MP4/24 car.  Despite its good looks, it has been resolutely stuck on the bottom of the timesheets at most of the tests so far, the rumour being that there are serious issues with its rear wing and diffuser not creating enough downforce.  With testing completely banned within the season, McLaren will have to draw on all their experience and technical know-how to get back to fighting at the front.  I don’t doubt they’ll do it, but I’d not be surprised if it proves too late to win any more championships in 2009.

Of course, if the car does prove competitive enough, reigning Formula  world champion Lewis Hamilton (car number 1) will be amongst the favourites to retain his title.  The first two seasons of Hamilton’s career are now the stuff of legend, and whilst mistakes have started to creep in under pressure, there are now few people who seriously doubt his ability.  Brilliant in the wet and flamboyantly aggressive (sometimes too much so) when given a sniff of victory, Hamilton will be a major player in F1 for the next decade and beyond.

His teammate will again be the Finn Heikki Kovalainen in car 2.  Kovalainen’s 2008 was ultimately disappointing, his results not matching the pace which he often had, due to inconsistency, bad tactics or bad luck.  He was also soundly beaten by his teammate, so the objective for this season must surely be to get closer to him.  Still, he broke his duck for race wins in Hungary, so he can at least enter this season with that monkey off his back.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems McLaren will face will be that Hamilton and Kovalainen are so inexperienced.  Between the two there are only 70 Grand Prix starts.  Whilst it’s undeniable that they have won 10 of these and that Hamilton is now a world champion, will they really have the experience to assist the team in developing its seemingly recalcitrant car?  Even their test driver – 38-year old Pedro de la Rosa, a good, solid racing driver of some standing – has little in the way of Grand Prix experience, with only 71 starts to his name, and only a handful of those in genuinely competitive machinery.  Should 2009 prove a disaster, don’t be surprised to see a driver of real front end experience lured to Woking for 2010.

Hamilton at a glance: Born Stevenage, UK  Age 24.   2005 European Formula 3 Champion, 2006 GP2 Champion, 2008 Formula 1 World Champion First GP Australia 2007  GP starts 35  (9 wins, 13 pole positions, 3 fastest laps)  Points 207

Kovalainen at a glance: Born Suomussalmi, Finland  Age 27.  2004 World Series by Nissan Champion  First GP Australia 2007  GP starts 35  (1 win, 1 pole position, 2 fastest laps)  Points 83

FERRARI

Team principal Stefano Domenicali Technical Director Aldo Costa Base Maranello, Italy Car Ferrari F60 Engine Ferrari 056 Designer Aldo Costa 2008 Champions, 172 points

Constructors’ Champions again for the 8th time in the last 10 years in 2008, Ferrari also won more races, podiums and fastest laps than any of their rivals last year.  Now completely out of their era of utter dominance in terms of personnel, Ferrari have proved that Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Michael Schumacher’s greatest legacy to the Scuderia was to leave a solid backbone capable of continuing their work without them.  It is this solid foundation which makes them the favourites going in to the 2009 season, in spite of their F60 car being so far slightly pipped for pace by the Brawn Mercedes.  The only potential lurking problem is reliability.  Bulletproof for much of the decade, last season saw Ferrari starting to look a little more vulnerable, particularly to engine failures.  This may prove a concern as more and more components of the car are required to last multiple races.

There are few problems, though, with their unchanged driver line-up.  In car 3 is title favourite Felipe Massa.  Massa had a watershed year in 2008, starting it off looking characteristically woolly and unpredictible but finishing it with a speed, consistency and polish which looked every inch the world champion that he became, albeit for 30 seconds.  He seems to be slightly weaker than some of his main rivals in wheel-to-wheel combat, but when he is capable of drives of the crushing dominance he displayed in Bahrain, Turkey or Valencia, this ceases to be such a concern.  His drive in the pressure cooker of a title-deciding, wet-dry-wet again, Brazilian Grand Prix was as good as any you will ever see and a clear sign that Massa has now matured into a very complete racing driver.   Deserves to be World Champion this year.

Kimi Räikkönen will be in car 4, and has an awful lot to prove, especially with Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica after his seat as soon as they can get it.  Over one lap, Räikkönen is faster than any of his rivals.  The problem is, you never quite know when that single lap will be.  Too often in 2008 it was in the middle of a race which saw him tooling around in the bottom end of the top 6.  To get a record-equalling 10 fastest laps in a season whilst simultaneously being so inconsistent must have driven his team to the edge of their sanity.  Despite all his problems, he still managed 2 wins and podiums in half of the races last year, so only a fool would underestimate him.  I think he will be improved in 2009, simply because if he isn’t, he’ll most likely be out on his ear come November.

Massa at a glance: Born São Paulo, Brazil  Age 25.  2000 Italian Formula Renault Champion; 2000 European Formula Renault Champion; 2001 European Formula 3000 Champion  First GP Australia 2002  GP starts 106  (11 wins, 15 pole positions, 11 fastest laps)  Points 298

Räikkönen at a glance: Born Espoo, Finland  Age 29.  2000 British Formula Renault Champion, 2007 Formula 1 World Champion First GP Australia 2001  GP starts 139  (17 wins, 16 pole positions, 35 fastest laps)  Points 525

MY PREDICTION FOR 2009

Right, all the blather out of the way, who do I think will do what in 2009?  I think the world champion will be Felipe Massa and the constructors’ champion will be Ferrari.  I see better years in prospect for Brawn, Red Bull and Toyota; worse from McLaren and Toro Rosso, with the rest of the teams more or less where they were in 2008.

In terms of race wins, I think 2009 may prove a vintage year, with perhaps 8 different winning drivers and 5 different winning teams.  If I had to pick out one candidate for a maiden victory, I’d go for Nick Heidfeld.

Finally, here’s my guess at how the final standings will look:

Drivers:

1. Felipe Massa; 2. Kimi Raikkonen; 3. Jenson Button; 4. Robert Kubica; 5. Fernando Alonso; 6. Lewis Hamilton; 7. Sebastian Vettel; 8. Rubens Barrichello; 9. Nick Heidfeld; 10. Timo Glock; 11. Heikki Kovalainen; 12. Mark Webber; 13. Jarno Trulli; 14. Nico Rosberg; 15. Nelson Piquet; 16. Sebastien Bourdais; 17. Kazuki Nakajima; 18. Sebastien Buemi; 19. Adrian Sutil; 20. Giancarlo Fisichella.

Constructors:

1. Ferrari; 2. BMW; 3. Brawn; 4. Renault; 5. McLaren; 6. Toyota; 7. Red Bull; 8. Williams; 9. Toro Rosso; 10. Force India

The real delight, however, is that I genuinely have no idea if any of this will be right.  The most refreshingly open Formula 1 season in my lifetime, then, starts at 7 a.m. BST this Sunday.  Watch it, or else.

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One Response to “Formula 1 2009: preview part 6”

  1. Alistair said

    Interesting predictions…. I hope you are right about massa, I personally doubt bmw/kubica given their form but i’d really like to see them do well.

    If things are up in the air and up for grabs you have to fancy alonso to be doing the grabbing.

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