March 18, 2009

2009 Formula One Season Preview: Drood here, back again, as in years past, with a brief preview of what we have in store for this year.

We're just under two weeks from the beginning of the new "Turn money into noise" season, AKA Formula One. And what a season it promises to be.

You can take the formbook from last year and dump it in the trash as this season sees the biggest rulebook rewrite in years. Formula One has had a largely stable ruleset for many years now. 2009 sees a raft of new changes that will turn the sport upside down and upset the established order we've become so depressingly used to.

The first thing people will notice is the new cars. The aerodynamics have been substantially changed in an attempt to improve overtaking opportunities. The most noticeable difference is the rear wing which has been shrunk considerably. It takes some getting used to as it looks a bit odd. Front wing rules have changed as well, so much so the new BMW looks like they've strapped an ironing board to the front, complete with little holders either end for the iron.

We've also had a ban put on all the stupid winglets and other aerodynamic nonsense that has infected F1 for a while. So the cars are sleek and clean and, from above anyway, the new Ferrari looks like a strawberry and may be the sexiest F1 car in a very long time. Then you'll notice the tyres... SLICKS ARE BACK BABY! Yep, proper rubber is back. Grooves are gone. YAY! We've now got more rubber than a Max Mosley Nazi sex party!

Under the engine covers are the new KERS devices. Kinetic Energy Recovery System. Not all teams will be running it, but it recycles energy from braking to give the car a power boost, essentially introducing a "push to pass" type feature to F1. A lot of people are complaining about this but I am waiting to see it in action. The problem the system has is one of weight. In a sport where weight is so critical, to run KERS gives you a substantial weight penalty. If a team runs without it, they'll have more ballast to place in the car, which they can place in more useful spots. In short, it gives them more options for weight distribution to balance the car.

Some teams plan to run KERS from the start, some plan to wait a few races, others don't plan to run it at all. In an era when the sport is becoming increasingly controlled and regulated, it's nice there are some areas where teams have choices. Clearly one path will be the best. Until the cars turn up in Melbourne, however, the only team that is seemingly guaranteed to run KERS is BMW. The rest, we'll have to wait and see.

There's other rule changes too. Engines now have to last 17 years.

I may have made that last bit up.

Perhaps the biggest story of the off season was Honda pulling out of Formula One after very little success. Rumours of a buyer always persisted, but never seemed to come to fruition. Poor old Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were going to be stuck on the sidelines for the year until at the eleventh hour it was announced that Ross Brawn had bought the team, named it Brawn GP, and debuted a car that has been kicking the crap out of everyone in testing. Brawn GP assure us the pace is real. Well they would wouldn't they. What is more telling is other drivers like Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso believe the pace is real. Come the first race, the British media may be saying "Lewis who?" as Jenson takes his place as number one British driver.

McLaren might be making it easier for Jenson to assume the mantle as well. Martin Whitmarsh, the new head of the McLaren team (Captain Ron has stepped aside) has already written off the teams chances of winning in the opening races due to a fundamental mistake with the cars design. Nobody is quite sure what it is, but McLaren have not looked good in testing. You know if the team have come out and said they won't be winning, then things must be pretty grim, with very little time left to fix whatever the problem is. It's the MP4/18 all over again.

Some seem to be crediting the lack of a true developmental driver within the team as the reason for McLaren being off the pace. Lewis Hamilton, for all his speed, has neither the experience nor ability to develop a car it would seem. One of the problems of being thrust into a top team immediately is you lose the essential grounding and learning experience of working and developing a car in a lesser team. A driver being unable to develop a car if they're driving for Force India is hardly likely to attract much attention (no offense to Force India), nor punish the team too much.

Chuck them at the front of the grid however and any failure is going to be hugely amplified. Yes, Lewis is quick. Blindingly so, but he has no experience developing a car. Heikki has more experience having been a test driver, but clearly he's not of the caliber of Alonso or Raikkonen. McLaren's almost obsessive devotion to Lewis may have ultimately shot them in the foot. Time will tell.

Ferrari appear to be having no such problems this year. They're largely on the pace, though Massa is alarmed at the pace of the Brawn GP cars. BMW appear to have continued their pace and if the woes of McLaren are to be believed, BMW could replace McLaren at the top of the heap. Something which, as a fan of Kubica and Heidfeld, I would not be averse to seeing.

This is all assuming Brawn GP don't come in and grind everyone else into powder. Ordinarily you'd have to bet against it, but with Ross Brawn in charge, the man responsible for Ferrari's crushing dominance of Formula One in the early part of the decade, you'd be taking that bet with a fair amount of risk.

We'll find out how all the pieces fit a week from Sunday, and I can honestly say I haven't looked forward to a season this much since the early 90's.

For those interested in seeing me blather in 140 characters or less about my usually beloved sport, you can find me on Twitter where I'll be microblogging through the season with whatever random nonsense springs to mind.

posted by Drood to auto racing at 01:02 PM - 8 comments

--We've now got more rubber than a Max Mosley Nazi sex party!

HAHAHA.....priceless, Drood!! Looking forward to the new season, new cars, and new team--go Brawn GP!

posted by eccsport78 at 03:05 PM on March 18, 2009

One thing that heartens me about the off-season so far is the tiny hints that we may be seeing some speed from the Williams team. I'd be delighted to see them running at the front a few times this year.

And no mention of the new medal system, Drood? I had you figured for some sort of caps-locked comments about that.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 08:12 PM on March 18, 2009

Well in a miracle of timing, I wrote this THE DAY BEFORE the announcement. Yeah, great timing on my part. I was very annoyed when that was announced and I'd already written, not to mention the fact I did NOT see that coming at all. Figured at best we'd get the new 12-9 points system.

And THERE ARE NO MEDALS! THIS IS NOT THE MEDAL SYSTEM BERNIE PROPOSED! IT'S AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT NON-MEDAL SYSTEM!:) I can see the point and what they're trying to do, but once again the FIA have missed the target and hit the tree. The FOTA had the right idea.

And I, like you Bismarck, am a Williams fan. They've always struck me as one of the only teams in it for the sport and I've always been a fan, even though they did shaft my boy Damon all those years ago.

posted by Drood at 05:31 AM on March 19, 2009

My Dad never worked with Williams, but he spent his time with similar guys of the likes of Hesketh, (Hill/)Shadow, and Toleman and despite the Renault connection to Toleman, more heart has always lent more toward Williams because, despite their huge success in the 80s and 90s, today they still feel like a team with one foot in the privateer past.

Plus I was a huge Keke Rosberg fan and seeing his boy running about in the same car is awesome - although it's odd to see "ROSBERG (GER)." - I'd love to see them go back to the green and white livery from back then.

Mostly I just root for the guys at the back because I'd rather see a competitive F1 than "my" guys winning. I was crushed when Sutil got rear-ended at Nouvelle Chicane and this year I'll be pulling for a Force India miracle again, with some luck mixed in for Williams and Brawn.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 12:42 PM on March 19, 2009

Williams have always been really classy. Seeing the names you mentioned I think "Ah, back when it was a sport". I've been watching for 22 years now and I really do miss the old days. It's not just rose tinted glasses as I've watched tons of old races and the sport was just more evocative and exciting back then. Seeing Capelli dragging his March up the grid, only to barely make it onto the grid at the next event. Minardi popping up in the top six etc...

The new rules for the championship, which both Alonso and Schumacher seem to think are idiotic, rule out any true excitement like Kubica still being in with a shout at the title when really, he was the driver most deserving of it last year as he made no mistakes. Massa shouldn't have been up there after his abysmal performance at Silverstone, and Lewis... Drove like a twat on too many occasions to deserve it either IMO.

Massa would be champion under the new rules. Kubica would have had no chance.

I still remember 1999, when Frentzen had a shot at the title and it was all up in the air. We'll never have a close battle like that again.

I'd rather a driver settles for second place than this ridiculous engineered crap. They want it to go to the right driver, then fine, go back to the "11 best results" system they used to have. That at least was interesting.

Wins only is far too arbitrary. Ridiculous that 1 win and 15 crashes wins the title now over 16 second places.

posted by Drood at 08:03 PM on March 19, 2009

Now it seems the FIA are "postponing" the new system as the teams are up in arms and saying it's an illegal rule change.

posted by Drood at 03:31 PM on March 20, 2009

Tune in next week when the FIA decide tyres have to be square, then change their minds five minutes later and replace that with a rule where the driver has to sit facing backwards and drive looking into a mirror!

What a bunch of clowns.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 04:23 PM on March 20, 2009

The funny thing is it's the FIA's own rules that have shot them in the foot. The wording I read implies that any decision taken after January 1st for that season MUST meet the approval of all the teams. Changing the way the championship will be fought a mere 11 days before the start of it was never going to fly.

What I find funny is how the rebels become the establishment. Bernie and Max (who was his lawyer) fought FISA in the early 80's. And now they've become what they fought essentially.

Interesting political times ahead methinks.

posted by Drood at 05:16 AM on March 21, 2009

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