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My 2009 Championship Preview and Final Predictions

It’s been a long wait, but the start of the 2009 season is finally upon us.

With all the huge regulation changes, and a big shake-up of the established order, 2009 is one of the most anticipated seasons for many years. There have never been so many unanswered questions before the start of a Formula 1 season. It has never been so hard to try and predict who is going to win the championship.

I am going to have a look at some of these questions and big debating points, and give my views on them.

A lot has been said about how the cars look after all the new technical regulations. What have been the main changes, and what is your opinion on the new look?

The main changes are that the front wing has been made lower and wider (the front now covers the tyres). The rear wing has been made taller and narrower. Also all the high bits of aero have also been banned (referred to as winglets). Also barge boards have been banned. 

The diffuser has been made smaller and less powerful. And of course there is the re-introduction of slick tyres. There has also been the introduction of KERs, which we will get onto later.

Overall there has been a 50 percent reduction on aero downforce on the cars. Although teams have already gained part of this lost aero downforce back. F1 engineers are extremely clever like that.

There is also a movable flap on the front wing, which the drivers can adjust twice per lap.

Overall I think the cars look much better than they did last season. Without all the upper aero devices, the cars have much cleaner lines. It does take time to get used to the mis-matching front and rear wings, but I think all fans will get used to the cars very quickly.

Surely nobody can deny how stunning the Red Bull and Toro Rossos look? Admittedly the Renault is the ugly duckling of the bunch.

The other thing about these new rule changes, is that there is a much bigger variety of different car designs. Teams have opted to go down different routes. It’s nice to have a different variety of ideas on show.

We will see in Melbourne who exactly has been going down the right development route, and who hasn’t.

Last season if you painted all the cars all white, it would have been hard to tell, which car belonged to which team. This season the same task may be a bit easier (although telling the Toro Ross and Red Bull apart would still be very tough).

To KERs or not to KERs? That is the question

Ferrari, Renault, BMW Sauber and Mclaren look set to start the season with the system installed. Others may install it later on in the season. Brawn GP on the other hand has said that they won’t be using the system at all this season.

The problem with KERs is the extra weight it adds onto the car. This limits how teams can distribute the weight on the car. This is a problem, which Brawn GP won’t face. They will be free to distribute the weight across the car however they want, without the added headache of KERs.

Most of the drivers have been on a diet so that it takes away from the overall weight of the car, whilst they are inside them.

I think teams will use KERs at some tracks, but not at others. On fast tracks, with long straights, the extra straight line speed will become a big advantage. It will help towards lap times, and for overtaking.

At slow twisty tracks like Monaco and Hungary KERs probably won’t be as beneficial so the teams may decide not to use it at these tracks. It will be interesting to see if they do or not. Reliability could be a problem for the teams running KERs in the early part of the season.

We will soon see whether running KERs is an advantage, or whether running without it is an advantage. It could swing either way. Toyota are convinced they have made the right decision, by not starting the season with KERs. We will soon find out who is right.

Having half the grid on KERs, and the other half not is a really fascinating prospect.

These new regulations have been designed to increase the amount of overtaking. Will these new rules achieve that?

I think the answer to the question is yes and no. Clearly there will be more overtaking, but fans need to be realistic on what to expect. F1 isn’t going to suddenly turn in Moto GP or Touring Car racing. If fans tune into the Australian GP expecting that, then they will be very disappointed.

Overtaking will be easier, but it will still be extremely challenging. There will still be a lot of turbulent air when following the cars, and of course the track will still be much dirtier off line. That won’t change. And the streets of Monte-Carlo won’t suddenly get wider.

Last season you needed to be 2.0 seconds faster than the car in front to guarantee a pass. Now that looks set to be reduced to 1.0 second. So that is a 50% improvement which isn’t bad going.

I think on good overtaking tracks like Bahrain and Belgium, we will see a positive difference. However I don’t expect the racing to become much better at tracks like Monaco or Hungary.
The KERs system may well be a great extra aid in overtaking. Drivers will get 2 boasts per lap. If you are up against a car that doesn’t use the system, you will have a great chance of passing them. If both you and your opponent have the system, then the driver in front could utilise the system at the same time to defend.

In terms of overtaking KERs will definitely help at tracks with more than two overtaking places, like Bahrain for example.

Drivers only have two boasts per lap, so they can’t use it to defend at every overtaking chance. They will have to make do without it at some point. Again at Monaco and Hungary where it’s hard to overtake, it probably won’t be that much extra help.

The movable flap could prove to be useful. When you are following another driver through a fast corner you can adjust the flap so that can stick closer to them, and reduce the effect of understeer.

Then you may have a better chance of overtaking them down the straight that follows, because you will have been able to stay closer to them.

The KERs system and the movable flap may prove to be two very useful variables, when it comes to increasing overtaking.

Why have the rules shaken up the pecking order so much?

Over the past few years teams had just been evolving their cars from season to season. In stable regulations it was very hard make huge inroads on the advantage of the front teams. Everyone’s development rate is quite similar, so therefore there wasn’t much movement in the order of the teams.

With these vast rule changes it is like pressing the reset button. Everyone is building a new car from scratch. They are all starting at the same level.

This means that it has become perfectly possible for midfield teams to become front runners, and for front runners to sink into the midfield. From studying all the testing times this winter it looks like exactly that has happened.

Most experts expected the field to spread out, but it seems the opposite may have happened. Why is that and are you surprised?

I think most people based that theory on the last sweeping changes in 1998. Back then the cars became narrower, and we moved from slicks onto grooves. The field spread out in that season.

However this season we have a higher number of well funded teams on the grid. with bigger facilities and resources. The teams on the current grid that you would consider minnows (Toro Rosso and Force India) are extremely strong too. Force India has their collaboration with Mclaren, and Toro Rosso with Red Bull.

Back in 1998, you had a far bigger number of smaller privateer teams, with far lesser budgets, and facilities than many of the teams. Huge regulation changes would have really stretched them to the limit. That year the two biggest teams (Mclaren and Ferrari) surged ahead.

With all this in mind I had a feeling that the time covering the whole grid (2.0 seconds last season) would be maintained. It looks like to could be even closer than that. Maybe as little as 1.5 seconds.

What do you think is the current pecking order?

I would say that there is a front group consisting of Brawn GP, Ferrari, BMW Sauber and Toyota. Out of those four teams I think Brawn GP has the edge as it stands. Over a race distance they are particularly strong.

They may be as much as 0.5 seconds per lap quicker over a race distance. The second strongest team look to be Ferrari, with BMW Sauber and Toyota in very close company.

Then we have a big group consisting of all the other teams. Red Bull and Renault look to be the best of the rest. Williams did post a very fast time in Jerez , so they could be right up there with them too.

The team who are out of form look to be Mclaren. Where they slot into the pecking order is unclear. However even Lewis Hamilton has admitted that the team won’t be able to get points in Melbourne. It looks like at first they will be very lucky to be ahead of Force India and Toro Rosso.

With the grid so close together the development race will be very important. If a team can find a few tenths of a second then, it could jump them a long way up the grid. If could also decide which of the tight bunch at the front edges ahead as the season goes on.

With all the varied designs on car in 2009, different cars will work better at some tracks, but not as well at others. Some designs will work better in some weather conditions, but not as well in others.

Melbourne for example is a far different challenge to Catalunya and Jerez. We could be surprised by the pecking order we see this weekend.

Who do you think will win the Constructors Championship?

As the championship progresses, I think Ferrari and BMW Sauber will become the two teams to beat, and move clear from the rest.

Ferrari will have adapted very well to the new rules, and have two very strong drivers. The same applies to BMW Sauber, and they started focusing more on the 2009 season earlier on in 2008.

They are also a very good team reliably. They are very consistent, and their trackside operation, and tactics are also strong. They have shown that they don’t make many mistakes.

If they can keep those strengths, and build on their pace, then I think they will be the team that wins the Constructors Championship.

BMW may have only looked solid in testing, but they are known to sandbag in testing. I think they will fly right from the start of the season and maintain the pace throughout.
BMW Sauber has set big targets each season since they started in 2006.

They have achieved each one so far. They have done a brilliant job, and done things the way they should. They are a fine example to other manufacturers who want to come in, and achieve success in F1.

Who do you think will win the Drivers Championship?

It’s going to be a very close run thing, and a number of different drivers will win races in 2009. However I am expecting the real Kimi Raikkonen to return, and to edge the title fight.

He had a bad season last season because the Ferrari featured too much understeer, which Kimi hated. On the other hand the new cars will feature a big oversteer tendency, which Kimi will love. The Mclarens, which Kimi used to drive featured oversteer and he used to fly when he was driving for Mclaren.

When Kimi Raikkonen is at his absolute he can be unbelievably fast. I rate him as the most naturally talent drive on the grid.

If he can drive at his best in 2009, he won’t be easy to keep up with. Many say that Kimi isn’t motivated. I think he is very motivated, but that he just never shows it. On the inside he was very hungry, and eager to prove the critics wrong.

Who will be the surprise of the season?

Obviously Brawn GP are going to be the biggest surprise of the season. Their pace in testing was genuine. They will definitely win some races this season. Although I don’t think they will be able to maintain a season long title challenge, as I think the likes of Ferrari, and BMW Sauber will eventually come to the fore.

A few months ago, many people wondered whether this team would exist  at all 2009. For the team to go onto the grid, and win races in 2009 would be something quite staggering.

I wonder if Honda are currently kicking themselves to selling the team when it looked like they may have finally built a fast car. Investing so much time (Honda started focusing on 2009 back in 2007) and money on the new car looks like it will pay off.

I also think Bourdais will surprise in the Toro Rosso. Vettel got all the headlines in 2009, but in the final third of the season Bourdais was very quick. He was unlucky not to get a few very big results, particularly in Spa, Monza, and Fuji.

He suffered bad luck on all three of those occasions. Bourdais never liked last year’s Toro Rosso, but he was very quick when he adapted to it.

These new F1 cars will be more similar to what he experienced in Champcar i.e. slick tyres, more emphasis on mechanical grip. I think he will thrive this season.

I don’t think many fans will be expecting much from Bourdais in 2009. I think he will surprise everyone. He is an outside bet for a few podiums I think.

Who will be the disappointment of the season?

Mclaren will be the ultimate disappointment of the season. They don’t look like they have got it together. They haven’t done as good a job at adapting to the new regulations, as some of the other teams have.

They pushed very hard at the end of last season to win the championship. Many other teams had already started focusing on the new 2009 rules very early on. It may be that Mclaren were too complacent in the development of the car.

Another possibility is that they have focused too much on making the car suit Lewis Hamilton’s style, and have caught themselves out.

It does look as if Mclaren have found the routes of their problems. However solving it will be very hard indeed. I am sure Mclaren will improve, and move up the grid. Mclaren are a very well resourced and clever team.

However when they do make their way back to the front, it may well be too late for them to challenge for the title. I do think we will see them win or two a race this season, but not in the early stages of the year.

It’s not a huge surprise that Mclaren are having a difficult time. They have been very inconsistent this decade, with a mix of very fast cars, and cars that have been off the pace. This season it looks set to be the latter.

I don’t think Lewis will disappoint though. He will still fight very hard, and pull of some great moves. It will be interesting to see how he gets on in a slower car. I think he will do very well, and still drag the car to some decent results.

If he can do that, he may finally win over some of his harshest critics.

It’s going to be an absolutely fantastic season!


March 26, 2009 - Posted by | Previews

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