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2009 Teams & Drivers: Who’s Going Where & What’s Still Up For Grabs?

2009 Teams & Drivers: Who’s Going Where & What’s Still Up For Grabs?

We may have only just passed the mid-way point of the 2008 season, but already the majority of next season’s grid has been organised. And in now typical Formula One tradition, there are too many drivers vying for too few seats. Let’s take a quick look at the 2009 grid and assess the choices the teams have made as they attempt to better their operation prior to next season’s Australian Grand Prix in March..

Ferrari

The best way to describe Ferrari’s driver performances this year is simply up-and-down. Both Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa have looked blitzenly fast on some days, and child-like on others. They’ve managed to similtaneously impress fans and pundits alike, as well as make us laugh our socks off at their silly mistakes.

However, despite popular belief, they both have contracts for next year. The Finn is in a strong position though and if he really wanted to retire, I’m sure Ferrari wouldn’t put up too much of a fight. As long as Raikkonen didn’t drive for anyone else, Ferrari would likely shake his hand and wish him well. As for Massa, well, he can be devastatingly quick, but then the Brazilian can also spin five times in a race.

Either way, they are both contracted to the Scuderia for another year, and I think we will all know more about Kimi’s plans once Fernando Alonso’s are announced, likely to be in mid-September.

McLaren

The Woking squad have already sorted out their chariot riders for next season, with both Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen staying on. The decision was a no-brainer really, and while Heikki has been a little slow out of the blocks, he has been making steady progress, qualifying well recently and winning in Hungary. The pair also like working together and they happily admit to enjoying each other’s company. On the track though, they are both pretty formiddable drivers; Hamilton has the pace, Heikki has the brains.

BMW

At the start of the 2008 season, I said BMW would do well to retain both their drivers, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. At the time, Heidfeld had just finished a solid 2007 campaign and Kubica was brimming with talent. Roll forward eight months and now I’m hesitant to offer similar advice. Kubica has been enjoying a remarkable season, although recently his performances have tailed off. Heidfeld has been having a tougher year, partly because of his team mate and partly because the car just doesn’t seem to suit him as much. Should BMW retain their line-up or get someone else in? It’s difficult to judge, but I think I would still stick with both pilots for at least another year if I were in charge.

Renault

2008 has been a difficult year for Renault fans. Last year was expected to be difficult, but now Fernando Alonso has returned to Enstone, we all thought that things would start to look a little brighter. Unfortunately, the R28 isn’t much of a car and while both drivers have put in some stunning performances, Nelson Piquet Jr may not have done enough to save his Formula One career. A very slow start that was riddled with errors, the young Brazilian has consistently frustrated fans. And with Alonso waiting around to see if the Ferrari seat will be available, it cannot be easy being Flavio Briatore right now. Clearly Alonso wants to jump ship and Piquet probably isn’t good enough. What is a team boss to do?

Toyota

Both drivers have been retained for 2009, despite Jarno Trulli having to wait a very long time to be announced for this year during the ’07-’08 break. Back then, the squad had an outside chance of getting Fernando Alonso to sign a contract in Cologne, but after Trulli and Timo Glock’s performances this season, I think they will do well in keeping both around. Trulli has been driving well and Glock has improved steadily during the year.

Red Bull Racing

Mark Webber has been given a twelve month extension to his contract and following the retirement of David Coulthard, the team will receive Sebastian Vettel from sister squad, Scuderia Toro Rosso. Again, pretty much a no-brainer. Webber is doing okay and has shown some flashes of excitement when the car works, and Vettel is a real talent waiting in the wings. My only concern is that Vettel will need to be nurtured into a race winner, which I’m not sure Red Bull will be able to do properly having never won themselves. Still, the Australian and the German make a promising line-up and if the car is good enough, I think they will work well together in progressing the team forward.

Williams

They’ve managed to hold on to Nico Rosberg, a feat I consider impressive for the midfield team, but the German driver is getting impatient. Rosberg has shown great loyalty to the team that gave him his break, but with car performance standing still in the past three years, it is easy to understand why Rosberg is now talking about wanting to be in a winning car. If Williams wish to retain their number one, they absolutely have to show improvement in the standings. As for the second seat, I’m not so sure Kazuki Nakajima has done enough. At times he has looked very fast, but on other occasions he has looked mediocre. Maybe another season will do him some good, and if Williams are to improve they will need consistency in the drivers.

Honda

The Japanese team kinda need Jenson Button, but as with Rosberg in the Williams, how long can the team continue before the driver goes looking elsewhere? Button was overjoyed when Ross Brawn joined the team from Ferrari, and the squad have many of the correct ingredients to make a winning team, but it simply isn’t happening. They would do well to hang on to Button, but his team mate isn’t looking so sure of a ride for next year. Rubens Barrichello became the most experienced driver ever this year, but with experience comes age. But as Michael Schumacher used to say (and still asserts during tests), why retire when you can still keep up with everyone else? Other factors may come in to it though, and a recent rumour linked Alonso to the team. If that were to happen, I don’t think it is rocket science to work out who would get the boot.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Currently, the team is up for sale and they have no drivers contracted for next year, and one of their current pilots will definitely leave. Yep, STR aren’t looking too strong at the moment and of all the squads, Gerhard Berger’s team are the most likely to receive a rookie next season. The driver they’re losing is Sebastian Vettel, and this is not a good thing. However, they have an option on Sebastien Bourdais and despite the French driver failing to set the track alight, he isn’t doing a terrible job. STR would do well in keeping some consistency, and many believe Bourdais will improve next year as the cars change.

The second seat could go a whole raft of rookies or perhaps-fired drivers: Bruno Senna, Nico Hulkenberg, Lucas di Grassi, Romain Grosjean, Marco Asmer, Nelson Piquet Jr., Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello, Christian Klien…

…And you never know, it could even go to a certain Vitantonio Liuzzi. No, I didn’t think so either.

Force India

The Force India team may still be at the back of the grid, but they have made progress largely thanks to Vijay Mallya’s investment. I also believe that although he may be past his prime, Giancarlo Fisichella has been doing the team some good with his experienced hand. The team should try and keep their Italian ace for now – he may not race as well as he used to, but he is helping the little back-of-the-grid squad. Adrian Sutil is, I believe, on some kind of long-running contract. Although most say he doesn’t have anything for next year yet, when he was signed to Spyker 18 months ago, the deal was said to be long-term, thanks to his connection with the team boss (who transferred over when the Spyker team were sold). Thus, I expect Sutil to remain, and I also expect Fisichella to continue driving for them.

Oliver White

8 comments

  • It’s just struck me looking at that photo – it’s not a very colourful grid this year in terms of liveries, is it?

    BMW would be well-advised to stick if possible (and it almost certainly is possible, now that McLaren and Ferrari have made their minds up, given Kubica’s a pretty intelligent driver).

    If I were Flavio, I’d stick with Alonso for one final year (the big driver reshuffle looks to be for 2010, not 2009) and replace Piquet Jr. with di Grassi (to keep the sponsors happy with a view to him being possibly better at the job). Beyond that, it’ll be a question of opportunism as the driver situation at other teams slides into place – and Flavio’s history in that department has traditionally been good.

    If Toyota are keeping Glock, then I think Williams will keep Nakajima, since he’s considerably better than the other Toyota development drivers. He’s come on in leaps and bounds, and if he isn’t quite a match for Rosberg yet, he is doing OK. Rosberg might be getting slightly frustrated, but I don’t see where he will go.

    The Alonso-to-Honda rumour makes no sense to me. Don’t be surprised if the current duo stay on for lack of other options, but if there is a surprise move (from Fernando or anyone else), expect Honda to be effected by the resulting waves.

    Although Toro Rosso seem to be thinking in terms of Buemi for next year, that’s purely from the way they’re talking now, and I have a horrible feeling that whichever of the two drivers in 2009 is slower will be fired mid-season to make way for Bruno Senna (who’ll most likely be asked to do a part-season in GP2 to round off his education first).

    Returning to topic, Fisichella is on a two-year contract, so unless he does something exceptionally stupid, he will still be at Force India next year. I think Sutil has an option for next year. I don’t know which side has the power to exercise it, but I doubt Force India will be wandering too far from its present line-up just yet (Chandhok’s not really ready and Liuzzi isn’t as fast as either of the present race drivers at this stage).

  • I have no doubts that Alonso will be at Ferrari either in 2009 or 2010.

    Although I never really liked Alonso during the 1st Renault and McLaren era, I have now developed a great deal of respect for him over this season. He really does seem to be able to develop and steer a team in the right direction.

    However, he obviously won’t be winning anything this year.

  • @Ali: A great addition to the post – I’m pleased your comment was the first. I didn’t realise Fisi was on a two-year contract. And I completely forgot about Buemi. He’s been around as a tester for a couple of years now, but I’m wondering if that is as far as he will go. Besides, I couldn’t cope with another Sebastiæn!

    @Stephen: I find it interesting that you have warmed to Alonso recently rather than previously. I loved Alonso during his first Renault stint. The two cars were good, but F2004s they weren’t. Yet he managed to rub Schumacher’s nose in it.* And if I block out all the political crap, he put in some stunning performances in the MP4-22, especially at the start of the season. I have to agree though, although Renault don’t appear to have moved much since last season, I think they have, especially in the last few races.

    *Just looked at your avatar and worked it out. 🙂

  • I think one of the STR’s has Senna’s name on it. If he finishes first or even second to Pantano in GP2 he has absolutely nothing to gain by racing in GP2 next season. I imagine Bourdais will be kept in the other seat unless someone like Heidfeld becomes available although I don’t see that happening.

    I really can’t see why so many people rate Jenson Button. I have watched him since before he was in F1. Like Lewis Hamilton he managed to get regular Autosport coverage from around the age of 10. In all that time I never saw him as anything special. I can’t understand why Honda pay him so much or paid to get him out of his Williams deal.

    Mark Hughes at the half way point in the season did a statistical analysis on the performance of amongst other things team mates. The two team mates who came out as performing most equally were Button and Barrichello. Rosberg came out as the most dominant team mate. No-one rates Rubens as a great driver or worthy of a massive salary but despite supposedly being past his best is not being dominated to the extent Schumacher dominated him in his prime. Either Jenson is not as good as his reputation or Rubens is still improving.

  • I’m not sure that Honda isn’t an attractive option for next year and I don’t know whether Jenson can be that certain of his seat. I do know that he desperately wants to keep hold of it, however.

    There’s the old BAR Honda that is a persistent underachiever, but more and more there’s also a new Honda-owned, Brawn-directed Honda F1 team. This year’s car was built in record time after the plans for the original car were thrown away wholesale by the new aero people. Only then did Brawn come in and the first thing he did was to make sure that all efforts were concentrated on the 2009 season.

    The car we see this year therefore isn’t really indicative of what the “new” Honda can do.

    Next season will see the first “New Honda” car roll out.. which will no doubt be quite an improvement, but just how much?

    Next year’s regulation changes will turn the whole sport upside down and nobody knows who will end up where.. it’s harder than ever for drivers to know what the best option is.

    My bet is that it isn’t going to be Renault. I think Alonso is thinking along the same lines..

    Nobody thought that Brawn would go to Honda. Now it might well be Alonso’s turn..

  • For the most part, I think the lineup will be much the same. Mallya is hinting at a no driver change for 2009 and Fisichella was the one driver I doubted would be kept on (slap my hand).

    BMW Sauber really does have the drivers they need at this time of their development and both drivers are doing well (sure I’m biased), but the car has leveled off a bit.

    Alonso? Good question, but I say he stays on with Piquet at Renault at least in 2009.

    My only other question mark is Barrichello. I like him with Honda and 2009 will be a new era for everyone.

    I agree with Buemi to Toro Rosso.

    Ferrari keeps Raikkonen and Massa.

    The rest…..you got me!

  • Alonso appears to be much like Schumacher in that he does not want a fast team mate with whom he has to compete on equal terms. Schumacher’s contract stipulated that he had the power to accept or reject a team mate. Ferrari seems no longer so inclined, but if Raikkonen leaves they might revert to get Alonso.

    Kimi Raikkonen is still the fastest driver on the track on any given day (seven out of nine races with fastest lap). Careful examination of the season doesn’t indicate that he is no longer interested in winning. Therefore I believe he will be back with Ferrari in 2009 as will Massa who can run with anyone if everything is perfectly to his liking and he can start up front.

    If Alonso stays with Renault in 2009, he may well be there for a long time to come. Renault has undeninably improved this year and with Alonso on board is set to continue the trend. Alonso would go to Ferrari only if Kimi leaves–which is a possibility for 2010, especially if he is able to win the championship in 2008 and/or 2009.

    If Kimi stays on beyond 2009 then it would seem doubtful that Alonso would wait any longer to go to Ferrari however much he would like to drive for the Ialians. By 2010, or possibly even in 2009, BMW, Toyota, and (a 2010 long shot) Red Bull could be in the hunt.

    Alonso would be a good fit at Toyota which is beginning to look very good and is miles ahead of Honda. Alonso would be the undeniable number one at Toyota. At BMW he would have to deal with Kubica, a rising star who is very quick, and at Red Bull with Vettel who is showing great promise.

  • Ted, Alonso would do well at Toyota, but I really don’t see them being miles ahead of Honda. Next season, Honda could be in position to suprise many people, so keep an eye out there.

    In my view, Senna is a lock for the STR seat unless he crashes and burns for the rest of the GP2 season. Don’t forget that if there is a new owner, the’ll love his sponsorship potential, even if he’s not the most talented driver available. Bourdais should kepe the other seat, but nothing’s for certain there.

    As for Alonso, unless something changes, I think he’s just marking time until he can leave for wherever. I can see Honda ditching Rubens to pick him up- even if it’s only a one-year deal, it would be a HUGE boost in popularity for a team that is still searching to establish itself as a legit F1 contender.

    The rest of the grid won’t change much for 2009- McLaren looks to be set for years, as dose Red Bull for at least a few. Some big questions could come up next season though, dealing with not only Alonso, but also Rosberg if Williams dosen’t show a big jump next season.

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