Following on from the vague predictions regarding the top five teams competing in the 2009 Formula One World Championship, we now turn our attention to the other half of the grid for my ’09 predictions. 2008 saw some impressive action from the midfield, with lap times very closely bunched together. However, with a shakeup in the rules, the cars could be more spread out this time around, some teams doing well while others struggle to catch-up.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
STR had an incredible 2008 with both drivers scoring points and a maiden victory for Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull family of teams. However, the young German has been promoted to the senior team, and Franz Tost is still yet to decide on a partner for the replacing Sebastien Buemi.
To be able to beat Red Bull Racing again will be a real challenge, and one I do not think they will achieve. Part of Scuderia Toro Rossos success last year was down to the luck of the draw, and while nothing can be taken away from the fine victory in Monza, the weather almost certainly helped Vettel claim pole and win. And it was those ten points that helped push STR above Red Bull in the final standings.
The team have signed a driver who they consider to be a real talent, although Sebastien Buemi only managed sixth in last years GP2 championship, having been beaten by other upcoming talents Lucas di Grassis, Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean. Buemi is however, a part of Red Bull’s junior driver programme and earned his place in the squad by putting in some sterling work during the post-season tests at Jerez and Barcelona. He will likely find things tough to begin with, especially as he will undoubtedly be compared to his predecessor Vettel. But hopefully Buemi can find his feet and should be able to score a few points here and there.
The second seat remains vacant at the time of writing this, and the team desire a driver who can bring funds with them. STR also want someone with experience to partner Buemi, and currently Takuma Sato and Sebastien Bourdais look favourite for the role. However, time is ticking on and the Australian Grand Prix is only 75 days away. Scuderia Toro Rosso had better make their minds up quickly.
On the car side of things, the team will likely pick up a few Red Bull Racing chassis, just as they did in 2008. However, unlike 2008, the team will need a car that complies with the technical regulations from the word go, as the current STR3 is essentially illegal now. This pressure on Red Bull Technology is not good, and last season the company didn’t start providing a new car to STR until the Monaco event in May. There has been no sign of an interim car from the Red Bull stable, implying that the company will have build twice as many chassis before the vehicles are shipped out to Melbourne.
Red Bull Racing
Speaking of Red Bull Racing, how embarrassing was their 2008 campaign!? Having been beaten by the junior team must be heartbreaking for the squad, but it did prove that the car was capable during adverse conditions. The ’08 season was also a marked improvement over the previous year, with the gearbox lasting a little longer.
The team have decided to let David Coulthard retire and in his place comes the young Sebastian Vettel, already a race winner. Vettel should prove to be a real match for team mate Mark Webber, who last year had it fairly easy thanks to Coulthard’s bad luck, error of judgements and fragile car. I can see Sebastian outscoring Webber by the end of the season, which would not be helpful to the Australian. Also, Mark Webber is recovering from a broken leg following a cycling accident in Tasmania.
The lack of testing from Mark Webber shouldn’t hurt the team too much as they have Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Buemi, who has driven the RB4 since the 2008 season closed. However, the lack of driving will hurt Webber, especially as the cars will handle differently this year.
I would love to say that Red Bull will improve and start chasing the front runner’s gearboxes, but I just cannot see it. The team started out so well, attracting big names like Adrian Newey, Ferrari and Renault. But recently the relentless push forward seems to have slowed. Perhaps the injection of youth from Vettel and the lack of distraction with a cut down in lavish parties will help focus Red Bull back on to the racing.
They celebrated last year, but it was only the numbers derived from the teams impressive history that were of any significance. On the track, the team did less well and as much as I hope every season that this will be the comeback year, I am finding myself continually disappointed. Williams managed a couple of podiums last year with some great drives by Nico Rosberg, and surprisingly, Kazuki Nakajima didn’t do too badly either, almost matching Rosberg for pace on more than one occasion.
However, being Formula One’s final true privately entered team must be taking its toll, and while that status is something Franck Williams and Patrick Head can be proud of, the bank balance is probably wishing for some manufacturer-sent funds. With the world economy falling off the cliff, many expected Williams to follow Honda and walk away. Fortunately for us, Frank Williams is too resiliant and the team have been toiling away trying to reclaim the glory that once made them great.
The squad were the first to show off a 2009-spec. car, allowing Jonathan Kennard the chance to blast up and down a runway in the interim FW31. The team’s KERS package is the only system to have been developed entirely in-house, although it should be noted that in order for Williams to achieve this feat that had to purchase shares in AHP, get them to move their headquarters to Williams’s at Grove in Oxfordshire, and since then AHP has been renamed WHPForce India
Force India are another team that are going to be hard to judge until the lights go out in Melbourne. Last season, while transitioning from Spyker, the Silverstone-based squad continually locked-out the back row, only on occasion venturing forward. To their credit though, Giancarlo Fisichella did manage a Q2 qualifying effort, once, and in adverse conditions they did look handy for a while. Unfortunately though, while Vijay Mallya has the funds, he doesn’t yet have the experience of Formula One. With a more hands-on approach this year though, that could very quickly change.
Passion though is running through the team once again. This is something that has been lacking since the day Eddie Jordan submitted an advert to the back pages of Autosport asking for buyers for his team*. Passion doesn’t necessarily bring results though, but a canny knack of doing business helps.
*Not strictly true.
The team have affiliated themselves with McLaren and by getting a complete package of engine, gear box and KERS, the car should work more smoothly. The technical support will benefit the team greatly and providing the chassis isn’t too bad, Force India could make some progress in 2009. They won’t be hunting down podiums, but an odd point here and there could be on the cards.
The only thing that really worries me about Force India’s progress are the drivers. Adrian Sutil can drive well, but he seems to have adopted the Jarno Trulli approach to races; he tends to fall asleep. At times, Sutil looks impressive. Other times, you wonder what he’s doing. Fisichella as well is perhaps fast approaching his retirement. The Italian’s experience will undoubtedly help the team, especially as they once again transition from one engine to another. And also, from one type of car to another. Unfortunately, Fisichella’s race pace is starting to look a little tired and I think come 2010, Force India need in place a clear direction for the future of their driver choices.
Given everything though, I still think Force India will be at the back for the majority of the season. Although, perhaps moving away from Ferrari engines will help Sutil in the pitlane; maybe the Ferraris of Massa and Raikkonen won’t be drawn so much to him!?
The team is currently in flux, so there is very little to be said in all honesty. Ross Brawn has continually stated that the employees at Brackley are still preparing the RA109, although not knowing if it is worth anything must be disconcerting for the team. The lack of an engine deal is also very worrying. Brawn has mentioned that it would take about six weeks to modify the car to fit an unfamiliar engine, which gives the squad until the end of the month to find a buyer and an engine partner.
If the team are saved and they manage to acquire a power plant, I would presume Jenson Button to be one of the drivers, although the second seat remains unknown. For someone completely knew it would be easy to extend Rubens Barrichello’s career by an extra year as they would want some kind of stability. However, if someone took over and wanted immediate change, Barrichello could very quickly find himself left in the wings.
Prior to Honda shelving the Formula One operation, the team had been hyping themselves up, suggesting the RA109 will be a very competitive car. This attitude reminds of the team when they were known as BAR, and each and every year the hype would begin in November, and come March, it would evaporate as the cars came home in paltry positions. Only once was the excitement warranted – 2004. Therefore, I am ignoring the words flowing from Button’s mouth about the car. If they are on the Melbourne grid, they will likely be close to the back due to complete lack of testing, unfamiliar engine and possibly no KERS. I can see reliability causing a problem, which will only be exacerbated as the team will not be allowed to test during the season.
So that wraps up the 2009 season predictions. To be honest, it is fairly standard as I don’t think too much will change from last year. Ferrari can only lose it, Renault, BMW and Toyota can only move forward and if they don’t, serious questions will be asked. Red Bull and Scuderia Toro Rosso will achieve natural order again, Williams will continue to break fan’s hearts and Force India will occasionally nibble the bottom points. If Honda make it, then a big hurray will sound.
I’m most likely going to be wrong on most of what I have said – my predictions are like that! But these two posts have allowed me to examine some areas of the teams a little closer and compare as best I can between them all. So that just leaves me to ask…
…do you agree?