Will the 2009 F1 rules allow Honda to catch McLaren, Ferrari & the rest?

Honda are having a tough 2008 but have focussed their efforts on 2009

Honda are having a tough 2008 but have focussed their efforts on 2009

Next year will see the biggest change in the technical regulations for some time. It’s certainly the greatest since the grooved tyre/narrow track switch in 1998, and perhaps the largest overhaul of the rules since turbo engines were banned after 1988.

In 2009 F1 wing sizes will be reduced, movable front wing flaps allowed, slick tyres will return and engines will be allowed to use Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS). It’s a lot for the teams to get to grips with.

Some of those towards the rear of the field see this as their chance to make a leap forward and have sacrificed efforts on their 2008 programmes to get 2009 right. Which ones stand to make the biggest gains?

Honda are the team that seem to have gambled the most on next year. They’ve brought fewer developments to the 2008 car than their rivals and were the first team to test a working KERS. As a result, there have even been rumours that Fernando Alonso may join the team in 2009 as a stop-gap before his widely-expected switch to Ferrari in 2010 – because he considers Honda a better prospect for next year than Renault.

Force India might be expected to struggle in 2009 as one of F1’s smaller teams. However for the first time in several years it looks set to go into a second consecutive year with the same owner, and that consistency will be hugely welcome.

Team boss Vijay Mallya recently said:

Force India have clearly demonstrated that we have caught up and improved. One realises how tough Formula One really is and it reinforces the challenge that I have before me for 2009 to be really competitive.

I’m not only catching up from last season, but from the last three seasons. And we have caught up, even though F1 has become so competitive, which is good.

I am quite optimistic, however, that my experience so far has pointed us in the right direction. I now know precisely what I’m up against, so I can plan better. Maybe I learned the hard way, but it’s good to learn. So 2009 will be much more competitive for the Force India team.

Williams bought a stake in Automotive Hybrid Power, a company which makes Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems, in April. They also invested a lot of effort in their 2009 programme, but a few weeks ago revealed they were switching some efforts back to their 2008 campaign. Has the team lost its way?

Renault was telling everyone this time last year they would do much better in 2008 – but the R28 has scored fewer points so far than the R27 had at the same point last year. Their problems stem from a lack of engine power as recently admitted by Flavio Briatore, and continued difficulties adapting to the Bridgestone control tyres. The switch from grooved tyres to slicks will at least let them start from a clean sheet of paper in that respect.

Red Bull had a fire when they tried out a KERS, and have pointed out that they project is of little value to them, not being a car manufactuter. Given their lesser degree of resources relative to the like of BMW and Toyota, they may struggle early in 2009. What they intend to do with Toro Rosso isn’t clear.

BMW appeared to refocus their efforts on 2009 after achieving their objective of winning a race in Montreal. Rumours suggest Robert Kubica, who led the title race after Montreal, was not happy with this. They had a high-profile problem with KERS when one of their mechanics was electrocuted. But their Albert 2 supercomputer has allowed them to make excellent progress with aerodynamics and you’d expect them to do a good job of adapting to these new rules in particular.

Toyota have been strong supporters of the move to KERS and have encouraged the FIA to increase the power that can be supplied by the device. They manufacturer the world’s most hyped famous hybrid road car, the Prius. Toyota has made great progress in 2008 after a poor 2006 and 2007. But have they diverted enough of their resource to the 2009 aero programme?

Ferrari and McLaren will be pushing their 2008 programmes as hard as possible in an effort to win the championships. Their rivals will be hoping it compromises their ability to prepare for 2009, but Ferrari have said they are already manufacturing parts for next year.

McLaren’s rate of progress with its 2008 car seems to have outstripped even Ferrari’s, and the popular theory is the full resources of its expensive Technology Centre are now bearing fruit.

These two teams have been at the sharp end of F1 for decades and they’ve seen huge changes in the rules before. Are they going to be caught out by this one? I wouldn’t bet on it, but I’d look to the likes of Honda to make big steps forward next year.

Download next year’s regulations from the FIA site

F1 2009 season

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22 comments on Will the 2009 F1 rules allow Honda to catch McLaren, Ferrari & the rest?

  1. another Alonso switch and the spaniards will have to change his nickname to “el nomad”

  2. Alex Cooper said on 21st August 2008, 10:56

    I don’t rate Honda’s chances at all highly. Regardless of the new rules, you either know how to build a racing car or you don’t.

    Honda haven’t built a racing car since they sacked Geoff Willis, whose last car for them provided their one and only race win.

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st August 2008, 11:00

    Alex – even with Ross Brawn on board?

  4. Alex Cooper said on 21st August 2008, 11:03

    Hiya Keith – Ross Brawn can get a car on a good strategy but Rory Byrne designed those Ferraris.

  5. francois said on 21st August 2008, 11:05

    Alex , if I’m right the person who now designs the F1 car is more used to making motorcycle chassis.Can’t remember the name though.

    I’m hoping Williams might be able to catch up with the new rules – I don’t think they’ve forgotten how to build winning cars but they don’t have the money to do it nowadays.

  6. NO. For as long as development during the season is permitted , Ferrari & McLaren will continue to win , Williams will start off well then fade out , Toyota will continue to play catch up , and so on. At least for the next few years , until the other teams can compete with Ferrari and Mclaren in rate of development , or even overtake them. Renault did it , but only because of the mass damper effect and the Michelin tyre advantage.

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st August 2008, 11:14

    Francois – the chap you’re thinking of is Shuhei Nakamoto, and you’re right about him being a motorcycle designer. Here’s a quote from him from last year:

    To be honest, I don’t have enough development experience in Formula 1 cars. Everyone knows my background is as a motorcycle chassis designer. Motorcycles never use downforce. In F1, aero is maybe 70 or 80% of the performance – in this area I have no experience. Everyone in our team knows this.

  8. Alex Cooper said on 21st August 2008, 11:15

    Hi Francois – yeah he’s a Japanese fella isn’t he? Admitted last season that he was out of his depth in F1.
    I can’t remember his name either.

    Jean – think you’re right there with Williams (sadly) and Renault’s mass damper.

  9. A Singh said on 21st August 2008, 11:33

    The article mentions “Are they going to be caught out by this one?” Well, there is always a possibility: consider the 2005 rule changes and the massive change in the car design that they entailed. Ferrari, for one did not adapt as well as Renault and McLaren.

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st August 2008, 11:41

    A Singh – excellent point. Of course, the no-tyre-changes rule didn’t last very long. Funny, that…

  11. At least all the teams are starting from the same point next year – unless an overconfident Ferrari or Mclaren debut a KERS car at the end of this season….
    The teams at the bottom end of the grid ought to be taking advantage of the lack of restrictions on KERS development budget to get equal power to the bigger teams – Honda and Toyota should do it easily and Williams are showing the way ahead for the others. Who have Force India tied up with – Ferrari still?
    The question really is has this change of direction attracted any new teams or manufacturers into the sport?

  12. Alastair said on 21st August 2008, 12:38

    Don’t forget that Ferrari were (and continued to be) the joke of the paddock when Schumacher left Benetton, when he’d won two titles with them. Slowly but surely Ross, Jean, Rory and Schumi built up the team which then went on to dominate and is still at the sharp end, even after those guys left.

    Why shouldn’t it be the same with Honda? If Ross can persuade the Honda board members to give him carte blanche and choose the best people for the job, not bike designers, for example and if Alonso can take the Long view, then Honda might be a very, very good prospect.

  13. Dorian said on 21st August 2008, 12:59

    Hopefully they’ll make a step forward next year even if it is a small one but I fear that they won’t come into contention for at least another 3 years. But having Ross Brawn guiding the way will prove invaluable as the man is a legend and a genius in his own right.

  14. Steven Roy said on 21st August 2008, 14:36

    “Will the 2009 F1 rules allow Honda to catch McLaren, Ferrari & the rest?”

    No

    Honda were rubbish last year, they were rubbish last year and will be rubbish next year. Bear in mind the team recently said it was working in four wind tunnels. How can they be working in foru tunnels and produce nothing.

    Ross Brawn and co went to Ferrari as a team with its own ethos and Todt had total control of Ferrari so could give them carte blanche to get the job done. Ross is on his own at Honda(with Rubens) and has only Nick Fry to act as a buffer between him and Japan.

    Honda lost the plot somewhere 5 or 6 years ago and all their motorsports programs fell apart. They owned Moto GP and didn’t have the sense to realise that Rossi was a little bit special and all they had to do to keep winning was keep him on their bike. They blew it and Rossi took his team to Yamaha and one his first race and championship. Yamaha hadn’t been a threat to anyone sonce the 80s but Honda through mis-management handed over Rossi, Burgess and co.

    Williams seem very confident about their KERS program and it has to be remembered as far as F1 is concerned McLaren invented KERS so you have to expect them to be strong. Albeit with the rider that KERS, push to pass and movable aero has not place in F1 or any other motor racing category.

  15. Dr V has written an interesting article on “Brits on Pole” about McLaren´s development to next year:

    http://www.britsonpole.com/f1-could-mclaren-really-develop-two-separate-cars-post720

    V has based his article in one´s written on McLaren´s fan site:

    http://www.f1network.net/main/s135/st130387.htm

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