F1 2009: 10 questions for the off-season

Honda: front runners in 2009 thanks to KERS?

Honda: front runners in 2009 thanks to KERS?

As the 2008 F1 season ends on a high we now look forward to what should be one of the most fascinating off-seasons for many years.

With radical changes to the technical rules, fraught political tension between the rule-makers and the teams, and two holes suddenly appearing in the calendar, these are the questions that will be answered in the run-up to 2009.

Will the teams who started early on KERS have an advantage?

Honda, Williams and BMW are among the teams that claim to have switched their focus to 2009 early in order to perfect the new Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems in the hope of gaining a major competitive advantage.

Honda have staked the most on their 2009 performance and their 2008 campaign has suffered hugely as a result. Ross Brawn will have been in charge of the team for over a year when the 2009 season starts. A huge step forward in performance is demanded.

How many teams will start 2009 with a working KERS?

The other talking point about KERS is whether it will bring enough of a performance advantage and be reliable enough for all the teams to consider it worth using.

Toyota, who earlier described the hybrid systems planned for 2009 as “primitive”, have already said they will not be using their KERS at the start of 2009. John Howett said:

We will run a car in January with KERS in a monocoque not designed for it, which we could not race, but it will be a test platform – and our gut feeling is that the earliest (it will race) will be mid season.

Ferrari, who have twice said they are having problems with their KERS, may also choose not to.

Will the cars look ridiculous?

We have already seen how narrows the rear wings of next years cars will become under the 2009 F1 rules. The front wings will become much wider, and the winglets and flip-ups along the flanks of the cars will disappear.

The early renderings we’ve seen of the 2009 F1 cars look decidedly odd. Will the new look grow on us or will 2009 be the dawn of the ugly car era?

Will the cars be able to follow each other more closely?

The reason F1 cars are potentially being uglified is to create something most of us would like to see: F1 cars being able to follow each other more closely in dry conditions and maybe – whisper it – being able to pass each other once in a while.

Once the teams start testing their 2009 cars we’ll keep a close eye on what driver have to say about how close they can follow each other. Another talking point here is whether these much-vaunted movable front wings are going to make a difference – and how easily we’ll be able to tell if drivers are using them.

Will we see any new liveries?

Toyota: F1\'s dullest paint scheme?

Toyota: F1's dullest paint scheme?

With just about everything else set to change the liveries on the cars might be one of few things that stay the same. Personally I hope a couple of teams take the opportunity to give their looks a refresh.

Toyota’s F1 car design has never been particularly exciting, and Renault’s is downright horrible. Honda will surely be sticking with their ‘Earthdreams’ concept for another year (it would be rather strange of them to ditch it having made such a hue push on developing KERS) but will the change the excecution?

With KERS arriving, will any of the teams go for an ‘electric’ design similar to Peugeot’s 908 HY sportscar prototype? Or might that be too much of a risk after BMW’s unfortunate incident in testing?

Will the recession cause any major sponsors to pull out?

The effects of the huge financial trauma experienced in September and October have yet to really make themselves felt in F1. But that doesn’t mean they won’t come – as Ron Dennis said earlier this year, there is usually a delay between the beginning of economic problems and their effects being felt in F1.

Perhaps the most vulnerable team is Williams. It doesn’t have the support of a major car manufacturer – it is believed to get its Toyota engines in exchange for running Kazuki Nakajima. Major sponsor RBS has received support from the UK government and its sponsorship of F1 and other sports such as rugby may now come into question. And Baugur Group, which backs Williams sponsors All Saints, mydiamonds.com and Hamley’s, may suffer from the problems in the Icelandic economy.

Will the Canadian Grand Prix be reinstated?

Will F1 race at Canada in 2009?

Will F1 race at Canada in 2009?

The shock loss of the Canadian Grand Prix from the 2009 F1 calendar was followed by the equally surprising disappearance of the French round. That leaves us with 17 rounds in 2009 instead of 19, and several gaping holes in the calendar.

Bernie Ecclestone has held discussions over bringing Montreal back onto the calendar and an announcement was expected on Friday. Nothing has been heard yet. However there has been no sign the French Grand Prix might return.

Which drivers will fill the remaining open spots?

Renault, Toro Rosso and Honda are yet to confirm their 2009 F1 driver line-ups. Fernando Alonso is expected to announce today that he will stay at Renault (but he’s surprised us before), and Jenson Button is expected to remain at Honda.

Honda has confirmed it will test Bruno Senna, but it may decide to hold onto Rubens Barrichello who’s had a decent season. Senna along with Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastien Buemi and Takuma Sato are believed to be under consideration for the Toro Rosso drive. If Nelson Piquet Jnr doesn’t hold onto his Renault seat Lucas di Grassi or Romain Grosjean may take it off him.

Will we see any major shifts in the balance of power between team mates?

McLaren, Ferrari, BMW, Toyota, Williams, Force India – all teams sticking with the same driver line-up for 2009. This year we saw Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica turn the tables on team mates who had beaten them the previous year.

Could we see something similar again as the drivers get to grips with the radically differnet 2009 cars?

What’s Max Mosley’s next move – and is he really preparing to step down?

Will Max Mosley still be FIA president in 12 months\' time?

Will Max Mosley still be FIA president in 12 months' time?

The political situation in F1 has become increasingly tense in recent months as the teams’ association (FOTA) and FIA president Max Mosley have tried to agree on future rules aimed at cutting costs in face of the worsening economic climate.

Despite the two agreeing terms last month, Mosley has continued to push for the adoption of standardised engines. The constructors have made it clear that they wish to retain the ability to build their own engines – and Ferrari and Toyota have threatened to quit F1 if standard engines are introduced.

In addition to that Mosley had stated repeatedly that he will step down from his post of president in 2009. But since surviving the sadomasochist sex scandal earlier this year an emboldened Mosley seems less keen on stepping down. Will he be forced to? And who could emerge as his successor?

F1 Fanatic will be keeping a close eye on these – and more – during the 2008-2009 off-season. What else is on your mind about 2009 – and how do you think these questions will be answered?

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38 comments on F1 2009: 10 questions for the off-season

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  1. don’t know how you can criticize renault and toyota’s paint scheme – at least there’s a design there.

    ferrari – it’s just red with logos
    williams – it’s a two tone car
    bmw – it’s white with a blue wing and pinstripes.

    i know from a documentary that renault put great effort and detail into designing their car’s.

  2. Spawinte said on 5th November 2008, 9:30

    Hey some of us like the Renault livery :(

  3. John Spencer said on 5th November 2008, 9:54

    1 – We’re told KERS won’t have much effect in 2009 – otherwise surely Ferrari and Toyota would definitely be running it. And as its power ramps up over the coming years, those teams that didn’t spend most of 2008 on KERS R&D will surely catch up.

    2 – I have no idea, but the answer to this will tell you a lot about the answer to (1)

    3 – No, cars won’t look ridiculous. I just checked out some of the season review videos you posted, and the late 80s cars had small rear wings, which looked cool 20 years ago, so no reason they can’t today. We’ll get used to it really quickly.

    4 – I really hope cars will be able to pass more easily, but isn’t this a radical rule change that should have been tested before being imposed?

    5 – Liveries are sponsor dependent, so the answer to this depends on the answer about sponsors pulling out.

    6 – It would be a real shame for Williams to lose sponsors, and the banks have been trying to give the impression of business as usual, so maybe RBS will stay for a year or so.

    7 – I’m not hopeful for Canada. As I understand it, they owe Bernie money they don’t have so without any (very unlikely) government intervention, no Canada.

    8 – Not a clue about drivers. Dunno. It’s nice to see fresh meat brought into the line up, if only to see spectacular rookie errors.

    9 – Kimi will be more competitive with Massa, but they might end up pretty even on points. If the Honda is any quicker, Jenson might try a bit harder and out point Rubens (supposing Rubens is still around). Heikki will be better but still be some way off Lewis. Heidfeld will only match Kubica if he shaves off that ridiculous beard.

    10 – Max wants to stay on at the top of the FIA simply as a two finger salute to those enemies he perceives as having tried and failed to oust him. His proposed changes in rules are more about showing that he can impose his will on the sport rather than do any good for it.

  4. I saw The Factory on Eurosport HD last night at 10pm and Williams F1 seemed very confident of their KERS system, rear and front wings for 2009 season. Was a very good insight into CFC (carbon fibre composite production). Very highly recommended tv program….

  5. Alex Cooper said on 5th November 2008, 10:17

    Point 11: Will the sport get a deserving stewardship system next year?

  6. John Spencer said on 5th November 2008, 10:31

    @Alex Cooper – Point 11: The stewards are simply misunderstood. What I didn’t realise was that along with different stewards at every race, there are completely different rules as well. As we know, all the interesting rules are unwritten, so obviously we can’t know how they vary from race to race. We might stare in blank incomprehension when incidents that warrant a stop-go at one venue (Spa, Fuji) seem to be positively encouraged at another (Interlagos). But this is just the stewards following Alan Donnelly’s cheerful advice to make it up as they go along.

  7. Keith do you know yet when the first test is scheduled for and where ?

  8. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th November 2008, 10:36

    Jean – Not yet but when I do I’ll post updates here:

    F1 Fanatic Google Calendar

    You can subscribe to that calendar in a variety of services.

    Alex, John – There have been rumours about changes to the stewarding for next year. I think it’s definitely needed and hopefully they’ll get something sorted. The current system has brought the sport into disrepute.

  9. ceedas said on 5th November 2008, 10:43

    Given that Toyota aren’t running it to start next year, and that all other teams with the exception of BMW want to postpone it for a year, I’d not be surprsed to see other teams ether follow Toyota, or for all the teams to agree on a delay. Having said that, there is a performance benefit to having it on the car, so if a team like BMW think it’s reliable enough, then they won’t want to give up that advantage.

    The cars will look terrible to start with, but by the second or third race we’ll all be used to them.

    I don’t want to be overly pessimistic, but I know at least two teams have already got back 85% plus on the aero level from this year with next years car in the wind tunnels, so the effective standardisation of most of the aero looks like it won’t be enough to change the face of F1, although it will be a step in the right direction.

    @Jean: I think most teams will be testing in a fortnight, although this is still likely to be mostly 08 cars with simultated 09 downforce and slicks.

  10. - it is believed to get its Toyota engines in exchange for running Kazuki Nakajima

    I doubt he’s worth a engine, only kidding, anyway you forgot to mention that Toyota never managed to tame the witchcraft in seamless shift gearbox. The one they use is designed by Williams.

    I would have thought that would be a good bargaining chip.

  11. seamless gearchange shouldve been sorted by now surely? Daf cars perfected it 30 years ago!

    Do we know how the teams have got 85% of the aero back? Undertrays? That stoopid shark fin? – though thats surely for lateral stability rather than downforce.

    At a guess id say those who run with kers will have the same pro’s and cons as those who ran turbo’s early on in that era – fast but unreliable. Surely though, common sense dictates that anything that can boost the power output will be an advantage, however small it initally is?

  12. 1. Will the teams who started early on KERS have an advantage?
    They’d better. Otherwise it’s not really adding to the cost cutting idea.

    2. How many teams will start 2009 with a working KERS?
    I’d say 5: Ferrari, McLaren, BMW Sauber, Honda and Williams.

    3. Will the cars look ridiculous?
    At first, yes, but they’ll probably grow on us quickly, as they’ve always done.

    4. Will the cars be able to follow each other more closely?
    Well, if they don’t, we’re scr*wed, aren’t we?

    5. Will we see any new liveries?
    I’d like to see Toyota come up with something different. They’ve had the same livery since 2002, bar some minor changes here and there. However, from Toyota’s perspective, this is probably a good thing, since any Toyota F1 car is unmistakeably, a Toyota.

    Honda could add some sponsor names to their Earth think, I reckon. At least Petrobras.

    And Toro Rosso could attract some sponsors, too, to liven up their rather agressive colours.

    6. Will the recession cause any major sponsors to pull out?
    First thought is that it will. On the other hand, losses due to the alleged recession — prospects for the EU nations isn’t all that bad, actually — are so vast, that the couple of millions of dollars/euros aren’t that important.

    7. Will the Canadian Grand Prix be reinstated?
    I think it will. Maybe the car manufacturers, who say they need a North-American race, will even pay up.

    8. Which drivers will fill the remaining open spots?
    Renault will keep Alonso and either Piquet or Di Grassi will take the 2nd car. Toro Rosso might keep Bourdais, but my guess is that they will take Sato along with Buemi. Honda could have Piquet to replace Barrichello, or have Senna take the step.

    9. Will we see any major shifts in the balance of power between team mates?
    No, probably not.

    10. What’s Max Mosley’s next move – and is he really preparing to step down?
    I’m having quite nasty images in my mind’s eye regarding ‘Mosley’s next move’… yuk!

  13. Surely for KERS to be effective, you would still need to have a great base car otherwise it’s a moot point? Not entirely convinced a great KERS system will make up other performance deficits, however it still remains to be seen.

    I think the cars will look ridiculous. The Williams wing would look good on perhaps a micromachine. Then again, I was never bothered about the winglets and aero devices from an aesthetic point of view. I kinda like them to be honest, they look more like war machines. Not elegant, but definately spicy. However, a car is only beautiful if it wins.

    New liveries…as said before, sponsors really dictate how the cars look…except Ferrari of course (for most of the car anyway). And I will still stick up for Renault’s ING livery. Would like to see a modern all black car, like Senna’s JP Special :)

    edit: I just looked at that 2008 poll for best looking car, only 2 people (not %) voted for Toyota….ouch! They really have to do something about that….anything. But you only need to watch Panasonic ads to realise how creative they are when it comes to self-promotion. Not very.

  14. #12 he usually shaves before he moves … sorry , just could not resist.
    & Thanks Keith for info. on tests.

  15. Keith – you seem to think that the cars will look ugly next year. They will just look different. To me, they’ll be far easier on the eye without all the extraneous (and often hideous) aerodynamics add ons – no more ridiculous protrusions cropping up all over the car.

    As for paint jobs, I think Renault and Toyota are better looking than Williams, Honda or BMW.

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