F1 2009: 10 questions for the off-season

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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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