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

  1. Adrian said on 5th November 2008, 12:47

    I’d love to see Renault run a livery akin to the one-off they had on display at Silverstone last year (all white and yellow)…

    I think another point that’s only been touched on is how quickly will the driver’s adapt to the new slick tyres…think back to early 2007 and several drivers struggled with the switch from Michelin to Bridgestone so I would expect a similar situation early 09…

  2. Alex Cooper said on 5th November 2008, 13:25

    In defence of Toyota’s livery, it’s apparently a good set of colours for TV (though I was always led to understand that white on TV was bad).

    I suppose if they had a brilliant paint-job people would claim they were wasting their money (now that Ralf’s gone anyway) on it instead of investing in the car.

    Keith – how did your Sky gig go last night?

  3. Mussolini's pet cat said on 5th November 2008, 13:47

    You think 2009 cars will look uglier than their 2008 counterparts??? I can’t see how. All those blessed appendeges dangling off this seasons cars made them look a right royal mess. It amazed me how the drivers got in & out of the cars without breaking them off.

  4. Mussolini's pet cat said on 5th November 2008, 13:51

    Here’s a question, barbers for this old driver or not??

  5. Alex Cooper said on 5th November 2008, 13:55

    Is Irvine still to be arrested if he puts a foot onto UK soil?

  6. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th November 2008, 13:58

    Adrian – Me too! here it is: More pictures of the stunning retro Renault

    Alex – I got good reviews – here it is: Me on Sky News tonight

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th November 2008, 14:18

    Some questions will be answered sooner than others: 2009 F1 calendar shortened

  8. The one thing I don’t like is the transition between the red and white on toyota, looks so lame.

  9. 1. Possibly but then again the advantage is supposed to only run be in the area of a tenth or two per lap (adjusted for additional weight) but what that’s not taking into account the disadvantages of running it, such as compromising on balance and the problems with reliability. With the teams suggesting standard KERS as an alternative to Mosley’s standard engines it would seem no team feels confident they have a system that will put them over the edge.

    2. See above, but if I had to guess I would say Toyota, Honda, BMW and Williams.

    3. Yes they look horrible. I simply don’t understand why the rear wings need to look like that. A1, Champcar and GP2 are all supposed to be less sensitive to turbulence and none of them have an aero package that looks like my 4yo nephew penned it.

    4. Maybe, but I think the advantages will be negligible. For starters, Formula One doesn’t need more overtaking, we have enough now and it’s brilliant. Look back at the races deemed processional and boring this season and you will be hard pressed to point out how one or two text book overtaking maneuvers in the first laps of the grand prix would have helped the overall race. The cars who are faster are still going to qualify ahead of cars who are slower, but now when we do get a mixed grid instead of the tension we get from a multi lap battles we will instead get some reshuffling at the start and then 60 laps of processional driving. What I’m getting at is, I don’t think the boring races are going to be any less boring, but the exciting ones will now be less so.

    5. I like Renault’s ING livery. I think the cars could look a little barer next year. Certainly some sponsors will be frustrated with the reduced rear wing real estate.

    6. Moving on.

    7. I hope so. Bernie will get his wish, that is to drop F1’s mid-summer break. Turkey will be slotted in after or before Hungary and Canada will get back it’s original position.

    8. Barrichello, Bourdais, Buemi and Di Riesta?

    9. I imagine Raikkonen will regain the ascendancy. Wouldn’t be surprised if Heidfeld becomes top dog at BMW again.

    10. When it comes to Max who knows. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stands for re-election.

  10. Answers:
    Q1) No as the top teams have the advantage of more money, more man power and getting it done faster.

    Q2) I expect all teams that finished 5th or lower to sport KERS next year, BMW probably will be and perhaps Renault so at least 8 teams. I only expect Mclaren and Ferrari to use KERS if they have mastered it.

    Q3) I don’t think the cars can look any more ridiculous than this year’s honda! That was one ugly car, even the commentators didn’t like it!

    Q4) On paper the cars should br able to follow each other closer but I guess we will have to wait till March to see if they do. I hope they can but how much difference it will make remains to be seen.

    Q5) I hope some teams change their livery’s for sure. The one’s I want to see changed are Toyota, Force India, Williams, Mclaren and Honda. I love Ferrari’s, I like Renaults too and the Red Bull and Toro Rosso is good.

    Q6) I don’t expect any major sponsors to pull out because by being a ‘major’ sponsor they must have some ‘major’ amount of money, recession or not.

    Q7) I don’t think Canada will be reinstated this year, but next year for sure.

    Q8) I think Bruno Senna and Lucas Di Grassi will make a Formula 1 appearence in 2009 and I think Barrichello is staying at Honda, probably button as well.

    Q9) I think Mclaren will go backwards and Renault and BMW forwards in terms of grid positions, other than that I think it will be pretty much the same, perhaps Red Bull progressing as well.

    Q10) Mad Max better go for sure!!!

  11. @antonyob:

    That stoopid shark fin? – though thats surely for lateral stability rather than downforce.

    Both issues are linked, in my understanding: the shark fin works by making the airflow hit the rear wing more perpendicularly; surely this results in increased downforce as well?

  12. Steven Roy said on 6th November 2008, 2:51


    Daf did not have a seamless shift they had constantly variable transmission which is an entirely different thing. When DC was the Williams test driver he spent days blasting round Silverstone testing a CVT system. When it was just about ready to race it was banned by the FIA.

    I think all the Honda 2009 stuff is fantasy. I don’t think they will be any better than they have been this season.

    McLaren had a KERs system running ten years ago. Like the Williams CVT system it was banned just as it was about race ready. The reasons for the ban given by Max at the time are unsurpringly 180 degrees from the views he has espoused since he decided KERS was a good idea.

    All that was needed for next year was to introduce slicks and reduce the size of the wings. That would have guaranteed better racing. Instead we have the KERS nonsense and the insane driver variable aero. There is no need or justification for either of those things being introduced.

    I think there could be a change in which drivers are dominant in some teams next season. For reasons I cannot figure out this years cars/tyres favour a more aggressive driving style. Hence Lewis made Heikki look second rate. Alonso made Piquet look hopeless for most of the season. Kubica owned Heideld and DC in his final season looked much worse than he really was against Webber. At Ferrari Raikkonen had two problems. First Massa is more agressive than Kimi and suffered because of that and this year’s Ferrari understeered like a pig until its tyres were up to temperature so Kimi looked bad in qualifying. The third problem with the Ferrari is that compared to the McLaren it took a while to get heat into its tyres so it took many laps before Kimi got a car to his liking and the fastest laps he produced showed that he can still deliver once he gets a car to his taste.

    I am sure Lewis and Fernando will still have the upper hand over their team mates next season but maybe not by as much. If Ferrari can make a more neutral car or one that can get heat into the tyres faster I would not be surprised to see Massa struggle against Raikkonen. It will be interesting to see which drivers have the upper hand at Toyota, Red Bull and BMW.

  13. I feel the cars will looks ugly first, and it’ll take a while for us to get used to the looks. The cars may follow each other more closely, but still I guess only the top 4 will fight for the wins; also in my opinion this is really the bad strategy to make the race interesting, Max is restricting the teams’ technical potential.

    I’m afraid to say, If Max stays for some more time then there will be a day when we say F1 is no more technical. Teams may build cars as instructed by FIA (Max), Constant power output (standardized engines), no aerodynamics, predefined body works and who knows, the order in the grid too!!! God, save the sport from Max!!!

  14. Steven Roy said on 6th November 2008, 11:15

    The one change for next year that has had least coverage is the inclusion of full width front wings. It is beyond belief that these have been introduced to improve racing and the logic used demonstrates the limited intellect of the FIA. I am sure wind tunnel figures prove that a full width front wing is affected less by turbulence than a narrower wing and in the clinical environment of a wind tunnel or in the digital world of CFD this will make perfect sense. However in the real world of F1 with 20 cars heading into the first corner of a race these wings are going to be exposed and fragile.

    We have had these wings before and the get broken with minimal contact. Every time a car touches the car in front it will have to disappear into the pits for a nose job. Of course in the warped world of the FIA this counts as a place change and will no doubt be included in any stats they produce to prove their changes worked. In the world of the race fan though we are going to have races ruined and races and maybe even championships decided by brolen noses.

    I want to see drivers able to attack the track and the car in front what chance is there of that happening when the driver has to cope with a change of aero set up mid corner coupled with the use of a push to pass button which will increase his engine power by 10% and at the same time he has to protect his exposed and delicate nose.

    Some times you have to wonder if the stewards are the only people in the FIA who know nothing about motor racing. I could understand someone suggesting that front wings extend in front of the front wheels if it had never been done before. However it has been done before and a lont of noses got broken.

  15. I have a question,

    for the teams that will not run KERS early on in the season, wil they incure a weight penalty to compensate? because obviously the cars using KERS will definetly have a handicap, where weight would be priority, not to mention if it is unreliable it could put cars out of the running altogether, is it worth the risk while competing teams will have an advantage in that sense also?

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