This raises the prospect of Fernando Alonso being able once again to challenge for wins all season long – and have a shot at taking the championship off Lewis Hamilton.
Will slicks returning and radically changed cars geared at improving the quality of racing, there’s much to look forward to about 2009 already. But Alonso and Hamilton resuming their no-love-lost battle of 2007 would add a fascinating human element to the drama.
It’s far too early to read anything into testing times. But Renault ended 2008 with two wins and a second place from the last four races. Now the World Motor Sports Council has allowed them to make several changes to their engines in order to reduce the ground they lost to their rivals during the engine development freeze. That surely puts them on a very strong footing for 2009.
As good as this year’s title race was, Hamilton and Felipe Massa didn’t have the kind of personal animosity to rival Hamilton-Alonso, never mind Senna-Prost.
Alonso’s grudge seems to be aimed more at McLaren than Hamilton, as he made clear in the run-up to the championship finale. Alonso felt McLaren didn’t treat him properly in 2007. By the end of the year relations between Alonso and McLaren had deteriorated so much that Alonso refused to disembark from his private plane in order to conduct his contract termination negotiations.
Hamilton may tend to play down any tensions with Alonso but he’s not above turning the psychological screw on his rival – as their encounter at the Hungaroring last year demonstrated.
Of course Ferrari won’t be sleeping over the winter. And last time Hamilton and Alonso locked horns it worked out very nicely for the Scuderia. We could see a similar scenario again – or perhaps even the one of BMW’s ultra-consistent pairing – in 2009.
Who are your early tips to be the championship contenders of 2009? Will Alonso and Renault be back at the sharp end?