F1 Fanatic’s 2009 season review kicks off with a look at how the ten F1 teams fared in 2009.
Plenty has already been written about the incredible and unlikely story of Brawn.
Against expectations the BGP 001 looked quick when they first tested it alongside rival cars at Barcelona, and at Melbourne the team proved their pace was genuine. They could scarcely do any wrong in the opening half of the season, winning six of the first seven races.
Much of the credit for this was given to the fact that they started the year with a double diffuser. But the other two teams that had the device from race one –Toyota and Williams – didn’t do nearly as well over the course of the entire season.
The car had other strengths – notabliy it’s reliability, which served it well when Red Bull came on strong in the second half of the season.
The second half of the season was more of a struggle. The team took the decision to shift their focus onto developing the 2010 car in a desire not to fall behind next year. This meant other teams were able to reduce their advantage, but the underlying performance of the BGP 001 was enough that points were always on offer and usually podiums too. In the end, they wrapped up both titles with a race to spare.
Read more: Did Honda throw a championship away?
Red Bull’s RB5 looked fast from the moment it first broke cover in winter testing. Several distinctive design elements courtesy of Adrian Newey – such as its pull-rod rear suspension – marked it out as a more radical design than some of its rivals.
Unfortunately the team hadn’t exploited the gap in the regulations allowing for a double diffuser. Creating a solution that married their suspension to the double diffuser concept proved very difficult. Once they cracked it the team had the fastest car on the grid and ended the season with three consecutive wins.
Before that their higher than average tyre wear gave them some problems, notably for Sebastian Vettel at Monte-Carlo. Reliability was another weakness, with Vettel losing two engines in one weekend at Valencia. Despite that, 2009 was Red Bull’s best season to date by a long chalk.
It was clear early on in testing that McLaren had some fundamental problems with their MP4-24 – not least because they persisted in running it with their 2008-specification rear wing for so long.
But the team made matters worse at Melbourne by first mis-judging the rules and then trying to lie to cover it up – with punitive consequences for themselves and Lewis Hamilton.
It took until the German Grand Prix for the team to fix the car and once they did they were instantly challenging for victories once again – at least, until Hamilton punctured a tyre in his first-corner collision with Mark Webber.
Nonetheless the team scored two wins at Hungary and Singapore – something which looked utterly unlikely at the beginning of the season. Their third place in the constructors’ championship was slightly flattered by Ferrari missing one of their star drivers for half the season, but this was still an excellent recovery performance by the team.
For only the second time this decade, Ferrari ended a year without a world championship. As in 2005 they won just one race, but at least this one was a proper event – Kimi Raikkonen triumphing at Spa once again.
They suffered their worst start to a championship campaign by various measures, including failing to score in the first three races, which they hadn’t done since 1991. They struggled with KERS early in the season and briefly took it off the car. And they didn’t have a double diffuser until later in the season either.
But the tricky handling characteristics of the F60 were probably its greatest weakness. Unfortunately just as Felipe Massa was coming to terms with them he had his season-ending crash. Before that he had four consecutive top-six finishes.
The team’s inability to find a suitable replacement reflected not only on how hard the car was to drive – particularly under braking, thanks to KERS – but also ongoing doubts over the quality and decisiveness of the team’s management in its post-Schumacher guise.
Having halted development on the F60 early to start work on the 2010 car, and with Fernando Alonso making his long-awaited switch this winter, there’ll be no excuses if Ferrari aren’t winning regularly again next year.
Toyota’s second-best result in F1 wasn’t enough to spare the team from the axe. Jarno Trulli said he didn’t think the team missed out on any opportunities to win races, but their early season form suggests otherwise.
As their rivals caught up Toyota’s performances fluctuated wildly. Trulli and Timo Glock were 18th and 20th on the grid at Monte-Carlo, then had a double points score in the very next round.
They seemed to have uncovered a promising Japanese talent in Kamui Kobayashi at the end of the year after Glock was injured at Suzuka, but whether he will even be on the grid next year is now in doubt.
Another team that’s giving up on F1. Like McLaren, BMW recovered from a disappointing start to the season. A major upgrade introduced at Singapore boosted both their performance and hopes the team might find a buyer for 2010.
Despite being one of the first teams to test a 2009-style aerodynamics package, BMW lost the momentum of three years’ worth of incremental improvement at the beginning of this year. And the board weren’t in the mood to give them a reprieve.
Their mechanical KERS never made an appearance, even at power tracks like Monza which showed up the deficiencies of their Toyota engines. The team seemed to lose momentum late in the season, scoring only five points from the last six rounds, allowing BMW to overtake them in the constructors’ championship.
In the light of what we now know about Nelson Piquet Jnr’s involved in the Singapore conspiracy last year, you have to ask why Flavio Briatore decided to embarrass him by dropping him halfway through the championship?
It remains to be seen if Piquet’s shocking disclosures have destroyed the modern Renault team, as the company is to decide before Christmas whether it will stay in F1. This despite the sports’ governing body declining to punish them after the two known guilty parties – Briatore at Pat Symonds – were expelled.
Their performance on the track was scarcely any better. They began the season with KERS which provided some entertainment as Fernando Alonso used it to pass cars the R29 simply wasn’t capable of staying in front of. But they soon discarded the technology. Fittingly it was at Singapore that Alonso scored the team’s only podium.
One of the most remarkable stories of the year was Force India’s transformation from backmarkers into podium-finishers – and very nearly race-winners.
They showed some potential early in the season, but Adrian Sutil squandered chances to score the team’s first points Shanghai and the Nurburgring after crashing.
But a revised aerodynamics package introduced at Valencia transformed the VJM02 and at the next round – Spa – Giancarlo Fisichella shocked the paddock by putting the car on pole position. He might have won the race too, if the stewards hadn’t turned a blind eye to Raikkonen gaining places by going off the track on lap one. But second place was a remarkable achievement nonetheless.
Had Fisichella not left the team to join Raikkonen at Ferrari, Force India might have gotten more out of the final races. Sutil managed just one more points finish, and at the final round the team saw both their cars eliminated in Q1 once again.
The RB5-apeing STR4 was usually at least one development step behind its sister model. And unlike last year having a Ferrari engine seemed less of an advantage.
But by the end of the year the car was looking more competitive, at least in the hands of Sebastien Buemi, who scored in both of the last two races.
Which teams impressed you in 2009? Who was the biggest disappointment this year? Have your say in the comments.
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