Formula One is a sport that is constantly evolving and every Grand Prix season is markedly different from the last. The result is a World Championship with an incredible depth of history, and a sport that will be noticeably more developed today than it was this time last year.
With the new year in sight, it’s a great time to look back on 2009 and reflect on the changes that shaped Grand Prix racing over the past twelve months.
Brawn GP, Jenson Button, and Rubens Barrichello
Twelve months ago the Brawn GP team didn’t exist and now they’re World Champions. Honda pulled out of Formula One on December 5th 2008 and said they wanted to sell the team by Christmas. When that deadline passed the team’s survival appeared to be in serious trouble and they did not look like making the grid in Melbourne. Few people could have imagined back then that Ross Brawn would come to the team’s rescue and lead them to World Championship victory.
Along the way Brawn saved the careers and reputations of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello.
Jenson was regarded as a disappointment in 2008. He scored just three points during the season and missed out on opportunities in the wet races at Monaco and Silverstone. One website even named him their reject of the year. He bounced back in style at the start of 2009 with six wins from the first seven races en-route to the world title. Jenson said that he changed his attitude towards racing this year and took a step up in performance, proving that he was one of the best drivers in Formula One.
Rubens Barrichello had something of a renascence in 2009. During the winter break last year it looked certain that Rubens would be replaced at Honda by Lucas Di Grassi or Bruno Senna. He was 36 years old and could not bring the sponsorship dollars of the GP2 hopefuls. However, not only was Barrichello was given the Brawn seat alongside Button, he won two races and was in contention for the championship. His services were in demand this off season and he has signed a new deal with Williams, during which he will compete in his 300th Grand Prix.
Winners and Losers
In 2008 Ferrari, McLaren and BMW embarked on a long heated title fight. All three teams entered the new year with confidence, and all three disappointed. Leading up to the Bahrain Grand Prix Ferrari was running last on the constructors table, BMW was eighth, and McLaren was unable to finish inside the top ten without attrition.
On the other hand, the teams that struggled in 2008 came to the fore this year. Red Bull and Brawn ended up fighting for the World Championship. Their closest challengers early on were Toyota and Williams, another two teams that struggled twelve months ago. Even Force India looked like winning a race in 2009 which shows just how much the grid seemed to have reversed.
Donnington Park and Silverstone
Donnington was confirmed as host of the British Grand Prix partway through 2008, and twelve months ago circuit boss, Simon Gillet, told the world’s press that everything was on track. He was wrong. The financial collapse led to a situation that could not be salvaged and Silverstone has now been taken off the F1 scrapheap and British Grand Prix tickets went on sale before the end of 2009.
Pat Symonds & Flavio Briatore
Pat Symonds started the year as one of the most respected technical geniuses in the F1 paddock. He ended the year in disgrace. Briatore, although less respected, has equally fallen from his pedestal. Both were handed bans for taking part in the Singapore crash scandal and will never be seen in Formula One again.
Bridgestone, Toyota and BMW
When Honda withdrew from Formula One at the end of 2008 a number of the sport’s insiders suggested Toyota was soon to follow since the two Japanese companies have followed each other through F1. Toyota made sure to reaffirm its commitment to the sport at the time, saying “Formula 1 is one of the biggest sports in the world and it is a very good tool for Toyota to spread its message to fans in many different countries”.
Toyota announced at the start of November 2009 that it is leaving Formula One after eight unsuccessful and very expensive years.
BMW’s shock exit this year was more of a surprise. The Bavarian Motor Works scarified their performance in 2008 to focus on this year’s title so did not seem ready to leave the sport behind. However, the cost of racing in F1 and the team’s failure to win this year, along with strategic environmental objectives, have meant that BMW is no longer interested in F1.
Most surprising of all is that Bridgestone are leaving the sport. The Japanese tyre company has supplied rubber to the F1 circus since 1997 but 2010 will be their last year.
Campos, Manor and Lotus
The three newest F1 teams did not exist twelve months ago. When an opportunity opened up to introduce two new teams alongside USF1, it was expected that Prodrive and Lola would secure the slots. Instead, the franchises went to Manor and Campos. Lotus joined them later in the year when BMW withdrew.
Both Manor and Campos were Formula Three teams at the start of 2009, whilst Lotus was not even an idea. Proton owns the Lotus car company and is now working with the Litespeed F3 team to enter F1. Litespeed had previously tried entering the sport earlier in the year when the budget cap was being proposed.
Kinetic Energy Recovery represented the future of Formula One at the start of 2009 and was the sport’s first step towards hybrid technology.
As the year went only Ferrari and McLaren found a way to make the technology viable and all of the FOTA teams have agreed to abandon it for 2010.
Jaime Alguersuari and Kamui Kobayashi
Jaime Alguersuari won the 2008 British Formula Three Championship but had no firm links to a Formula One seat. He was moving through the Red Bull system and would have hoped for a successful World Series by Renault campaign before moving into GP2.
Algeursuari has now competed in eight Grands Prix and although he has been a little crash prone, he fared better than a number of other rookies in 2009.
Kamui Kobayashi started as Toyota’s F1 test driver in 2007 and his nationality was the primary reason for his signing. His GP2 results were average at best and there were no teams that considered him a genuine F1 chance.
Now, Kobayashi is one of the hottest new talents in Formula One and seeing that Toyota have left the sport, Kamui has now signed with Peter Sauber’s team which has taken control of BMW.
Luca Badoer and Nelson Piquet
For some drivers, 2009 has been particularly harsh.
Luca Badoer has completed more testing miles than any other driver in Formula One history. His experience and technical knowledge is unrivalled, and some felt that he missed the opportunity to show his during his time in Formula One with Minardi.
Badoer’s run in a Ferrari this year was an absolute disaster and has ruined his reputation forever. As if rubbing salt into his wounds, Luca has now been replaced as Ferrari’s third driver by Giancarlo Fisichella.
Another driver to suffer was Nelson Piquet. Twelve months ago he was considered by some to be a spoiled child who didn’t deserve a second chance in Formula One. Now, Piquet is held in even lower esteem for suggesting and carrying out the crash that led to the Singapore race fixing scandal. The fact that he escaped punishment is viewed by many as a disgrace.
Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, and Michael Schumacher
At the start of 2009 Fernando Alonso was loosely tied to Ferrari through various rumours and the news that Santander were joining the Scuderia as main sponsor. Now, those rumours have turned into a contract.
Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen started the year in a Ferrari, and finished it in a Citroen.
Michael Schumacher was another driver to ride on the Ferrari merry-go-round in 2009. Twelve months ago he was a consultant to the team with no links to anyone else and no desire to race in F1. He looked set to continue his new adventure in the German Superbike championship.
Heading into 2010, Schumacher has now signed for the new Mercedes Grand Prix team. Twelve months ago it was inconceivable that Schumacher would return to F1, let alone with Ferrari’s archrival, but he clearly has unfinished business on the track.
This year McLaren unveiled the MP4-12C, a road car that effectively ended their F1 partnership with Mercedes. The German manufacturer did not want to be part of a company that was creating rival production cars so sold its shares in McLaren and bought Brawn GP.
At the start of 2009, whilst Ross Brawn was hurriedly trying to save Honda, he arranged a last minute deal to use Mercedes engines. Now, Brawn is known as Mercedes Grand Prix and the manufacturer has a controlling 75% stake.
Max Mosley and the FIA
The FIA elected a new president despite Max Mosley’s original suggestion that he would stand for re-election in 2009. Jean Todt is the new man in charge, and his appointment has brought about a change in the structure of the FIA, including revisions to the controversial F1 stewarding process.
Here’s to more changes ahead over the next twelve months