The opening practice session for the first race of the 2009 Formula 1 season is just three days away and I am very excited. There are new aerodynamic and technical rules that will hopefully make this season the most unpredictable ever. Having said that, I am going to do a season preview and try to make some pretty vague predictions.
Lewis Hamilton deservedly won the World Driver’s Championship last year, despite what Ferrari fans tell you, but after looking at their testing form in the pre-season, they have a lot of work to do for Lewis to even be a contender. The new McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 has been one of the slowest cars and has struggled to find rear grip. They have so far been outshone by the other two Mercedes powered teams, Force India and Brawn GP. While I am sure that McLaren will have improved greatly by the time the car hits the Albert Park track, I am not sure that they will have improved enough to challenge for victory.
I expect that by mid-season the McLaren will be amongst the front running teams and Lewis Hamilton will be challenging for wins. He was criticized a lot last year for his unnecessarily aggressive driving and some rookie type mistakes. He should be a more mature driver this year but the team probably will have lost too much ground at the start of 2009 for him to be considering back to back World Driver’s titles.
Heikki Kovalainen was a huge disappointment in 2008. Whilst he did score his maiden victory in Hungary, he was much slower than his team mate. His most disappointing race for me was the Italian Grand Prix where he took second place, but did not even look like challenging the victor Sebastian Vettel in the Toro Rosso.
I predict that Ferrari will take the World Driver’s Championship/Constructors Championship double in 2009. In testing they have consistently been in the top three all pre-season, while they have the resources to keep the team up front for the entire season.
I’d love to see Felipe Massa win the championship in 2009. He was desperately unlucky last year, let down by his team when he most needed them. Massa showed a great maturity and consistency in 2008, with only a couple of really bad races such as the debacle at Silverstone in the wet, where he spun several times.
Kimi Raikkonen had an awful 2008. He looked demotivated for a lot of 2008, making too many uncharacteristic mistakes. 2009 cannot be any worse, but I feel that Massa will outrace the Finn. Last year Kimi took lots of fastest race laps, but often did so when he had no chance of winning the race. He must improve this year.
BMW Sauber had a great 2008, establishing themselves as the third force in F1. I expect them to retain that form this year, and take a few more wins. Robert Kubica was very consistent last year but only took one victory in Canada. Quick Nick Heidfeld did not have the consistency of his Polish team mate, but still had some very good races. Both drivers should take lots of points and a few victories to enable their team to take second place in the Constructors World Championship.
Renault had a terrible 2007 and were only slightly better in 2008. Fernando Alonso fluked a win in Singapore thanks to his team mate hitting the wall and causing a fortuitous safety car to be deployed. He then won again in Japan, to show that he is still the best driver in F1. His team mate Nelson Piquet endured a horrible season, and showed that he was perhaps not ready for F1. Hopefully for his sake he can do much better this year, otherwise he will be out of a job.
Renault’s testing form has been very up and down. When the R29 was first rolled out it lacked pace but by the end of the preseason they were occasionally topping the time sheets. I think they will struggle again this year.
Red Bull Renault had an OK year last year. They were very quick initially, but as the season wore on other teams soon surpassed their pace. Sebastian Vettel has joined the team and at the moment is the hottest thing in F1. Mark Webber has proved that he is a great qualifier but there are still a lot of doubts about his race pace. If Vettel thrashes him this year I think his F1 career may be over.
Having said all that, I think Red Bull may pinch a win this year. The new car was very fast when it first hit the track, but has struggled to maintain that pace throughout the preseason. I think that they will score a lot of points and podiums.
Toyota is the team who I think will be the most improved for 2009. I feel that they will establish themselves just behind Ferrari and BMW as the third force in F1. I feel that Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock will both take at least one win this year and score lots of points. They have had very good, consistent testing form.
Williams have had good testing form too, and Nico Rosberg is a great driver, but I am not sure where they will finish this year. Perhaps they will steal a win if the stars align, and they should take a few points, but I don’t think that they will do very well. Rosberg will be looking for a more competitive seat by seasons end.
Brawn have dominated testing this preseason, and are favourites for the Australian Grand Prix. This car has been in development ofr over a year, ever since Honda decided that last season’s car was a dog. Ross Brawn is a genius and may have a car that thrashes the pants off everyone this year, but I am not convinced. I still think that they will be very fast, but am not sure if they will be able to develop the car throughout the season as much as Ferrari, McLaren or BMW. Still, I think Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello will shake the grid up a lot, and may take a few wins.
Force India and Toro Rosso will score a few points in what should be the most competitive season of F1 ever. However I still feel that they will be the tailenders this year.
World Driver’s Championship
- Felipe Massa
- Kimi Raikkonen
- Nick Heidfeld
- Timo Glock
- Robert Kubica
- Jenson Button
- Lewis Hamilton
- Jarno Trulli
- Fernando Alonso
- Mark Webber
- BMW Sauber
- McLaren Mercedes
- Red Bull
- Toro Rosso
- Force India