Both Ferrari and McLaren struggled initially,but bounced back in the second half of the season
This is the third part of my review of 2009, and looking forward to 2010. This article is for Ferrari and McLaren.
As we all know, the 2008 championship was battled into the very end of the last race of the season. Both Ferrari and McLaren continuously developed their 2008 cars to the very end, instead of working on the 2009 car, which needed a completely different approach thanks to the technical changes. So, when Formula 1 rolled into Australia in March 2009, both teams were completely off the pace.
Ferrari had a torrid start to the season, as both cars retired due to differential and suspension problems. In fact, in the first 3 races, they failed to score a single point, their worst start since 1982. Already, many people within the team had completely given up on that season, and wanted to shift their focus to the 2010 car. However, after that, things improved for the Scuderia, as Felipe Massa scored points finishes 5 times in a row(one of these a podium), in races 5-9. In the same period, Kimi Raikkonen only managed one podium and one 8th place. People were now seriously questioning Raikkonen’s commitment to the team, and whether he was even interested in F1 anymore. Being outperformed comprehensively by Massa didn’t seem to motivate him either. However, events at Hungary changed the team’s season completely.
Felipe Massa’s freak accident at the Hungarian Grand Prix, when he was his by a loose spring at 140mph, left him on the sidelines. For the next two races, Luca Badoer was picked to replace him. However, after 10 years as a test driver, he simply couldn’t find race pace. He was replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella (after his heroic Belgium performance) for the rest of the season. But Fisi struggled nearly as much, and failed to score a point for the rest of the season. Kimi Raikkonen fared much better, picking up a win in Belgium, and 3 other podium finishes. His boost in performance may have been the fact that the team’s efforts were now solely on him.
For 2010, Massa will be able to make a return, having suffered no long-term injuries from his crash. Raikkonen was released from his contract one year early, and has moved to the Junior Citroen WRC team. He will be replaced by Fernando Alonso, having spent two years in a mediocre car at Renault. He has stated that he wants to end his career at the Maranello team, because “any other team would be a step down”. Massa won’t be moving any time soon either, so this security should help them bounce back next year.
As with Ferrari, McLaren went into the season knowing they were well off the pace, as the testing timesheets showed they were 2.5 seconds off the pace. The first race in Australia was a similar disaster, as Kovalainen was taken out on lap 1. In the race, Lewis Hamilton drove from 18th to 3rd, a slightly lucky but still stellar performance. But, after the race, when called to the stewards to investigate an overtaking incident under the safety car involving Jarno Trulli and Hamilton, McLaren threw it all away. Their Sporting Director, Dave Ryan, instructed Lewis to lie about the incident (even though they did nothing wrong), to secure their 3rd place. When the stewards heard radio transmissions between Hamilton and the team during the incident, they knew McLaren had misled them. Hamilton was disqualified, and Ryan was sacked.
This was the worst start possible for the team. Three points finishes in a row after this for Hamilton was good, but the team then slumped in the middle of the season, failing to score any points in the next 4 races. However, McLaren continued to push hard with their development of their car and the KERS system. This was to prove important, when the system was improved, and both drivers could gain up to 5 places on the first lap thanks to KERS. Their hard work paid off, in Hungary, when Lewis took his first win of the season. He took another win and Singapore, and two podiums in Japan and Brazil. Compared to him, Heikki Kovalainen did very poorly. His best finish was a 4th place at Valencia, and only got 7 points finishes across the entire seasons, with no podiums.
McLaren got their first win in Hungary, after a torrid start
It was little surprise, therefore, to see Heikki dropped after the season end. He will be replaced by reigning champion Jenson Button. This is certainly sweet revenge for McLaren, who stole him from under the nose of Mercedes, just after the two companies separated. For next year, Martin Whitmarsh has already said he thinks the 2010 car is a serious championship contender, and I believe him. With the line-up of Hamilton and Button, they will be a force to contend with. Also, Button has the opportunity to silence his critics who said that he did not deserve the 2009 title.