Tag Archives: F1 2009

2009 flashback: When Brawn GP shocked the world

In a new series, before each race, I will look back at the race from last year, and talk about what we can expect this year. I would have done this for Bahrain, but I hadn’t thought of it then!

2009

Button and Barrichello celebrate their historic 1-2

Button and Barrichello celebrate their historic 1-2

At no point over the winter of 2008/2009 did anyone at the Honda garage in Brackley think they would even be reasonably competitive in 2009, never even be able to compete. But, thanks to a bit of Ross Brawn magic, the team was saved, and their car made its testing debut three weeks before the season opener in Australia. Their pace shocked the paddock, as the Ferraris appeared quick – right up to the point where the Brawn went out on track. Richard Branson clearly saw something in the cars, and rushed to get his Virgin group sponsorship hastily applied on the cars, two days before the race. In qualifying, the Brawns took the front row, and the real surprise was when the fuel weights were revealed, and they were certainly not running light. As the cars lined up on the grid in Australia, with Button and Barrichello on the front row, the entire world knew they were in for something special.

It was, but not initially in the way they would have expected. Barrichello nearly stalled on the grid, and fell nearly 8 places before the first corner. He was far too quick to try and recover, and ended up in a collision with Mark Webber, which consequently took out Heikki Kovalainen, Adrian Sutil, and Nick Heidfeld. He remained in the midfield, but then ran into the back of Kimi Raikkonen a few laps later, whih damaged his front wing. This would be replaced at his first pit stop on Lap 18.

While all this was happening, Button was sailing away at the front, and pitted on Lap 19. However, unknown to him, Kazuki Nakajima crashed on that exact same lap, bringing out the safety car. Button had timed his pit stop to perfection, but still saw his 47.7 second lead reduced to nothing, until the safety car pitted on Lap 24. After this, he started to make a lead for himself again. Further back, it became apparent that there were problems with the tyres. The super-softs wore out after only 9 or 10 laps, which severely affected the Ferraris who took them on their first stint, and the medium tyres were impossible to put heat into.

Kubica crashes after colliding with Vettel

Kubica crashes after colliding with Vettel

This problem came to a climax on Lap 55. Vettel, in 2nd, was struggling with the graining super-softs, while Kubica in 3rd was flying on the medium tyres. Into Turn 2, and when Kubica tried to go round the outside, Vettel understeered into the BMW Sauber, and both cars collided. They both managed to keep going, with broken front wings, but not for long. Both drivers crashed within a few corners, because of chronic understeer from their damaged front wings. While Kubica was out on the spot, Vettel attempted to keep going on three wheels. His thinking behind this was that there were only a few laps left, and since the safety car would be out again for their crash, nobody would be able to overtake him, and he could keep 2nd place. He kept going for a few laps, but eventually gave up with two laps to go, and parked his car. The stewards were unimpressed with these actions, and handed him a 10-place grid penalty for Malaysia.

Meanwhile, under the safety car, there was even more action. In 3rd place, Jarno Trulli was struggling to keep his tyres warm under safety car conditions, locked a wheel, and ran onto the grass. While that happened, Lewis Hamilton moved up past him. For the next half a lap or so, both drivers talked to their teams on the radio, about whether Hamilton had to give the place back or not. McLaren decided to play it safe, and ordered Hamilton to give the place back to Trulli. While Trulli was initially confused, he soon took the place back, and finished 3rd. But, more was to follow after the race. McLaren, after the race, told the stewards that Hamilton had not been instructed to let Trulli past, and Jarno had gone past of his own accord. This penalty after the race meant Trulli was demoted to 12th, and Hamilton took 3rd. But, this was to turn into a large controversy before Malaysia.

After all of his incidents, Rubens Barrichello was incredibly lucky to be in 2nd place. His team-mate Button was slightly luck not to have been caught by Kubica in the closing stages, but his crash left the coast clear for a Brawn GP 1-2. This was the first time that a debut team had scored a 1-2 finish in their first race since Mercedes-Benz in 1954 with Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling. Behind this duo, it was Trulli (yet to be penalised), Hamilton, Glock, Alonso, Rosberg, and debutant Sebastien Buemi for Toro Rosso. Neither Ferrari finished, as Massa had a mechanical problem, while Raikkonen spun and retired afterwards.

Button celebrates after winning in Australia

Button celebrates after winning in Australia

Button’s historic victory was the 200th for a British driver. This 1-2 finish indicated the start of a glorious season for Brawn GP. But, the battle of Trulli and Hamilton was about to resurface again. The FIA soon found out that Hamilton and McLaren had lied to the stewards, and disqualified him from the race. Trulli was handed back his 3rd position. Before Malaysia, it would be announced that Dave Ryan, who influenced Hamilton to lie to the stewards, would be fired from McLaren, and Hamilton would hold a special press conference to apologise.

2010

So, what can we expect for next week’s race in Australia? The team formerly known as Brawn – Mercedes – doesn’t appear to have the pace to win, although Nico Rosberg is gunning for a podium. Ferrari, despite their torrid record in the last 2 years in Australia, must be confident, after their 1-2 finish in Bahrain. McLaren will be looking to improve upon the last race, and hopefully get Button higher up the field this time. And Red Bull just have to pray that Renault have fixed their engine reliability woes.

The tyre compounds are the same as last year, with super-softs and mediums being the choice again. Last year’s difficulty of the super-softs graining and wearing too quickly looks to have mostly been solved by Bridgestone this year, but expect the medium to be the tyre of choice next weekend. Again, unless there is an incredibly quick rule change, expect a 1-stop strategy, with the medium tyres to be used first. Some teams may opt to use the super-softs first, but I think that this is a really bad idea. No matter how hard Bridgestone work, the super-softs will still wear quickly. The very heavy fuel loads at the start of the race will mean excessive wear on softer tyres within only about 10 laps. Therefore, my ideal strategy would be to use the medium tyres for about 40 (out of 58) laps, with the super-softs lasting for the last 18. If the mediums do not last 40 laps, which they might not, then expect a two-stop strategy, with mediums used first, then two stints on the super-soft tyres.

One mechanical difficulty this year will be brakes. Australia has always had a reputation for heavily worn brakes, thanks to its many hard-braking areas in various places around the track. Like the tyres, the full tank of fuel at the start will mean huge amounts of wear on the brakes in the first stint. Therefore, don’t be expecting to see full braking by the drivers in the first stint, unless the teams have developed more durable brakes. As the fuel burns away, you would expect to see track times to decrease rapidly, but don’t expect too much of it. By the time that the fuel will be low, I would expect the brakes to be shot by this point.

Another part of the car that will be prone to wear is the engine. According to Williams, two-thirds of the lap is spent at full throttle, so there will be a high degree of engine wear here. Expect to see the Ferraris use their first engine (practice and qualifying) in practice here in Australia, and then use their third engine for qualifying and the race. The second engine used in the Bahrain race will be used later in the season.

As for the drivers? Expect to see Nico Rosberg perform well here, as he has a good track record here. Australia 2008 is where he got his first podium, don’t forget. He would have done better than 7th last year, if his tyres had been up to scratch. Apart from him, Lewis Hamilton has always been able to get a good result here. In his first ever race in 2007, he overtook Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica on the first corner, and did a fine job keeping that position after that. He dominated the first race in 2008, and in 2009 fought his way up from the back of the grid to 4th. His lying after the race may have spoiled it all, but he still has great form here.

The new teams will hardly expect to finish here, with the track’s car-breaker record. If anyone can do it, it’s Lotus, as both Trulli and Kovalainen have good experience of this track, and know how to handle it. But, their Hitco brakes will probably not be up to the challenge, although their Cosworth engine should perform well. Expect the same from Virgin and HRT, but their hydraulic problems will probably not be fixed fully in time.

So, before any of the cars take to the streets of Melbourne, my provisional winner would be Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull, thanks to their Renault engine, can carry 10kg less fuel than their rivals at the start, and this will be a huge advantage in the first stint, which may enable them to use the super-soft tyres at the start, if they wish. If the car is fast enough, expect Vettel to take the win, although I’m not so sure about pole position. As long as their engine holds up this time.

Petrov: Grosjean made huge mistake

Vitaly Petrov at Jerez testing last week

Vitaly Petrov at Jerez testing last week

Vitaly Petrov, the new Renault second driver alongside Robert Kubica, believes that Romain Grosjean should have bided his time, instead of jumping into Formula 1 halfway through the season.

Grosjean joined Renault after Hungary last year, when Nelson Piquet Jr was dropped after failing to score a point after 10 races. However, he struggled as much as Piquet, and failed to score a point either for the rest of the season.

Petrov spoke to Auto Hebdo, saying:

“Grosjean made a huge mistake by entering F1 mid-season.”

“There was much more to lose than to win, especially with a car that even Alonso failed to find any good in. One of the F1 teams asked me to step in mid-2009 but I refused and my father supported me; we must start when a season begins, not step in en route.”

When Petrov says he was offered a drive halfway through last year, he must mean either Renault or Toro Rosso (or Ferrari, but that’s highly unlikely). I must say I’m impressed by Vitaly’s maturity to wait until next year, when he might not have been able to get a drive.

Kobayashi will keep aggressive driving style

New BMW Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi

New BMW Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi

New BMW Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi has said that he does not plan to change his very aggressive driving style.

The Japanese driver impressed last year, even though he only drove in 2 races, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. His extreme driving style won him many instant fans, including myself. To put it this way, in only his second race, he got past the newly crowned world champion, Jenson Button.

Because he needed to perform well to get a seat for 2010, many people feared that he would become less aggressive. However, Kamui disagrees, saying:

“I don’t think it is something special for me, it’s just my style. I will keep like this, of course without crashing. It is my style and I won’t change.”

He also feels that he is better prepared this season:

“We come in to this season having enough time to prepare for it,” Kobayashi said. “The last two races [last year] I had no testing, so it was really difficult, but now I have so many tests and we can work with the car from the beginning of the season.”

Kobayashi said that he was unwilling to make predictions for 2010 before testing, but said:

“I will try to be the first Japanese driver to win, this is my ultimate goal. But at the moment it is too far away to think about that and I am just focused on my tests now.”

My analysis of his driving style staying is short and sweet: Yay!

Yet another diffuser row?

McLaren's diffuser was blocked away

McLaren's diffuser was blocked away

The prospect of another diffuser row boiling up again appears to have come back, with many teams pursuing “extreme” solutions.

At the launch of the McLaren MP4-25 today, McLaren engineering director Paddy Lowe said the team had had pushed the diffuser regulations as far as possible. Not only this, but he believes that other teams will go for extreme solutions. He said:

“This is the first car in which we have had a clean sheet of paper to really exploit the interpretation [of diffusers] that was developed last year for a design of floors,” said Lowe.

“You will see we have produced a fairly extreme incarnation of that but we won’t be alone in that. We believe you will see some pretty extreme solutions on our competitors’ cars as well.”

The writing on the wall comes from the fact that, when the MP4-25 was launched today, the diffuser was blocked from view with black boards. However, Lowe believes there is no rule infringement, saying:

“We think the interpretation is very clear,” he said. “In certain aspects we have sought guidance from the FIA and they have come out with very clear interpretation, understanding and guidance – and we think that has been made available to all the teams.”

“We are hoping for a much cleaner start to the season then we had a year ago in terms of the teams’ collective understanding of the basis from which we go racing.”

Ferrari, however, say differently. Aldo Costa told Gazzetta dello Sport:

“We were and still are convinced that the double diffuser concept was illegal. We feel there may still be interpretation over this, as the rules leave the door open to many possibilities. It’s up to the FIA to supervise, but we are rather worried.”

This sort of thing coming up again would just be a disaster. The double-decker diffuser row last year put so much doubt into people’s minds and, as Fernando Alonso predicted, decided the outcome of the championship. Hopefuly, the FIA have learnt their lessons from last year, and hopefully the teams won’t have been too radical with this year’s design.

Double-decker diffusers banned for 2011

Williams' double-decker diffuser

Williams' double-decker diffuser

The infamous double-decker diffusers, the centre of the contreversy at the start of the 2009 season, has been banned for the 2011 season.

This rule could not be implemented for the 2010 season, as it was too late and the F1 cars had been nearly completed. However, technical rule changes for the 2011 season have meant that the undertray slots, which allow double-decker diffusers to work, have been outlawed.

Artwork of Toyota's double-decker diffuser

Artwork of Toyota's double-decker diffuser

The F1 Technical Working Group has been the reason these rule changes could be implemented, as it is a meeting of all the F1 teams. However, Christian Horner, boss of Red Bull, believes the rule changes should be further beyond simple tweaks:

“I think the most important thing is to set clear objectives – as to what do the governing body and the promoters want F1 to be,” he told AUTOSPORT last weekend. “What do they want the F1 cars to be able to do?

“Then rather than cherry picking at bits and pieces, we can look at the package as a whole to encourage more overtaking, and to enable the cars to follow more closely.”

“I think looking at components in isolation is often quite dangerous, so I think it is important that the overall objective is clearly defined and then worked on by the various technical groups.”

It is expected that the effective outlawing of double-decker diffusers will slow the cars down in 2011 by up to 2 seconds per lap.

Schumacher targeting both titles in 2010

Michael Schumacher in a GP2 car

Michael Schumacher in a GP2 car

Michael Schumacher has said that he and the Mercedes GP team are planning to win both world championships this year.

On his personal website, he wrote:

“The constellation we have here is pretty unique – with Ross and his world championship winning team, with the know-how of Mercedes, with the best engine at the moment and we want to use that. We have a clear aim: we want to win the championships. That’s what we will fight for from the beginning. That is my personal standard too.”

Also, he believes that, thanks to his 3-year break, he is stronger than ever before.

“After my retirement at the end of 2006 I was very happy,” he explained. “I felt relieved and free. It was good for me to be quiet for those three years. It really feels as if my batteries have been fully recharged. My energy is back completely. I have really noticed how the prickle has returned and how motivated I am, because I am looking forward to this competition so much.”

Clearly, he is well motivated ahead of this season, but can he do it? The Mercedes car, as we know, has taken all technical information off Brawn, who had started on their 2010 challenger as early as Silverstone (July) 2009. I suppose this all boils down to whether he has the machinery for the job or not.

Alguersuari set to retain Toro Rosso seat

Jaime Alguersuari

Jaime Alguersuari

According to Red Bull’s Helmut Marko, Jaime Alguersuari is set to keep his seat at Toro Rosso for next season.

There have been many doubts about Alguersuari’s place, mainly because Sebastian Buemi had been confirmed months ago. Mirko Bortolotti and Bruno Senna have been rumoured to replace him, but Marko says:

“It will be Alguersuari. We must still resolve some contractual details, but our choice will be him.”

It would be pointless to see Jaime ousted after only 8 races in Formula 1, and I’m sure he needs another season to get up to speed. However, a similar situation occured last year with Sebastien Bourdais, and he was removed halfway through last season.

Hopefully Jaime can prove his ability in the car, as his previous racing history shows us. I’m hoping that he can match Sebastien Buemi next year.

Button: I’ll be even stronger in 2010

Jenson Button at the Autosport International

Jenson Button at the Autosport International

Jenson Button has said that the struggle he endured last year to win his first world championship will help him in his title defence in 2010.

In 2009, after dominating the first half of the season, he struggled in the second half, but still hung on to take the 2009 title. However, he has said that the lessons have been learned by him and Brawn, and these lessons have been taken on board as he goes up against Lewis Hamilton this year.

At the Autosport International, he said:

“Because we were in such a position of leading the championship by quite a few points, we were too cautious. We didn’t want anything to go wrong.”

“We were too cautious for the situation, although you can say too cautious and we still ended up winning the championship. I think we should have been a little bit more aggressive with our strategy, and also myself, I should have been more aggressive.”

“It was a position I had never been in before. It was something I really learned through the season, and it is amazing that you learn so much when you are fighting for a championship – a championship that is so important to you. So it was a very up and down season, and when we got to Brazil, and also a couple of races before Brazil, we realised we started to need to get aggressive again and we really had to fight for this.”

Also, he has supported his decicion of moving to McLaren, as he says that he wanted a new challenge in his career. He also added that this new challenge will help him for this season.

“I have been working for 21 years to achieve my goal – but yes, I am massively hungry. When I won the world championship in Brazil I was looking for something else. I thought I have achieved what I set out to do, but what do I do now? It is a very strange situation to be in, because you should enjoy the moment but it is very, very difficult to because you are always thinking too far ahead that you have to be careful of.”

“I knew that moving to a new team and moving to Vodafone McLaren Mercedes would be a real challenge for me, and racing alongside Lewis, but it is a challenge I am so excited about. I am putting so much effort into making this work. This is the most important thing for me at the moment.”

His full interview at the Autosport International is available here:

Newey: Banning DD diffusers won’t help overtaking

Adrian Newey

Adrian Newey

Red Bull aerodynamicist Adrian Newey says that the potential banning of the double-decker diffusers in 2011 will not help overtaking in F1.

Talking at the Watkins Lecture at Autosport International, he said:

“I don’t think [double diffusers] affected the overtaking. It gave us more downforce and made the cars about a second a lap quicker. That doesn’t change whether the car’s going to overtake or not, there’s no difference in the aerodynamic wake which is what affects the ability of the car behind to overtake.”

Also, he believes that the sport should not get back into the habit of “piecemeal modifications” during the 1998-2008 technical era:

“The regulations we had for 2009 were the subject of a lot of research by the Overtaking Working Group. It’s questionable whether they worked or not, but the process, I think, was correct.”

“What’s now happening is we’ve gone back to these piecemeal modifications – banning double diffusers or getting rid of barge boards. For me, it’s very frustrating that it’s not being thought out. [It needs] a clear goal and proper research.”

“So often in Formula 1, things are changed with very little research.”

Also, he has concerns about the banning of refuelling for the 2010 season:

“I think the ban on refuelling is another example of that where… maybe it will be good for the racing, but it was not thought out. Some people thought “we could save a £100,000 here by cutting the cost of flying the refuelling rigs around the world. But if that destroys the spectacle and the racing becomes more boring as a result of that and people start turning their televisions off, then that wasn’t £100,000 well saved.”

Kovalainen “a better driver” after McLaren

Heikki Kovalainen, with Tony Fernandes and Jarno Trulli

Heikki Kovalainen, with Tony Fernandes and Jarno Trulli

Heikki Kovalainen says that, even after 2 difficult seasons at McLaren, he has still come out of it a better driver.

In an interview with Autosport, he said: “I am a better race driver. I can drive the car quicker than when I drove the Renault (2007). I have learned many things – how to work with a team, how to set-up a car, how to go racing. I think I am better in every area.”

Kovalainen was released from McLaren after the 2009 season ended. After negotiations with many teams, he has moved to the new Lotus team, alongside Jarno Trulli. He also said that he believes it was a better option than moving to an established team.

“I just felt that this was the most stable option available to me,” he said. “The other teams were still wondering who was going to own the team, who was going to sponsor the team and who was going to pay the bills.”

“Funnily enough, for a new team I was convinced after I met Tony [Fernandes] and Mike [Gascoyne]. First of all, they have the budget in place. They have the people coming to the team eventually – they will be current people and not people who have been out of the paddock for one or two years.”

When asked about his prospects for 2010, he said: “”I think it will be very tough. Sometimes when I talk to Tony he is very excited and it seems like we are going to win the first race. But, I am being more realistic and I don’t want to build too big expectations.”

When he was with McLaren in 2008, he was outscored on points by Lewis Hamilton with 98 points to 53, although Heikki took his first win. In 2009, he was outscored again, by 49 points to 22, and not even getting on the podium once.

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