F12009: The Big Comparison

F12009: The Big Comparison

We now have a complete grid of cars and drivers for the 2009 championship, and all teams are currently lapping the Circuit de Catalunya to assess, develop and fine tune their motors prior to the first race of the year in Melbourne. The testing completed so far has been interesting to look at, with Jenson Button popping in a flier yesterday, while talk around the Internet of McLaren’s apparent lack of form reaches new highs.

Trying to make sense of testing times is virtually impossible simply because of the unknowns. When a car laps the track, we do not know how much fuel is on board, the trim settings of the car and for what purpose the car is on track. If the team are simply checking an electrical component, it isn’t necessarily wise for the driver to commit to every corner – the price of an accident is very high.

In a similar vein, just because a driver throws the car at the corners and hits every apex with the kind of accuracy that is simply scary, it doesn’t mean this is how the car will respond in a race. I’m sure the drivers would love to set qualifying lap after qualifying lap during a grand prix, but they’ll find themselves in the pitlane more often than not for new tyres if they did.

Therefore, we can safely assume that the times set in Jerez and Barcelona recently will not match the kind of times the drivers will set during the season. What we can see in testing though is the general pace of the cars. And a very general view it is. Based on previous form and appearance of pace during tests, the cars can be loosely grouped together in pairs. So while this is in no way scientific, who do you think is going to beat who in the 2009 championship.

Ferrari/McLaren

Both squads look to be contenders for the titles once again, and with each team employing a world champion, the knowledge, experience and wealth of these two operations is immense. Ferrari initially looked a little fragile, and they haven’t had the best of luck when it comes to the weather. However, Kimi is fired up and Massa will want revenge.

McLaren looked strong to begin with, but recently their form has caused much speculation. McLaren cannot be ignored though and I’m certain they will be among the fastest in Melbourne. Lewis Hamilton now understands how a championship is put together, and Heikki Kovalainen will be desperate to prove his worth and stay at the Woking-based team.

[poll id=”35″]

BMW/Toyota

BMW were one of the first teams to run an interim car late last year, and following on from their maiden victory in 2008, the Swiss-German team will be wanting to improve further. Robert Kubica is considered a very fast driver, and Nick Heidfeld is a safe pair of hands. The car hasn’t been spectacular so far, but it would be foolish to suggest they won’t be able to at least equal their 2008 performance.

From testing, we can see that the Toyota TF109 is reliable, the car having completed an awful lot of miles in Bahrain and Spain. They improved beyond expectation in 2008 and could very well be the dark horses for 2009. Jarno is handy in qualifying, and Timo Glock impressed last time around.

[poll id=”36″]

Renault/Red Bull

Renault are a very hard team to judge thus far in 2009. The R29 hasn’t been blitzing the circuits, and the times set by Messrs Alonso and Piquet have varied wildly. Fernando has placed the car near the top, while Nelson has placed the same car near the bottom. Vice versa has also happened. The two previous cars from Enstone haven’t been superb, but the improvements towards the tail end of 2008 cannot be ignored, and nor can the only double champion on the grid.

Red Bull too are quite hard to figure out at the moment. Like in the past, it would appear the Newey-designed chassis is very good, but it would also appear that the compromise on reliability may also have been carried over. In the cockpit though they do have two very good drivers. Mark Webber is safe (when not cycling) and Sebastian Vettel is quick. The inter-team battle will be fascinating, but I’m not sold on the car just yet.

[poll id=”37″]

Brawn/Williams

As the new kids on the block, Brawn GP are actually anything but. The team is still largely the same, the driver pairing remains consistent and the chassis, while not having done many miles, actually looks pretty good straight from the box. Formerly Honda, the team weren’t the sharpest on the grid, but now in total control and in his second year with the Brackley team, Ross Brawn will be demanding improvements throughout 2009.

And as the old-school team who have enjoyed immeasurable success and failure in almost equal quantity, Williams once again attempt to haul themselves out of the rut they’re in. They have kept their drivers, they have kept the Toyota engine, and the car started off well in testing. Having now been joined by the other nine though, they appear to have lost themselves in the middle of the pack again. They know how to win, but can they find their groove again?

[poll id=”38″]

Force India/STR

Force India spent most of 2008 at the back, and since then team boss Vijay Mallya has implemented some big changes to the team. The restructuring was fairly radical, but Mallya has experience in running businesses, although perhaps not Formula One teams. Being involved more now, he will need to start seeing improvements. The drivers remain, the car looks good with McLaren and Mercedes help, but will it be enough?

Scuderia Toro Rosso will have a hard time in 2009. To repeat the achievements of last year will be very difficult, but having said that, they have done it once so why not again? The team has lost Vettel to Red Bull, but they are raving about Sebastien Buemi. Bourdais will be hungry to prove himself in his second season in Formula One, and the Ferrari engine looks to be a good match for the hand-me-down chassis.

[poll id=”39″]

So there we have it; five polls from the rather dubious pairing of the ten teams. Who will beat who in 2009? Of course, the marrying of teams here is simply my opinion, and if you have another suggestion, please share in the comments. As mentioned earlier in this post, it is very difficult to judge the relative pace of the cars, especially in the midfield where the times set are very close together. That shouldn’t stop us having a bit of fun though.

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15 comments

  • Interesting pairings.

    I think this off season has been the hardest ever to judge the relative performance of the teams. I can’t wait for Melbourne to find out what the real situation is although as soon as we get there people wil start talking about the improvements they have for the European season.

    Based on very little I chose

    McLaren

    BMW

    Red Bull

    Williams

    Toro Rosso

    I will be very impressed with myself if I can beat the law of averages with those.

  • I think this off season has been the hardest ever to judge the relative performance of the teams.

    I totally agree. Last year it was very obvious that the title battle would be between Ferrari and McLaren, and that only BMW would really be anywhere close to them. This year (given current testing pace as a crude indicator) any of the midfield teams could push themselves up to the number three or four position.

    I went with McLaren, BMW, Renault, Williams and Force India.

    It’s also interesting that at the time of writing this comment, Williams and Brawn are tied and that Ferrari and McLaren are closely matched, 9:7 to the Scuderia. The largest margin between a pair is 12:3 between BMW and Toyota. I’m assuming that is based on either previous form or the fact that BMW probably have more fans. Interesting though that not many think the Cologne-based team will follow through and actually improve.

  • I think we have to face the fact that Brawn GP has the fastest car at this stage of the season, regardless of the reason for that. You don’t break the qualifying lap record by two seconds at Barcelona without having a pretty good car under you.

    The question really is: Which team(s) will be Brawn’s strongest competitor(s)? Choose from Ferrari, BMW and Toyota – the rest, including McLaren, aren’t in the ballpark.

  • I think we have to face the fact that Brawn GP has the fastest car at this stage of the season, regardless of the reason for that.

    Wow! So I’m assuming you don’t think the quick lap times are just a way of getting attention and luring some sponsors on to their books. 🙂

    The question really is: Which team(s) will be Brawn’s strongest competitor(s)? Choose from Ferrari, BMW and Toyota – the rest, including McLaren, aren’t in the ballpark.

    I don’t believe for a second that McLaren are in serious trouble. But I do think that Toyota may be better than most seem to think. The current voting tally puts them miles behind BMW, 20:3 in BMW’s favour. I’m a little surprised by that, but maybe I am placing too much faith in the TF109?

    I’m also surprised by the lack of faith in Force India. Come on people, it’s a Mac Mini (that’s probably a trademark of Apple). I’ll go out on a limb and say I think they will trounce STR this year.

    Edit: Oooh, question for Clive: As you feel that McLaren are in trouble, could you see Force India surpassing them. After all, they each share engines, gearboxes etc… Could the little team from Silverstone do a Williams/STR and beat the factory/parent team?

  • Wow! So I’m assuming you don’t think the quick lap times are just a way of getting attention and luring some sponsors on to their books.

    i think they are.

    maybe brawn removed all ballast + kers. that would’ve lightened the car somewhat.

    when we saw honda testing at silverstone in the summer, all the talk was that they were the first team to run kers. that was going to be their advantage.

    why no talk of kers now?

  • why no talk of kers now?

    That’s a good question. Maybe they’ve focused their efforts on building a good, solid and reliable car as the other teams seem to be backing down a bit on KERS and saying they won’t introduce it until at least the European leg begins.

    While we still wait to see what will actually happen with KERS, advantage-speaking, it could be that a strong and quick car could overcome the apparent disadvantage of not running the system. Besides, it’s not like Jens and Rubes are the lightest drivers on the grid.

  • Definitely one of the hardest off-seasons to try and work out where everyone is. Very impressed (although biased) with the Brawn GP team and the fast lap times. It does whiff a bit of making the car look outrageously fast to get sponsors but they are giving it beans.

    On the KERS front, there was a Q&A with Brawn on autosport.com I think where he talked about it and said they haven’t got a system at the moment, with the time they had they chose not to develop it as much. I’ll see if I can find a link…

    (Here it is): http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/73655

    “Q. And KERS?

    RB: We don’t have KERS. That may be something for later in the season, but with the time we have had available, quite frankly, we have not considered KERS.”

    Only time will tell how useful a KERS system is. My it’s going to be an interesting season 🙂

  • Tom beat me to it – Brawn GP will not run KERS to begin with so the times are set minus KERS weight. But the times are still impressive – the 2009 cars are slower than last year’s and yet the BGP 001 broke the Barcelona qualifying record by over a second. That’s hard to explain away. Most of the teams are also not contemplating running KERS in the early races so they too will have had more ballast to play with.

    It is just possible that Brawn GP were running the car lighter than legal but I doubt it. Ross has said they’re in no hurry to get extra sponsorship and running ultra-light would give them wrong figures for later development. I think we have to face it, the car is just quicker than the rest. Whether that is down to luck, Ross himself or more design time doesn’t really matter now.

    As for McLaren, I am convinced they have a problem with the MP4-24 but I also believe they will have fixed it enough to be competitive in Melbourne. They’re not going to run away from the rest, however.

  • I forgot to answer Ollie’s question regarding Force India. Basically, FIF1 don’t have the resources to develop their car as quickly as McLaren can. We have seen the VJM02 gradually slipping backwards in Barcelona and I think this trend will continue as the season progresses (although it pains me to say that – I was really hoping they would be yet another wild card to set amongst the rest in this incredibly interesting year).

    The VJM02 is not a McLaren in different colours, as so many are implying; one look at it should tell you that. Yes, it has the Mercedes engine and some McLaren ancillaries but the chassis is entirely FIF1’s. That makes all the difference.

    People seem to forget that the Ferrari engine supplied to FIF1 last year was not the “adjusted for reliability” version that Toro Rosso had. The improvement in FIF1’s fortunes in testing may well be down to the greater power they are getting from a Mercedes engine that is the same as in the McLaren and Brawn GP. This time round it’ll be the chassis that makes the difference between the FIF1 and the other Mercedes runners and, unfortunately, I don’t think they have designed a world beater. Competent, yes, but no more than that.

  • Excellent comments Tom and Clive. I’ll reply properly later after I’ve had me some dinner.

    A quick update on votes for those who are reading via a feed reader: Brawn and Williams have separated now, but with more faith being put in Brawn. Interestingly, Renault and Red Bull are now closing up, 16:13 to Renault.

    Update:

    As for McLaren, I am convinced they have a problem with the MP4-24 but I also believe they will have fixed it enough to be competitive in Melbourne. They’re not going to run away from the rest, however.

    That’s probably a good assessment of McLaren. There’s a lot of talk flying around about how McLaren have completely fudged the new car. I just don’t believe they can have done that bad of a job of it. Perhaps they are having a problem with one or two areas, but then Ferrari weren’t exactly looking good initially. I think Ferrari and McLaren will be fighting for the Australian win. If they’re not, then we’re in for a very interesting year.

    And of course, McLaren didn’t exactly run away with anything last year. The constructor’s title didn’t go their way and Hamilton almost lost the driver’s crown in the penultimate corner of the last lap of the last race. Here’s hoping for some more of that, please.

  • I agree with Ollie that Force India could suprise some, and with Clive that the Brawn GP pace can’t be dismissed. One thing we know for sure is that this season opener will be among the most exciting we’ve seen in quite some time.

  • One thing we know for sure is that this season opener will be among the most exciting we’ve seen in quite some time.

    Definitely. I’m bouncing off the walls. 😀

    Voting Update:

    Ferrari 68%/McLaren 32%

    BMW 87%/Toyota 13%

    Renault 53%/Red Bull 47%

    Brawn 75%/Williams 25%

    STR 73%/Force India 27%

  • Still two weeks to go… 🙁

    But who would have guessed at those voting figures before the latest test at Barcelona? I know I had Brawn GP down at the tail end (well, who expects a brand new car to go straight to the top of the class?).

  • But who would have guessed at those voting figures before the latest test at Barcelona?

    I think very few. 🙂

    The pace of the Brawn is astonishing. I just hope it’s true and that they can indeed fight for podiums and maybe even a win. If McLaren can sort themselves out (and I think they can, or at least, they should be able to), we could be on for a 4-horse race, with Ferrari and BMW.

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