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.
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 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 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″]
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 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.