It's still hard to believe that it is all over, but at the same time it feels like it has been going for much longer than it has. The 2009 Formula One World Championship season concluded last weekend at the stunning Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi after a year which has rewrote the form book, and gave more headlines than races. I have been following Formula One for many years now, and will now look back on what has been yet another memorable year, the third exciting season in a row.
The Brawn Identity
The season officially started on March 27th, but the story of Formula One in 2009 started as far back as December 2008 when Honda announced that they were withdrawing from Formula One with immediate effect. Suddenly two of the most respected drivers in the sport were without drives for the year, and some incredible people were out of jobs, including Ross Brawn, one of the top men behind Michael Schumacher's dominance at Ferrari.
As the holiday season came and went, January arrived, and while other teams were launching their brand new cars to conform to the greatly changed 2009 regulations, the former Honda team were starting a fight of their own to save their team. Honda had withdrawn, but Technical Director Ross Brawn and Cheif Executive Officer Nick Fry were already in discussions with engine suppliers just in case a rescue deal was made and some other company decided to buy the remenants of the team to enter Formula One themselves. There were several interested parties, but Honda were being extra careful picking a successor, looking for stability rather than a quick sale.
The Japanese automotive giant finally decided in early March that the option of a management buyout was the best option, and Ross Brawn headed the buyout and bought the team from Honda for the token price of £1. Honda agreed to financially support the team this year, since they would have had to pay redundancy pay to all of their employees had they decided to not sell the team, with Ross Brawn being sent out to try to find further funding for the year. They had agreed a supply of Mercedes engines for the year, and had redesigned the car to fit the new engine in. In the middle of March, the BrawnGP car made its first appearance on track, and the jaws of fans around the world dropped as the car went faster than anybody had imagined.
The Brawn Supremacy
Once the season started, it was clear that the new Brawn team had got the jump on seven of the other teams with a clever interpretation of the rules. They had created a car with a multi-layered diffuser design which allowed the diffuser to be larger than the regulations were designed to allow, and giving them more downforce. Toyota and Williams too had these devices, and after the device was confirmed as legal, other teams started to put them on their cars as well. In the first part of the season however the Brawn car was supreme, winning six out of the first seven races, and opening up a large gap to their main challengers, Red Bull. Red Bull meanwhile got their first win in Formula One at the rain hit Chinese Grand Prix.
It wasn't long into the season that the recurring flaw of Formula One reared its ugly head yet again, controversy. At the end of the Australian Grand Prix there was a safety car period, and after Jarno Trulli went wide and onto the grass behind the safety car, he was passed by Lewis Hamilton, as he was entitled to do in that situation. Unfortunatly for the British driver, the team didn't know that Jarno Trulli had gone off, and told Lewis to let Jarno repass him, which he did. After the race, the team instructed Lewis to lie about the incident, and he was excluded from the result.
Further through the year the prospect of a giant rules change for 2010 came into view. Max Mosely wanted to leave his mark on the formula, and proposed a radical cost cutting solution which allowed teams to voluntarily restrict their spending in exchange for more technical freedom. The teams disagreed with this, and decided to fight. Ferrari appealed the FIA's ability to make this decision when they have a technical veto, but the courts threw the claim out. The teams had large discussions with the FIA about their issues, but things kept moving forward with Mosely recruiting three new teams for the 2010 season.
As things failed to move forward, the Formula One Teams Association agreed that if the new rules came into force then they would withdraw from the sport. As the circus moved towards the British Grand Prix at Silverstone no deal was in sight, and the deadline for signing up to 2010 was closing in. The teams announced that no agreement would be reached, and that they would be forming their own breakaway championship. This was stopped only when the FIA made some changes to the rules, and nearly all current teams agreed to sign up to Formula One until 2012. One team however decided that enough was enough and that it was time to withdraw. BMW Sauber announced that they were withdrawing at the end of the year.
The third big controversy of the year came after Renault replaced the ailing Nelsinho Piquet with the rookie driver Romain Grosjean. Angered at his unfair treatment, Piquet revealed that he was ordered to crash his car in Singapore 2008 in a very dangerous attempt to fix the race so that Fernando Alonso won. Renault denied this, but eventually it was revealed that team boss Flavio Briatore and technical chief Pat Symonds were guilty and were banned from the sport indefinitly and for five years respectively. Piquet was granted immunity for coming forward, but will be unlikely to find a team willing to give him a drive in the future.
Injuries and Changes
Another feature of the year was the number of injuries and driver changes that the teams were making this year. The regulations state that a team may only use four drivers throughout the course of the year, and five of the teams took advantage of this when either a driver was injured or one was not fast enough to keep in their car. The first victim of replacement fever was Toro Rosso's Sébastien Bourdais, who had not impressed. Replacing him was rookie driver Jaime Alguersuari. Next head on the chopping block was Nelsinho Piquet, who was replaced by Renault hopeful Romain Grosjean.
At the Hungarian Grand Prix there was a huge accident when a stray spring from the back of Rubens Barrichellos Brawn got loose and bounced down the track, hitting Felipe Massa on the helmet. He was knocked out and ploughed into the tyre barriers at speed injuring himself. He was diagnosed to have a skull fracture, and was out for the rest of the season. Initially Ferrari lined up seven times world champion Michael Schumacher for a shock return to Formula One whilst Felipe Massa was out, but the German driver was suffering with an injury of his own and didn't want to risk his health. Ferrari were left with no option other than to use their reserve driver Luca Badoer, who finished last in the championship and was replaced just two races later.
Luca Badoer's replacement was the next driver change of the year, and for a change it wasn't a new driver. Giancarlo Fisichella was granted the chance to live his lifelong dream and drive the red car that matches his nationality. He jumped at the chance, and left a seat open at his former Force India team. They filled their empty seat with their own reserve driver Vitantonio Liuzzi, who had raced several years ago for Red Bull.
The final driver change came in the last two races of the year, when Timo Glock had an accident of his own in Japan, and was forced to sit out of the season conclusion. He was replaced by a Japanese driver who had a history of questionable crashes in GP2, but who impressed greatly in Formula One. He was a bit erratic, but managed to score points and provide the fans with some very exciting racing.
A Tight Finish
Despite their early form, as the other teams closed in on the Brawn's pace, it became clear that the second half of the season would be very close. The Brawn had developed some problems getting temperature intot their tyres, and were suffering because of it. Meanwhile, Red Bull and the rest of the pack had caught up, and the energy drinks company were beginning to challenge Brawn in the championship. With long time challengers McLaren and Ferrari back on the pace again, getting wins was much more difficult, and so teams had to scrap for what points they could get. Jenson Button, who had been leading the championship since day one, kept scoring points and even though his lead was decreasing, he kept any loss to a minimum. By the Brazilian Grand Prix his championship was again almost certain, but he struggled in a difficult qualifying and started towards the back. Despite this he managed a fantastic drive to finish the race in fifth position, and claim the world championship in his first year in a car capable of doing so.
And so the year concluded, and our breaths can be gathered. It has been a year of fantastic results, and to look at how the year has gone, here are the podium results from all ninteen races this year:
Australia ..... Button ...... Barrichello . TrulliDriver Stats
Malaysia ...... Button ...... Heidfeld .... Glock
China ......... Vettel ...... Webber ...... Button
Bahrain ....... Button ...... Vettel ...... Trulli
Spain ......... Button ...... Barrichello . Webber
Monaco ........ Button ...... Barrichello . Raikkonen
Turkey ........ Button ...... Webber ...... Vettel
Great Britain . Vettel ...... Webber ...... Barrichello
Germany ....... Webber ...... Vettel ...... Massa
Hungary ....... Hamilton .... Raikkonen ... Webber
Europe ........ Barrichello . Hamilton .... Raikkonen
Belgium ....... Raikkonen ... Fisichella .. Vettel
Italy ......... Barrichello . Button ...... Raikkonen
Singapore ..... Hamilton .... Glock ....... Alonso
Japan ......... Vettel ...... Trulli ...... Hamilton
Brazil ........ Webber ...... Kubica ...... Hamilton
Abu Dhabi ..... Vettel ...... Webber ...... Button
1. Jenson Button (6)Podiums
2. Sebastian Vettel (4)
3. Lewis Hamilton (2)
3. Mark Webber (2)
3. Rubens Barrichello (2)
1. Jenson Button (9)Point Finishes
2. Mark Webber (8)
2. Sebastian Vettel (8)
4. Rubens Barrichello (6)
5. Kimi Raikkonen (5)
5. Lewis Hamilton (5)
1. Jenson Button (16)
2. Rubens Barrichello (15)
3. Sebastian Vettel (11)
3. Nico Rosberg (11)
5. Mark Webber (10)
Three drivers finished all races they started. They were Timo Glock (14 starts), Luca Badoer (2 starts) and Kamui Kobayashi (2 starts).
Of the drivers who started all seventeen races, three finished sixteen. They were Jenson Button, Giancarlo Fisichella, and Nick Rosberg.
1. BrawnGP (8)Podiums
2. Red Bull (6)
3. McLaren (2)
4. Ferrari (1)
1. Red Bull (16)
2. BrawnGP (15)
3. Ferrari (6)
4. McLaren (5)
4. Toyota (5)
That's it for 2009, it has been one hell of a year, and next year should be fun too. I'll be following that, and as I always say, I'll see you then!