Monday, 30 March 2009

2009 season prospects

This will be my final F1 article of the weekend (they'll recommence on Thursday or Friday, preceding the Malaysian GP next weekend).

I want to take a quick look at each team, to assess how strong they look for the season, based on their strengths and weaknesses in Melbourne.

Brawn GP:
Front row lockout, 1-2 finish. Everything's fine? Well, not quite. Their pit stops were atrocious (costing 5-10 seconds each, above what is normal). Barrichello's anti-stall kicking in on the grid also cost him dearly (well, as it turned out, it didn't cost any points, but it did make his life much harder).
Also, predictions that they'd lap the field were wide of the mark. Jenson was consistently a few seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel and would have been under great threat from Robert Kubica, had the latter pair not taken each other out towards the end.
This shows that whilst the strongest team on the grid, not everything will go their way this season.

Red Bull:
Strong throughout qualifying with Webber P3 in Q1 and Vettel P3 in both Q2 and Q3. Webber's first corner accident cost him more dearly than anyone else (bar Heikki Kovaleinen) so we should discount his race performance (the only finisher to be lapped). Vettel consistently matched the pace of Jenson Button and would have finished 3rd, if only he'd let Kubica through more easily.
I feel they'll appear on the podium at more than half of this year's races, and probably win one or two races. Webber would dearly love to break his duck (longer than any active driver's other than Heidfeld) and I'll back him to manage it.

Kubica didn't follow the same strategy as the Brawns, Williams or Vettel, and so it is hard to make a direct comparison as to potential. However, he was definitely in the mix for a win until the accident, without KERS, so should be considered a threat throughout the season. I'd even tip him as favourite for Sepang.
Heidfeld, in the KERS-equipped BMW suffered more than his teammate inn qualifying (finishing Q2 in 11th place). This might well indicate that the KERS isn't worth the lost ballast distribution, or might indicate nothing more than his inferiority to Kubica. Most likely, is a small mistake that cost a crucial tenth of a second and the critical lap. The field is so close, that such mistakes will be severeely punished, and Heidfeld has never been a strong qualifier, but always a much better racer (his race today was compromised at the first corner, in an incident in which he isn't enitrely without blame - he took a very tight line for someone with 2 cars inside them).
Probably will be fighting Brawn for both championships this season.

Rosberg topped all three "meaningless" free practise sessions and set the fastest lap of the race. Strategically, they erred by leaving his final stint to be too long (his middle stint should have been lenthened when it became apparent, early on, how bad the super-softs became after 5 laps). He was also the only driver, other than the Brawns, to appear in the top 8 in every session that counted at all (Q1, Q2, Q3, the race and even fastest lap) so the car is clearly very strong.
Nakajima was overshadowed by his teammate, but, before his accident was running very well with a heavy car. Had he not crashed, he probably would have followed Barrichello closely until the Brazilian's pitstop and possibly got the jump on him throuhg strategy. Presumably he'd have been fuelled for a late splash-and-dash, just like Rubens, so would not have suffered as badly as Rosberg, and might have picked up a podium, given all that happened. However, such specualtions are useful only for passing time. The short version is that he clearly had a similar pace to the leaders, when adjusted for fuel (his car was the heaviest of the frontrunners).
This augurs well for the season, and I believe the team will get plenty of podiums. Their prospects are similar to those of Red Bull.

Qualified 6th and 8th, but started from the pits, due to an "excessively flexible rear wing". Finshed the race 3rd and 5th, demonstrating good tactics, good speed and everything required to be race winners. Trulli's 25 second penalty cost them a podium, but should hide their strength. They are probably only slightly behind Brawn and BMW, and appear justified in their decision to avoid KERS.

Last year, both Ferraris retired from the Australian GP and yet they won the constructors championship. This year will be harder though. They have a performace deficit to Brawn, but one they can probably catch up once the teams return to Europe. Neither driver excelled today, and were comprehensively outdone by Kubica despite a similar strategy, so they definitely have work to do.
For those reasons, I rank them 6th at the moment, but with every prospect of improving.

Hamilton's 3rd place disguises their clear weakness. In no other session (that counted) did they trouble the top 8 (Q1,2,3, or fastest lap) with either car although Hamilton demonstrated well, the benefits of KERS (although the poor showing of the other KERS cars amply demonstrate the drawbacks).
McLaren are a big team, with massive facilities and the ability to develop greatly during the season, so those points for Hamilton may come in useful at the end of the season. 7th at the moment on performace (by my reckoning) yet a fair bet to end the season in the top 3.

The other KERS team also had a poor weekend, masked by a decent result for their world champion (Alonso was promoted to 5th place by Trulli's penalty). Pat Symonds will not be kidding himself that their current 4th place in the constructors' championship is representative. However, this team has always shown itself to be good developers during a season (at least, when Alonso is around) so they too, cannot be discounted from challenging for wins, or at least podiums.
Currently 8th (by my reckoning) but will probably end the season in the top 5. This will, however require a lot of work, and possibly replacing Piquet with an actual racing driver (di Grassi seems to have the heart for it).

Toro Rosso:
One of only two teams to achieve a double points finish (albeit 7th and 8th) but their pace was lacking all weekend, and they will be doing well to reach Q2 at half of the races, and achieve points on more than half a dozen occasions. Buemi impressed today, on his debut, but then again, so did Mark Webber and Markus Winkelhoek. Will spend the season fighting to avoid the back row.

Force India:
Much closer to the field than they were last year, and with the benefit of a little McLaren magic, they may well find themselves in the mix for points several times this season. Sutil finished 9th today, but that will be hard to repeat in less chaotic races. I'd strongly recommend that they mix up their strategies to take advantage of the differences between the tyres this season (and to "do a Piquet" at some stage). Might manage 10-20 points this season, but it will be tough.

KERS - didn't show itself to be an advantage this weekend, but it might at other races. We await with baited breath.
Level playing field - does anyone remember the days when cars would be lapped 3 or 4 times in a race, because that will only happen in exxceptional circumstances, this year. This level playing field will force all the big teams to "waste" a set of soft tyres in Q1 far more regularly tahn they would like.
Tyres - the super-softs were a disgrace to the sport this afternoon. Perhaps teams will learn that they are next to useless beyond 5 laps, and adjust their cars and strategies accordingly, but this will certainly add to the unpredictability of races.

No comments:

Post a Comment