Every season in Formula One fans look forward to the introduction of some fresh blood in the form of young drivers rising from the lower formula’s to fill the role of the rookies to watch for the year ahead. 2009 will be no different with all eyes on the men who have broken into the elite and unforgiving world of top level motor sport that is F1.
This year the light falls upon 20 year old Toro Rosso pilot Sebastien Buemi and at the time of writing the latest product of the Red Bull driver program looks like being 2009’s only rookie and as such the pressure on this young lad from Switzerland to impress will be magnified yet further, what’s more due to circumstances far beyond any single individuals control he may just be one of the last rookies F1 sees for some time; at least that’s my opinion as the doors to the top table slowly slide shut to many a young hopeful, allow me to explain.
In recent years you could indeed argue that F1’s obsession with youth has inadvertently spoilt the fans, with the emergence of a stunning group, driver’s who will go down as greats, notably Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen already champions, add to that the quite supreme Robert Kubica the frighteningly good Sebastian Vettel and the ever improving Felipe Massa and Timo Glock, there can be little doubt that we are about to enter a golden age the like of which not seen since the late 80’s and early 90’s.
However sadly in many ways Formula One in 2009 is nothing like those years past where over 30 cars would regularly compete in a battle to make it on to a final grid of 26. If the team formally known as Honda Racing does not make it to Melbourne then the season will begin with a worryingly anaemic grid of just 18 cars with 7 spots taken up by absolute top line drivers mentioned above, all of whom are in their 20’s and could conceivably lock out the top end of the grid for years to come, not to say that’s a bad thing; all are exceptional drivers who will do nothing but provide an awesome world class spectacle as we move further into the post Schumacher era, were you to be a young driver however looking to move into the rookie spotlight for the 2010 season you might not take such a fond view.
For not only is there a very small number of actual seats to go round, the radical cost cutting measures undertaken by the FIA to keep F1 alive appear to have given a lifeline to a few of the older driver’s plying their trade on circuits across the globe. With no in season testing now allowed, it would be a brave team who stacks their chips up against a young kid knowing that once the season has begun there will be no hiding place. All genuine practice at the wheel of a bona fide grand prix car from now on will take place at grand prix weekends, and if a driver doesn’t hit his mark at a given weekend that weekend is likely to be a long and fruitless one leaving an inexperienced driver painfully exposed and potentially embarrassed.
This was seen to a certain extent in early 2008 as Nelson Piquet was left trailing in the wake of Fernando Alonso and found himself on the end of some harsh words from boss Flavio Briatore with his very future in the sport brought into question during the early races. By the very skin of his teeth and many miles pounding the test track Nelson escaped getting his p45 early, and by the end of the season looked almost like a competent F1 driver capable of the occasional points finish and the odd lucky podium, but would this rediscovery of form been possible without the testing miles, I’m not at all sure.
The other side of the coin is BMW’s Nick Heidfeld who for all his effort early season could not get to grips with the unique handling characteristics of his machine (despite his considerable experience) and found himself getting destroyed by Robert Kubica; not a problem though, BMW have the ways and means to work out exactly what’s going on here and they did, but again it took many miles of testing, that seemed to compromise the progress of Kubica himself as the car was developed.
The phrase ‘You can’t have the penny and the bun’ was proved correct and in 2009 in the cut throat world that is F1 that will never be truer.
So while the odd ‘old timer’ may struggle with the new regulations and the lack of testing it’s fair to say they have a lot less to worry about than any rookie with nothing to draw on when they lose their way under the full glare of a world media. As a result I suspect the seats of, Fisichella, Trulli and Webber are the safest they have been for some time, and the same goes for Heidfeld; who may bizarrely have been saved by the upcoming regulation changes as BMW rediscovered the value of a steady hand in changing times
Formula One is now harder than ever and so for that reason I would like to extend my best wishes and luck to Sebastien Buemi for the season ahead, I get the sneaky suspicion that regardless of his level of raw talent he’s going to need it and not just for himself but aspiring drivers everywhere, no pressure of course.