It's Always the Quiet Ones: Who Will Surprise in 2009?
With the 2009 Formula One season just around the corner, pundits everywhere are sticking their necks out and predicting who will succeed when the new season gets underway.
As well as the usual suspects, and perhaps the Brawn GP duo, whose impressive testing times have provoked many to tip either Jenson Button or Rubens Barrichello as potential world champions in 2009, there are some drivers who are poised to spring a surprise this year.
Their efforts are no less superhuman than those of the drivers who usually fill our headlines, but for one reason or another they are bound to be overlooked until they do something spectacular.
So let's have a look at who of F1's "also rans" could hit the big time in 2009.
If nothing else, Glock proved in 2008 that his near-disastrous foray into F1 in 2004 did not demonstrate his true potential, and that the 2007 GP2 champion's Toyota seat is well-deserved.
Timo started 2008 slowly, making several key errors that left him behind teammate Jarno Trulli in the standings, but by the end of the season he was consistently bringing the Toyota home high in the points.
The highlight of the season was an excellent second place in Hungary, but his points finishes in the closing races of the year were significant too, as they came at a time when Renault and Scuderia Toro Rosso both had faster cars than Glock's Toyota.
With the promise of a competitive car for this season, Glock is just as good a bet as Trulli to deliver Toyota's maiden Formula One win, and his consistency and raw speed will serve him well in 2009.
Notorious for mowing down his pit crew in his first Grand Prix, the Brazilian race of 2007, Nakajima maintained his destructive reputation in 2008 by colliding with several high-profile drivers, including Robert Kubica in Australia and Fernando Alonso in Valencia.
But when he wasn't crashing, Nakajima was actually consistently bringing the Williams into the points; when the car was fast enough to break into the top eight, it was almost guaranteed that Kazuki would put it there.
That is more than can be said for teammate Nico Rosberg, who tended to qualify well but all too often threw away precious scoring opportunities by crashing, as he did in Monaco and Canada.
The true pace of the 2009 Williams is not yet known, and whether Nakajima will have the car to consistently deliver points finishes is unclear.
But he will push Rosberg even harder than he did last year, and if the car allows it a maiden podium for the promising Japanese youngster is not too distant a prospect.
The young Brazilian garnered more than his fair share of criticism last year, motivated partly by an inability to keep up with his double world champion teammate Fernando Alonso, but also more cynically because of his father's unpopularity (especially in Britain) back when he was a racer.
The truth is that Piquet had no more difficult a season than many Formula One rookies, and as the car improved later in the season so did Nelson.
History shows that young Piquet performs much better in his second season in any given series than in his first; applying this logic to F1, we should see much more from Nelson in 2009.
Nobody is expecting Piquet to challenge Alonso too much this season, but he should at least be able to pick up regular points finishes and establish his place in Formula One.
Overshadowed by his superstar teammate Sebastian Vettel in 2008, Bourdais nonetheless showed excellent promise last season coupled with some crippling bad luck.
While Vettel was busy crashing in the early races of the season, the Frenchman showed consistency and pace, fourth place on his F1 debut only being denied him when his engine expired late in the race.
The bad luck continued, with a late tactical foul-up in Belgium and a start-line glitch in Italy denying potential podium finishes in both races; Bourdais has plenty to prove in 2009, but not nearly as much as his four points in 2008 (compared to 35 for Vettel) show.
Bourdais' Toro Rosso team have the benefit of powerful Ferrari engines and an Adrian Newey-designed chassis this year; if they can continue to get it right, expect Bourdais to impress. He didn't win four Champ Car titles through mediocrity.
Fisichella is unfortunate in that his Formula One career will forever be defined in terms of his lacklustre years at Renault, where he was overshadowed by Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen.
But the Italian is just as motivated as ever to prove his detractors wrong, and the Mercedes-powered Force India promises to be a leap forward from last year's disappointing car.
If the team can escape the back row of the grid, which will be difficult given the competitiveness of the field this year, expect Fisichella to lead the team to multiple points finishes in 2009.
Fisi's prodigious F1 experience will come in useful if the team is to learn from its first year in Formula One, and though his best days are behind him, he will be eager to prove that his career isn't over yet.
The five drivers listed here are unlikely to be world champions; not all of them will win races in 2009, and perhaps none will do so.
But look for each one of them to impress beyond expectation this season, as we gear up for an exciting and eagerly-anticipated year of racing.
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