Through eighteen-and-a-half races a title was won by the unexpected Jenson Button, who, after years of fading into the background, produced an opening display worthy of praise which also solidified his position in the lead of the driver’s championship.
However, his opening flourish at the hands of a rookie Brawn GP team became a contradiction to the second half of the season, where the tables were turned and the leaders became the followers.
As teams fought to edge their way around the new regulations and improve their performance, gaps were closed and the status quo was overturned. We truly had a season of two halves, where the lead drivers and teams differed between the two. And some profited more than others.
There is no denying that Brawn GP followed their electric first half to the season with a down turn in domination, doing enough to claim both the drivers' and team’s titles, but allowing us to reflect on a lucky end to the campaign. Damage limitation was at times made too easy for them and, odd events aside, could have left them without either title.
Button also proved that, behind the wheel of a slower car, he is not able to perform at the level he has shown he is capable of in a stronger car. As a result, many have questioned his credentials, although there is no denying that it has been inspirational to see his spark reignited and his passion expressed constantly.
Barrichello, on the other hand, appeared in parts to use Button’s fall to his advantage and created a title opportunity seemingly out of nowhere. His powerful triumphs in the European and Italian Grand Prix highlighted his credentials to further sustain a career and become the first driver in the history of the sport to reach a tri-centennial number of Grand Prix.
Such an improvement provided us a second compelling story to the Brawn GP fantasy. Button was not to have it all his own way. In what may have been Barrichello’s last chance at ultimate glory, it came into fruition.
Red Bull took a slight advantage as the Brawn team floundered, but reliability issues—especially for Webber—put an end to any serious title challenges. On more occasions than not, though, their pace allowed them to outclass Brawn. Webber's defining domination of the German Grand Prix and Vettel’s collection of victories highlighted growing aspirations for the Milton Keynes-based team.
The revelatory performances in the second half of the season were fitting for Button’s predecessors and the two former champions, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen.
Even before Massa’s unfortunate injury, Kimi Raikkonen was showing great poise and pace on the track, collecting podiums along the way and providing a high amount of momentum, which carried him into a more credible points tally. A solitary victory for the Flying Finn, although alone in its occurrence, was enough to question Ferrari’s decision to ditch Kimi. He stepped up his game vastly after last season's downfall.
The Ferrari car was inconsistent, however, and Ferrari’s clumsy decisions to name first Luca Badoer and then a greedy Fisichella to the second seat cost them dearly. One point separated them and large rivals Mclaren. Such a small victory for Mclaren could easily have been averted. Next season, therefore, requires improvements.
Mclaren’s season, more than most, was a Jekyll and Hyde one, indeed. Kubica was the star of that season and Lewis seemed to luck himself into glory rather than gain it on merit. Button won more races than Hamilton achieved last year, giving the experienced Brit more of an argument to his title win.
It was therefore massively refreshing to see Lewis rise out of the ashes of Mclaren’s dismal opening half of the season by producing the best display of speed and tenacity seen by any driver in the final stages. If it hadn’t been for his error in the latter stages of Monza, his dominance would have been even more extravagant.
Providing Mclaren continues his upward trend, Lewis will definitely be an early favourite for next year’s title. The determination and raw talent evident in his debut season appears to have returned. Lewis has seemingly matured beyond expectation.
One team that sadly drifted from a promising early season pace was Toyota. Timo Glock is a driver with good things in store and over the seasons, Jarno Trulli has shown a level of consistency that warrants him a positive future reputation. The Trulli train rather surprisingly has even not had many runs this year.
Yet the odd occurrences of inconsistency with the car in the second half of the season cost them dearly and they lost sight of Mclaren and Ferrari, which effectively lost an early third place in the constructors’ title.
Their first half showed some remarkable speed and gave hope of a debut victory for the "almost there" team. Then they began turning up to race weekends amid a regressive air of unpredictability.
They either averagely performed or spectacularly failed. Viewers and critiques were perplexed at their evident pace one weekend and lack of substance and speed the next. Both drivers hardly deserved such a random sequence, but were punished with out of sorts results.
A Final Flourish
Paradoxically, BMW Sauber ended their time in Formula 1 with a few credible performances that brought back our attention to the talents of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld. The team deserved and must have had the biggest reality check of their lives midseason.
Robert Kubica became a champion in waiting last year with his solid out performance of the 2008 car. But BMW had other ideas and halted his title challenge last year to make way for the 2009 car.
In hindsight, they really should not have bothered, as both Robert and Nick looked helpless in arguably the worst car of the year. A couple of podium finishes throughout the season brought some light yet, despite their improved results towards the end of the season, it was a great disappointment.
Heidfeld and Kubica will keep the ball rolling and push towards a more prosperous continuation of their careers.
Relative to the rest, three teams barely seemed to move forward at all. All season, Toro Rosso appeared to show the wounds of a post Vettel team, and their ridiculous decision to dump Sebastian Bourdais played a major part in this. Buemi was quick on occasion, but neither driver ever really benefited from a polished car and clambered for the odd point or two at best.
Williams suffered due to the season-long poor performance of one driver. Kazuki Nakajima, although not the worst driver ever to grace a track, is surely kissing a Formula 1 career goodbye with a season where he ended as the only driver to start and finish the season without scoring a single world championship point.
Nico Rosberg, although not able to compete on a regular basis at the front, produced some truly beautiful performances and fine tuned his application to becoming a race winner. His move to Brawn GP will hopefully be a beneficial one. He certainly has the capability of destroying Button’s rebuilt reputation if he partners and demolishes the World Champion.
Renault arguably had the most depressing of seasons. Without Fernando Alonso they would have been nothing this year. This is a somewhat disastrous reality, as it was only three years ago that they had tasted title success.
Alonso took the bull by the horns and wrestled his car into points finishes, but it was never to be anymore than the occasional points finish for a driver who eclipses not only his teammates' potential, but also his car's potential.
Nelson Piquet’s departure was overdue, but his replacement, Grosjean, highlighted the fact that teams in the current climate of no in-season testing should not really be replacing drivers with inexperienced rookies.
Unfortunately for Grosjean, he may now not get another chance, which is a tad unfair for someone so early into his career.
The Back-Markers Revolution
Force India were a back-end team at the beginning of this year. Comparisons to Minardi have been abundant, as the lack of budget and inexperience gave them little hope. They are the sort of team you expect to compete for a few years, without actually ever giving a reason as to why they should really continue.
Then something extraordinary happened, as Fisichella claimed a shock pole position and consequential podium finish in Belgium. Sutil, who some felt deserved the accolade of first podium for the team, also produced a display worthy of his talents in the following Grand Prix and the team had become an enticing prospect.
Although they fell backwards again in the final couple of Grand Prix, spectators were excited about the idea of back-end teams actually competing and stealing points from the big boys.
And so Brawn elevated themselves head-first to the top of the podium, but came undone as the historically lead teams began to take back their throne.
Such events lead us to an exciting 2010 season, with thirteen teams battling to emulate Brawn GP’s success.
With such a vast number of teams, we are left with a mouth-watering prospect as Button and Brawn look set to re-affirm their status at the top, but with twelve other teams now ready to fight for the win.
First-Half Points Tally (First Eight-and-a-Half Races)
1) Jenson Button (Brawn GP) – 68pts
2) Sebastien Vettel (Red Bull Racing) – 47pts
3) Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing) – 45.5pts
4) Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP) – 44pts
5) Felipe Massa (Ferrari) – 22pts
6) Jarno Trulli ( Toyota ) – 21.5pts
7) Nico Rosberg (Williams) – 20.5pts
8) Timo Glock ( Toyota ) – 13pts
9) Fernando Alonso (Renault) – 13pts
10) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 10pts
11) Lewis Hamilton – 9pts
12) Nick Heidfeld – 6pts
13) Heikki Kovalinen – 5pts
14) Sebastien Buemi – 3pts
15) Sebastian Bourdais – 2pts
16) Robert Kubica – 2pts
Second-Half Points Tally (Final Eight Races)
1) Lewis Hamilton (Mclaren Mercedes) – 40pts
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 38pts
3) Sebastien Vettel (Red Bull Racing) – 37pts
4) Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP) – 33pts
5) Jenson Button (Brawn GP) – 27pts
6) Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing) – 24pts
7) Heikki Kovalinen (Mclaren) – 17pts
8) Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber) – 14pts
9) Fernando Alonso (Renault) – 13pts
10) Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) – 13pts
11) Timo Glock – 11pts
12) Jarno Trulli – 11pts
13) Nico Rosberg – 10pts
14) Giancarlo Fisichella – 8pts
15) Adrian Sutil – 5pts
16) Sebastien Buemi – 3pts
17) Kobayashi – 3pts