The 2009 Formula One season was one of contrasting fortunes and unpredictability. A radical overhaul of the car design regulations saw the old pecking order ripped apart and replaced with some highly unlikely faces at the front of the grid. The season began with a level of dominance from one driver, not seen since the days of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari but from late June onwards the balance of power shifted and swayed almost constantly in the final two thirds of the season. Many different cars and drivers won races and appeared on the podium, as fortunes peaked and troughed regularly, in one of the most open and topsy turvey periods the sport has seen for many years.
The season started in Melbourne with the most radical changes in car design regulations for many years. This had a pleasant effect in drastically shaking up the long established order. McLaren and Ferrari, who have pretty much dominated the sharp end of the grid since 1998 were now mired towards the wrong end of the grid and new contenders like Brawn, Red Bull and Toyota were now achieving pole positions and regular podium finishes. I have nothing against Ferrari and McLaren, but familiarity breeds contempt, so it was nice to see them struggle and to see some other teams and drivers have their turn at being at the sharp end.
The Brawn team transformation from the ashes of Honda into race winners was unprecedented and amazing. It was a real feel good story for Formula One. In a season of Lie Gate, Race Fixing and a threatened break away, it was a much needed antidote.
Jenson Button in the Brawn went on to win six out of the first seven races. His domination was Schumacher like and after Turkey it seemed that another season similar to 2002 and 2004 beckoned. However things changed dramatically from Silverstone onwards.
The Brawn dominance was ended with a thud and although both drivers went on to score podiums and in Barrichello’s case a couple of wins, they had been pegged back massively and sometimes even struggled to score a point at some of the season’s remaining races. This signalled the start of the next period of the season, a time where the balance of power moved around from race to race. It was a time of major unpredictability and contrasting fortunes and it was not unusual to see teams being mired in the bottom six one weekend to then challenging for a win and podiums at the next race. Force India and McLaren were the prime examples of this.
Despite this unpredictability and constantly shifting fortunes, many of the races themselves were not particularly interesting affairs. The season started with so much promise, new regulations designed to make overtaking much easier, a new grid order and we saw three really good races to start the season, races which gave us plenty of overtaking action and incidents. But as season progressed, the really good races packed with incident and overtaking were generally not to be seen. The unpredictability was good, but too often the races were quite dull, with little overtaking and many being chess match like races, decided by refuelling tactics and pit strategy, resulting in rather insipid and uninspiring races.
There was no real blockbuster thriller of a Grand Prix either, like Nurburgring 1999, Brazil 2003 or Suzuka 2005. There was no final round championship deciding nail biter like 2007 or 2008. It is such a subjective thing, I acknowledge, but when comparing this season to other seasons, it was nowhere near as exciting as years like 1997, 2003 or 2008. However in my time of following Formula One, it must also be said this season was much better than the tedium and repetitive predictability served up by some other years.
Statistically though the season did see a first time drivers and constructors champion and four different cars and six different drivers won races. Button clinched the title in a cavalier and exciting manner, overtaking cars on the track to move from 14th to 5th in one of the season’s more entertaining races.
The unpredictability and the shaking up of the long established order was a breath of fresh air. Indeed it was fascinating and absorbing to settle down to a race weekend and have very little idea of which teams would be at the front and which would be propping up the grid. A team that were seemingly making up the numbers one race ago could easily be challenging for the top 5 and vice versa. More of this would be very much appreciated for 2010, if only the races can be a little more exciting and feature some more overtaking.