F1 2009 Regulations, Pt. 2: Who Will Adapt Best?
If you haven’t read part 1 of my F1 2009 regulations feature focusing on overtaking, then click the link below.
Which teams will adapt best to the 2009 rules?
The 2009 rules are probably the biggest changes to be made to the F1 car for quite some time. It will nearly be an entirely different racing series next season.
For all the teams, it’s like starting on a fresh piece of paper. Rather than evolving the current cars as most teams did for this season, they have to build a completely new car.
Due to the extent of the challenge of building the 2009 challenger, all the teams have had to consider how to split their time and resources between continuing development on the 2008 car and creating the 2009 challenger. The teams who get this decision right will have a good starting point already for next season.
At the moment there is a lot of guesswork involved as to which teams will be where on the grid next season. An awful lot could change before the start of next season and we won’t really get a huge indication of performance before testing starts in January next year.
One of the main factors of these new rules is that developing the cars according to these new regulations is going to cost the teams a lot of money, particularly the very advanced KERs.
Therefore the biggest and richest teams (or the biggest manufacturer teams) are at an advantage.
Getting KERs right will be critical as it could be worth about half a second. Some teams may even struggle to have KERs ready for the first race due to the extent of work required to get it ready and also make it safe to use, which is proving another challenge (a BMW mechanic recently got a shock whilst testing the system).
Although I do think there will more grid changes in 2009 than there was between 2007 and 2008, it won’t be as extreme as some fans are predicting it to be (or perhaps hoping for!).
How about a Force India in front of a Ferrari? Absolutely no chance!
Fans thinking that the rules will turn the grid upside down are being very unrealistic.
These new rules are just so expensive. The FIA want teams to save money, but in these rules they have completely countered that objective.
Mclaren and Ferrari should both be able to adapt to 2009 quite well. With the amount of resources and budget that they have; they have the luxury of being able to work on both the 2008 and 2009 cars at the same time.
With the sheer amount of time both teams have been in F1 they will have been challenged by all the changes made to F1 over the years big or small. I can’t see either team taking a big dip in performance.
Which of the battling pair will do the better job though? In my opinion I think Mclaren will probably start next season with the faster car. They have a lot of clever people and experienced men at Mclaren who will be able to oversee the project very well.
For Ferrari it will a bit tougher because this will be the first really major challenge for the new team installed at Ferrari, since the “Dream Team” left.
The members of that dream team would still have had a major influence on the 2007 car, as it would have been built and designed during the 2006 season under their watchful eyes.
Over the last couple of seasons Ferrari has successfully evolved the car into a winning machine.
Another potential stumbling block is Ferrari’s knowledge of the current Bridgestone tyres (similar to 2004 spec) has been key to their success. However, they will have to learn to adapt in 2009 to the new spec tyres just as every other team will.
We have seen that the current Ferrari team does have chinks in its armour, so the 2009 car may not be perfect. I will still expect them to win races... but the championship? I am not so sure.
The next question which fans are desperate for an answer to is which teams currently in the midfield could join the battle at the front?
I am sure BMW Sauber will be able to join the front teams, but like the new look Ferrari team, it will be a brand new challenge.
They have jumped over every other hurdle in F1 so far with plenty of room to spare, so there is no reason why they can’t do the same with this one.
However, I think that even with these new rules it will still be very hard for them to make the jump. Mclaren and Ferrari will do decent jobs and they will have teams behind them breathing down their necks.
It’s Honda and Red Bull who I think will make the biggest jumps up the grid thanks to the new rules.
The cars next season will have a lot of similarities to the cars from the mid-90s.
During that time, it was design genius Adrian Newey who was designing the fastest cars, winning races and championships galore.
Therefore I think these rules will really suit him and Geoff Willis (who Newey also worked with during his time at Williams).
Red Bull have made good progress over the last 12 to 18 months and everything in the team is really starting to gel together nicely. Red Bull have exactly the right people to get the best out of this new set of regulations. I have a feeling they will be on the podium regularly next season and will get their first F1 victory.
If Red Bull does well, then Torro Rosso will benefit as well of course. I still think the team will remain under Red Bull ownership and will continue to get the benefit of Newey’s talents and remain a very fast midfield team.
Honda are pretty much banking on next season to get themselves back on track, after what will have been a couple of torrid seasons.
Ross Brawn made it very clear when he joined the team that much of the focus would be on 2009 rather on 2008. Indeed Honda have up to 5 wind tunnels, all working on the new car.
It is rumoured that Honda are a long way ahead of any team with the development of the KERs system, which alone will be worth a few tenths to the team. At the moment, we can’t tell how the Brawn effect is changing the team’s performance due to the fact that they have practically given up on 2008.
At the start of the season though, Honda were really struggling in testing and looked the slowest team on the grid.
Right before the season started, with Brawn’s impact, there was a 1 second gain which put them in the midfield and able to challenge for points.
If Honda had continued aggressive development throughout the season, I think they would be doing pretty well by now.
I don’t think Honda will challenge for big results straight away; that’s possibly too big a jump at the moment but I expect them to return to the right end of the grid. From there, with Brawn in charge, the sky is the limit.
As for others I haven’t mentioned yet?
Williams I think will sadly slide down the grid even further. They have the knowledge and people on board, but lack the facilities and the budget they need, which is going to be so vital for adapting to these new regulations.
At least they may get some help with KERs from their engine suppliers Toyota and sponsor Lenovo, who recently helped set up a new supercomputer at the team’s factory.
Toyota have made admirable progress during the course of this season so far.
Next season I expect their position on the grid to remain pretty stable. Their main sponsors Panasonic should be able to give then a good helping hand with the development of KERs.
So, like Honda, I think they will have a decent headstart in that department.
How well they will adapt to the rest of the new regs is questionable.
At least with people like Frank Dernie on board there is experience there to help adapt to the rules.
One problem in my mind is that they are perhaps still spending too much time on the 2008 car to the detriment of 2009 development. I think their position will remain similar, but if they are going to move, it will more likely be down than up in my opinion.
For Renault, since their mass Damper system got banned in the middle of 2006 and they went from Michelins to Bridgestone, they have just never looked the same.
They haven’t made the recovery that they hoped for.
These new regs are the opportunity they need in order to start matching the top teams again. With experience like Pat Symonds the team should be in good hands and do a good job.
However if Mclaren and Ferrari make a strong car and the promise of Honda and Red Bull come to fruit, I think Renault may well be stuck where they are, or even slip back further. Renault haven’t got the biggest budget out of the teams and this may well pull them up short. I also question the passion of the big guys at Renault behind the F1 operation, since they have drifted away from being a championship winning team.
Force India have improved under new ownership and the expertise of Mike Gascoyne.
Again they are going to improve, but with the talent and large budgets ahead of them, it's still going to be extremely difficult to move ahead of the teams ahead of them, unless one of them makes a real mess of adapting to the new rules.
So to finish off this section I am going to make a bold prediction on the order of the teams at the first race in 2009:
Red Bull, Honda, Ferrari
Toyota, Torro Rosso, Renault
How will the drivers adapt?
Like the teams, it is very hard to predict who will benefit and who might suffer, especially out of a grid of 20 drivers.
However here is a small guide to a few of the skills that the drivers will need this season and a few examples
Next year, F1 will almost be like a new Formula for the drivers.
They will have to get used to cars with less aero grip.
They have got to adapt to the new slick tyres.
Then there will be more emphasis on race craft than there has been in the last few seasons.
The drivers will also have to try and figure out the best way of using KERs to their advantage in order to pass drivers. When and where do they press the button?
So which drivers will these new rules suit best?
The slick tyres will give drivers more grip and, therefore, more confidence to take risks in corners.
They will be able to brake later into corners due to the extra mechanical grip. I expect the new slicks to be made quite hard by Bridgestone, as the FIA will want to lap times as under control as possible.
This means means their softest tyres may not be as soft as the name suggests.
Therefore, I think tyre graining and looking after the tyres will become less important next season. Hard tyres are easier to look after than soft ones.
With the current Bridgestone tyres, you can’t be too aggressive as that is not how to get the most speed out of them. Also they grain very easily.
Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, and Robert Kubica struggled at times in 2007 due to having to use these tyres.
Kubica seemed to have found a way around the problem and adapted his driving this season with great success.
However, I don’t feel Raikkonen and Alonso have ever fully adapted their driving to the Bridgestone control tyre and driven with the form they showed whilst driving on Michelins.
That is why Alonso struggled to cope with Hamilton last season and why Raikkonen and Massa have always been so closely matched since they have been together, which not many ever expected.
However I think the new slick tyres will really suit Alonso, Raikkonen, and Kubica.
The slicks will allow them to use their aggressive styles of driving and really take some risk.
You just can’t do that with these current Bridgestones.
I think we will really see the best out of all three of them.
Alonso and Raikkonen in particular could be changed drivers in 2009. Back to their former selves perhaps.
Kubica will get even stronger too.
Lewis Hamilton pushes extremely hard all the time and he will love the extra grip that the slicks will give him and they will allow him to take even more risks. It was very visible to see how much he thrived just with traction control being banned
On the other hand drivers with a smoother style may struggle to adapt more.
Nick Heidfeld, for example, isn’t an aggressive driver and will need to change his style.
With the current Bridgestones, you have to drive aggressively to warm the tyres up and Nick hasn’t been able to do this effectively all season.
It’s not that drivers like Heidfeld will do a poor job. It’s simply that drivers like Alonso and Raikkonen will be able to make more use of the slick tyres and that extra grip and confidence that they will give them.
Over to overtaking.
There will be a higher frequency of overtaking moves next season. Therefore, for the drivers, this will become a much more important skill than it is currently.
The drivers who have the best race craft (both offensively and defensively) will clearly benefit.
Lewis Hamilton in my view has the best race craft on the current grid. Some of his moves in F1 have been quite spectacular. He is also ultra aggressive. He will find a gap to pass a driver however big or small it is and will try everything possible to not let someone pass him.
This skill has been there in all the Formulas he has been in and he will impress in this department next season.
Drivers such as Raikkonen and Alonso will put on a good show too. Remember Alonso going round the outside of Schumacher at 130r (Japan 2005)? And Raikkonen blasting past Fisichella on the last lap in the same race?
Felipe Massa’s race craft has always been questionable, but with the cars as they are, it’s not been a huge issue for him.
Although he has improved as an offensive driver, he really struggles to defend. Hockenheim, where he practically let Hamilton past, is proof of this.
Out of the front drivers, he will be the one that struggles most in this aspect of the rules.
Drivers like Heidfeld and Webber aren’t regular overtakers so it will be interesting to see how they adapt.
Overall I think the drivers will find these cars a lot more fun to drive and will enjoy braking as late into corners as possible and using the extra grip from the tyres to gain as many tenths as they can.
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