Yes, the title says exactly what I believe: Lewis Hamilton will NOT successfully defend his title in 2009.
Why not? Simple, really: The changes to the technical regulations next year will produce a car unlike anything he's ever dealt with before.
Think about his progression: He went from karting to Formula Renault and Formula 3, then to GP2, then Formula One. Every time he moved up, he moved up to a car with more power and more grip. Now, in 2009, the FIA is taking some of that grip away, while the power is staying the same.
Many aerodynamics experts believe the grip level of next year's F1 cars will be similar to that of the cars once used by the Champ Car World Series. Appropriately, Champ Cars had about the same amount of power as current F1 cars.
Next year I'd want a guy like Sebastien Bourdais on my team—he certainly knows how to handle that level of power combined with that level of grip, after all.
Hamilton's never handled this setup—in the lower tier series he's run, the car's grip was always proportional to its power in the same way as an F1 car.
There's no doubt that Lewis Hamilton is an extremely talented driver, and he'll almost certainly win races next year, but I do strongly believe the changes coming to the cars are so massive that he will require time to adjust before he gets back to his winning ways.
And that's assuming McLaren gets it right. When changes this drastic occur, its easy for even a great team to screw up.
Take Ferrari, for instance. The Tifosi are going to hate me for reminding them of this, but think back to 2005. In 2005 there was a sizeable change in the technical regulations, primarily regarding positioning of the wings. Ferrari, whom you'd expect to adapt well, completely dropped the ball and had to wait until the following season before they could mount another championship charge.
And the technical regulation changes were MINUTE compared to what's coming.
Think about how many teams abandoned most development of their '08 cars in favor of getting their '09 challengers right. Honda, Force India, Toyota...When before have you ever heard about THREE teams abandoning development mid-season to focus on the following year? It doesn't happen often.
2009 will result in a huge shakeup in the order. At least one of the expected frontrunners(Ferrari, BMW, and McLaren) are going to fall back, and at least one of the usual backmarkers will charge forward.
And several drivers will struggle to come to grips with the new cars.
2009 is shaping up to be an interesting season, and we haven't even gotten a look at the new cars yet.
Do I have all the answers? No. Can I reliably predict next year's champion? No. But I can tell you that when all the facts are piled before you, back-to-back championships for Hamilton look VERY unlikely.
Onward to the new season.