The 2009 Season Review - Button a natural Brawn winner 06 Nov 2009
Well, that was some season! Yet another stunning FIA Formula One World Championship that created a fresh chapter of history.
Brawn GP, the Phoenix that rose from the ashes of Honda who sent shockwaves rippling through the sport after their sudden and unexpected withdrawal the previous December, became the first new team ever to win their first two races (Mercedes-Benz, March and Wolf in 1954, 1970 and 1977 respectively had won their first) and go on to win both the drivers and constructors titles. They won eight races, took four one-twos and 15 podiums.
And by season end Jenson Buttons succession to Lewis Hamiltons throne meant that for the first time ever two Englishmen - as opposed to two Britons - had won back-to-back titles.
Almost inevitably, 2009 began with controversies. First, there were the new regulations. Slick tyres were back. Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) were optional, and promised those who opted to pursue their multi-million dollar development in an era of cost cutting, such as McLaren, Ferrari, BMW Sauber and Renault, an extra 80bhp for six seconds a lap, and a potential gain of 0.6s in lap time.
And aerodynamic changes aimed at improving overtaking meant less bodywork furniture such as bargeboards, smaller and higher rear wings, and wider and lower fronts which could be adjusted twice a lap through three degrees to cut down understeer while following closely in another cars wake. Sadly, despite all the research that went into this, most drivers were sceptical about the overall effect.
It was the aero side, allied to the new rule banning testing during the season, which were to create the main talking points at the start of the season, because Brawn, Toyota and Williams all hit, through varying routes, on the idea of running a double diffuser. They had spotted the loophole in the regulations, and the FIA rejected protests from the likes of BMW Sauber, Red Bull and Renault after Button had wiped the floor with everyone in Melbourne.
The testing ban made it hard for others to catch up, though invariably they did after four or five races. By then Button had run amok. He won again in the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix (and had that race run its course the latter part of his season might have been less stressful), in Bahrain, Spain, Monaco and Turkey. Of the opening seven races, only China, the third, fell to Red Bull, as Sebastian Vettel led home Mark Webber.
Button was third there, and for the first time the Brawns Achilles heel was exposed: an inability to generate the same sort of tyre temperatures in cool conditions (or rain in this case) as the Red Bull. The Adrian Newey-designed RB5 had the best lift/drag performance of any car, and in a year that would yield the Milton Keynes-based team six wins, four one-twos and 16 podiums, fearsomely improved reliability.
As Brawn and Red Bull thus set the pace, others struggled. McLarens MP4-24 was initially a major disappointment, with very poor aero performance. Ferraris F60 was beautiful, but likewise lacked aero grunt. The two big hitters were paying the price for throwing so much technological development into their 2008 title fight, whereas Brawn had been working on their cars concept since February 2007.
Though BMW Sauber briefly looked strong in Australia until Robert Kubica was taken out in a clash with Vettel, they and Renault would soon find that their respective F1.09 and R29 offerings were not up to scratch. Thus the cars that showed promise in the wake of the two leaders were Toyotas TF109 and Williams Toyota-powered FW31.
The second controversy was born in Australia but ultimately came to light in Malaysia. Lewis Hamilton inferred to the Australian Grand Prix stewards that Jarno Trulli had refused to let him repass after Trulli had briefly slipped off the road in Melbourne when the field was running behind the safety car, but the FIA subsequently ruled that radio transmissions proved that McLaren - in their first race under new team principal Martin Whitmarsh - had told him to hold station. The suggestion that McLaren were trying to get Trulli into trouble left a bad taste and led to the departure of their sporting director, Dave Ryan.
Continued in Part Two