The 2009 Season Review - Part Three 06 Nov 2009
Continued from Part Two
Raikkonen did give Ferrari a win, at Spa, after fending off Fisichella! On that occasion, however, the Italian was still with Force India, whose Mercedes-powered car showed remarkable form on circuits where low downforce was required. Adrian Sutil proved very fast but wild and accident prone in the other car, but only Raikkonens KERS prevented Fisichella from staging a huge upset victory in Belgium. Fisis replacement, the underrated Vitantonio Liuzzi, was headed for a podium finish behind the Brawns at Monza when his car broke a driveshaft.
It was also at Spa that yet another scandal was unveiled. In Hungary Renault had been lucky to escape suspension when, only a week after former world champion John Surtees 19 year-old son Henry had been killed by an errant wheel in a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch, the French teams pit crew released Fernando Alonso from a pit stop knowing that the right front wheel had been improperly secured. It came off, and the stewards of the meeting fined them the maximum possible, US$50,000, and suspended them from Valencia.
Renault won their appeal against exclusion, but soon it became clear that they were being investigated for fixing the result of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix following allegations from former driver Nelson Piquet, sacked in July, that he had been told to crash deliberately there to give Alonso the safety car intervention that helped him through to victory. Subsequently, team principal Flavio Briatore was banned indefinitely from the sport, and technical chief Pat Symonds for five years.
Meanwhile, as Renault struggled on and off the track, Toyotas performances picked up after a mid-season slump. Timo Glock was an excellent second to Hamilton in Singapore, a result that Jarno Trulli repeated on their home ground at Suzuka. That left them fifth overall, which was respectable, while a late-season charge from BMW Sauber, who had introduced a significant aerodynamic and technical upgrade for Singapore, benefited from a second place by Kubica in Brazil and Nick Heidfelds fifth in Abu Dhabi to jump ahead of Williams by one and a half points into sixth. The British team had its most consistent season of late, showing well on all but the low-downforce tracks, and would have gone better still had the Toyota engine had competitive horsepower.
Renault were a humbled eighth after one of their toughest-ever seasons yielded just one podium for Alonso, ironically enough in Singapore. Force India might have finished only ninth, but they showed they have the potential to run at or near the front, but Toro Rosso, in 10th overall, showed only flashes of speed with their Red Bull RB5 lookalike STR4. Sebastien Buemi looked good at times, while rookie Jamie Alguersuari replaced Sebastian Bourdais from Hungary onwards.
When Glock crashed in Japan in what would become historys longest-ever qualifying session, he was subsequently replaced for the final two races by GP2 driver Kamui Kobayashi, who did enough with a ninth and a sixth place finish to make himself unofficial Rookie of the Year ahead of Buemi. There were suspicions all along that he had been placed in Glocks seat by a team that knew they were on borrowed time, and shortly after Bridgestone had announced after Abu Dhabi that they were quitting at the end of 2010, Toyota duly said they were going too, as of now. Like Honda and BMW, they blamed the economic climate and made compelling arguments why they had to stop spending so much on Formula One racing.
That in theory could clear the way for Peter Sauber and his new partner Qadbak to join the four new teams who are due to assemble on the grid in 2010: Lotus, US F1 Team, Manor and Campos Meta.
As yet some key driver placements have yet to be settled, notably whether Button stays with Brawn, and where, if anywhere, Raikkonen goes. The odds favour the second McLaren seat, but you never know with the Finn. With Red Bull staying the same, Alonso at Ferrari alongside Massa, Nico Rosberg and Barrichello being tipped to swap places (the latter is already confirmed at Williams), and Glock reportedly heading to Renault to join Kubica, the new season is already shaping up fast.
And based on what happened in 2009, it is safe to suggest that in the new era of Jean Todt succeeding Max Mosley as President of the FIA after a landslide victory against Ari Vatanen, and refuelling being banned, anything is possible.