Niki Laudas 2008 season roundup - Part Two 14 Nov 2008
The 2008 constructors championship may have culminated in a showdown between McLaren and eventual winners Ferrari, but there were eight other names also vying for much-prized placings. Three-time world champion Niki Lauda concludes his analysis of 2008 for Formula1.com by casting an eye over the teams - and drivers - further down the order, and evaluates what each needs to do to improve their prospects for 2009
Q: One team and driver combination that started out strongly before dropping off in the final quarter was BMW Sauber and Robert Kubica. What do you think happened? Did their early-season success leave them unable to maintain the necessary pace of development?
Niki Lauda: BMW Sauber had a very strong package at some races, and were able to translate the performance and reliability of the car (combined with their drivers skills) into results on the racetrack. But you could also see that they were unable to do this on tracks where their car showed a weakness in pace. Overall, though, you can see that they are on the right path in their development, and they can probably be as strong, or even stronger next season. I do not think that they had a problem with their sudden success, as the team has a very high grade of experienced personnel and they should easily be able to cope with success.
Q: Renault and Fernando Alonso followed the opposite path to BMW and Kubica - after a disastrous start they were unstoppable. Why do you think this was?
NL: For Renault it was probably a wrong direction of development, which always takes half of the season to correct as there are so many factors that have to be fixed once you go wrong. And what we have seen there is that they must have found the mistake and together with Fernandos driving qualities, they were able to win again.
Q: Toyota delivered a reasonable season. Are they now on the right track with their car and their driver line-up?
NL: Both drivers did a good job this year, and Timo (Glock) was able to improve his learning curve and translate this onto the racetrack. The team itself now has to prove that they are able to maintain this performance and be able to score more points and some podiums next season.
Q: The most surprising combination was Toro Rosso and Sebastian Vettel. Have we seen a champion in the making?
NL: First of all congratulation to Gerhard (Berger) and the team - they did a fantastic job. Sebastian was able to finish races without any mistake and was constantly pushing to get the most out of his car. This is what it takes to be a world champion - and this is what got him to the top spot of the podium in Monza. It is very important for him now to get into a car that is able to win more races - frequently. With his departure to Red Bull Racing he will face a new challenge, as the team has to prove that they are able to give him a competitive car. For sure he is now on the radar to achieve a world championship sometime in the future.
Q: How do you explain the fact that Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso were running almost identical chassis, but there was a significant gap in performance? Was it the engine, the drivers?
NL: To me it seems to be a combination of both. For sure the engine is a crucial point in the performance of the car. The (Toro Rossos) Ferrari engine was way better integrated into the chassis because of its dimensions. Red Bull Racing suffered from this fact with the Renault engine. As a result, the drivers from Red Bull Racing had problems getting into the front in qualifying, and were involved in accidents at the back of the grid too many times. Sebastian (Vettel) was able to get the most out of the car, so he could concentrate on not making mistakes and bringing points - and a win - home.
Q: Williams endured a lacklustre season. Why is a team with 16 championship titles under their belts slipping down the ranks?
NL: They must have gone down a wrong road in the development phase of their car, which they where not able to correct during the season. They have very experienced people that have proved their winning ability in the past and the teams facilities are state of the art. For them it is now very important not to suffer from the same mistakes next season. They have taken the decision to run a combination of young, promising drivers, over a more experienced line-up, so there was a relatively high risk that driver mistakes could also affect their results at the end of the season - and this is what happened.
Q: For Honda, it was another disastrous season. They have hired some of the biggest talent in the paddock, their drivers are proven winners - so what is Hondas problem?
NL: This is a very difficult question. They just couldnt get their car into the front in qualifying, and couldnt keep up with the race pace of their competitors. In my eyes they still have a long way to go, and now the question is how long will it take Ross Brawn and the team to do it.
Q: Finally, somebody has to finish last and this year it was Force India. Is making up the numbers their only purpose?
NL: It shouldnt be. The team had to overcome a lot of changes during the last couple of years. So far the team does not seem to have a clear structure, as the latest reshuffle shows. Now it is very important to get the best development out of their budget and find a way to show that they are able to create a stable package of driver qualities, reliability and speed. Next year they will again start with a completely new package, with which the team will have to familiarise itself, so another learning phase will start and this will also take some time.