F1 2009 – Button, Brawn & Controversy – on the BBC!

20th November 2009

The 2009 season in Formula One was a year of controversy and greatness, ranging from the sports existence being thrown into doubt to some amazing F1 moments. F1 is not just that sport of little drama!

Brawn GP

The argument against Formula One for many skeptics is that: ‘whoever starts first, finishes first’. Incorrect. Nine out of the 17 races this season have finished that way; equating to just over half. Of course, it is a massive advantage to start pole on the grid, that’s the whole point of qualifying; to give yourself the best possible starting position, and it just so happens that’s pole! It would be daft to try and qualify elsewhere just to be able to say you won from lower down the grid; it’s a weekend of racing, not just a day! Anyway, end of discussion and on to the incredible 2009 season.

Jenson Button

I find my Sunday’s significantly harder to structure now the F1 season has finished. At the start, they would be focused around watching Jenson Button cruise to victory, and by Autumn they were spent wondering can anyone catch him? This, for me, was the low point of the whole campaign. Watching Button’s victories – who had previously only recorded 1 win in 113 races- became routine during spring and summer.

After Hamilton’s triumphant 2008 season, he was significantly absent from the podium, and it was great to see another Brit (in Button) take his place at the top. However, I can’t help but feel cheated! Yes, it is incredible that Ross Brown (Team Principal) bought the firm from Honda for £1. Yes, it is amazing that thousands of jobs were saved (including Button’s and Barrichello’s), and yes it is a miraculous story that they became double-world champions, but I, as a fan of F1, still feel cheated!

The regulations brought in at the start of the season were to try and quieten the skeptics mentioned above. These regulations seemed to create a more level playing field in hope to increase the number of overtaking manoeuvres in the race. Brawn, a team that was offered an engine by both Ferrari and Mercedes, found the key not only in the regulations, but in a double-diffuser, the subject of much controversy. It was arguably this that allowed Brawn GP to dominate the field early on. This double-diffuser channels air under the car and then blows it out of the back. Simples! The result being that the car is effectively sucked to the ground. This was deemed legal mid-season, to the delight of Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota who all employed it, but was definitely a factor in Button’s ability to gain a virtually unassailable lead before the season had even really got underway. Formula One fans cheated or not?

The fact that KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), a device that saves energy released when breaking to effectively ‘power-boost’ the car for a short time, could not even beat the diffuser is substantial. McLarens, Ferrari and BMW had KERS but these teams were virtually non-existent whilst Button was dominating. Despite my irritation here which comes from a spectators perspective of enjoyment, the technical perspective of victory is undoubted. Michael Schumacher has won 6 of the first 7 races before and become World Champion, so perhaps I should just deal with it and praise not criticise?

Ross Brawn

Here it goes. Ross Brawn is a genius! Honestly. Instead of spending his pound on a McFlurry (with a penny change) he picked Honda up out of the ashes and transformed them miraculously on a meagre budget. I have said that the regulations helped, but some of the 2-stop strategies that he devised for Button were remarkable, allowing Jenson to move up the grid from a poor qualifying into the points scoring zone (top eight). Even Jensen himself had some good performances. His final race in Brazil, cutting through the pack from 14th on the grid, was reminiscent of Ayrton Senna’s World-Champion drive at Suzuka (Japan) in 1988. As much criticism and emphasis I place on the regulations, the same amount of praise should go to Brawn, Button and their team, for what is, after all, a team sport.

All of this said this doesn’t even begin to describe the season we just experienced on our TV screens. What a year for the BBC to take the regain F1 from ITV! Their coverage of the season only helped to cap a remarkable spectacle. With the return the iconic guitar rift from Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain gracing our ears once more, the drama unfolding in front of our eyes was captivating.

It started with controversy, in Australia. Hamilton (in possibly the worst McLaren car ever to start a season) was already three seconds off the pace in pre-season testing! A harsh reality for the newly crowned World-Champion. It was a miracle then when he managed to finish 4th at the Australian Grand Prix, however his place was to be stripped from him. The safety car, a familiar feature this year, was out on the track, and the Toyota of Jarno Trulli had run off the track. Hamilton passed, but was unsure whether to give the place back or not (the law under safety car is no overtaking). Team Manager Dave Ryan told Hamilton to allow the place back to Trulli. Hamilton thus finished 4th, not 3rd. This was not a problem. They later realised that Hamilton did not have to give the place back, Ryan admitting he had made a mistake. Long after the race, McLaren lied and tried to get P3 back by claiming Trulli had overtaken, knowing they had cost themselves a podium finish. This worked, until Hamilton’s radio feed was broadcast, where the above dialogue is revealed. Constituting a professional foul for trying to get Trulli penalised, Hamilton was disqualified, humiliated and embarrassed. He claims he nearly quit the sport, having lost faith and feeling personally ashamed. Luckily, Dave Ryan resigned, later followed by Ron Dennis (Principal), and Hamilton stayed despite not even having a good car to return to. On a personal note (echoing the nation’s view) if Hamilton had resigned, I may have resigned from watching.

Crashgate

The most shocking news of the season though has to be regarding the Renault team and ‘Crashgate’. This is a truly disgraceful representation of the sport, and all sports in general, so the less said about it the better. I will not dwell upon this sporting catastrophe which is a moment that F1 needs to disassociate itself with, due to the consequential controversy cloud that overshadowed F1. The reason I have described the McLaren controversy above, is because, in my eyes it was a misjudgment. An incorrect interpretation of the rules, and then an attempt to get an extra point which they knew would be far and few between in their season. It was not intentional and pre-meditated, just a heat of the moment panic which could, and should have been cleared up at the end of the race. ‘Crashgate’ was pre-meditated scandal.

Then of course there was Michael Schumacher. The man who never came back. Felipe Massa, at the Hungoraring in round 10 was hospitalised as a result of a freak accident. Driving behind Barrichello in qualifying, Massa seemed to just lose control and drive into a wall. Cameras later identified that a spring weighing about 1.5 pounds had fallen off the back of Barrichello’s Brawn and hit Massa’s helmet. This came just a week after Henry Surtees’ death at Brands Hatch, and the chilling image of Massa just driving straight into a wall he almost missed at 160 mpH is a realisation of the dangers of open-cockpit racing. He was immediately taken to intensive care. This created a place on the Ferrari team, and Schumacher was set to fill in for the remainder of the season, generating immense excitement around the F1 world, but sadly it was not to be. As soon as the dream had emerged for all F1 fans, it disappeared as the 40-year old’s neck became injured in testing. Thankfully, Massa improved significantly in the remaining weeks, and was even present at the final two races of the season which was a brilliant sight. He should return in fine health next year which is truly a relief.

I don’t even feel like I have covered everything. Even as I write this in the off-season, news emerges of a Mercedes take-over of Brawn (running out of room for this blog so will save that for another time). In a season that nearly didn’t go ahead due to the £30m budget cap disagreement between the FIA and FOTA (Formula One Teams Association), a lot has happened. Under statement? I think so. Whilst not all has been on the track, and not all has been pretty, this was a showcase spectacle of why Formula 1 is a great sport, and why it is more than going zoom round a track. The off-season looks to yield many changes. With BMW and Toyota both announcing their withdrawal due to the economic climate (ironic with the budget cap), four new places have opened up, allowing Capos Meta F1, Manor Grand Prix, Lotus and USF1 to enter the spectacle in what looks to be, although only 9 drivers have been confirmed so far, a packed grid come March.

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by Sam Edwards