The last fifteen years or so has seen Formula One evolve into a sport where realistically only two or three teams had a chance to win each race unless it rained. The 2009 pre-season testing is providing a fairly credible belief that this has changed.
Formula One rarely makes significant changes. Minor tweaks occur all the time, but that is about it. Faced with the “Great Recession”, even the teams and power brokers in F1 have had to reconsider the championship. In a cost cutting move, they’ve slashed the cost involved in going racing in a number of ways in an effort to keep manufacturers and privateer companies racing. This cost cutting seems to have seriously narrowed the gap between the haves and have nots in the field.
The new regulations in Formula One are unique in a number of ways. One is that they eliminate development in certain areas of the car. Much of this is focused on the aerodynamics that can be used. If you look at a 2008 car, it has all manner of tiny wings and angles designed to provide just a bit more down force and they worked. Of course, it costs $100 million or so to get that extra three tenths of a second of speed! With the new rules eliminating that development, we are expecting to see a 2009 season where someone besides Ferrari and McLaren duke it out.
The Formula One season starts on the last weekend of March with the traditional Australian Grand Prix. This means teams are starting to show their true colors now in testing in Spain, which is more meaningful than usually given the fact all ten teams are on the same track and running at the same time.
So, what are we seeing? Different teams pop up to the top of the times on different days. Overall, McLaren looks like it is having some problems and has admitted as much. Shockingly, Toyota actually looks like it might have moved up in the field. Renault, Ferrari and BMW look very competitive as one would expect. All this being said, there is something much more revealing about the times being put up. Day after day, the top 10 in the testing reveals that all the teams are extremely close with times often being under 1 second of difference between first and 10th place. This is a good sign and could point to a return to the days when pole position was a bit less important.
Basing season predictions on preseason testing is, of course, a fool’s errand. For all we know, Toyota could be running laps with only a bit of fuel while McLaren hasn’t used top gear yet! Still, one can usually get a general idea of who is going to be competitive and who is not. For 2009, it looks like there will be more teams than just McLaren and Ferrari challenging for wins and that is a very good development indeed.