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Monday, November 2, 2009

A truly strange Formula 1 season comes to an end

To say the 2009 Formula 1 season was strange would be an understatement.

The championship was won by Jenson Button, a driver whose hopes at a title had long been written off, and he was driving for a Brawn Racing team that brand new and had never competed in Formula 1 before this year. Despite this, Button went out and won six of the first races of the season, which came in handy in the points as the other teams almost caught up at the end of the season.

So who was the next best team? Ferrari? McLaren?

Wrong. It was Red Bull, with a young Sebastian Vettel who looks like the next Michael Schumacher, and a resurgent Mark Webber. This team had never been a serious contender, but now it appears that Vettel is without a doubt among the favorites to win the 2010 title. He won four races, and the sky’s the limit for Vettel and the Red Bull team as a whole.

Then, of course, there was the little matter of almost all the teams threatening to leave and start their own series in another F1 power struggle. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and a compromise was reached.

So what about those two perennial favorites: Ferrari and McLaren … how did they do?
Not so well.
McLaren stumbled out the gate, with last year’s champ Lewis Hamilton not hitting his stride until the second half of the season, dooming McLaren’s title hopes. It does look like the team is back on track and will contend again in 2010, but this year was pretty much a waste.

Over at Ferrari, there was much drama. First, Felipe Massa gets blasted in the eye with a suspension part in a scary wreck and almost died. He’ll be back next year, but that was pretty scary. Giancarlo Fisichella filled in, but didn’t do much of note to end the year in that ride. The other seat, driven by ex-champ Kimi Raikonnen, was also full of drama, as he was released from his contract (at a reported cost of tens of millions of dollars … it’s amazing how much money is thrown around in this sport. Amazingly, he is demanding about $30 million per year from whatever team he moves to next, so he may not even be driving next year.) In his place next year at Ferrari will be another champion, Fernando Alonso. Ferrari is like the Yankees of Formula 1, they have to buy the best players.

What’s going to happen in 2010? That’s a good question. More new teams, including a U.S.-based team, are coming into the sport. This will shake things up, but don’t expect any Brawn-like debuts. That was a miracle season that won’t happen again for any newcomers.

I predict a return to the usual order: Massa, Alonso and Hamilton at the big two powers, and Vettel at Red Bull, will mix it up for the title, with possible involvement from Button again. And don’t be surprised if the champion is wearing red once again next year.


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