New year and a new world for F1


The start of another year may find you feeling a little ramfeezled. I borrow this wonderful word from the great Scottish poet Robert Burns who was no stranger to the hangover after a night on the whiskies of his birthplace.

But it may not be Christmas and New Year revelling that finds you in this condition. Getting back to work is never easy, especially when the world around us appears to be in such turmoil. And the little world of motor racing has not escaped what may turn out to be some kind of watershed in our times.

Grand Prix teams – and freelance writers – do not have a fortnight’s holiday for Christmas even when the season starts a little later, as it does this year. There are new cars to be built, new sponsors to be charmed and existing ones to be reassured. Not easy this year. In both cases.

Talking to Ian Phillips (above) at Force India, you get it straight from the hip. “There will always be new sponsors,” he says, “but right now they are going to have to be mighty brave.” He should know, having survived four decades with, among others, Jordan, Midland, Spyker and now Force India. These are not comfortable times for a bank, or a car manufacturer, to justify a major partnership to its shareholders.

Costs are coming down, however, and not before time. Sir Jackie Stewart is right when he says that Formula 1 should have been preparing itself for leaner times way before the current economic woes became headlines. He is also right when he suggests that the FIA should, following the reign of Max Mosley, have a president from outside the motor racing business. It would, he argues, be a healthier and more efficient alternative to the tightly held and claustrophobic kingdom to which we have become accustomed.

What really matters to people like us are the cars. And, of course, the racing. So what can we expect from the 2009 season? Predictions, especially about the future, are always to be taken with a pinch of salt but there are some indicators.

Firstly, KERS might be a mighty flop, a white elephant rather than an engineering miracle. This rather depends on who you are talking to, as is ever the case. BMW has spent a great deal of time and money on developing its own system, sacrificing some development of the 2008 car to do so. But there are many in Munich who fear that KERS may be either postponed or, at worst, put back on the shelf. Unlikely, but there are vague murmurs that the mighty Scuderia is not as far advanced as it might be and may even consider asking the FIA for some kind of postponement. Again unlikely, but millions of euros have been spent, especially in Munich, and it is not preposterous to suggest that whoever has the best system in Melbourne may just run away with the first few races. For many teams, dealing with new aerodynamics, slick tyres and less testing is more than enough, without the extra anxieties of an energy recovery system.

Christian Horner, the boss at Red Bull, says that a few teams will have KERS on the cars in Melbourne but, in his view, the advantage of extra power may not prove to be worth the extra weight and complexity of the various systems. As with any other new component on a racing car, these new KERS systems – which are not mandatory – will only be run in race trim if the evidence is there on the stopwatch.

Meanwhile Happy New Year everyone! Try watching Pink Panther films instead of the news bulletins. You will feel a whole lot less ramfeezled.

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