2009: Nice Guys Don’t Always Finish Last.

If there was one year that confounded critics, fans and even a few drivers alike, 2009 was that season.

For that was the year in which Brawn GP and Jenson Button achieved something that will never be repeated again in Formula One, as they became the last privateer entry to win both the World Drivers’ and World Constructors’ Championship, and probably the last ever team to do that.

The story begins in December 2008 when Honda, after three dismal years in Formula One, pulled out of the sport with immediate effect and left two of the most experienced drivers in Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello potentially on the F1 scrapheap.

That was until March, just days before the new season was about to begin, when ex-team principal Ross Brawn announced a deal to take over the fallen team had been completed. Brawn then took part in pre-season testing and Button and Barrichello suddenly had another chance.

Many were surprised despite their strong pre-season pace at just how quick Brawn were at the Australian Grand Prix, with Button and Barrichello dominating the weekend. Button would go on to win the race and start a streak that would prove pivotal as the season wore on, while Barrichello’s second meant Brawn took a 1-2 on their Grand Prix debut.

Button won again in Malaysia, which was stopped after 31 laps due to appalling weather conditions and thus half points were awarded, before a third place in China that was to be his worst result in the opening seven races.

Button’s early-season juggernaut was to roll on into Bahrain while in Spain and Monaco he headed two more Brawn 1-2s. After his sixth win in seven races at the Turkish Grand Prix in ultimately his last victory of 2009, Jenson was 26 points clear of Barrichello in second, and 32 clear of Sebastian Vettel.

At the British Grand Prix he was sixth with this result followed up with a fifth place in Germany, where Mark Webber took his first ever win, before two seventh places in Hungary and at the European Grand Prix in Valencia before his first lap retirement in Belgium following a collision with Romain Grosjean, after he qualified down in 14th.

After Belgium, Button’s lead at the top of the standings had been cut to 16 points over Barrichello, while Vettel was a further three points back going into the Italian Grand Prix. A return to form at Monza was enough for second place, though Barrichello cut further into Button’s lead with a victory that left him 14 points behind with 40 to race for.

In Singapore, he was fifth while Vettel was only a place ahead and Barrichello sixth. At the Japanese Grand Prix Barrichello and Button finished seventh and eighth respectively to leave Brawn half a point away from an unlikely Constructors’ Championship.

Barrichello was 14 points back with two races left with Vettel a further two behind and the World Championship could be wrapped up at the next race in Brazil.

The Brazilian Grand Prix was a weekend that seemed to encapsulate Button’s career and his journey in F1 from his debut season in 2000.

Button qualified 14th in a rain-interrupted session that ended up at 2 hours 41 minutes being the longest in Formula One history, while Barrichello took pole position at his home race. His other rival, Vettel, was 16th having also been caught out.

By the end of the first lap due to various incidents, Button had climbed five positions to ninth and this quickly became seventh as Grosjean and Nakajima were dispatched in short order, while debutant Kamui Kobayashi’s Toyota took more persuading.

He eventually got the pass done with a bold move down the inside at turn one, a manoeuvre made famous by a small kick of oversteer to keep the Japanese charger at bay.

Barrichello’s annual dose of bad luck at Interlagos was to strike again as the Brazilian suffered a puncture that relegated him to eighth and put Button in a now crucial fifth place, and the title was now his if the result stayed as it was.

Button was to finish fifth to wrap up the most unlikely of World Drivers’ Championships with a race to spare. His rendition of Queen’s “We are the Champions” remains famous to this day.

The Brit’s season was rounded off with a third place in Abu Dhabi and the eventual margin at the top of the standings was 11 points to Vettel.

The 2009 F1 World Championship was a season of the underdog and Formula One simply will not see another story like this again.

Button’s World Championship win, his sole title in a glittering 17-season career remains the example to many Formula One drivers about perseverance, with many having written him off in seasons past following an awful 2007-08 with Honda.

But the biggest compliment to Jenson Button?

You will have to go to great lengths to find a more popular title winner.

Jack Prentice

Scuderia Ferrari, Japanese Grand Prix

GP MALESIA F1/2016 – KUALA LUMPUR 02/10/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Ferrari had what can best be described as a mixed Malaysian Grand Prix as Kimi Raikkonen took a solid fourth place while Sebastian Vettel failed to make it to turn four of the opening lap.

Vettel made an optimistic turn one move that saw the four-time World Champion clatter into the side of Nico Rosberg, who ultimately finished third after a bold move on Raikkonen late in the race.

The German retired with a broken front left suspension as a result of that contact, and thought it was a “racing incident”, although the stewards found otherwise and handed him a three-place grid penalty for the Japanese Grand Prix. The one upside for Ferrari is that at least it wasn’t their error once again, with missed opportunities the story of their season so far.

Rosberg was handed a ten-second penalty for his move on Raikkonen, but even then it wasn’t enough for the ailing Ferrari to get back on the podium and so Ferrari failed to pull off anything like the victory of 2015 at Sepang.

Raikkonen climbs to fourth in the standings following Vettel’s DNF, but Red Bull struck a near fatal blow to the Prancing Horse’s hopes of retaining second in the Constructors Championship with a 1-2 led by Daniel Ricciardo.

This weekend, Formula One moves onto the Japanese Grand Prix, with the two weekends sandwiching the anniversary of the tragic accident of Jules Bianchi, who Ricciardo dedicated his win to after the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Suzuka isn’t a track that has won recent favour with Ferrari despite the clinching of the 2000 and 2003 World Drivers’ Championships for the great Michael Schumacher. Ferrari haven’t won anywhere in Japan since 2004.

Despite Raikkonen’s memorable win there for McLaren in 2005, where he started 17th and sealed victory with a last pass around the outside of the 150mph turn one, and Vettel’s four victories from 2009-13 (Punctuated only by Jenson Button in 2011) it doesn’t look like changing in 2016 as the fast flowing corners suit the Red Bull and Mercedes far better.

Mixed conditions are once again forecast for this weekend, and that is perhaps the only chance Ferrari have of winning a Grand Prix this season and keeping the fight alive for second in the Constructors’ Championship.

Jack Prentice

Ferrari Singapore Grand Prix Preview

GP SINGAPORE F1 2015 – ©FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO

 

Ferrari return to the scene of their last victory in Formula One at the Singapore Grand Prix needing a similar result if they are to overhaul Red Bull in the race for second in the World Constructors’ Championship.

In 2015, Sebastian Vettel took his fourth win at the Marina Bay circuit in eight outings since the inaugural race back in 2008, with Kimi Raikkonen third as Mercedes struggled all weekend with tyre warm-up.

2016 was meant to be the year that the Scuderia built on successes like that, but it never materialised after sloppy strategy calls, inconsistent pace throughout the European season and a lack of in-season development due in part to technical director James Allison’s departure.

While all of this was going on, Red Bull and particularly Renault’s development has seen Ferrari fall to third in the Constructors’ Championship.

Monza represented something close to a return to form and was certainly one of the few races in which Ferrari have maximised their potential, as Vettel and Raikkonen finished third and fourth respectively to close the gap to Red Bull to 11 points, although this was expected.

While Vettel has four wins in Singapore, three of those came while he was with Ferrari’s direct opponents Red Bull, who are tipped by some to be the team to beat this weekend.

To add to the challenge, Mercedes believe they have worked out why they struggled so badly with the supersoft compound last year and are once again widely expected to head the timesheets this weekend.

Raikkonen himself has two third places at Asia’s most glamorous race, and Ferrari have one other win courtesy of Fernando Alonso in 2010.

A repeat of 2015’s excellence looks like a tall order for the Prancing Horse this time around, but should it happen, they have a real chance of second place and salvaging 2016 yet.

Jack Prentice

Robert Kubica: Formula One’s Lost Champion

Since their introduction into Formula One in 1993, Sauber have been seen top drivers rise through their ranks and go on to have glittering careers in the sport. The Hinwil team gave 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen his route into the sport way back in 2001, while Felipe Massa spent three seasons there before his switch to Ferrari nearly bore him a title in 2008.

But neither of those names raise such a mixture of pride, happiness, intrigue and ultimately sadness in the way that Robert Kubica does.

Kubica took Sauber’s only victory in his three-and-a-half years following a mid-season promotion in place of Jacques Villeneuve in 2006 before a move to Renault in 2010.

The big Pole’s big chance came at the famous Hungarian Grand Prix of 2006, when he replaced Villeneuve because of injuries sustained in the previous race. As Jenson Button took his maiden win, Kubica raced to seventh place, but was disqualified because of technical irregularities. Nevertheless, a star was born as Sauber announced his promotion with immediate effect after the race, after Villeneuve quit.

Just two races later Kubica made his first piece of history, as he became the first Pole to lead a Grand Prix and then the first Pole to make the podium with a third place at the Italian Grand Prix, after qualifying sixth and showing excellent pace all weekend. He was not to pick up any more points in the remaining rounds of the season, with two further ninth places the best results for the remainder of the season.

2007 started indifferently as a retirement in Australia and 18th in Malaysia was followed up by three solid points scores as BMW Sauber emerged as the big challengers to the dominant duo of Ferrari and McLaren.

However, his 2007 is more remembered for a horrific accident at the Canadian Grand Prix.

While battling with Jarno Trulli’s Toyota on the approach to the hairpin, the two made contact and Kubica’s car was more of a rocket as he launched towards the wall, with a 185mph impact sending him back over the circuit. He came to rest at the hairpin, and despite earlier reports suffered a sprained ankle and concussion that forced him to miss the US Grand Prix.

That paved the way for a young Sebastian Vettel to make his name as a point-scoring debutant, and Kubica was not to be affected as he returned for the French Grand Prix and rattled off six straight points finishes on his way to a solid sixth place in the World Drivers’ Championship.

2008 was to be his and Sauber’s strongest year, as he remained a factor in the World Championship battle until the penultimate round as BMW Sauber became a real force. After retirement in Melbourne, Kubica wasn’t out of the top four for the next six races, including his famous victory at Canada.

A year on from where he had that infamous accident, Kubica was one of few steady heads in a race more akin to Wacky Races instead of an F1 Grand Prix. After Hamilton had taken both himself and Raikkonen out of the race in the pit lane after a Safety Car, Kubica was promoted to the lead of the Grand Prix once other drivers had pitted.

It was a lead he was not to relinquish, as teammate Nick Heidfeld took second place to complete a memorable 1-2 for BMW Sauber. That result put Kubica level on points with Championship leaders Lewis Hamilton and Massa.

With huge technical changes coming for 2009, Sauber switched their attention to developing 2009’s car shortly after. Kubica was to make the podium twice more with third place at the European Grand Prix where Valencia’s street circuit debuted, and at the Italian Grand at which Vettel took his first victory.

This was to be both his and Sauber’s best season, as 2009 fell well below expectations.

After a late collision with Sebastian Vettel in Australia as they battled for second place, Kubica was to take seven races to score his first points of the season with seventh place in Turkey while Sauber themselves only had six points from six races courtesy of Nick Heidfeld’s third place in the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix.

Kubica was only able to climb to 14th in the World Drivers Championship due to a strong run towards the end of the season, where he scored 15 points from the last 8 races including a second place at the Brazilian Grand Prix (Current points system wasn’t introduced until 2010) in BMW’s final podium in F1, as they pulled out of the sport.

Sauber were to be rescued by Peter Sauber once again and had a solid season in 2010 as a privateer, with Kamui Kobayashi finishing 12th in the standings. Kubica meanwhile joined Renault and comfortably outpaced Vitaly Petrov, on his way to eighth in the standings. He would pick up two podiums in what would tragically be his final season in Formula One.

In February of 2011, Kubica was taking part in a rally close to his home in Italy when on the first stage, he crashed heavily into a barrier, which penetrated the cockpit and struck him. He suffered a broken shoulder, arm and leg and lost part of his right forearm and damaged his right hand. In April of that year, he was released from hospital in Italy to continue his recovery, although a return to Formula One was a tall order despite successful use of the Mercedes F1 team’s simulator.

It wasn’t to be until 2013 that Kubica gave up on a return to Formula One, citing limited functionality of his right hand in tight open wheel cockpits. Kubica now competes in the World Rally Championship, having won the second tier of the Championship in 2013.

A man once considered by Ferrari to lead their Championship charge, Kubica is a driver that had a more than promising career in Formula One cut short by the ruthless business that is motorsport. The Pole will be remembered for his speed, courage, late-braking and ultimately the potential that was left unfulfilled.

In a different world, through Kubica, Sauber would have produced another World Champion.
Jack Prentice

Seb Thrills Tifosi With Podium Finish

For Ferrari, the Italian Grand Prix was one of the few races this season in which they have maximised their potential.

Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen finished in third and fourth in Monza, although an excellent start had seen them running second and third as polesitter Lewis Hamilton reversed down the field in the opening metres.

Ferrari once again took a different strategy to the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who are separated by two points at the top of the standings, as the Prancing Horse opted for a two-stop strategy while the Silver Arrows opted for a one-stopper.

In truth, Ferrari would have been powerless to stop Hamilton’s damage limitation mission whatever strategy they were on, such was the dominance of Mercedes all weekend.

Ferrari’s big boss Sergio Marchionne has labelled an error-strewn season as a failure, with Maranello squad unable to build on a strong 2015 showing that saw Vettel chalk up three wins and in parts look like challenging Mercedes.

He won’t have used that adjective based on races such as these, where an unspectacular performance belied what was a solid result given the drop in relative pace and off track turbulence.

Marchionne will have been referencing the race race-costing calamities in Australia and Canada and failure to deal with the rise of Red Bull.

Red Bull still have an upper hand in the Constructors’ Championship despite Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen only finishing sixth and seventh on a track they expected to struggle at.

They believe they’ll be stronger at the next round in Singapore, where Vettel dominated last year to take one of those three victories as Mercedes toiled.

How Ferrari could do with a repeat of their 2015 Singapore success this time around.

Image courtesy of Scuderia Performante

Jack Prentice @JPrentice8

Ferrari: from Spa to Monza

GP BELGIO F1/2016 – SPA FRANCORCHAMPS (BELGIO) – 28/8/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

For Ferrari, the Belgian Grand Prix was yet another missed opportunity to mount the podium following Lewis Hamilton’s mammoth grid penalties this weekend.

They will take solace from the fact that this time it wasn’t a strategic call, or technical problems, but instead more run-ins with a Red Bull second driver.

After an excellent start both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were clear of Max Verstappen, who had bogged down from second on the gird.

The Dutchman then tried an optimistic move to regain his positions at turn one, where Vettel had only left room for teammate Raikkonen.

The resulting collision left Vettel spun around, Raikkonen with front wing damage as well as a puncture while Verstappen had a damaged floor and front – and some red mist.

The 18-year-old was firm on Vettel, Raikkonen and Sergio Perez when they tried to overtake at the Les Combes chicane, although there was contact with the Finn before he made his trip to the run off.

That might have annoyed Raikkonen, but what happened a lap later angered the Iceman.

The 2007 World Champion had made his move to the inside along the fast Kemmel Straight, only to be forced to stamp on the brakes as the hot-headed Verstappen swerved in front to cover Raikkonen’s line, something he politely described as “ridiculous”.

Raikkonen was able to race to ninth following that wretched start, while Vettel climbed to sixth when a podium was more than on the cards.

For all the mishaps and spills that have dogged their season, Ferrari will be hoping to put all of that behind as they head into their home round as the Italian Grand Prix graces Monza for what could be the final time.

Contractual wrangling mean the Italian Grand Prix could move to Imola – former host of the San Marino Grand Prix, – next year.

Ferrari should be marginally quicker at the ultimate power track, with the TagHeuer-badged Renault engines in the back of the Red Bull still slightly behind the Ferrari and Mercedes Power Units.

For Vettel, the race has fond memories as he took his first ever win in Monza back in 2008 while driving a Toro Rosso, while Raikkonen has never won in Italy.

Ferrari will need a strong showing at Monza for a number of reasons and not only to keep their famous Tifosi onside.

They are now 22 points behind Red Bull and fast losing touch with second in the Constructors’ Championship in a season when their car ought to have delivered more.

If there is to be a revival for the Prancing Horse, Monza is the place to do it as time runs out in the 2016 World Championship.

Belgian Grand Prix Ferrari Preview

GP UNGHERIA F1/2016 – BUDAPEST (UNGHERIA) 24/07/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Ferrari go into the Belgian Grand Prix at the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps facing a much bigger fight for second place in the Constructors’ Championship than they imagined.

A mixture of bad luck and poor strategy has cost Sebastian Vettel the Drivers’ Championship title tilt that many predicted, as the multiple retirements and unnecessary pitstops see the German four-time World Champion languish down in fifth place.

If ever there was a circuit for Ferrari, Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to start improving their fortunes then Spa is the place.

From the mid-noughties, the circuit almost became Raikkonen’s playground as he took victory in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009 for both McLaren and Ferrari to take four wins in five stagings of the event.

Vettel too has success in the Ardennes Forest, with two wins in 2011 and 2013 as he enjoyed dominance on a broader scale in F1.

Ferrari themselves have won 16 times in Belgium, both at Spa and at Zolder, although their last Belgian victory came courtesy of Raikkonen in 2009.

This season has at best been unkind to the Scarlet squad. Strategic woes set in from the off as Ferrari converted an almost certain win for Vettel into third place as they pitted him from the lead, before engine failure in Bahrain and a collision with Daniil Kvyat in Russia.

A gearbox penalty put him out of position in Monaco, while a tyre failure saw him take a trip to the wall in Austria, while at Canada he was called into the pits early from the lead and the subsequent two-stopper didn’t work. Since then, it’s been an inconsistent season as Red Bull have overhauled the Prancing Horse.

Mercedes have been allowed to romp away with both Championships as a result of their own consistency coupled with the inconsistency of their opposition, while Ferrari have also been hit by Technical Director James Allison’s departure from the team for personal reasons.

So, will Raikkonen continue his love affair with the Spa-Francorchamps circuit to silence those that feel he doesn’t deserve a seat at Ferrari next year? Can Vettel begin to right the wrongs of 2016 thus far? And will Ferrari give them a car to challenge the Red Bulls and Mercedes?

Ferrari,German Grand Prix Preview

 

GP UNGHERIA F1/2016 – BUDAPEST (UNGHERIA) 24/07/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Ferrari go into the returning German Grand Prix just one point clear of Red Bull in the race for second place in the Constructors’ Championship.

After losing less ground than expected in Hungary after strong race pace saw Sebastian Vettel split the Red Bulls in fourth and Kimi Raikkonen climb up to sixth from 14th on the grid at the Hungaroring, Ferrari were able to cling on to second – just.

It has been a turbulent build-up to the German Grand Prix for the Prancing Horse, with technical director James Allison departing after three years in what Ferrari called a “joint decision”, with Ferrari’s President Sergio Marchionne also reported to be sitting in on technical meetings.

Allison’s wife died in March, meaning a departure was almost inevitable with family based in England.

He has been replaced by former head of engines Mattia Binotto, although there are increasing rumours that ex-technical director Ross Brawn may rejoin Ferrari having left ten years ago following the retirement of Michael Schumacher.

Ferrari are easily the most successful team at the German Grand Prix having won it a staggering 22 times, 13 clear of Mercedes.

They last won it in 2012 when Fernando Alonso’s unlikely title challenge in an inferior car was taking hold, while Alonso won in more controversial circumstances in 2010 when teammate Felipe Massa was ordered to move over and let him into the lead.

After an absence in 2015, the German Grand Prix returns to the Hockenheimring with the future of the German round heavily in doubt beyond 2018, with neither Hockenheim nor the Nurburgring having the finance to secure the race long-term.

Ferrari will hope to gain ground on Red Bull at one of their traditionally stronger circuits, with Raikkonen in fourth just one point behind Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel a further four behind, ten ahead of Max Verstappen.

The Scuderia therefore need to put behind them a turbulent week in order to fend off Red Bull.

Hungarian Grand Prix Review

For Ferrari, the Hungarian Grand Prix was a solid if unspectacular affair which in all likelihood quietly exceeded expectations.

Sebastian Vettel showed strong race pace against the Red Bulls to finish fourth after applying heavy pressure on Daniel Ricciardo for third, while Kimi Raikkonen produced a stunning drive to climb from fourteenth to sixth place.

In a performance from the Iceman seen more often during his previous Ferrari spell, Raikkonen was unfortunate not to take fifth place after breaking his front wing against an ever-aggressive Max Verstappen, as Ferrari avoided being soundly beaten by a resurgent Red Bull.

The Iceman was uncharacteristically vocal in his criticism of Dutchman Verstappen, who appeared to move twice when defending fifth position at Turn 2 on lap 58.

“There are so many rules discussed and in some rules you can move, but when the guy behind makes the decision to commit to something, and when the other guy moves afterwards it’s difficult to avoid the car in front.”

Raikkonen also questioned the stewards handling of qualifying, with changes to the grid concerning Session 1 and the 107% rule almost coming into effect before a last-minute U-turn. He also criticised what he felt was a lack of consistency from the stewards in applying the rules, calling them a “joke”.

“A good example is the qualifying. You have the 107 per cent rule and the people who didn’t go through from first qualifying they are applying it to those cars, but not applying it on the rest. How can you apply it two different ways?

“If somebody can explain to me how that works? But it seems to be F1 these days. Something must change because it looks bad to people outside. There is a rule and it should apply in exactly the same way to every person.”

Raikkonen slipped from third to fourth in the standings, one point behind Ricciardo. Vettel is fifth, four behind his teammate and ten clear of Verstapen, while Ferrari only have a one-point advantage of Red Bull in the Constructors’ standings.