Oh yeah, there’s a drivers’ championship to be won. Jenson Button may have an 18.5 points lead over Mark Webber, but his car no longer looks capable of challenging for podiums, never mind wins. Can he hold back the charging Red Bulls?
Who will be world champion?
- Jenson Button (43%)
- Mark Webber (31%)
- Sebastian Vettel (19%)
- Rubens Barrichello (2%)
- Someone else... (5%)
Total Voters: 2,482
Here’s an odd thought: Michael Schumacher could be world champion this year. With seven races to go any driver that’s on the grid at Valencia in two weeks’ time could claim the crown.
The statistical likelihood of that happening is a different matter entirely, of course. Realistically it’s Button and the three drivers within 26 points of him – Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Rubens Barrichello – who are the only likely contenders.
Barrichello’s considerable deficit to Button, the difficulty he has had beating his team mate this year and Brawn’s lack of competitiveness as the season heads into the second half mean his chances are pretty slender too.
Brawn won’t be able to bring him into play to assist Button until he becomes mathematically incapable of winning the championship. However, as Barrichello is lagging behind both the Red Bulls, Brawn are more likely to be able to make use of that before Red Bull can.
The development race
Stop for a moment and marvel at just how unexpected the balance of power is in Formula 1 today. Twelve months ago Red Bull were falling behind their thrusting junior squad, and Brawn were called ‘Honda’ and languishing at the back of the pack.
After dominating the opening races, Brawn are on the back foot, with Red Bull finishing one-two at Silverstone and Hockenheim.
Red Bull’s Silverstone upgrade has moved the RB5 to the head of the field. It included a revised diffuser which successfully combined Adrian Newey unconventional pull rod suspension layout with a full exploitation of the ‘double diffuser’ principle used by Brawn since the beginning of the season.
Brawn faces the classic development dilemma: whether to push on with modifications to its current car, or start getting ready for next year. With limited resources the team might have to compromise its programme for the rest of the year to ensure it is competitive in 2010 – or vice-versa.
It faces the added complication of facing tighter resources next year. Its supply of funds from Honda were intended to be enough to get it through this year, but in 2010 it will have to fend for itself. They are likely to lose Virgin, who are switching allegiances to newcomers Manor (Brawn are paying the price of not breaking ranks with FOTA as the FIA’s Alan Donnelly is alleged to have played a role in the deal).
Circuits and weather
Earlier in the season it seemed as though hotter temperatures favoured the Brawn cars and circuits that put a premium on aerodynamic efficiency favoured the Red Bulls.
But recent events have not run true to that form particularly in the heat of the Hungaroring, where Brawn still struggled with low tyre temperatures.
Looking at the races to come we can expected Red Bull to thrive at Spa-Francorchamps and Suzuka. After three poor races Brawn’s competitiveness at any circuit is a concern.
The Malaysian and Chinese rounds at the beginning of the year suggested Red Bull also have an advantage in wet weather.
This raises the prospect of Button having to damage-limit his way to the championship. In order to be sure of the title he needs a minimum of five second places and a fifth. On the strength of his form in the last three races (sixth, fifth, seventh) that looks well out of his reach.
What’s most exciting about the run-in to the championship is that the title contenders are almost certainly going to have to mix it with other drivers not in the hunt.
Lewis Hamilton proved McLaren are back with an emphatic win at the Hungaroring. The slow circuit was always expected to play to his car’s strengths, but there’s no denying McLaren has made a gigantic step forwards with the MP4-24. Expect them to be a threat around Singapore’s many tight corners and possibly Valencia as well.
Ferrari’s F60 is also looking increasingly strong and they have the great unknown in the shape of Michael Schumacher. If the F60 is as good at Valencia as it was at Hungary, then I wouldn’t bet against Schumacher’s KERS-powered Ferrari winning the race. And the final rounds serve up two of his favourite tracks – Spa and Suzuka – where he will surely be on top form.
Wiliams have also shown flashes of form – enough for Nico Rosberg to beat Button in the last three races.
It all adds up to one of the most unpredictable championship conclusions we have seen for some time.
Red Bull are looking ever stronger (and are likely to take the lead in the constructors’ championship soon) but their drivers are taking points of each other. Although Brawn are struggling, a couple of decent points scores couple with slip-ups for Webber and Vettel could seal the championship for Button.
You wouldn’t have thought it three races ago, but the 2009 drivers’ championship looks ever more likely to be decided at that new season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Can you call the winner with seven races to go? Have your say below.
2009 European Grand Prix, Circuito Urbano Valencia
2009 Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps
2009 Italian Grand Prix, Monza
2009 Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay
2009 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka
2009 Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos
2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Island