Which team got the best start to 2009?

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2009 F1 cars - Williams, Toyota, Ferrari, BMW and Renault

The verdict of the technical writers in the British specialist press seems to be that McLaren’s MP4-24 is the most impressive of the 2009 F1 cars.

But with BMW stealing an early lead on testing mileage, which team has got the new year off to the best start?

Here’s Mark Hughes’ explanation for why the MP4-24 looks strong:

Software modelling for tyres is in its infancy compared to that of aerodynamics because a tyre is massively more complex in its behaviour than airflow. Anyone that can get a handle on that part of the equation is far better equipped to make informed calls on the ideal weight and aero distribution.

That’s why McLaren must be feeling confident. It has what is generally reckoned to be the most advanced tyre modelling capability of all the teams, with a project that was initiated at the turn of the decade. It last paid spectacular benefit when the team had to switch from Michelin to Bridgestone rubber – and did so with remarkable ease, in contrast to all the others making that switch.

So the distinctive features of the MP4-24 – its longer wheelbase, square-profiled sidepod, wing configuration etc – could all have their roots in tyre modelling answers that the others do not yet have. Which must make Lewis Hamilton feel pretty good.

In F1 Racing former designer Alan Jenkins writes:

I’d say that in every area the McLaren is very finely detailed. It looks more polished and ‘finished’ than the Ferrari, but both are very good cars.

Gary Anderson in Autosport was a little more cagey, saying:

McLaren’s MP4-24 looks good overall and has intricate detail on the chassis sides inside the bargeboards – is that it’s secret weapon?

McLaren’s next test is at Jerez in two weeks’ time. But with Ferrari and BMW testing in Bahrain that week it’s going to be a while until we see the likely championship contenders of 2009 side-by-side. So how can we judge how well they are doing?

McLaren certainly seems to be on the back foot in terms of testing mileage. BMW and Ferrari have each covered over 1,500km in testing. BMW logged all their laps in the dry, while McLaren only got one day with some dry running at Portimao, and that was on a particularly slippery surface. And of course BMW did a lot of running before the new year with its interim car.

Then there’s the teams we’re yet to see anything of. It’s hard to know what to expect of Force India with their mock-Laren. Adrian Newey’s Red Bull RB5/Toro Rosso STR4 will has a longer gestation than its rivals, only breaking cover in February. But with so much of the January testing lost to bad weather, perhaps that was the smart thing to do?

Which team do you think has produced the best 2009 contender out-of-the-box? Have your say in the comments.

2009 F1 cars in pictures

Ferrari F60

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Mugello, 2009

Ferrari F60 launched at Mugello – pictures & video (2009 F1 car launches)

McLaren MP4/24

McLaren-Mercedes MP4-24 - 2009 F1 car

McLaren MP4/24 revealed – pictures and video (2009 F1 car launches)

BMW F1.09

Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Valencia Ricardo Tormo, 2009

BMW F1.09 unveiled – pictures (2009 F1 car launches)

Renault R29

Renault R29 - 2009 F1 car

Renault R29 revealed in Portugal – pictures (2009 F1 car launches)

Williams FW31

Williams FW31 - 2009 F1 car

Williams FW31 introduced in interim livery (2009 F1 car launches)

Toyota TF109

Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota, Algarve Motor Park, 2009 F1 testing

Toyota reveals the TF109 – pictures and video (2009 F1 car launches)

See side-by-side comparisons of the six 2009 F1 cars launched so far

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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32 comments on “Which team got the best start to 2009?”

  1. I believe in BMW Sauber. Hope they prepared an unbelievable surprise for us.

    Badka from Mongolia.

  2. My hunch is McLaren is ahead by a nose. The team has spent a considerable amount of time and money developing its simulation tools. That should reap huge benefits in terms of working out how to configure their car for the new rules. The team doesn’t appear to be making any worrying noises about KERS either.

  3. I think that McLaren has gotten off to the best start. Renault I believe will be very competitive, but at the last moment : they will be bolting the car together on the plane going to Australia.
    By the way I would appreciate any commentary on what tyre modeling is : is this aero as it relates to the tyres ? I guess in 2009 there is a lot of aero interaction between the new front wings and front tyres.

  4. I think it pays to have track time right now. McLaren are at a disadvantage with that, but circumstances could be reversed for the next test. In saying that though, I don’t think anyone will be showing their hand right away. Renault’s car seems to have the most dramatic difference in appearance, which could count when separating the cars at the first two races. The teams who will have a headstart are the ones who have a working version of KERS in Australia, have a greater understanding of the aero and tyres, and have good or experienced drivers to take advantage of the changes. That could be any top team from 2008. Stick my neck out… BMW is marginally ahead, but only because the Portimo tests were rained out.

  5. Its the British press, who do you think they will love except the car their lover boy drives? Who would think the British press would ever be bias…err..

    Anyway, the mclaren does have lots of subtle elements to it, but so does the ferrari, i think they’ll both be formidable opponents, the first practice session in Melbourne will be very interesting.

    1. Better to judge them on what they actually say than just presume that someone of a given nationality is incapable of being impartial, I always think.

  6. The McLaren steals the shine. It looks well groomed and pullet sharp. It really does look like the winning machine amongst the line up. The Ferrari doesn’t look far behind but it does look like it’s still got some work to be done. For all we know they are still behind with KERS development. And they are yet to come up with the full package ready for the run.

    BMW’s testing mileage should be a force to reckon with. I hope they don’t spring a surprise on the starting grid on March 29th.

  7. I wouldn’t be suprised if McLaren aren’t looking at long-range weather forecasts and considering switching their nest test to Bahrain as well. That can ill afford to lose any more testing time to bad weather.

    I think the boys from Woking will be the team to beat this year though, but I also think Williams might spring a suprise and punch above their weight (or should that read that I hope they do..??)

  8. @Mick if track time is anything to go by, BMW should be well ahead, they were track testing their wings and 09 bits months before the end of the 08 season.

  9. I’m worried about McLaren – they had already cases where their simulation and wind tunnel results did not match the track data (remember when they got off to the first straight-line test for their front wing?). Also usually when they look well during winter testing they do mediocre during the season – was the case with Kimi’s last, ever-breaking McLaren.

    So let’s see.

    I’m a McL fan, but currently BMW has the upper hand, I think.

    1. Except didn’t McLaren look good in testing in 2007 and 2008 – and they didn’t do too badly then did they?

  10. They seem to put a lot of faith in tyre modeling – the question is how much is that simulator well calibrated and of course is that data reliable.

    Based on the looks alone you can’t say much, even though a plenty of armchair experts are proficient in determining how much is a certain part of the car good just by looking at it. We will get answers at first few races, not before…

  11. Y’all should wait for the surprise Honda are going to spring onto us at their launch. At least this is what Gurmit Flora thinks:


  12. I think the combination of Alonso and Renault has a big potential although the car design doesn’t look convincing at the moment. Alonso’s feedback and advice will greatly affect the car improvement.
    Therefore I think in the first half of the season Renault will be battling for the podium but in the second half for the win.

  13. Looking at static pictures; one can easily conclude that Mclaren’s designing is most detailed.

    But, when a whole new raft of regulations are brought in; more than outright speed, reliability becomes important.
    Eg: 2005.

    Mclaren hit some reliability issues at the end of 2008. Heikki retired at Spa and Shanghai. Without enough testing behind them, Mclaren’s reliability could suffer.

    So, my guess is best start: BMW and Ferrari. More so Ferrari; but only because its my favorite team.

  14. STR and Red Bull, because now they have had time to look at all the other cars and copy them!

  15. I think BMW have the lead, as track time is important, and they did have the advantage of the interim time. However, I never believe it when any team says they are being later in development than any others – surely the back room boys are thinking a year ahead all the time, and seeing what the new rule changes will bring?

  16. yorricksfriend
    26th January 2009, 12:56

    Im not phased who’s ahead, I just hope it’s competitive

  17. As has been shown in recent years reliability will be key in deciding the championships. Also with all the changes this year, the team who best understand their new car’s characteristics will be at an advantage. So to me the team who gets the most out of their testing will be favourites, especially now that testing is banned during the season. The actual lap times from testing usually aren’t an indicator of who will have the fastest car in the first few races.

    Because of the testing mileage done so far I would say BMW have had the best start to 2009.

    Although you don’t get any prizes for best looking car, personally the McLaren is still the best in that area.

    It will be interesting to see just how different the cars look when they line up on the grid in Australia from when they were launched. Will the Renault have had a nose job as some have predicted, and what will be the features teams have copied from their rivals.

  18. From the pictures ive seen theres no doubt the mclaren looks the more finished car. But I do feel BMW might just have the edge at the moment. Although I am a mclaren fan I hope Williams get it right season and start running at the front again.

  19. As attentive fans well know, being strong in testing or “ahead” in terms or miles, at the beginning of the season doesn’t mean much. In any event, there is no way for a layman to eyeball a car and adjudge it fast. If that were true, all cars would look exactly the same. I recall how the 07 Toyota was a clone of the Ferrari—except the stopwatch did not agree. As always, superior resources will win in the end—except where a team takes technical dead ends or makes brilliant but overreaching advances. (Stand up, Adrian Newey, for you thus owe RAI more than one title).

    I predict BMW will be strong in the fly-aways, but will quickly succumb to the silver and red cars by mid-season, and it will be business as usual.

  20. Who’s ahead? Probably Mac and Ferrari based on resources. Who will wind up with it all? Same answer, Mac or Ferrari.

    Reliability of KERS and any pace advantage of KERS may be the joker, as well as adapting to new tires. With no testing it will come down to in house simulations and I think Mac will win it all this time out.

  21. It is difficult to say by looks alone who are really in front. Ferrari, BMW and Mclaren haven’t even really tested together. BMW and Ferrari are also the only teams who for some reason seems to be extra secretive about their testing and what they are actually doing.

    If you go by looking at problems, it is properly BMW who are ahead. (Although both Ferrari and Mclaren can develop at a very fast rate, which means they could properly catch up.) But it seems like BMW haven’t had any problems since the launch of the F1.09, and they have also had the most track time in dry conditions. Which could be very important with limited testing this year. Although it is hard to say how much this all means, it is definitely not anything negative. And so far BMW has had the most positives.

    As far as looks go between Ferrari and Mclaren it is hard to say. Both cars are quite good looking, but in very different ways. The Mclaren is finely detailed which could mean an aerodynamical advantage, on the other hand it could also mean drag, where the Ferrari is a much cleaner looking car. Mclaren have through the years produced quite detailed cars. Every year the Mclarens are hailed as very revolutionary and resourceful in their details, while every year most press experts thinks the Ferrari’s looks plain or to conservative. Yet somehow the Ferrari are usually fast with their conservative looks.

    Unfortunately Mclaren didn’t get the same amount of testing done as BMW. But they haven’t had to many problems, the car seems to be fast out of the box. They had two electronical failures, which where related to the engine. But it was interesting that they used their 2008 rearwing for all the test days. Could it mean that they might have a problem with the amount of downforce on the car or perhaps the tyres aren’t heating up? Ferrari also tested in rainy conditions and they didn’t feel the need for more downforce eventough they only have one car. (While Mclaren apparently already have two). Or perhaps they were just trying to establish a baseline for the 2009 rear wing. But overall the Mclaren is a very detailed car and that could be significant for the year.

    Ferrari have done more then double the running of Mclaren, but they seem to have problems with their front wing. (Perhaps they already have another front wing somewhere along the line). On the last day of testing they also had a hydraulic problem. But they also seem to be relatively fast out of the box. But for all the rumours about their KERS being behind and not getting it working talks, their KERS seem to be working perfectly. (It does beg the question if they really had “problems” with it to begin with). And according to Ferrari themselves they did their engine work in December, and so far their engines have been reliable and they have only lost 25hp. That could perhaps be important.

    Weight distribution seem to be important, Mclaren have a really different approach there then some of the others. But it is still unclear which approach is the correct one this year.
    Overall it is very difficult to say what will really be significant and what characteristics will really produce the best combination, perhaps it might not even be Mclaren, Ferrari or BMW.

  22. Is there a poll on looks of cars in 2009? If there is, I’d go for Williams as best (could’ve been more sponsors :-( ) and worst would be a tie between Renault and Toyota.

    1. I’ll do one when we’ve seen them all.

  23. If the saying that the best looking car is the fastest is tru then hats off to Williams. It is by far the best looking car so far. SO for OZ

    1. Kubica
    2. Nico
    3. Alonso

  24. all these cars look tooooops this year…

    1. Mandev theorum
      27th January 2009, 17:29

      The more you look at them, the less tooooops they look, wooooooot. Give it time.

  25. “Software modelling for tyres”, I’d really like to know more about this…

  26. i honestly think that if Honda does make it to Australia in March, they are gonna surprise everyone.

  27. toyota will be competitive and might won several races this year. i am a fan, big time :)

  28. i’ll prefer to choose ferrari.
    but mclaren also good and powerfull. i can’t hardly wait to see the 2009 season to b start.

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