2009: A race odyssey – F1's action-packed year

时间:2019-08-22 责任编辑:狄荐 来源:澳门拉斯维加斯 点击:49 次

Lewis Hamilton may be looking forward to measuring himself against for the first time when the former champion returns on 23 August in Spain, but Jenson Button will not care who he races against so long as his Brawn-Mercedes is up to the job. Last Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix had barely reached half distance when Button's frustration spewed across the airwaves as he asked, almost in desperation: "Guys, how the hell can this car be so bad?"

Button received no response, simply because there was no obvious answer. How indeed could the sublime machine that had won six of the previous nine races suddenly develop the characteristics of a truck? An exaggeration, perhaps, but in the intensely competitive world of , that is how it felt as Button struggled to make his tyres work and found himself two seconds a lap slower than Hamilton's leading McLaren.

Button may be starting the summer break at the top of the points table, but at this rate, he will not be world champion when the season ends on 2 November. Such a rapid decline in form, although not irreversible, sums up the first half of a see-saw season that would be dismissed as ridiculous if offered as the script for a film. Button's extraordinary progress would comfortably cast the Englishman in the lead role.

Twelve months ago, Button was languishing at the back with a Honda that was threatening to wreck the reputation of a 28-year-old with only one grand prix victory to his name. The entire team's motivation was driven by thoughts of the 2009 car, the first from the new technical regime headed by Ross . Button launched himself into a winter fitness programme in preparation.

"I had just landed from a week's training in Lanzarote and I was thinking: 'Shit, I'm fit!'" said Button. "And then I got the call from Richard, my manager. The phone just dropped out of my hand. Everyone was staring at me thinking: 'What's the matter with him? He's just got off a Ryanair flight!'"

It was 5 December. Honda, faced with plummeting sales and a worldwide recession, had pulled the plug on their F1 team. More than 700 people faced redundancy, among them the highest-paid employee. Button volunteered to take a dramatic cut in his $15m (£8.9m) annual salary as Ross Brawn negotiated an 11th-hour management buy-out. The new cars arrived for the first race in Melbourne with the white paintwork barely dry and devoid of major sponsors.

But the Brawns were fast; too fast for some who objected to an aerodynamic double diffuser that had helped Button and Rubens Barrichello to a fairytale one-two finish. Brawn had not been alone in spotting a loophole that helped create additional downforce and grip at the rear of the car, but it was imperative that the team from Brackley should make hay while those without the diffuser played catch-up. One such team was , a company already mired in trouble of its own making.

Hamilton had finished fourth on the road in Melbourne. In the process, the world champion's McLaren had overtaken Jarno Trulli as the Toyota driver slid on to the grass while the drivers circulated behind the safety car. Hamilton, under instruction, then allowed the Toyota back into third. Hamilton failed to tell the race stewards of his premeditated action – that is assuming he was asked the right question in the first place – when Trulli was subsequently thrown out for appearing to break the rules by overtaking while running behind the safety car. When the truth emerged a few days later, Hamilton and McLaren were accused of deceiving the officials. Dave Ryan, the team's race director and a McLaren employee for 34 years, became the fall guy and handed in his resignation.

Hamilton apologised. "I sincerely apologise to the stewards for wasting their time and for making them look silly," said Hamilton. "I'm very, very sorry for the situation – for my team, for Dave, who's been a good member of the team for many years, and while I don't think it was his intention … he's a good guy."

McLaren were fortunate to get away with a suspended three-race ban. It was perhaps no coincidence that the chairman, Ron Dennis, should suddenly declare a passionate interest in McLaren's road car division and matters other than the team that had consumed his life for 29 years.

There were vehement denials that Dennis's disappearance from F1 was part of the deal with a governing body whose president, Max Mosley, had once obliquely referred to Dennis as "not being the sharpest tool in the box". Ryan, despite his reputation as one of the most honest men in the paddock, was merely collateral damage.

The FIA tribunal, when handing down its verdict, had praised "a change of culture" in the McLaren organisation. It was an interesting choice of words.

Unbeknown to Mosley and his friend , the structure of the sport they had controlled so assiduously for two decades was about to be threatened in an unprecedented manner. For once in their selfish lives, the teams were about to speak with a united voice under the collective title of Fota.

As Button and Brawn more or less dominated every race and arrived at Silverstone with a 26-point lead in the standings, the discussion was not about the impending threat from the Red Bulls (now equipped with the double diffuser), but the future of the sport as a whole. The Fota members had been unhappy with Mosley's proposal to introduce a £40m budget cap. The objection was less about the need to cut costs and more to do with Mosley's perceived autocratic method of governance.

Mosley's cultured indignation over Fota's alarming proposal to run their own championship was drowned by widespread applause for the breakaway and a desperately needed change in F1's methodology. Ecclestone's complexion, pallid at the best of times, became deathly white as the 78-year-old saw his source of income disappearing.

All seemed calm when Mosley said he would not stand for re-election in October – but then changed his mind when one or two Fota members became too triumphant in their assessment of what was an important result for the teams. As the days ticked by, F1 presented a woeful image, as no one could say who would be racing for whom in 2010. In the end, Mosley agreed to stand down. By which point colour had returned to Ecclestone's cheeks. Whether or not that was due to high blood pressure after speaking sharply in the ear of his old mate was irrelevant. F1 was at least united, and the union was made official last night when it emerged that 12 teams and the FIA had signed a new Concorde Agreement, guaranteeing the sport's future at least until the end of the 2012 season.

Mosley had always maintained that each major motor manufacturer in F1, despite spending about £250m a year, was at the whim of a board of directors, some of whom would not know an F1 car if it knocked them over in the car park. And so it proved last Wednesday, when BMW suddenly announced their decision to quit at the end of this season.

"Premium will increasingly be defined in terms of sustainability and environmental compatibility," said a statement that, translated, meant it was costing a great deal to achieve very little – or, at least, very little in 2009 as typified by Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica trailing around at the back of the field in Hungary last weekend.

BMW had failed to deal with the substantial change to the 2009 technical regulations and, at a stroke, wiped out an impressive showing since their debut in 2006. Small independent teams, such as Williams, would see that as the ebb and flow of the sport and ride it out because they have no alternative. Major manufacturers will simply move on.

Despite his sometimes self-destructive image, Mosley has done many productive things during 18 years in charge, not least over safety. He will have been as dismayed as everyone by the random nature of two accidents within the space of a week; one fatal and the other, in F1, close to going the same way but for the FIA's research. The fact is to be released from hospital tomorrow and is planning a comeback says everything about the latest generation of carbon-fibre helmets recently made mandatory. It also demonstrates F1's ability barely to break stride, no matter what occurs.

Six hours after the BMW announcement, that piece of shock news was swept from the sports pages by a far more poignant tale: Michael Schumacher, seven-times world champion, will make a comeback as Massa's replacement, at the ripe old age of 40.

When referring to the circumstances, Schumacher said: "Though it is true that the chapter of Formula One has been completely closed for me for a long time, it is also true that for loyalty reasons to the team I cannot ignore that unfortunate situation."

In other words, he cannot resist the buzz that comes with driving a racing car and being a part of a sport that, in the first 10 races of this season, has already created enough to make a movie. Quite what the remaining seven races have in store is anyone's guess.