The launch of 2009’s F1 cars is always a moment of high excitement for fans but in Britain it plays another role – as a showcase for one of the country’s unsung industries, and one that certainly needs every boost it can get in these uncertain economic times.
Five of the nine remaining F1 constructors are based in England with the majority in ‘Motorsport Valley’ – that Midlands-based hub of industry excellence centred on Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire.
And that’s not counting Honda’s state-of-the-art facility at Brackley, the first to suffer from the current economic conditions after Japanese car manufacturer Honda withdrew its support for its F1 team.
So, what have all the engineers and designers working on the 2009 models got lined up for us? And when do we get to see their creations for the first time?
- The McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 will be unveiled at a press launch at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking on January 16. Development has been headed by Pat Fry, McLaren’s Chief Engineer and the man who oversaw the MP4-20 and MP4-22 chassis. Director of Engineering Paddy Lowe has said the aerodynamic changes for 2010 represent possibly the biggest in the sport’s history and almost everything on the car will be affected by them. And that’s without KERS and slick tyres… However the team rises to these challenges, one thing is certain – all eyes will be on this potential 2009 championship winner.
- The Williams 2009 race car, the Toyota-powered FW31, is due to make its track debut at the 4.7km Algarve Motor Park circuit near Portimao in Portugal on Monday January 19 in the team’s first pre-season test. Williams says that the car will be running in its winter test livery and that its full racing colours will not be unveiled until the run-up to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
- Renault is following the same formula as Williams with a plan to present its R29 at Portimao before its track debut for pre-season testing on January 19. Computational fluid dynamics are said to have played a big part in its design. Alfonso Martinez, of the technology consulting firm Altran and one of the engineers working on the car has reportedly said it will be “a tremendous shock” – but it is likely he means those design changes common to all 2009-spec cars rather than anything peculiar to the R29. The first tests of the Renault KERS system will be made after the launch.
- Red Bull
- There is, as yet, no launch date for the Renault-powered, Adrian Newey-designed RB-5 – and precious little information about it. The team is, however, known to be collaborating with engine supplier Renault on its KERS system and, according to test driver Sebastien Buemi, the drivers might not get their hands on it much before March. Certainly Sebastian Vettel has told Formula1.com: “Our philosophy is to wait for next year’s car to be completely ready. After we have launched it, we will test it.” As in 2008, improving the car’s reliability will be a major goal of the design team.
- Force India
- The new Mercedes-powered Force India VJM-02, also featuring McLaren-Mercedes gearboxes, hydraulic systems and KERS will reportedly not be seen until March 2009 when all its components will become available. This means that the drivers will be taking delivery of their new machinery very close to the first grand prix of the season, and without the benefit of winter testing.
- Following the Japanese manufacturer’s shock decision to pull the funding from its F1 team was announced early in December, the company has announced that two RA-109 chassis will be prepared for testing, plus a further two for the first race of the season. However, the cars will not travel to Melbourne unless a buyer can be found. There is also the issue of exactly what engine would be powering a putative Honda entry – will the company continue to supply the team? Or will a Ferrari or Renault engine find its way into the car?