McLaren and Ferrari join the title battle

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Ferrari and McLaren are back at the front with the Brawns and Red Bulls
Ferrari and McLaren are back at the front with the Brawns and Red Bulls

In the last three races McLaren and Ferrari, the slumbering giants of F1 in 2009, have re-awoken and returned to the sharp end of the field.

They might not be likely to win either of the titles this year, but how their drivers fare in the last six rounds of the championship could well decide who wins it.

Drivers’ championship

Drivers' championship battle (click to enlarge)
Drivers' championship battle (click to enlarge)

Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen – the last two drivers’ champions – are still able to win the drivers’ championship, but their chances are incredibly remote. Another 13 points for Button will put Raikkonen out of the hunt; 16 more for Button will end Hamilton’s chances.

Thinking more realistically, what’s the best finishing position they can hope to achieve?

Picking off the (impressively consistent) Nico Rosberg for fifth should be straightforward given the form of their respective teams. McLaren in particular should be very strong at stop-start Singapore, though Spa may not suit them quite as well.

The remaining positions depend on how the Brawns and Red Bulls fare in the latter stages of the season.

Jenson Button will be losing sleep over the prospect of another race like Valencia, spent trapped behind KERS-powered Ferraris and McLarens while his team mate dashes off to win.

Sebastian Vettel faces a compromised end to the year with a grid penalty for an engine change looking a near certainty.

But as recent races have shown, strategy, qualifying and the frantic first laps of a race will play a big role in deciding which of the Brawns and Red Bulls fall victim to the Ferraris and McLarens.

Constructors’ championship

Constructors' championship battle (click to enlarge)
Constructors' championship battle (click to enlarge)

The progress McLaren and Ferrari have made in the last two races is most clear here.

McLaren’s surge forward has captured most of the attention, but without the absent Felipe Massa Ferrari would probably be doing even better. Unless Luca Badoer is substantially quicker at Spa this weekend, or he is shortly replaced with a driver who is competitive right from the off, Ferrari can kiss third place in the constructors’ championship goodbye.

Another team suffering from a one-sided driver line-up is Williams. Yes, Kazuki Nakajima has had some misfortune, but there’s no getting away from the fact that all of Williams’ 29.5 points have been scored by team mate Rosberg.

Williams are slowly catching Toyota, who also supply their engines. Since locking out the front row of the grid at Bahrain, Toyota’s performance has been wildly inconsistent. Ending the season behind their customer team for the second time in three years would be a massive blow – especially in a year when they allegedly have set themselves the target of winning their first race.

The front running cars are affected by track temperature in different ways. Brawn seem to have got a handle on their tyre warm-up problems, though they may still be vulnerable in the sort of cool weather we can expect this weekend. Lower temperatures is good news for McLaren and Red Bull.

What we can’t predict as successfully at the moment is how changing development priorities will affect the championship. The likes of Ferrari have talked about shifting their development focus to 2010, while McLaren are still bringing major improvements onto their 2009 car – even shipping out new parts to Valencia on Sunday morning.

Where do you think McLaren and Ferrari – and their drivers – will finish in the championships? At which circuits will they be strongest?

Points in full: Championship standings after Valencia

Author information

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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52 comments on “McLaren and Ferrari join the title battle”

  1. Is Ferrari still using KERS? If so, then both they and McLaren will have a good chance at Spa, which has long straights on which they can use the energy charged up from braking throughout the lap.

    1. I agree with what you say. I thought that Spa would be a good track for KERS for exactly the use of it on the long straights. How come Hamilton says KERS won’t make much of a difference and that he thinks McLaren won’t figure too much in the result at Spa? Just trying to play down the fact that McLaren is on the rebound?

      1. Sorry but what title battle?

    2. Ferrari and McLaren are both using KERS.

      However, Spa is the longest track on the calendar, which results in only 45 or so total laps. KERS can only be used for 6 seconds per lap. These two facts combined means that the total amount of time that KERS will be used during the course of the race is much smaller than in other tracks.

      Another way to look at it is that the contribution from KERS will be a smaller fraction of the total lap time than with other shorter circuits. So the extra edge from KERS over non-KERS cars is smaller here.

      KERS will, of course, play a huge role at the start since there’s a relatively long straight before the first corner.

      1. But surely once a car’s used KERS for a short burst coming out of a corner it has reached a higher speed than the equivalent non-KERS car would have, and so even without continuing to use KERS all the way down the straight it still has that original benefit which lasts all the way to the next corner.

        Of course, this assumes the two cars come out of the corner at the same speed.

        1. Although funny to find out Martin Whitmarsh was spreading rumours regarding Red Bull testing or even running KERS, Christian Horners reaction gave rise to suspicions that that Red Bull may use the STRs as a test bed for KERS, and although it may not be a fully fledged high yeild KERS, the benefits of using the system to side step the launch control systems that are banned is obvious. With overtaking still proving difficult the race starts seem even more deciding at this stage of the season.

        2. It is definitely a tradeoff at Spa. The long straights will suit the KERS cars however this has to be balanced against the extra weight as well. The KERS system adds some substantial weight and reduces your ability to balance the car with ballast. It could end up being that you gain a bit on the straights and lose it all again in the sweeping corners from Les Combes to Courbe Paul Frere. With these high speed corners, less than ideal weight distribution, and bridgestone bringing the Medium and Soft tyres graining could become an issue for the KERS runners. It will be interesting to see how it works out.

        3. You have to remember that KERS offers an acceleration advantage, not a sustained speed advantage.

          With an F1 car on a straight, the top speed is limited by the rev-limiter. From Raidillon to Kemmel, for instance, both a KERS and non-KERS car will hit their top speed and hit the rev-limiter, so the KERS advantage stabilizes after the first few meters of gain during acceleration.

          With an F1 car on any other corner, the speed is limited by the limited traction of the tyres (not by the engine or gear ratio). KERS will not magically allow the car to go faster anywhere – it only allows the car to get to the optimum speed more quickly (= better acceleration).

          So KERS translates to a few meters of distance gained at every opportunity of acceleration that the car has. This gain in distance is a smaller fraction per lap at Spa, because it is such a long circuit.

          The absolute advantages of KERS, including passing, defending, and the start will remain the same, assuming they can charge it appropriately.

          1. They can change the gear ratio to get a higher top speed with the same revs

          2. Yes but the KERS system works by giving you a horsepower boost for a limited period of time. It is the combination of power,drag and the gear ratios that define your top end speed. An increase in your power would give you the ability to push to a higher speed than somebody with the same drag and same final gear ratio.

            As for the corners it is true that the ultimate grip level is dependant upon the tyre’s friction coefficient, however the weight transition makes a huge difference on tyre wear and on ultimate cornering speed. This will be affected by the weight distribution.

    3. Martin Whitmarsh has also said (not sure where, possibly on the BBC post race coverage on the Red Button), he wasn’t sure if there would be enough places to fully charge KERS at Spa, remember this was the reason McLaren didn’t use KERS at Silverstone.

      1. At the very least La Source should give them some charge before going onto the main straight.

        1. My point exactly. They can also use the energy gained from Malmedy to Stavelot to gain speed on the long stretch leading to the Bus Stop Chicane.

  2. Prisoner Monkeys
    25th August 2009, 15:24

    I have to laugh at some of the people I’ve heard who genuinely think Lewis Hamilton can defend his title. He needs about sixty points to make it his. Button needs less than a third of that to put it beyond his grasp.

    1. Colonel Moustache
      25th August 2009, 15:31

      It’s extremely unlikely, but stranger things have happened…

        1. Such as Raikkonen coming from 18 points behind with only 20 points remaining and winning the title.

          But I do agree though, it would take something extraordinary for Lewis to defend his crown now. In fact, even Vettel is going to have it tough from here.

          1. the only reason Raikkonen was capable to do that was because Alonso and Hamilton were busy bickering. And there is also the theory that McLaren pulled back at the last moment, because they didn’t want to be seen winning and then investigated because of the Spy-gate debacle. they had lost their constructors point that year and the last thing they needed way any other interference from the WMSC and FIA…

    2. Anything’s possible …

      1. Come on, how many champions in the last 20 years have had 27 points and trailed the leader by 45 points, with 60 available?

        Hamilton will take 5th, Raikkonen 6th, and Rosberg 7th.

        1. None. The greatest margin ever overcome to win a world championship is 35 points, and that was James Hunt in 1976 when he had the advantage of Lauda missing several races due to injury.

  3. It’s a shame that Mclaren and Ferrari didn’t score a few more points earlier in the season when they were less competitive, if they were just a bit closer to Button’s points total they would still have a decent chance of winning the title.

    Think of Hamilton’s season in particular- his disqualification at Australia cost him 5 points, and his crash in qualifying at Monaco effectively cost him 5 or 6 points. Also, his first lap puncture at the Nurburgring probabaly cost him 8 points. With these 18 or 19 extra points, he would be a lot closer to Button, with a better car, and I think he’d have every chance of catching him.

    1. I had almost completely forgotten about Hamilton’s early season travails.

    2. Obviously it would ve been interesting if Hamilton had got a little bit more for the races where he reasonnably should have scored big points. But in France we tend to say: “With ifs you could put Paris in a bottle”.

      I do however believe that he (Hamilton) might just be able to rise to 4th place in the championship. My bet would go on a Vettel collapse, this bet is really motivated by the fact that I really like Webber, he seems like the decent bloke. I’d expect Hamilton to bag another victory or two plus good showings. I actually rate him as the best driver (which is difficult for a French man). A late surge from him would be interesting and just reward but I sincerely hope for the sake of the show itself that Red Bull return to their winning ways.

      A Webber-Button showdown may not have the glitter of a Hamilton-Alonso-Raikkonen race to the finish but it’s still a showdown. And by the way things are turning out to be, that’s the best we could hope for (please don’t let Button win the next two and kill the championship off).

      To answer your question Keith (great website by the way, just love it): with the best of will, it is difficult not to see this championship going to Button / Brawn with Webber and Barichello on the podium and Mercedes as constructor n°3.

      1. I actually rate him as the best driver (which is difficult for a French man).

        Wow, Tarzan, I always like to discover why Lewis is so hated in France — at least it is what some friends there always tell me.

        Please, more details… :)

        1. Because he’s Engligh perhaps?

        2. I’d guess it simply comes to the fact that he is English + dates an American girl and well… Isn’t French or Latin or drives for a French team.

          And with Rosberg, Alonso, Trulli, Fisichella and to lesser extent Massa, Barrichello and Raikonnen (ok, that was just a “bonjour”) all capable of speaking their native language + English + French (Rosberg is actually very good at it and Alonso is quite the French speaker too), they all spend more time on TV during pre-race. Others are excused. They allready speak two langages. But Button and Hamilton? Naaaah…

          But really it would make things easier if he was French wouldn’t it? I mean, Panis was our last victory, so an out-of-the-box champion would be good news for us… We already lost our Magny Cours GP.

          1. It’s not so impressive that Italian and Spanish people also speak French. The languages are almost identical.

            How many French people speak German though? or even proper english for that matter.

          2. Hamilton can Speak fluent Italian ^^

            lol just came across this;
            http://www.bendecho.com/2730045913-outtakes-of-lewis-hamilton-and-heikki-kovalainen

            good laugh =]

          3. The only reason Alonso speaks to TF1 is because he drives for Renault…if it wasnt the case he wouldn’t bother.

            although not to been too judgmental, he seems to be getting rather softer and more mature this season.

    3. that’s a whole lot of “if, if, if…”

      the facts are what the facts are.

  4. I could probably die and go to Heaven happy if Lewis won the WDC by a miracle (so I’ll probably be around for a while yet). That’s all.

  5. C’mon KIMI

  6. Button for the championship as even when he’s performed badly for four races in a row, his lead remains remarkably consistent.

    Why? Because everyone else is taking points off each other. Button is “lucky” as there is a three-way fight for second place, so all his rivals are taking points off each other. Then you add in Hamilton and Raikonnen, and they will be taking points off everyone making Jenson’s task easier.

    By the end of the season LH and KR might be fighting for second as well. Factor in the distinct possibility that Button can still win races this year and will get a brace of podiums at least, and he’s still looking pretty comfortable.

    Not a foregone conclusion but not bad at all by any means.

    1. my thoughts entirely.

    2. Didn’t Rubens just take 8 points off of Button??

      1. The no 2 in the championship was Webber. He was 18.5 points behind Button. Barrichello is now 18 points behind Button.

        So Button lost only halve a point of his lead to the number 2.

        Over the last 4 races he lost only 5 points (23 point lead down to an 18 points lead).

  7. Great analysis, Keith. It will be great to see how the re-emergence of McLaren and Ferrari will fare in the championship battle.

    A point on the article as well, Keith. In the second section, shouldn’t it be written “Picking off (the impressively consistent) Nico Rosberg” as when you take the parthesises away, you would be left with “Picking off the Nico Rosberg”.

    I’m not totally sure of this myself, but I thought I’d pass it to you.

  8. In the Constructers it will be between Brawn and Red Bull for first, although Brawn have to be the favourites. McLaren should get second as they are still updating their car and have two drivers scoring points. Ferrari should finish in fourth as although they have stopped developing their 2009 car and have only one driver scoring points I can’t see Toyota catching them after their slump in form and Williams like Ferrari only have one driver scoring points.

    The rest of the positions should stay as they are, but a freak result due to a wet race or safety car at the wrong time could make a big difference.

    As for the Drivers Championship although I think the positions below him will change quite a bit, if I was a gambling man I wouldn’t bet against Button.

  9. my perfect result for spa
    1st- webber
    2nd vettel
    3rd barrichello
    button- out of points

    that way both championships would tighten up-
    BUT-72
    WEB-61.5
    BAR-60

    constructors-
    Brawn-132
    RBR-116.5

    1. I’m not sure about Barrichello but Red Bulls on top with Button out of the points is a possibility.

      If it rains I fully expect Red Bull to run away with a 1-2, for the remaining places Hamilton and Raikkonnen are very good at Spa, you have to expect Rosberg to continue his run in the points, which leaves 3 spots which could easily be filled by a driver with a good strategy (Sutil for Force India please?).

    2. yep, that would be awesome. fingers crossed!

  10. I also don’t expect Hamilton or Räikkönen to be able to make any serious grab for the championship again this year, but further good results for Ferrari and McLaren drivers could obviously take some points away from the main contenders. I think we can only wait and see on a race-by-race basis how this plays out, though.

  11. After Hungary, Hamilton stated that the McLaren resurgence was aided by improvements to the engine and its power. I found this quite shocking. There has been much recent wrangling about the permitted extent of “reliability” improvements. I’m sure marginal improvements to unregulated parts—exhaust shape, water pumps, etc—are made regularly but I don’t see those kinds of updates having much of a share in the radical lap time imnprovements McLaren has seen.

    1. Moo Point: Like a cow's opinion, it's Moo!!
      26th August 2009, 10:27

      Could be improvement in how it delivers in power (ie engine mapping) rather than outright power…

      That should be good news for Brawn too, what with them using the same engines.

  12. There is another title contender people! Although maybe not very likely, it is possible that Button will have another couple of mediocre races and the Barrichello catches up. I wonder what would happen if he gets to within say, 5 points of his teammate? Being the emotional person that he is, Rubens may have a very much reawoken belief after Valencia. Of course, a bad race at Spa would break his momentum.

    I’m not saying that I believe he might win, but he is rather overlooked IMHO. Also, even if not fighting for the title, he may be such a pain in Webber’s *** that he effectively hands the title to his Brawn mate.

  13. Where is Luca Badoer on the graph?

  14. unfortunately for kimi, the ferrari has peaked performance wise as they have no more planned updates. He got some great results from champion like drives but i dont think they could hope for anything but bottom step podiums?

    I’d say Mclaren have the best chance of victories from now on, the car is almost leading the field.

    It should be Buttons championship but hes showing his weaknesses more than ever now, he doesn’t seem to have the grit that say hamilton or alonso have…he gives up quickly it appears…

    1. if anyone can pull a win from nowhere @ spa, its kimi.

  15. Yeah lewis will win the WDC, & Badoer will be 2nd :)

  16. BTW, Mclaren put their KERS unit on display at Valencia.

    You can check here for some photographs:
    http://www.autosport.com/news/grapevine.php/id/77977

  17. David@Geelong
    27th August 2009, 3:54

    Keith,
    When was the last time a WDC was won where they didn’t get on the podium for the last half of the season?

    All I can see is that the coming of Mclaren and Ferrari into the frame it has allowed an easier time for Button. Although he does still need to work for it. He just need to keep accumulating points.

    Also where did Toyota go? Lost in the trees are they.

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