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Archive for January, 2009

Robert Kubica in BMW F1.09 at Valencia

BMW Sauber became the sixth Formula 1 team to unveil their 2009 challenger on Tuesday. The F1.09, the fourth car BMW have built since their 2006 takeover of Sauber, was launched at the Valencia track in Spain with drivers Nick Heidfeld, Robert Kubica and Christian Klien present, and Kubica taking the car for it’s first few runs.

BMW head into 2009 aiming to become serious championship contenders, having dropped off the pace after a strong start to 2008 that saw them claim their first race win. Kubica, the main challenger for BMW in ’08, said at the launch: “Last year we saw that working together we can achieve good result. For the first half of the season, we were title contenders. We were leading the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships at certain points of the season. Everyone remembers how it finished, and we will try to repeat the first half of the season and finish better than last year.” Team boss Mario Theissen displayed lots of confidence in a press conference following the launch, saying that BMW, in a similar fashion to Toyota, have always had a four year plan in F1: “We set out a plan aiming at the first points in 2006, the first podium in 2007, to win in 2008, and we then stated that we want to fight for the championship from this year onwards. So far all targets have been met, so there is no reason to abandon the final and most important target. We want to fight for the title with the big two other teams and whoever else is up there.”

BMW plan to remain testing the new car in Valencia until Saturday.

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Kamui Kobayashi in Toyota TF109 at Algarve

Sebastien Buemi, recently signed to race at Toro Rosso this year, completed the first official testing day of 2009 fastest at the Algarve circuit in Portugal. He was the only man on track driving a 2008-spec car, with everyone else testing their newly launched ’09 cars, meaning Buemi was able to end the day a full 5 seconds faster than Pedro de la Rosa, who was in turn fastest of the new cars in his McLaren MP4-24.

The day began with some last-minute 2009 car launches. Renault held a low key launch for their R29, with Nelson Piquet Jr stepping in the car and managing a 1:48.907, the fourth fastest time of the day. Meanwhile, Williams held a very, very low key unveiling of the FW31, with third driver Nico Hulkenburg taking the new car to the third fastest time, a 1:46.335. The Toyota TF109 was also in action, with Kamui Kobayashi at the wheel, but they, along with everyone else, had limited testing runs due to poor weather.

Ferrari had decided to avoid the forecasted rain in Portugal and instead tested on their own at Mugello. Unfortunately for the Italian team it also rained at their own test track, so Kimi Raikkonen completed only a few laps in his first outing of the F60, with his best lap a 1:34.430. Both tests continue into Tuesday.

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Nico Hulkenburg in Williams FW31 at Algarve

Williams rolled out their 2009 contender, the FW31, at the Algarve circuit in Portugal on Monday. The hugely low-key ‘launch’ saw the car parked outside it’s pit garage with third driver, Nico Hulkenburg, also present and taking the car out for it’s first runs later that day.

Williams are hoping for the best season possible with the resources and finances they have, with the FIA’s cost-cutting plans suggesting a brighter future ahead for the once successful British team, who haven’t won a championship since 1997 and a race since 2003. Team principal Frank Williams echoes the thoughts of the other team bosses, saying “It will be a very interesting year” and also that he hopes the team will make “a significantly large step forward” with the Fw31. Technical director Sam Michael is targeting a “respectable” season, saying: “Williams have won Grands Prix before, we’ve won championships before, and everyone in the company wants to return to that level. Our target is to do the best that we can with the resources that we have, and I’m sure that we can hold the team up in a good light.”

The FW31’s 2009 livery is yet to be revealed, with the team using a winter testing livery until February.

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Nelson Piquet Jr in Renault R29 at Algarve

Renault unveiled their 2009 car, the R29, ahead of this weeks test in Portugal. Both Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet Jr will continue their role as race drivers, with the Enstone-based team hoping to carry on where they left of in 2008, with Alonso claiming three podiums at the end of the season, two of which were race wins.

The R29 features a strikingly different livery to the previous two years, and a much chunkier front nose compared to the other ’09 cars we’ve seen so far. This, along with the many other visible changes made to all of this years challengers, make it a very big development in the appearance of the French team’s cars. The launch itself wasn’t exactly a massive event, with the two race drivers Alonso and Piquet Jr, third driver Romain Grosjean and team boss Flavio Briatore revealing outside their pit garage the car they hope will be able to challenge for the world championship.

Renault also revealed the members of their 2009 driver development scheme on Monday. Davide Valsecchi, competing in Formula Renault and Formula Ford drivers Charles Pic and Marco Sorensen. Renault will test their new car alongside McLaren, Toyota, Toro Rosso and Williams in Portugal this week.

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McLaren MP4-24 at Launch in Woking

McLaren became the third team to reveal their 2009 car on Friday. The MP4-24, which Lewis Hamilton will use to defend his drivers championship, was launched in a small press gathering at the teams headquarters in Woking, a contrast to McLaren’s large scale launch events at Valencia in 2007 and Stuttgart in 2008.

Having clinched the drivers championship in a nail-biting finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix last year, McLaren are confident their 2009 campaign will produce similar success, and hope to achieve their first constructors championship title since 1998. Speaking at the launch, Hamilton said: “The arrival of a new car is always an emotional moment for any racing driver, and the unveiling of MP4-24 is even more special for me, not only because the car looks absolutely stunning but also because it carries the number one. I believe this year’s World Championship is open, given the new rule changes and that’s a great prospect for every Formula 1 fan.” McLaren boss, Ron Dennis, spoke of the challenges faced with the new regulations, saying: “Extensive rule changes require extensive amount of work. These are the biggest rules changes we have seen in 15 years. That requires the technologists in our organisation, they are not just engineers but scientist with high qualifications, to go back to a plain piece of paper. As ever, we exist to win and our target remains the successful acquisition of both this year’s Drivers’ and Constructors’ world titles.”

The launch was somewhat overshadowed however, by the news that Dennis would step down from his team principal role before the season began. For many though, McLaren remain the favourites to lift the 2009 trophy at the end of the season. The team will begin their testing schedule of the new car on Monday at Portimao in Portugal.

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Ron Dennis has announced at the launch of McLaren’s 2009 car that he will step down from the team principal role he has occupied for 27 years. In that time he has helped Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Aytron Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton to world drivers titles and become an influential figure in Formula 1, but his decision to step down, which has been rumoured since the end of the 2007 season, comes at a time where he feels the team is ready to move on with a new principal, following their victory in the drivers championship last year.

Dennis announced he would leave the job to McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh, who has been working at the British team since 1989. He also said he will take a step back and focus on other commitments within the McLaren group. Speaking to the press he said: “I intend to raise my own game because I think everybody in our organisation at every level realises this is a tough period in which we are going to work and of course we are a very diverse organisation now. We have a clear intention for our production car programme which is really a challenge. Any product we bring to the market will certainly fall the other side of this financial period. Don’t see it as some sort of retirement, I want to work harder in other areas and having to plan those tasks around the GP calendar is disruptive to the process. It is a job that Martin will embrace and enjoy. It is a job over the years we have shared anyway, but it will be his decision to influence things at a grand prix circuit.”

Dennis also said he will continue to attend some races this year. He will officially step down from his team principal role on the 1st of March.

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TF109 Launch Image

Toyota revealed their 2009 car, the TF109, for the first time on Thursday. The car was launched online with a short movie made in the style of a film trailer which featured drivers Jarno Trulli, Timo Glock and Kamui Kobayashi. Along with the rest of the 2009 cars, the TF109 looks strikingly different to last years racer, with the standard much higher rear wing and wider front wing the most noticeable changes.

Toyota have made clear their aim for 2009 is to achieve their maiden race win. Having competed in the sport for 7 years with the largest budget, some members of the team hinted that if success does not come soon, Toyota may lose interest in F1 and follow Honda out of the sport. Trulli talked about the Japanese manufacturer’s commitment to F1 saying: “Toyota’s message has been very clear: we carry on with F1, however we all have a great responsibility to try to bring home the maiden victory, which could be decisive for the future.” John Howett, the teams president, echoed Trulli’s sentiments, saying: “To put ourselves in the best possible position to fight for our first victory, we need to be consistently challenging for the podium and scoring big points regularly.” Team principal Tadashi Yamashina added: “When I took over as Chairman and Team Principal in 2007 I stated my task for the first year would be to observe, for the second year it would be to improve and for the third year and beyond it would be to succeed. This is my third season so it is very clear for me – I want to see us win a race”

The team are very confident for the future, though, with Howett believing there is no doubt about Toyota’s long-term involvement in the sport. This comes on the same day that Panasonic extended their title sponsorship deal with Toyota until 2012.

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