This weekend spells the end of one of the most extraordinary F1 seasons in living memory. The season was so packed with dramas, scandals, great sporting moments and unexpected outcomes, it feels like we have had five years packed into one.
With the final race inevitably come some departures from the sport; a few people know already that this will be their final weekend in F1, others will have it decided for them over the winter.
Each team will be shedding a lot of jobs over the coming months as the teams downsize from their bloated pre-credit crunch staffing levels. For many of the men on the shop floor, this will be a poignant weekend.
This will be BMW’s last race with the rump of the race team, minus the engine division, hoping to stay on as Sauber, under the new ownership of the mysterious Qadbak outfit.
I’m not sure if we ever will get to the bottom of which individuals within Qadbak actually own the team. I noticed this week that the the UK football authorities have accepted a deal with them whereby their identity is known to the Football League, but is kept confidential from media and public. Qadbak own Notts County football team. One would imagine that they will propose a similar deal to the FIA, if indeed the FIA feel inclined to ask. There is at present no ‘fit and proper person’ test for F1 team ownership.
There is also no place on the grid for the team, as things stand. Only 13 teams have grid slots and it will require one of the new or existing teams to drop out to make space.
For the ambitious Dr Mario Thiessen, the BMW pullout is a huge personal blow and this could well be his last race. If it turns out that way he will be the third team principal to leave the sport in 2009 after Ron Dennis and Flavio Briatore.
Thiessen steered BMW into F1 with Williams in 2000 but it was clear he always had team ownership in mind for BMW and they acquired Sauber in 2005, building up to an impressive level by 2008. This year it went wrong in every sense and BMW’s board pulled the plug in July,
“There will of course be a fair amount of sadness within the team, ” said Theissen. “After all, this will be our 70th and final race with the BMW Sauber F1 Team.
“Of course, the whole team is disappointed that we have been unable to build on this success (11 podiums last year) in 2009, as we had hoped to have a say in the title race. But we have never thrown in the towel, even after BMW announced its withdrawal from Formula One, which shows the strong character of our team.”
Although there are four new teams coming into F1, which will radically alter the feel of the paddock if it happens as planned, we are likely to lose a few of the drivers. No-one knows for sure whether we will see Kimi Raikkonen behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car again. Current Ferrari team mate Giancarlo Fisichella will likely be making his final GP start. The Italian took the chance to drive Felipe Massa’s Ferrari from Monza onwards, after the problems encountered by Luca Badoer and with that came a tacit acceptance that he would retire to the third driver role for the team. It has been a very disappointing few races for the Italian, but he does not regret his decision to race for Ferrari.
Two older drivers hoping not to say goodbye are Jarno Trulli and Rubens Barrichello. Trulli is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but I expect him to stay on next year and 37 year old Barrichello looks set to prolong his career with the Williams team. It is unusual for a driver to survive for more than a season as the sport’s oldest driver. Barrichello is a mould breaker; he will break through the 300 GP starts mark at the end of next season.
Some of the younger drivers might not get their contracts renewed; I’m thinking of Romain Grosjean, who has struggled in the Renault since Valencia. He may get picked up by one of the new teams, as there isn’t a lot of new driving talent out there. Kazuki Nakajima will not be feeling overly optimistic about his chances, particularly after the spectacular arrival of Kamui Kobayashi at the Toyota team in Brazil. The way Kobayashi litterally drove Nakajima off the track was heavily symbolic. I’m not sure Tonio Liuzzi has done enough to satisfy the increasing ambitions of Force India boss Vijay Mallya.
With a new FIA president in place, there could well be some changes among the key FIA figures on site. It will be interesting to see whether Race directors Charlie Whiting and Herbie Blash as well as chief steward Alan Donnelly remain in their roles. It looks likely that the F1 doctor Gary Hartstein will be replaced by someone with links to Jean Todt’s close medical friend Gerard Saillant.
Let’s just hope that we don’t find ourselves saying goodbye to the British Grand Prix in the aftermath of Donington’s failure.