This has been a year full of surprises on the track and they seem to keep on coming in the off season. Jenson Button's move to McLaren and Michael Schumacher's mooted decision to make a comeback with Mercedes are both dramatic moves in the aftermath of a season of great change.
It's a good moment therefore to pause and reflect on some of the seismic changes that have happened during the course of 2009 and where it leaves Formula 1 for the future.
Over the next two years F1 teams will reduce in size dramatically. By the end of 2011 each will be allowed 280 employees, which in some cases is a drop of almost three quarters.
It will be hard for a team to spend more than £60 million a season, which means that when you add up the prize money and sponsorship revenues, many teams will actually be profitable. This in turn has attracted four new teams and brought in a new generation of business figures to the sport, like Air Asia's Tony Fernandes and Mangrove's Gerard Lopez, as well as Virgin, Lloyds TSB, and You Tube's Chad Hurley.
Many people will regret the end of the manufacturer era, because the car makers were a powerful affirmation of the sport's massive global appeal. A car racing series which considers itself to be top of the tree should have the world's leading automotive brands involved, surely?
And yet they haven't really been a force for good, since they entered en masse during the 2000s. They drove up the costs of competition, by spending freely and poaching other teams' staff, to the point where established names like Jordan and Williams were almost put out of business. For all the prestige manufacturers bring, they also make it hard for independent teams to survive and it has been proven over many decades that it is the passionate racers who run teams like Williams who are the lifeblood of F1. The sport is now back in their hands.
James Allen, F1 2009: A Revolutionary Year
So the landscape has changed significantly; what we will see starting next season is an F1 which is much more heavily skewed towards independents.
The change is startling; at the start of the 2009 season there were 10 teams on the grid, of which six were manufacturer-backed. In Bahrain next March there will be 13 teams of which just two will be manufacturer-backed. The manufacturers will come again, of course, and some new ones are likely to come in, like VW, in the next few years.
But the difference next time is that the sport will be ready for them. Having lived through a dramatic boom and bust in the 2000s, the stakeholders have come to their senses and put in place a framework, which makes it hard for a manufacturer to come in, as Toyota did and try to win by outspending the rest.
James Allen's book of the 2009 season, A Revolutionary Year, is now available at £9.99 plus P&P. Click here to buy a signed copy.
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