Recently-crowned F1 World Champion Jenson Button has dropped hints that he expects the 2010 campaign to be one of the most open and keenly-disputed in years, with as many as eight drivers capable of doing battle for glory – as chief 2009 rival Sebastian Vettel warned him that Red Bull Racing 'will only get stronger'.
Having risen phoenix-like from the flames of what had been Honda F1, Brawn GP and season-long challenger Red Bull dominated proceedings this year, between them triumphing in 14 of the 17 grands prix – six for Button, four for Vettel and two apiece for respective team-mates Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber.
Traditional favourites McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari, by contrast – the duellists who have torn up the record books over the last decade, with 18 titles between them – paid the price for having relentlessly maintained development right the way to the end of 2008 in their fraught tussle for supremacy, in lagging behind when 2009 began and only truly getting back on terms again in the latter stages of the campaign.
Ferrari – for whom 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen prevailed in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps – abandoned progress on its unloved F60 mid-season in order to turn all of its efforts towards its 2010 challenger, whilst McLaren's dramatic turnaround in form was such that it enabled 2008 title-winner Lewis Hamilton to ascend the top step of the rostrum in both Hungary and Singapore, and out-score everyone bar Vettel over the second half of the year.
Button – who was scarcely expected to make the grid at all for the Melbourne curtain-raiser, let alone emerge as be a title contender after Brawn GP only just survived the winter following parent company Honda's sudden and shock withdrawal late last year – is well aware that both 'grandees' will likely be back with a vengeance in 2010, and that is a prospect he is clearly relishing.
“Ferrari and McLaren will be competitive next season,” the 29-year-old is quoted as having said by The Associated Press
. “They have the experience and resources, but I don't think suddenly they are going to be faster than the Red Bulls or Brawns. Having four teams fighting out in front is something that has not happened before. Eight drivers fighting for wins is exciting.”
Those sentiments are echoed by 2009 world championship runner-up Vettel, who won two of the last three races to head into next year as the in-form driver in the field – and the German, the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner, is confident that RBR will not pay a similar price to McLaren and Ferrari for having continued pushing right to the bitter end in its ultimately futile bid to overcome Button and Brawn.
“The regulations don't change too much,” reasoned the Heppenheim native, favourably comparing the situation to the nigh-on wholesale raft of new rules brought in for 2009. “There is no refuelling [in 2010], but other than that the cars will remain similar. I am very confident we can only get stronger.”
Meanwhile, 2010 will also mark the first year since 2001 with no Japanese constructor on the grid in the wake of Toyota's departure.