As Formula One prepares to welcome its newest circuit this weekend, it will be the farewells that gain most of the attention.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, at the state-of-the-art Yas Marina circuit on a man-made island off the Abu Dhabi coast, is the final race of the 2009 season.
With the drivers and constructors’ championships already safely in the keeping of Jenson Button and his Brawn GP team, this weekend’s race will be a reflection upon the passing of some eras, and further intense negotiations over driver moves ahead of 2010.
Abu Dhabi will be the last race for BMW, which has pulled out of the sport to reduce costs, and also mark the final race for Fernando Alonso with Renault and Kimi Raikkonen with Ferrari.
Alonso, after two world titles with Renault will take Raikkonen’s seat at Ferrari next year.
“I would love to finish the season and my Renault career with a great result,” Alonso said. “It will be an emotional race because I have enjoyed so many special memories with this team and I am leaving behind a lot of friends.”
The 2010 destiny of Raikkonen, who also won a world title with Ferrari, remains the source of much speculation.
He is considered likely to return to his old team McLaren to partner Lewis Hamilton - one of the few drivers who can be sure he will start the 2010 season in the same team with which he races this weekend.
Button is in the midst of contract negotiations with Brawn. The Briton accepted a cut-price deal for 2009 because of doubts about the viability of the team following Honda’s withdrawal on the eve of the season.
Now he has won the world title and Brawn is on a more solid footing, a much better deal is due and Button would be quite happy for rumours about a move to McLaren to pass around, strengthening his bargaining position.
Should he stay with Brawn, Button seems certain to have a new teammate for 2010. Veteran Brazilian Rubens Barrichello has been holding talks with Williams, and a straight swap with that team’s Nico Rosberg appears likely.
However Hamilton would welcome his old karting teammate Rosberg at McLaren, which seems certain to jettison the underperforming Heikki Kovalainen.
One move that is signed and sealed is that of Robert Kubica from BMW-Sauber to Renault, replacing Alonso. The future of the Swiss-based BMW-Sauber team remains in flux.
With BMW pulling out, the team has won financial backing from a somewhat mysterious Qadback Investments group, but has no guarantee of a place on the grid.
It has been designated as the 14th team for 2010, meaning its place in next season’s championship depends upon one of the 13 teams not going ahead with its 2010 entry. Given the uncertainty over the financial state of the sport in the midst of global economic difficulty, it would not be surprising if a team withdraws, giving Sauber a reprieve.
“There will of course also be a fair amount of sadness within the team as we set off for Abu Dhabi,” BMW team boss Mario Thiessen said. “After all, this will be our 70th and final race with the BMW Sauber F1 Team.
“With the exception of our fourth and unfortunately final season, I’m more than satisfied with what we have achieved since 2006.”
This weekend’s grand prix will also be the last for mid-race refuelling, which will be banned from next season to reduce the high cost of transporting the fuel rigs around the world.
That in turn should mean an end to pit crews dressed like astronauts as a fire precaution. But the more important resulting cosmetic difference will be to the cars themselves.
No refuelling necessitates a bigger fuel tank for 2010, and a consequent redesign of the chassis to accommodate it. With the tank fitted between driver and engine, the cars should look a little more bloated in the tail end.