The start of the 2005 Formula One season in Melbourne is a month away and the grid line up is just about finalized. Despite the worries that this season would see a diminished entry list, 10 teams will once again be ready for action at Albert Park. Only Minardi has yet to confirm a full complement of drivers, with one race seat still vacant.
Ferrari, of course, retains the championship-winning partnership of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. The Scuderia will surely again be the team to beat but despite their dominance last season, Schumacher is cautious. Ferrari will start 2005 with the interim F2004M chassis, with the new car not expected to make its debut until Europe.
"We have to keep in mind that we are using a car which is basically the one we used last year," Schumacher told Gazetta dello Sport. Rivals will be starting with new cars and the reigning champion expects them to gain ground before the first race. "There's still a month to go to Melbourne so they can surely improve."
Despite Jenson Button's best efforts to escape, BAR is the only other team to keep the same drivers for this year. He and Takuma Sato will be looking for the team's first victory. After testing at Valencia last week, Sato commented: "We have made some satisfying progress and the car was reliable, but we still have to work quite hard before the first race in Melbourne."
Renault has Giancarlo Fischella lining up alongside Fernando Alonso for 2005. The Italian joins the team after a season with Sauber, while Alonso has been with the French squad for three years, one as test driver. The new R25 was launched in Monaco last week and the Spaniard is hoping the car will give him and the team some wins this season.
"I won't have any clear expectations until we arrive in Melbourne but in terms of what I hope for, I would like to be fighting for victories this year," Alonso said in regard to 2005. "In 2004, we were always battling for the podium places. Now, we must take the next step."
Williams has the all-new line up of Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld. Webber was signed by the team last season but Heidfeld was only confirmed at the launch of the FW27 last week. Webber joins from two years with Jaguar, while Heidfeld has his opportunity with a top team after struggling with the reluctant Jordan last year.
"This is a fantastic chance," said the German. "Most definitely the BMW WilliamsF1 Team is the most successful and professional team I have driven for, so far. And I'll give my very, very best to come up to the team's expectations."
At McLaren, Juan Pablo Montoya teams up with Kimi Raikkonen for what is arguably one of the strongest pairings on the grid. Montoya spent four years with Williams before the move, while Raikkonen was a title challenger for the team in 2003. The new MP4-20 made its debut on the test track in January at Barcelona and was at work at Valencia last week.
"We hope to have created a powerful package of chassis, engine and tyres, which will enable us to resume the performance and results which our team scored in the second half of the year and particularly in the final third of the season with last year's MP4-19B," said Mercedes motorsport director Norbert Haug, in regard to the new car.
Sauber's C24 will have Felipe Massa and Jacques Villeneuve behind the wheel. Massa is a familiar face at the Swiss squad, while Villeneuve returns to competition after sitting out much of last season. "In the past year, the team kept getting better as the season progressed," Villeneuve said of Sauber. "If this continues into the coming season, we could easily notch up some stunning results."
Red Bull Racing, formerly Jaguar, has Christian Klien and Vitantonio Liuzzi signed up but has not yet decided which one will be on the grid alongside David Coulthard in Melbourne. Of the youngsters, Klien raced for Jaguar last year and Liuzzi was F3000 champion. Coulthard previously spent nine years with McLaren.
"The biggest asset that this team has is David Coulthard," Red Bull's sporting director Christian Horner told Reuters. "The experience that he brings is invaluable at the end of the day, with regards to development and the way that the team operates, and that is obviously something that rookie drivers simply don't have."
Toyota has new faces to the team in the shape of Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher. Trulli joins the Cologne-based squad from Renault, where he spent two seasons, while Ralf comes on board after six years with Williams. Like many teams, Toyota was on the test track at Valencia last week and Ralf believes progress is good.
"Looking at the last two tests we look slightly better than we expected," he commented. "So we're pleased with what we've seen so far and we appear to be pretty competitive. But exactly how competitive we'll only find out in Melbourne when everyone brings what they think is the best package they have."
Jordan recently announced its drivers for 2005 will be Narain Karthikeyan and Tiago Monteiro, both newcomers to F1, although they have previously tested. Karthikeyan has raced in F3 and both have competed in the Nissan World Series. Monteiro will be Portugal's first F1 driver for nine years, while Karthikeyan is India's first ever.
"My aim has always been to compete in F1, it is where no Indian driver has been before," said Narain. "I've got the hopes of a nation behind me so I've no choice but to succeed now."
Minardi has Christijan Albers in one race seat this season but the other is yet to be announced. Former Minardi racer Nicolas Kiesa has been testing with the team recently and seems a likely contender. Albers debuts in F1 from the German Touring Car championship, where he was a title challenger in the last couple of years, driving for Mercedes.
After the Faenza squad's test at Misano last week, team manager Massimo Rivola said of Albers: "His lap times were consistent during the stints, indicating his physical condition is good. He is definitely fully immersed in the job of being an F1 driver, and the team is happy with both his approach and his attitude to the job."