A new qualifying system, new regulations, new teams and drivers; will 2005 see a new champion? A betting person might take the chance but many believe that Ferrari and Michael Schumacher are once again the favourites for this season. It's a ...
A new qualifying system, new regulations, new teams and drivers; will 2005 see a new champion? A betting person might take the chance but many believe that Ferrari and Michael Schumacher are once again the favourites for this season. It's a reasonable conclusion to draw and while the new rules have added a dash of uncertainty, it's unlikely that Ferrari will be at any more of a disadvantage than any other team.
As is often repeated, there are no real conclusions to be drawn from winter test times. Ferrari has been low key but was the same at the start of 2004, and we all know what happened thereafter. McLaren and Renault look fairly strong, while last year's chargers BAR were sporadic this winter. Williams believes it does not yet have the pace to be at the front -- mostly people are hedging their bets.
For this year, the regulation that allows only one set of tyres for qualifying and the race appears to be the change that most think will make a difference. Compounds will be harder and drivers will obviously have to take into consideration the distance the tyres now have to last and the effects of wear on handling. A tyre can only be changed in the event of damage or a puncture.
From a driver's point of view, it means a little more caution than previously. "We will have to take more care of our Michelins," said McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen. "Particularly during second qualifying and the early parts of the race, to make sure you don't damage them under braking for example, which can lead to flat spotting a tyre, with the consequence of losing grip."
The new qualifying system sees two sessions, one on Saturday afternoon and one on Sunday morning. Split sessions are nothing new but the grid will now be decided by aggregate times from both days, rather than just the results of the final session. Sauber technical director Willy Rampf thinks the new format will give a better overall picture of performance.
"We will run with low fuel for maximum performance on Saturday afternoon, and then with race fuel on Sunday morning, and the times will be aggregated," he said. "Thus the effect of the fuel on the qualifying time will be less and the grid will be a more accurate reflection of true performance."
Ferrari is confident for the first round at Albert Park in Melbourne, where Michael and Rubens Barrichello scored the first of many one-two finishes for the Maranello squad in 2004. However, technical director Ross Brawn predicts a challenging season overall. "In my opinion, we are facing one of the most interesting and challenging seasons for some years," he commented.
"The change of regulations will definitely split the field, particularly at the beginning of the season, and the one tyre rule will bring a fascinating element to the races. As always, we cannot guarantee success, we can only guarantee that we will try our best."
Ferrari trying its best probably sounds like an ominous threat, but other teams are optimistic. McLaren's driver pairing of Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya is a strong one and the team also has the option of running a third car in Friday practices this season. "(This) will enable us to get a much better set of data back out of Friday's session," said CEO Martin Whitmarsh.
"Although we are fully aware of the challenge, we are hoping to have a strong start to the campaign and are looking forward to competitive action getting underway in Australia this weekend."
Albert Park's 5.3 km street circuit is one of the longer tracks on the calendar. It's fast and quite bumpy, requires maximum downforce and is hard on brakes. "It's always a great experience and the party atmosphere around Albert Park is amazing," said Williams' local hero Mark Webber. "I hope we can give the crowd something to cheer about by getting the new season off to a good start."
BAR may have appeared a little off the pace in winter testing but Jenson Button is aiming to score the team's maiden victory which eluded them last season. "I started my run of podiums in Malaysia last year so my main objective (in Melbourne) is to be as strong as possible from the start," said the Englishman.
Giancarlo Fisichella, who is back at Renault after a three-year absence, is also looking for victory. "The Albert Park circuit is not my favourite, but my results there have always been pretty good, and I enjoy the atmosphere during the weekend," the Italian remarked. "For the first time, I am going to Melbourne hoping to fight for the race win."
Jacques Villeneuve, the only other driver on the grid aside from Michael to have won the title, returns to full time competition with Sauber. "Psychologically the first race of the season is very important -- it sets the pace for the rest of the season in a way, so you really want to start off on a high note," said the former champion.
Red Bull, one of F1's "new" teams, decided to have Christian Klien line up alongside David Coulthard this weekend, although Vitantonio Liuzzi may get his chance later in the season. Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz said recently that the situation would be reviewed prior to Imola.
"This is obviously a significant event for Red Bull Racing who will enter Formula One this Sunday," said sporting director Christian Horner. "We have prepared, within the time available to us as fully as possible and I am delighted with the effort and commitment made by the team."
Toyota is another team that has a new driver line up, in the form of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli. The TF105 underwent some heavy revisions during winter testing at Barcelona as the team sought to regain some of the performance that had been lacking. More new parts are due for Australia and the following race in Malaysia.
"Our approach is far more aggressive than it ever has been and I think it has to be in order to propel Toyota up the grid during 2005," said chassis technical director Mike Gascoyne. "The bulk of the TF105 that will race in Melbourne was seen on the package that ran in Barcelona a few weeks back, but we do have some more parts coming for Australia, including a new rear wing."
Jordan, also a "new" team despite having the same name, starts the season with a pair of rookies, Narain Karthikeyan and Tiago Monteiro. It's been a busy time for the recently taken-over squad. "We only had five weeks to prepare for this race so everyone at the Jordan factory has done a fantastic job to get the cars ready," said sporting director Trevor Carlin, whose objective in Melbourne is to get both cars to the finish.
Minardi also opted for two rookie drivers, Christijan Albers and Patrick Friesacher. The team intends to race its year-old cars this weekend, which needs the approval of the other nine outfits, as the chassis has not been updated to the new regulations due to financial constraints. Ferrari has apparently not given its approval and said it's up to the FIA to decide.
Will we have any surprises this season? Perhaps. We had some last year -- not always good ones -- but for many, anything was a welcome distraction from Ferrari winning race after race. It would be nice to see a new champion, either constructor or driver, or both. But if not, hopefully Ferrari will at least have to fight for it this year.