In 2007 we witnessed a battle between Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes, both on the track and in the courtroom. The Formula One season created as many headlines on the front page as the on-track action did in the sport section. Ice man and...
In 2007 we witnessed a battle between Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes, both on the track and in the courtroom. The Formula One season created as many headlines on the front page as the on-track action did in the sport section.
Whichever side you support you'd have to admit it was gripping stuff. Young Lewis Hamilton stunned the sport with his debut, but as the headlines focused on the young British star, Iceman Kimi Raikkonen was quietly winning the drivers title.
The 2008 F1 season is shaping up to be an epic one. Whilst the Ferraris and McLarens can be expected to continue last season's fight where they left off, other challengers are eager to battle for the top spot. The BMWs were quick last year and look to bridge the gap this year. Renault may have had a bad year in 2007 by their recent standards but it wasn't too disastrous and they now have prodigal son Fernando Alonso back in the team.
Changes to the rules of the sport as always shake things up and this year there is a fair bit of shaking. The gearboxes now have to last four races, but the big change is traction control, or rather the lack of it. Some cars will handle this better than others, the Ferrari seems to be doing a good job for one, but it's the driver who will ultimately have to control the car. While several drivers have voiced concerns over the loss of traction control, others seem almost excited about the prospect. Raikkonen and Hamilton appear happy about the change, most notably Felipe Massa and David Coulthard are vocally concerned. The confidence and the attitude of Raikkonen and Hamilton are good signs for these two and yet we will see more mistakes in the wet for sure. Drivers, like Hamilton, who clearly enjoyed throwing the car off the kerbs in 2007 will have a bit of fun out there. In wet races, it will fall to race director Charlie Whiting to decide if it's safe to send cars out. That's going to be a tough call, and in a health and safety culture more postponed races are likely.
Ferrari are going to be quick. The car was good from the start of the 2007 season and stayed good to the end. The new car is a cautious evolution of its predecessor but is it too cautious? The design is one of continuity to improve reliability and there are question marks over the aggression of the new leadership.
While the car's aero package will continue to evolve before the first race in Melbourne, the launched car's side pods have big cooling intakes to combat overheating issues the cars suffered in some of the earlier races. The Ferrari squad have a fast car and don't want to take any chances for 2008. The conservative approach continues with a shortened wheelbase, Ferrari introduced the trend towards a longer wheelbase but have pulled it back for 2008. The car was quick on the tracks with long sweeping corners but not on the tight twisty ones. The changing of the wheelbase will make racing rivals McLaren less of a track orientated affair.
Driver Raikkonen is particularly confident, being the current world champion gives the experienced Finn a boost. It will be close with Hamilton, but the numeral "1" on the Iceman's car may just give him the edge this year. Teammate Massa did a good job last year, not quite as consistent as Raikkonen, which ultimately took him out of the running, but for 2008 he is still a contender in a very fast car and should not be overlooked.
McLaren Mercedes have put the troubles of last year behind them and are concentrating on racing. The new car again is an evolution of the 2007 car but the design team in Woking have been busy, the new car features a lot of neat aerodynamic touches. The team have attacked every part of the car in the pursuit of performance with new design details evident all over the body work. The more noticeable changes are in the area around the headrest and the air box, which features two structural pillars with a big cutaway in between. The engine cover has also been narrowed to allow greater passage of air to the rear wing.
The wheelbase of the McLaren has been lengthened, this, along with the shortening of the Ferrari wheelbase suggests the two have met somewhere in the middle. In McLaren's case this is particularly useful as it will help with the abolition of traction control. The longer wheelbase will make the car a bit more controllable for the drivers and allows McLaren to move some weight forward by lengthening the gearbox and moving the engine which will take weight away from the rear axle.
McLaren suffered unprecedented financial penalties for the espionage scandal in 2007. They suffered not only from the enormous fine but the loss of revenue for the exclusion from the constructors championship. Thankfully the team appears to have survived this setback and the 2008 car looks to be good in the testing sessions. How much of an effect this will have on McLaren during the season or in the future we can only speculate.
The team's rookie driver lineup is a concern. The talents of both Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen are not in dispute, but the team has lost the set up and development experience of Alonso. While Hamilton had an amazing first year in F1, how much of that relied on Alonso's expertise in the basic setup of the car on race weekends remains to be seen. Hamilton, of course, may have learned a trick or two from the Spaniard and has gained the advantage of having driven the circuits. This might in his favour.
Whilst inexperience certainly was a factor for the young Brit towards the end of the year, he has undoubtedly learned much from leading the title battle only to lose it at the last race. Kovalainen, although not reasonably expected to be the main title hope at McLaren is far from out of the running. Kovalainen has already been posting fast test times, even faster than Hamilton at some of the tests, so the Finn is up for the fight. Hamilton last year overtook his more experienced teammate on the first corner of his first race in F1, which demonstrates the lack of team orders at McLaren. This year we can expect this pair to be fighting all the way. Hamilton is likely to revel in the competition as long as the pair don't take each other out which has to be a concern.
The next best team last year was BMW Sauber, although they recorded a second place in the constructors championship this was due to the exclusion of McLaren from the final standings. The BMWs finished well throughout the year but were no match for the Ferraris or McLarens. The team's technical staff have been working on the car, with major changes in sidepod areas. Like McLaren, BMW has tweaked the area in front of the rear wing. This will help smooth the airflow over the car, increasing downforce. The F1.08 also introduces a new triple profile front wing. Whilst far from the finished package, the indications from testing are that the BMW team cars are not going to trouble the Ferraris or the McLarens at the season opener in Australia. They are quick but not quite quick enough. The team does benefit from the continuity of their driver lineup. Robert Kubica posted the faster times in latest tests at Jerez compared to teammate Nick Heidfield but it would be unfair to read too much into this.
Alonso is fired-up and ready to get in to the thick of it. The double world champion is back home at Renault F1 and there's no denying he has talent behind the wheel. The Spaniard has another young teammate, this year in the shape of Nelson A. Piquet, son of world champion Nelson Piquet.
The early indications are the car is not there yet, but let's not forget that Alonso was reported as saying that he brought six-tenths of a second to McLaren in the 2007 preseason testing. If this bold claim is true, perhaps he can work the same magic at Renault. This could bring the team right into contention. The team had a bad year last year but still finished third in the constructors' championship not far behind BMW Sauber.
Alonso, talking to reporters at Renault's launch of the new car at the end of January, said the car is eight-tenths to a second off the pace which may just be a bit too much. Renault were on top just a season ago and now have Alonso back as the undisputed number one driver. Not forgetting that while Renault were having a bad season without Alonso, he was having rather a good one. He knows the team, he knows how to get the best out of a car and he is coming from front runners McLaren. Alonso could pull Renault back to glory at some of the races.
The other players will have to make a big jump to worry the top two teams. Williams have been constructors' champions nine times over in the past, but that was some time ago now. The last title win in 1997 was with Renault power. Although the team switched from Cosworth engines to Toyota power last season, the results were not brilliant. A mere 33 points were scored, while this marked a considerable improvement from the 11 points in 2006, it is still a long way off where they would like to be. The best Williams can hope for this year is to continue the improvements.
Red Bull Racing was formed from the ashes of Jaguar Racing. Even though the team moved in the right direction last season and scored a decent third place in the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Red Bull Racing suffered many retirements. The team has a strong driver lineup in Mark Webber and David Coulthard and along with chief technical officer Adrian Newey and Renault engines, they are aiming to build on team stability to deliver their most competitive season in Formula One. Winning races will still be a big task for the team this year though.
In the autumn of 2005, Red Bull purchased another Formula One team and Minardi became Scuderia Toro Rosso. The Red Bull B-team continue to run Ferrari customer engines but failed to get Ferrari pace out of them in 2007. The team is moving in the right direction and this year four-time Champ Car World Series consecutive champion Sebastien Bourdais joins the team to race alongside returning driver Sebastian Vettel. They are likely to be fighting for the lower points finishes if reliability can be improved.
Toyota F1 boss Tadashi Yamashina has two years to turn around the fortunes of Toyota or they will pull out of F1. The team are talking up their chances and at least Timo Glock is on the team to partner Jarno Trulli. Trulli has already stated that podium finishes for this year are unrealistic based on their testing performance so we have to hope that they do well enough to justify continuing.
Honda are not having a good time in F1 at the moment. Last year's car was a disaster, the team scored just six points. The only good thing about last season for Honda is that it's over. Ross Brawn will attempt to save the Brackley squad from another horrendous year. Drivers Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button will hope he can.
Unofficially the Honda 'B'-team, Super Aguri didn't fair much worse than Honda; they scored four points. This year the team is having major financial difficulties. If they make it to the first race in Australia, a win is out of the picture. Or any other race come to that. Drivers Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson still haven't officially signed contracts for the year.
Last but not least, Force India F1 have entered the world of Formula One. Drivers Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella will be hoping to finish races rather than win them in the team's debut year.
Motorsport.com's 2008 predictions.
Eric Gilbert - Raikkonen to win but with Hamilton strong.
Nancy Knapp Schilke - Hamilton with Raikkonen close at hand.
Tom Haapanen - Hamilton will win.
John Dagys - Hamilton will take the title, but will face strong challenges from Raikkonen and Alonso. Other front runners would include Massa and Kovalainen. The surprise of the year could come from Torro Rosso. Look for both "Sebs" to be scoring points on a consistent basis.
David Schilke - To me it doesn't matter who the winner is, so long as a close battle develops that is fair and settled on the track, not in the courts.
Jack Durbin - Lewis Hamilton.
Tony DiZinno - Raikkonen to authoritatively repeat, with Hamilton second.
Gareth Fair - Raikkonen will be up there with Hamilton racing for the title and Hamilton will win it. Massa and Kovalainen will be close too and Kovalainen will win his first race. Massa is moaning a bit too much about the loss of traction control which looks a bit like getting the excuses in early. Kovalainen will be fast but will come off the track a couple of times costing him points. .