Well, the teams have all now arrived in Melbourne. First practice gets under way at 11pm GMT this evening! How exciting! It also means that I have to rush to get my preview post written while there is still a point in making a prediction. I was hoping to write more predictions and hopes for the season, but a) some of my hopes have already been met!; and b) I don’t have the time to write any more just now. 🙁
This post is long enough though, as I look at the prospects of each of the 11 teams competing this season.
I hate to say it, but it looks like Ferrari are going to have it all their way this season. Their testing form has been monumental. Jarno Trulli’s arms even dropped off in awe. I do hope he’s managed to attach them again.
In all seriousness, I would actually be amazed if Kimi Räikkönen does not become the 2008 World Champion. I am a big fan of Räikkönen. I think he has just the right approach to racing. He keeps his foot to the floor and his head out of the politics. He never seeks to blame anyone else for his failings, even when there would be a case for him to do so.
And off the track he lives his life just the way he wants to, and doesn’t let anyone else’s criticism of that get in his way. If only the 21 other whiners would follow the Finn’s example.
If Räikkönen continues the form he showed in the second half of last season, he will be a formidable force. When his mind is focussed, Räikkönen is absolutely unbeatable.
As for Felipe Massa, I’m sorry but I still don’t get it. Massa must be Ferrari’s weakest driver in well over a decade. He is dire in the wet (as we saw at last year’s European Grand Prix). The loss of driver aids is also sure to hamper him more than most.
Okay, so Massa has won races. On his day he can do a good job. But a cynic might say that this just goes to prove that these days anyone can win so long as he is in the right car. The consistency just isn’t there for me to take Massa seriously.
Last season I had the utmost respect for what BMW had achieved. Under the expert leadership of Mario Theissen, it is impossible to believe that BMW can do anything other than improve. The team secured (moral) 3rd place in the Constructors’ Championship with such ease that they were able to stop developing their 2007 car to concentrate on the 2008 car. Theoretically, this should have made them highly competitive for 2008.
Unfortunately, the reports from testing are not good. The design of the car is said to be radical, and some think that it is just too radical. The drivers are complaining about stability and balance issues. This is ominous. A balance problem is not easy to fix. Just ask Honda.
I would love to see BMW do well this season. Sadly, the initial signs do not look good. This could be a difficult learning season.
There is little to worry about in the driving department. I think Nick Heidfeld is the grid’s most underrated driver. The fact that he has never been given a chance in a truly decent car is an utter travesty. Can anyone give me a good reason why Massa should be at Ferrari and Heidfeld shouldn’t?
Meanwhile, Robert Kubica is a good, solid driver. He took in his relative stride an absolutely horrendous 75g crash in Montreal last year. He took just one race off and returned as strong as ever. However, I doubt he has the potential to become a great in the vein of Räikkönen or Alonso.
Renault is another team I like to see do well. But I just don’t think they can do it. A lot of people will be asking why Renault are off the pace. But I see no reason why they should be on the pace. Some people act as though 2007 was an unthinkably bad season for a team of such stature. Not so.
Okay, so they achieved back-to-back successes with Fernando Alonso. But apart from that, what? The same team, back in the days when they were called Benetton, also achieved back-to-back successes with Michael Schumacher — which was followed by a decade-long barren spell.
Renault has some very smart people working for it. Pat Symonds and Bob Bell are both experienced and highly capable senior personnel. You do not win World Championships by fluke.
But at the same time, where was this team in 1998? In 1999? 2001? Benetton / Renault has as many if not more mediocre seasons as it has good ones. It seems as though Renault is in one of its troughs and it’s not about to emerge from it any time soon.
It is just as well they have a proven driver like Fernando Alonso there, otherwise I would see no reason for optimism whatsoever. In my view, Alonso is the best driver on the grid. Michael Schumacher aside, he may even be the best driver of the past fifteen years. He does not make the same silly mistakes that Räikkönen makes from time to time, and he has an almost psychic ability in the wet.
But does Alonso want to be at Renault? Many have been tempted to paint this as a “homecoming” for Alonso, but he must have originally left Renault for some reason. He might not fit in to the team as well as some people seem to think. There is also the possibility that Alonso is simply using Renault as a stepping stone to another team (almost certainly Ferrari). He went to great lengths to attempt to secure a one-year contract, which raises suspicions. Alonso may lack motivation as much as he did at McLaren.
As for Nelsinho Piquet, I have to confess he is a bit of an unknown quantity to me. I haven’t managed to watch as much GP2 as I would have liked. However, what I have heard about him isn’t good.
He seems to rub a lot of people up the wrong way. A lot of people talk about his arrogance. These descriptions remind me of Ralf Schumacher. Does he think that championships should run through the family automatically? Ralf Schumacher found out the answer to that one as well.
I feel certain that this is Williams’s year. A decade without a Championship win is a painfully long time for a team with the racing heritage of Williams. It’s amazing to think that the last time Williams won the Championship they were almost equal with Ferrari in terms of Championships won. Now Ferrari have nearly double the amount that Williams have.
The barren period has been long and painful. We have become accustomed to seeing Williams occupy the lower midfield of the grid. An acrimonious split with BMW came in the process, and the subsequent success of the German squad must have been like salt in the wound. As F1 has become increasingly dominated by big manufacturers (or soft drinks companies) with plenty of money to throw around, I have to admit that I thought Williams were doomed in the long term.
Now they are bouncing back, and how great it is to see. They even look set to embarrass their engine suppliers, Toyota. The Williams team of 2008 is very different to the one we saw in 1998. They have found their own golden boy in Nico Rosberg and seem desperate to hold on to him. What a change from the Williams of old which saw drivers as disposable commodities, almost even inconveniences.
I think Nico Rosberg is the real deal. He is very handy on the track. There have been a couple of hairy moments over the past couple of seasons, but you sense that Nico Rosberg is just the sort of person to learn from them and improve even more. And what immense maturity he has shown by remaining with Williams in the face of a “majestic” offer to race for McLaren. Clearly, the team and the driver trust each other immensely. As we have seen in the recent past with Michael Schumacher, this can be hugely important.
His team mate is Kazuki Nakajima. A lot of people scoff, but Nakajima is my dark horse for the season. He was impressive enough in his race début in Brazil last year. And his testing pace has been fairly quick on occasion as well. I see no reason why Nakajima is bound to be a failure. A cynic could say that he is only there to keep Toyota happy. But Williams can be quite a stubborn team, and I doubt they would take on a driver just to please the management bods at Toyota.
Along with Williams, I think Red Bull are on track to impress this season. The potential has been there for a while. You could hardly ask for a better design team than that of Adrian Newey and Geoff Willis.
The only reason Red Bull have not done so well before is really their dire reliability record. As pointed out in the post below, there were 14 mechanical DNFs last season, which is an unacceptably high figure. Word has it that the troublesome gearbox still has issues to be ironed out. Given that gearboxes are now expected to last for four races (or else drivers will be hit with a 5 place grid penalty), this must count against Red Bull.
As for the drivers, I know it is a clichéd comment to make, but I cannot resist it. For a team that is supposed to be youthful, what a couple of dinosaurs they are lumbered with.
On the other hand, this is a solid line-up of elder statesmen. David Coulthard’s career has been given a new lease of life at Red Bull Racing, and he shows no sign of stopping producing the goods. But DC’s career must be in its final one or two years now.
Mark Webber is a similar quality racing driver. But he is not a proven race winner like Coulthard, and you really have to wonder if that race win will ever come. I highly doubt it.
Looking at the line-up though, you have to ask: do Red Bull truly aspire to become a championship winning team? Is a line-up of solid but unspectacular — and ageing — drivers good enough? At the moment, this looks like a team with mid-grid aspirations. And whatever happened to the Red Bull driver programme? They are very quiet about that these days…
Oh my goodness, are this lot still here? Will they ever take the hint and give up. Toyota reportedly have one of the biggest budgets in the pitlane, but their approach is so out of touch with the reality of running an F1 team that they might as well take the budgets away from the other teams completely — Toyota would still not win the Championship.
It is true that Honda suffer from the same problem of an ivory tower-based management who think that a car should be designed by committee. But at least Honda have won a race in the past, and BAR (although not strictly Honda) came second in 2004. And Honda have made the right move by hiring Ross Brawn to sort out their problems. Will you ever see such an action coming from Toyota? Never. We know from Ralf Schumacher’s comments that they refused even to speak to Brawn. That just says it all.
Their testing form has been inconsistent. Jarno Trulli did top the timing sheets once, but Toyota have form on running light cars to get a fast but meaningless time. I will never forget what they did at Indianapolis in 2005. That weekend had a lot of enemies, but the way the team celebrated that empty, meaningless pole position was weak. The only kind of victory that Toyota can ever win is a pyrrhic one.
Jarno Trulli is well past his sell-by date. Yes, he is a handy qualifier, but his name is also associated with the ‘Trulli train’, the phenomenon whereby Trulli falls asleep soon after the race has begun and everyone else lines up behind him, unable to overtake. Unless he can find himself in a situation similar to what Fisichella has found at Force India, I would have thought this will be Trulli’s last season in F1. Never mind; I’m sure a great career lies ahead in the vineyard.
As for Timo Glock, we will have to wait and see. This is his second chance in F1 — and not many people get that. His first stab was quite a long time ago now, so the period spent in lower formulae is suspicious. Does Glock really have what it takes?
Well, Toyota entered into a tug-of-war with BMW to secure his services, so both teams obviously think he’s worth fighting over. But Glock also played a role in GP2’s calamitous afternoon in France last year, with an embarrassing start line crash.
Toro Rosso have a mountain to climb if you ask me. Seemingly due to a lack of funds, they are starting the season with last year’s car, which can be and advantage as the drivers have optimistically pointed out. But their new car won’t come until around the Turkish Grand Prix, which is five races into the season. On the plus side, that Toro Rosso car had a really strong finish to the season last year, so maybe they can carry that through to this season.
Last year was quite tumultuous for Toro Rosso though, with managers and drivers falling out all over the shop, even to the extent where there were allegations of physical assault. Is that a sign of mismanagement? Do Gerhard Berger and Franz Tost have what it takes to run an F1 team? And how long will Dietrich Mateschitz be prepared to bankroll not just one but two Formula 1 teams?
Sebastian Vettel is highly rated. He impressed me a lot last season, and I am sure that will continue this season. I would say he is promising more in a Robert Kubica sense than in a Lewis Hamilton sense though!
Confusion will abound as his team mate has a similar name, Sébastien Bourdais (and that is in addition to Red Bull test driver Sébastian Buemi!). Bourdais has made the move from ChampCar to F1 just in time for the US open wheel series to be eaten up by the rival IRL series.
On the plus point, Bourdais won four ChampCar championships on the fly. On the minus, he won four ChampCar championships. Not only was ChampCar a bit of a derelict series, but US open wheel racing in general does not have a good track record of generating talented F1 stars.
On the plus side, there is Jacques Villeneuve — but was he really talented enough? On the minus, there are Alessandro Zanardi, Cristiano da Matta and Juan Pablo Montoya. All came with big hopes — all left with their tails between their legs.
Bourdais is also really late into his career to be making the switch to F1. Yet again, Red Bull isn’t exactly hiring a spring chicken. And what’s that about the Red Bull driver programme? I can’t hear anything…
My tip for the back of the grid! Seriously, given their continuing problems, I would not be surprised if Force India beat Honda on a regular basis this season. That would leave Honda at the back with… Super Aguri.
Undoubtedly Honda will begin to go in the right direction soon. Unless everyone has completely overestimated Ross Brawn’s ability, the only way is up. But until his influence seeps through, it is still a case of a chronically slow car (albeit one which apparently isn’t as unstable as last year’s shitbox). And who could forget that terrible livery? Okay, it’s an improvement on last year’s, but not by much.
If anyone can squeeze a result out of a terrible car, it is Jenson Button. We saw that last year. I never rated Jenson Button all that much, but I have to take my hat off to him for coping with that terrible car. He didn’t let himself get depressed by the situation and managed to score a fair few points by the end of the season, essentially saving Honda’s face.
Rubens Barrichello was not so impressive. He did allow himself to get depressed about the situation. By the end of the season, he and Honda were exchanging frosty comments through the press. Barrichello is on course to become the most experienced driver of all time this season — but if the Sword of Damocles is hanging over any driver, it is Barrichello.
They have replaced Minardi as the small team that everyone wants to see do well. But while they pulled some impressive results out of the bag last season, I don’t see them replicating that form this season. Their financial troubles have been particularly acute this winter, and although they have now found backing they have had precious little time on the test track. I don’t even know what car they will be using this year. Plus, the management overhaul is bound to disorient the team slightly.
Takuma Sato is a much maligned driver; the butt of all kinds of jokes. But I rate Sato. Who could forget his amazing overtaking manoeuvre on Fernando Alonso at Canada last year?
It is fair to say, though, that Sato has probably had longer in F1 than he truly deserves. It is incredible that Honda even went to the trouble of setting up an entire F1 team for him, just to placate the Japanese public. Sato is one lucky man.
As for Anthony Davidson, no-one has had as rough a deal as he has. Years of graft as a test driver for Honda have culminated in a poorly-supported second-hand drive where he plays a secondary role to Sato. Surely Davidson deserves more than this.
When I was younger, I was a fan of the Jordan team. The heady days of success in the late 1990s were sweet. But the decline was depressing to watch. Then as the team changed hands on an annual basis, any hope of a return to the glory days faded fast. All of the energy from the Jordan team has been sucked out by a succession of cynical businessmen who didn’t realise what they were getting themselves into and just how much money they had to commit.
But at last, the Jordan team appears to be in good hands. Vijay Mallya has deep pockets and seems to be a genuine F1 fan. He appears determined to succeed for the love of the sport, not just to push his brand.
As I have said before, initially I thought Force India should have hired Vitantonio Liuzzi as their race driver. As it is Liuzzi is their test / reserve driver, which makes sense. Giancarlo Fisichella does deserve another chance at F1 glory. When most teams at the back of the grid rely on dodgy pay drivers, it is good for Force India to be able to use an experienced driver like Fisichella to push forward development. I hope it pays dividends.
Adrian Sutil is still a bit of an unknown. He is highly rated, but his on-track performances are still sporadic. How sick must he feel though — apparently he came close to clinching that McLaren drive. As it is, he has to slog for another season at the rear of the pack.
This is the big question mark. How will the turmoil of last season — and, to an extent, the off season — affect the McLaren team’s preparation? Undoubtedly, the team will have been distracted. It has also had to halt development on three areas of the car, which is also have a small adverse effect.
On the other hand, they may be more determined than ever to win this season’s Championship. I don’t think they are quite there with Ferrari yet. But they are undoubtedly the red team’s biggest rivals, so you can’t write them off.
Lewis Hamilton has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders this year. The British media spotlight will be glaring on him more intensely than ever. The hungry media doesn’t forgive losers easily. It’s a cliché to say that the British media builds people up to knock them down, but it’s true. Hamilton will have to perform this year to prevent this from happening.
Hamilton also has more responsibility because he is team leader for McLaren after just one season. He is spearheading McLaren’s title campaign but he is still relatively inexperienced.
However, Lewis Hamilton is a supremely talented driver. His overtaking manoeuvres and starts last year were often unbelievable. But there is still a question mark in my mind over his tyre management, which appears to be his weakest area. Hamilton will have to learn to be more patient before he can win the Championship.
There are a lot of expectations for Heikki Kovalainen as well. He has made a name for himself by the fact that “if he was at McLaren and Hamilton was at Renault, all the hype could be surrounding Kovy.” Well, this year we will find out. Kovalainen is also relatively inexperienced. With two drivers lacking experience, that could harm McLaren this season in terms of development — although they still have wise head Pedro de la Rosa as a test driver.