F1: 2007 Preview
So that’s it. F1’s greatest talent will not win the 2006 World Drivers Championship (WDC). Michael Schumacher admitted as much after last week’s Japanese GP, when engine failure sidelined his car and his hopes of an eighth title. “One cannot always win and things do not always go as planned.” Although Schuey threw in the proverbial towel, there is a way he could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat: if he wins the final race of the season and Renault pilot Fernando Alonso fails to score a single point. It’s not likely. But one thing is for sure: next year’s F1 will be the sport’s new dawn.
Ferrari and Renault remain heavy favorites for the 2007 constructor’s championship, though they should face significant pressure from teams lower down in the pecking order. Red Bull Racing will bring the brand new Adrian Newey-designed RB3 to the track. Given Newey's reputation at McLaren, the RB3 could emerge as a strong contender for the checkered flag– although the McLaren cars' rep for unreliability could mean that Red Bull is unlikely to remain competitive with the top teams for the duration of the season. Toyota’s impressive late-season performance has hinted at the team’s potential. With a blank slate and a blank check, we may well see Toyota challenging for the constructors' title– provided they can motivate the two stiffs they employ as drivers (Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli).
In terms of the World Drivers' Championship, common wisdom holds Kimi Raikkonen as the front runner for next year’s title. Though universally acclaimed as a phenomenal driver, Raikkonen’s championship aspirations have been thwarted by the aforementioned mechanical "issues" over at McLaren. The Iceman’s move to the Ferrari team will finally provide F1 fans a chance to see how good the young Finn really is. Over the last few years, the Scuderia has shown itself peerless in race car design, quality and execution. Aside from the Ferrari team's mechanical prowess, their corporate culture will give the young Finn the backup he needs to concentrate on the job at hand.
Combined with Raikkonen’s well-deserved reputation for relying on his “attachments” (thank you David Hobbs), Kimi should set a blazing pace straight out of the box. In Hobbs’ immortal words, “that Kimi’s a brave boy." In other words, Raikkonen's a Ferrari ace in the classic mold. Back when Enzo Ferrari stalked the halls of Maranello, the Scuderia was known for bringing in young, reckless, extremely quick drivers; many of whom didn’t live out their time in scarlet (see Derrick “Death” Daley’s The Cruel Sport for a fascinating look at the period). Kimi should fit in well with the prevailing ethos, and provide the team with another guiding spirit.
Next season will also go down as first “Year of the Manufacturers.” Manufacturer teams will compromise more of the field in 2007 than ever before. There will be only a handful on privateers on the grid, as many of the independent teams have become little more than adjuncts of the manufacturer teams that supply their engines. This is a trend that is sure to continue in the years to come; whether for good or ill remains to be seen.
The freeze on engine development instituted by the FIA could well be the most significant change for '07. The engines that teams ran over the last two weekends of this season will be homologated for use through the 2010 season. Given the political volatility surrounding F1, it's highly unlikely that the strict, [ostensibly] long-term regulations will remain as they are now. But they signal a significant shift in the sport’s technological development paradigm for the foreseeable future. “Free” from the need to spend significant funds on engine development, aerodynamic development will become paramount.
This development is good news for some teams, particularly Red Bull Racing. When RBR “recruited” Adrian Newey from McLaren this year, they secured one of F1’s premier aerodynamicists. While Newey arrived too late to make a significant impact on the current RB2 racecar, its successor, the RB3, will be a clean sheet Newey design. While untested, it should provide a huge performance leap for the team. In the off-season, we should also see some clever aerodynamic solutions from the rest of the teams vying for pole position.
In short, the 2007 F1 season will be like none before. Despite the much-lamented FIA rule changes, new story lines will arise to breathe new life into both the drivers’ and the constructors’ championships. Raikkonen in scarlet, the consolidation of manufacturer power and Schumi’s absence should all provide ample entertainment and a highly competitive championship. For the first time in years, F1 is wide-open.
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Let's not forget the Toyoduh-engineered debacle at Indy last year. And the "suprise" move by Toyoduh from Michelin to Bridgestone, while Bridgestone still supplies Ferrari. Who knows what secrets they are stealing there for Toyoduh.
Johnson - You are right about the ban in WRC (I was given a bad source when I read that information). To note Toyota treated this as a permanent ban b/c it upset the management to no end. But you seem to ignore the fact that Toyota took a Target Ganassi car to the auto show circuit (post Ganassi buyout) and listed the mfgrs and drivers championships won when Honda was the engine provider? To me that is the most underhanded and dishonest thing a company can do (take credit for other's success)! Now why is it that CART broke their own engine change rules to switch to a 3.5 n/a v8 (ala IRL) only one company had a clear advantage with this move and it was Toyota? Now, what happened to CART - spec Ford series and a shadow of what it was (Honda broke of off finding that Toyota was again exerting it's pressure). IRL benefitted greatly as they had Toyota $$s and Honda joined to compete only to rack up the most impressive beating of it's competition in recent memory. Going gets tough - Toyota quit the IRL too. As for F1: Toyota spends more on F1 than almost all other mfgrs - the point was that $$ didn't buy you a win (and neither does their political pressures). How many wins did Toyota get last year in 2005? (zero!). Honda won it's first race in a long time this year. Fact is Ferrari is the class of the field and Renault is now coming into its own so wins are hard to come by. In fact Honda has won many championships and crowns in F1 (look at the late 80's to mid 90's). Honda sticks with it even when the going gets tough - they are not quitters. In fact here's Hondas more recent history just in F1. 2006 Honda (4th) 86 / Toyota (6th) 35 2005 Toyota (45th) 88 / Honda (6h) 38 2004 BAR Honda (2nd) 119 / Toyota (8th) 9 2003 BAR Honda (5th) 26 / Toyota (8th) 16 2002 Jordan Honda (6th) 9 / BAR Honda (8th) 7 / Toyota (10th) 2 2001 Jordan Honda (5th) 19 / BAR Honda (6th) 17 2000 BAR Honda (5th) 20 / Jorden Mugen (6th) 17 1999 Jordan Mugen (3rd) 61 1998 Jordan Mugen (4th) 34 1997 Prost Mugen (6th) 21 1996 Ligier Mugen (6th) 15 1995 Ligier Mugen (5th) 24 1994 (no Honda) - Financial trouble 1993 Footwork Mugen (9th) 4 1992 McLaren Honda (2nd) 99 / Footwork Mugen (7th) 6 1991 McLaren Honda (1st) 139 / Tyrrell Honda (6th) 12 1990 McLaren Honda (1st) 121 1989 McLaren Honda (1st) 141 1988 McLaren Honda (1st) 199 / Lotus Honda (4th) 23 1987 Williams Honda (1st) 127 / Lotus Honda (3rd) 64 1986 Williams Honda (1st) 141 1985 Williams Honda (3rd) 71 1984 Williams Honda (6th) 26 1983 Williams Honda (11th) 2 Go Back into the 60's when Honda was a small company and competing in F1 and Isle of Mann TT. In fact Honda has 100's of other championships and wins from cars (F1, CART, IRL, GT2 Win at the 24hrs of LeMans, to motorcycles and at times dominated each series they compete in As for technology...Toyota finally get some racing inspired designs in new Lexus! By the way did you know that Honda's economy cars got variations of the suspension design from F1, or Variable valve time technology (Toyota's only true VTEC copy came by Yamaha built 1.8 engines engines in the defunct Celica GTS and now the Elise). Super Aguri took a 3 year old defunct BAR Honda chassis literally from a display case and started racing it just before the season started (it was a last minute decision in the F1 world). Over the entire year their performance and reliability improved substantially. In fact in Brazil Sato finished in 10th just outside the points over the Midlands Toyota, Cosworth, RB Ferrari and he was catching up to Kubica in the BMW Sauber. In fact you're a little out of touch with Honda's passion for motorsports from its founder. Go to these two websites to read about their focus, dedication and committment. http://racing.honda.com/about/heritage.aspx http://world.honda.com/timeline/motorsports/