F1 Preview: TakeTwo
The Brazilian Grand Prix at Sao Paolo marked the final act of the 2006 Formula 1 season. It was the scene of a pulsating and emotionally charged contest, where Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) battled Fernando Alonso (Renault) for the driver’s championship. Well, it wasn’t really a “battle;” all Alonso had to do to win was stay in the race. This he did, although Schumacher unleashed yet another in a seemingly endless number of superlative drives, proving that he was still The Man, mechanical misfortunes notwithstanding.
Many people had asked what would become of Formula 1 after Ayrton Senna’s tragic demise. The F1 world was asking the same question as Michael Schumacher hung up his helmet. Michael has decided to call it quits after winning seven world championships, and demolishing all previous records for race wins, pole positions and fastest laps. Although Schumacher had more to offer, he now faces the enviable challenge of administering his estimated $750m empire from the peace and tranquillity of his $50m estate cuddled in the Swiss mountains.
Meanwhile, praise to Fernando Alonso. At 25, Alonso has become the youngest driver ever to win back-to-back F1 championships. The Spaniard made the most of an impressive racing package, slightly betrayed by a fall in performance from Michelin at one stage of the championship. He also surmounted ‘political’ obstacles, such as the abolition of the ‘mass dumper’ device from his Renault, and the much-debated penalty for ‘apparently’ blocking Felipe Massa (Ferrari) during the final practice of the Italian GP at Monza.
Fernando will drive for McLaren next season, with the clear intention of reviving the fortunes of the Anglo-German outfit, hunting for his third successive championship victory. A quick overview of the 2006 season and the final race at San Paolo tells us that next year will bring many changes in driver line-ups, engine suppliers and technical regulations. Let’s take a quick look at the top teams:
Ferrari: Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen will lead the challenge of the Scuderia. They have inherited the onus of keeping Ferrari on top, although that in itself is not a heavy burden to carry.
Renault: Deploying Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikke Kovalainen, Team Boss Flavio Briatore has opted for experience and exuberance. Renault’s compulsory switch to Bridgestone tyres (due to Michelin’s exit) may be a technical setback, but they have a winning basis from which to progress.
McLaren: Uncharacteristically, McLaren didn’t win a single Grand Prix race in 2006. Team Boss Ron Dennis will push his men hard to return to their winning ways. Alonso’s co-driver will either be Pedro de la Rosa and GP2 champion or McLaren protégé Louis Hamilton. Raikkonen, though always a front runner, was daunted by poor reliability. A demotivated Juan Pablo Montoya was dropped halfway through the season.
Toyota: The big spending Japanese team has again failed to reap the rewards of their huge investment. Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher only produced flashes of brilliance, as their racing package lacked consistency. Toyota is supplying engines to Williams for 2007, in an effort to raise its prospects in the Formula 1 circus on two fronts.
Honda: Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello may provide the only real competition to the Ferrari and Renault teams. Honda has certainly displayed a positive progression of performance through the ’06 season, culminating in Button’s maiden Formula 1 victory at the Hungaroring.
Williams: Team owner Sir Frank Williams characterized the ‘06 season as ‘decidedly humiliating.’ It was certainly a transitional season; running Cosworth engines, Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber struggled with reliability and committed points-killing racing blunders. For ’07, Rosberg will be partnered by Austrian Alex Wurz and Toyota engines.
BMW-Sauber: Joining forces was a wise decision for both partners. The arrival of young polish driver Robert Kubica, replacing Jacques Villeneuve mid-season, gave Nick Heidfeld and the team extra motivation. Kubica could well be the next big thing.
With a proposed 18-race calendar, a single tire manufacturer, the retirement of Michael Schumacher and a renewed tussle between the big constructors to edge their way to the top spot, one question springs to mind: who will be the dominant force in Formula 1 next season, and who will take the place of Michael Schumacher as the true Number One? Will Fernando Alonso make McLaren winners again? Will Kimi Raikkonen continue in Schumacher’s footsteps? Will Giancarlo Fisichella be top dog at the helm of Constructor’s Championship winners Renault? Can the young guns, Rosberg, Kovalainen, Kubica and Hamilton challenge the ‘old guard’?
Teams will fight to retain their supremacy. Others will attempt to regain lost glory, while the majority will work hard to present themselves with a competitive package. Winter testing may prove to be deceptive. As always, as it should be, the answers to these questions and more will only be revealed on race-day.
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Maybe I will watch this time around. Too bad I don't have SPEED channel.
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