2006 seaon preview and predictions
With the first race of the 2006 season just days away now, it's time for everyone who writes about Formula 1 in any capacity to have a go at predicting how each team will fare and even have a punt on the results of the drivers and constructors championships. Before making predictions for this year I would like to look back at predictions for last year. I wasn't writing a blog then so I'm mercifully exempt from ridicule for this year at least! Autosport.com (or Atlas-F1 as it was then) does a predictions article each year where all of their writers and contributors weight in. Last year 17 out of 22 of them expected Schumacher to claim a 6th consecutive drivers title and 16 of them for Ferrari to claim a 7th consecutive constructors title. Only 5 of them predicted Fernando Alonso would become the youngest ever world champion. In fact he was placed 4th in their cumulative table behind Schumacher and the two McLaren drivers.
This was all despite many of them acknowledging in their writeups that Renault and McLaren had set the pace in testing and that Ferrari looked like they were in trouble. The old "pre-season testing results are no indicative of championship performance" mantra was in full effect. They seem to have learnt from that mistake a little in this year's predictions. They have Alonso and Raikkonen battling again for the championship and that matches the pace set by Renault and McLaren in pre-season testing. However, they have Schumacher in third place and Button in fourth. Placing Schumacher in third seems, once again, to be for old times sake - Ferrari have clearly put a lot more effort into their 2006 car and we have the return of tyre changes to help Bridgestone, but Ferrari have still been pretty disappointing in pre-season testing compared to Honda. The other problem is that the top four table contains drivers from four different teams. This seems unlikely. So much of a driver's performance is based on the car that even if a team as a definite #2 driver, they usually finish 3rd or 4th in the drivers championship when the #1 driver wins.
Renault have not only been fast in pre-season testing, but they've also been extremely reliable throughout. They had a problem with a rear-wing failure but only a handful of on-track stoppages. All in all it looks like their decision not to test their V8 engine in an interim car (the only one of the top teams to do so) was spot-on. The R26 has been reliable straight out the box. It's the obvious thing to pick Renault to repeat their win of the constructors championship and the obvious thing is usually right.
McLaren by contrast started testing their V8 in an interim car alongside both a restricted V10 and an original MP4-20. The early Mercedes V8 was reportedly way down on power. When they tested it in the definitive 2006 car, the MP4-21, it was also extremely unreliable, stoking rumours that both Raikkonen and Montoya were considering their options for 2007. A revised engine was made available for the last week of testing though and that proved both capable of handing the two-race mileage requirement and powerful enough for the McLaren to top the timesheets on several days. I expect McLaren to challenge for the championship if they stay reliable, but that's a big 'if'. Otherwise they could not only lose out to Renault again but could also drop down behind Honda.
Ferrari have mostly tested away from the other teams and when they have tested in comparable conditions that have been off the pace set by Renault and McLaren. Ferrari have been slow in pre-season before and gone on to win the championship, but the 248 F1 has also been unreliable. With Ferrari engine customer Red Bull apparently having been stitched up by Ferrari's miscalculation of the V8's cooling requirements, I wonder if Ferrari themselves have also had to redesign their bodywork to account for this (with the output of the engine suffering in the meantime). I think Ferrari are the most unknown quantity going into the 2006 season. They may surprise us and dominate like that have in seasons past, on the other hand, they could have another year to forget with their talisman, Schumacher retiring at the end.
Honda look like they might win races this season at long last. The team formed as BAR look like they have finally produced a car with race winning pace. They managed 2nd in the 2004 constructors championship as a result of many podium finishes due to McLaren and Williams dropping the ball severely and Renault having changed engine architecture. However, each of those teams won a race whereas BAR didn't. When Button finished second in a race he never really looked like troubling the Ferraris for outright pace. 2005 by comparison was a disaster. The car was less competitive, McLaren and Renault had overtaken them. Oh and they were disqualified from one race and banned for a further two. Takuma Sato didn't exactly help either, scoring only 1 point all season. It might have disappointed a lot of Japanese that he was dropped at the end of the season, but it cannot of really surprised anyone. With Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, Honda have two reliable drivers, the engine is among the best and the chassis has pace. I think Honda will be ahead of Ferrari this year and if McLaren are unreliable in the races, they may pass them to finish 2nd in the constructors once more.
Williams are finally free from their marriage of inconvenience to BMW. Team owners Frank Williams and Patrick Head have sold a lot of the family silver in order to generate a decent budget for the team. Eddie Jordan has predicted that without manufacturer backing they would slowly sink to the back of the grid the way his team did, but then he would say that. Williams are out to prove that you can compete as an independent in modern F1. Contrary to expectations they have been able to retain most of their sponsors from the BMW days. They are to be powered this year by customer Cosworth power. In previous seasons that might have been a big disadvantage, but with the specifications of the engine heavily restricted by the FIA, a competitive engine could be made on a realistic budget if the money is spent carefully. And it seems that is what Cosworth have done with Mark Webber describing the engine as "bloody brilliant". The chassis too looks more contemporary than in previous years, having lost many of the design features clung onto by former chief designer Gavin Fisher. Looking more McLaren-esque doesn't mean you're going to be as fast as McLaren, but it doesn't hurt either. Their ultimate pace will depend on the detailed work done in the new wind tunnel (which is now fully calibrated) and how well the car uses the Bridgestone tyres they have switched to this year. Williams could win a race or two this year, but even if they surprise out of the box, they will find it difficult to keep pace with developments from the manufacturer teams throughout the season.
Toyota have been disappointing since they joined Formula 1. They have a theory of constant improvement, and to be fair they have improved year on year. Based on their testing times, and the much hyped, but ultimately unconvincing revised aero package for Bahrain, I don't expect them to improve on their 2005 form. Toyota allegedly have the biggest budget in F1, yet it is a mystery where they are spending the money. This year is only seems to have bought them a really ugly front-wing and lots of fins around the nose area (and we know how well they worked as a measure of desperation for Ferrari last year). There is a real possibility of the highly-rated Mike Gascoyne losing his job if Toyota slip back this year in my opinion.
BMW acquired the Sauber team in the second half of the 2005 season, marking the end of their partnership with Williams. They have quite rightly played down their chances this year, touting the usual multi-year plan that the new management of any sports team or business come up with. God only knows how Mario Theissen managed to convince the BMW board to buy him his own Formula 1 team to play with after the disaster of the Williams partnership - there must have been a lot of "it was all their fault, our engines were perfect" in his presentation. Prior to the announcement, BMW were there manufacturer I would be predicted as most likely to quit Formula 1 had the GPMA not got their way. Now they are in it up to their necks. Even with the additional budget from BMW, I don't expect them to do any better than Sauber did. The F1.06 looks like a good improvement on recent Saubers, but other teams (with perhaps the exception of Toyota) have improved more. I also have the nagging feeling that a lack of budget wasn't Sauber's only problem. I have questions over their top-level staff and their development philosophy and none of that seems to have changed with the BMW takeover. In fact, if BMW brought in their own management structure and philosophy, I don't think it would do them any good as the Germans don't seem to 'get' Formula 1 despite their engineering prowess in other areas of motorsport. [I put a large part of Toyota's problems down to their decision to base operations in Germany.] In the long term I expect the BMW F1 operation to be an expensive failure for the BMW motor company. I will be closed down and the legacy of Peter Sauber will sadly die with it.
Red Bull have had the worst pre-season of all the teams it seems. Word is that Ferrari supplied incorrect data regarding the cooling requirements of their engines, resulting in a car that has as-yet failed to complete a single race distance in testing, let alone the two and a half other teams have deemed a requirement. Considering the Williams experience with the Cosworth V8 it seems the move to Ferrari engines could well be a downgrade rather than the upgrade it would touted as when Red Bull announced it to much fanfare in the middle of last season. The car itself looks decent enough, but it's hard to imagine them mixing it with the big boys even if the engine worked. In future years the signing of Adrian Newey may pay dividends, but not before it has burnt a serious hole in Dietrich Mateschitz's fortune. There is a possibility the Austrian fizzy drink pusher gets disillusioned with F1 before then. For 2006, I expect Red Bull to suffer early on in the season, rising to their former mid-field position from the middle of the season onwards.
I could talk about Scuderia Toro Rosso, Midland F1 and Super Aguri, but we all know they are just making up the numbers as it stands. In STR and MF1 you have two teams which in their previous guises had a strong fan following, almost all of which I expect to have evaporated by now. Dislike of MF1 team boss Colin Kolles is almost universal and combined with team owner Alex Shnaider's insistence that MF1 will be "run as a business to make a profit" (meaning they will be a team for rent by pay-drivers), takes away any illusion Jordan had of being real racers.
Meanwhile Red Bull have not only evicted the Minardi name from F1, but have also thrown away any racing heritage they had by deciding to run a pair of second-hand Jaguar chassis instead of the car penned for Paul Stoddart in 2005. It's probably the right decision from a racing point of view, but I still expect Minardi fans to lose interest in the team. Also controversial is STR's decision to run as restricted V10 in that ex-Red Bull chassis. According to the FIA, the "equivalency formula" can be changed if STR are too fast, but how are they to judge that? There is no way to make a fair decision in this situation - if STR qualify in the mid-field and the FIA further restrict their V10 it's unfair on STR as their good performance might have been down to the quality of the chassis. Likewise, if the FIA don't restrict them, it's unfair on the likes of Midland F1 who have a true V8 and have put the effort into making their own chassis and might have been beat just because the V10 is better.
According to most pundits, Alonso, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Button are the men to watch again this year and I'd have to go along with that based on them being the top drivers in the top 4 rated teams. Lets not forget their team-mates though. OK, you've got Massa in the #2 Ferrari and nobody expects him to even be close to Schumacher, but the others have decent team-mates. There was a lot of talk when Alonso's move to McLaren was announced a year early, that it might distract him for this year and that Fisichella might benefit. This seems a bit far-fetched. Alonso's focus is comparable only to Schumacher's a few years ago and Renault won't divert resources away from him because they want a second championship just as much as his does, regardless of his leaving at the end of the season. Also, Fisichella did seem to flag last year in a way that's not becoming of a potential champion, even when hit by small snags. He did have the bulk of the misfortune in the Renault team, but that doesn't fully justify his results compared to Alonso. That said, if the Renault is dominant he could finish 2nd or 3rd in the championship to Alonso's 1st place. If Renault aren't dominant he could be anywhere.
Raikkonen is a different matter. Everyone knows how fast he is and if you had to pick one of the McLaren drivers to win a world championship, most would pick the Finn. Having said that, when Montoya is in the groove, as he proved in several races last year, he is every bit a match for Kimi on pace over a race distance. His problem seems to be that he gets involved in more accidents, both on and off circuit, and that could put a crimp in his career aspirations.
Of the four teams I've predicted to do best, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello are probably the most evenly matched drivers. Rubens seems to have been in Formula 1 forever and Jenson long since ceased to be a newcomer. He can't play the part of the new up-and-coming driver any more and if he wants to avoid the 'journeyman' tag he needs to get multiple wins this year. Most pundits expect Jenson to score more points for Honda simply based on his having been with the team longer. Rubens though is a proven race winner (who would have had even more career wins if not for his status in the Ferrari pecking order). I expect a very even split in results for these two drivers. As a result, even if the Honda is competitive with Renault and McLaren, neither driver will trouble the top three in the drivers championship. I hope as much as the sycophantic British press, that Jenson will win his first race soon, if only so the first-win talk goes away. I have a sneaking feeling that it won't come to pass.
There's plenty to say about the other drivers, but not in this posting. The reality of modern F1 is that if you don't have the fast car you don't have a chance. Up until the late '90s you could hope to get an occasional win from outside the top teams due to race attrition, but reliability is so high in F1 now that that very rarely happens (the last occasion being at Brazil in 2003 when Fisichella won for Jordan).
The Drivers Championship:-
The Constructors Championship:-
Nice review! I dont agree with all of it, but very well thought out and well written. You Should elaborate on why you dont think the germans “GET” F1. I am not a fan of BMW or what Mario T has done for the last couple of years at Williams or for that matter Mercedes accomplishments so far. But they have proved dominant in the past in F1 with Fangio and Moss…...
MightyV10 () - 08 03 06 - 19:25
The Drivers Championship:-
The Constructors Championship:-
I definitely want Williams to be in Top3 Ö letís hope that it will be true. As
E@zyVG () (URL) - 10 03 06 - 16:39
Tags used in this posting
alonso, bar, barrichello, bmw, button, ferrari, fisichella, formula_1, honda, jordan, massa, mclaren, mf1, minardi, montoya, raikkonen, red_bull, renault, sauber, schumacher, str, super_aguri, toyota, williams
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