2007 Season preview and predictions
If you consider it cheating unless predictions are made before the start of qualifying, then I have less than an hour to go to get these out and published (not that anyone is going to read them today, but anyway :)
If we go on pre-season testing (not always reliable but better than just going on hunches I think), Ferarri and McLaren should be battling it out for the title this year. At the end of last season I would have said that Ferrari were odds-on to be the dominant team in 2007. As long as they don't make a hash of the aero and their engine is as reliable as it should be, then their experience with Bridgestone tyres (and close relationship with the company) should put them ahead of the pack by a decent margin. Early pre-season testing was disappointing for Ferrari, but in the final tests and in Friday practice in Melbourne, they have shown that they are leading the grid.
McLaren are desperate to turn around their performance after a massively disappointing 2006 season and also show that the departure of Adrian Newey has not damaged them. The new car features some interesting changes to the 2006 car but the most interesting change is that it is fast. Whether they can challenge Ferrari over the course of the season remains to be seen, but McLaren look like the most likely to win other than them.
Renault have won back to back constructor's championships but have seemingly had trouble adapting to the spec Bridgestone tyres in use this year. I wouldn't count them out for the season, but considering their driver lineup, I don't see them winning either championship this year.
BMW Sauber have been surprisingly fast in pre-season testing with Felipe Massa proclaiming that he expects the challenge to come from the refridgerator-white cars this year. Practice times in Australia show that BMW could be challenging for third place this season (pushing Renault down to third), but I don't expect them to bother McLaren and Ferrari consistently. There could be a surprise win for Robert Kubica though, much as there was for Jensen Button last year.
Honda have been slow in pre-season testing with their technical director already declaring that they plan to completely redesign the aero package at the earliest opportunity. They could improve during the season and it's hard to decide if you'd rather be highly rated pre-season and disappoint during it, or be badly rated pre-season and then improve during the course of the year. Their whole tree-hugger prublicity campaign and ridiculous livery don't endear them to me either. One thing is for certain: they won't be challenging for any championships and I doubt Button will get another win either.
Despite Red Bull having Adrian Newey to design the 2007 car from scratch, they look no better now than they did a year ago. The car is woefully unreliable and when it works it's not too fast. If they don't abadon this one after the first three races to work on the 2008 car, they could get some performance out of it, but don't expect them to bother the top four teams.
Toyota haven't changed a bit from 2006 either. I can't think of a single thing worth saying about them. Sorry if you're a Toyota fan.
Both Super Aguri and Toro Rosso have customer versions of the Honda and Red Bull cars respectively. This is a matter of much controversy which I will save for another post. So far it seems the Super Aguri has improved a lot (well, it could hardly get worse than the Scrap-heap Challenge car they used in 2006) and the Toro Rosso is suffering from having done even less testing mileage than the Red Bull.
Spyker is the new name for Midland. They've made an all new car apparently, but it again, looks not a lot different from the old one. Oh, and they've hired Mike Gascoyne (reuniting him with what remains of the old Jordan staff). I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Clearly he's going to improve the capabilities of the team, but on the other hand, he has a tendency to take designs in an odd direction compared to other teams. Either way, he didn't join in time to have much impact on the 2006 car and so now planning one of his trademark ''b' revisions. Most pundits have Spyker as the last-placed team this year, but my feeling is that Toro Rosso will actually suffer for using the under-developed Red Bull chassis mated with the Ferrari engine and as such Spyker could avoid being on the back row from time to time. It looks like they have been overhauled by Super Aguri though.
If I didn't already make it clear how impressed I was with Felipe Massa in my 2006 review: he is my clear prediction to win the 2007 driver's championship. If Ferrari have the best package (and I think they do), then I expect Massa to be world champion come October. The conventional wisdom had Raikkonen being the number 1 driver if he moved to Ferrari, but judging by his lack of motivation last year, I think he's a spent force in Formula 1. He'll have some wins for sure, but I think Massa, having been with the team for several years in various capacities and having won twice in 2006, will have the better of the Finn.
I expect McLaren to be the ones to challenge Ferarri and I expect Fernano Alonso to be the McLaren driver to do it. That's a pretty safe prediction anyway. I expect Lewis Hamilton to put in some good performances like Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica did last year, but I expect him to make some mistakes as well and it'll be DNFs rather than a lack of speed that will put a dent in his championship hopes.
Renault made some odd choices about their 2007 driver lineup, much earlier than they needed to. They knew they needed to replace Alonso and that test driver Heikki Kovalainen was the man to take that seat, but sticking with the consistently disappointing Fisichella was a very strange decision in my opinion. I expect Kovalainen to comprehensively outpace and outscore Fisichella this year and it should be the last year for this journeyman in Formula 1.
As for the rest of the drivers, do we care much about what they do? They don't have the cars to win (with the possible exception of Robert Kubica). I feel sorry for Australian fans. A few years ago it looked like Mark Webber had a bright career ahear of him, but he's made two decisions now which are questionable. Going to Williams was a mistake, obviously. But going from there to Red Bull is equally curious - he doesn't seriously think Adrian Newey can turn that team into winners in one year does he? The rumour is that in both moves (from Jaguar to Williams and from Williams to Red Bull), he had a chance to go to Renault. Things aren't necessarilly that simple, but it seems obvious that if he even had half a chance to go to Renault he should have taken it.
1. F. Massa
2. F. Alonso
3. K. Raikkonen
4. H. Kovalainen
5. L. Hamilton
Feel free to add any predictions of your own in the comments.