News and views on motorsports

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Formula 1 2005 Prospects

Less than 5 weeks remain before Melbourne and the start of another season. Thank god for that. The lack of racing action on Sunday is really killing me. For the fans, this could be quite a good year and I'm betting it ought to be better than the last. So many teams have so much to deliver.

Let's start with BMW. This is I think their sixth season in Formula 1 with Williams. Their last successful bid for the championship was 1983 with Brabham and Nelson Piquet. The board at BMW must be getting extremely nervous. True, they have managed to outperform Mercedes most of the time but that just isn't good enough to justify the enormous amounts of dosh spent on the F1 programme. By now, they should have had at least one championship in hand. Williams know that this year they have to deliver the goods. Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Sam Michael have publicly admitted that there can be no mistakes this year. You can see it in the design of the new car. Good looking but conventional in contrast to last year's walrus. If they don't take the championship this year, I think Johanna Quandt's men are going to start thinking about pulling out. So obviously Mario Thiessen and Frank Williams are going to go balls out.

Renault declared at the launch of the R25 that they are targetting to win the world championship this year. They have a brand new engine and some neat tricks in their new challenger and it generally looks alright. I'm not sure if a world championship winning performance is in its repetoire but never underestimate these French blokes. They can pull a surprise when you least expect it. Cast your minds back to 1991 when Williams Renault put in a mighty bid for the championship surprising everyone. They nearly took it too but for Ayrton's blistering start to the season. Still, Renault really MUST deliver something. At least that same mighty bid for the championship. New Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn is not a big fan of Formula 1. His preference is for championships where Renault's road cars are directly involved like rallying or touring cars. Le Cost Cutter I'm sure has warned Patrick Faure that the rabbit had better come out of that hat real soon else its the cleaners for everyone. Need I say more? Renault too are going to go balls out.

This brings us to McLaren. Its been 6 years since Mika Hakkinen's last driver's title. 7 years since the constructors championship was last won. They've been beaten time and again by BMW Williams. The situation cannot continue for too long I would imagine. Mercedes used to have a reputation for being an unbeatable juggernaut in the 30s and 50s. Now, FIAT is running them to the ground time and again. Their form in testing recently has been quite good. The new MP4/20 in the hands of Kimi Raikkonen and Alex Wurz have been blisteringly fast at the Valencia test. Kimi setting the fastest lap in the whole test session despite running mammoth number of laps. One can say that their testing form was great last year but look what happened. Thats true but generally I believe they are looking far better. The drivers seem to be happier this year than last. The ever optimistic Mercedes bosses seem even more pleased this year than ever. Even Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella admits McLaren and Ferrari are probably the ones in front this year. God I hope he's right. I'd have a reason to smile this season. I just hope all this business with Dubai F1 will not get in the way.

BAR are looking solid again this year with their new 007. Although the Honda's reliability is looking suspect, generally they are going quite well and seems to be on the pace with the Ferraris. After a great last season, they would do well to repeat the feat again this year. The way McLaren and Williams are going, I doubt it though. Last year I believe was more of a case of McLaren and Williams fumbling about than BAR topping them. This fact can be illustrated that it was consistency that brought the spoils to BAR last year. McLaren, Williams and even Renault I believe had more pure pace. All these teams won races. BAR did not. It'll be great to see how they do without David Richards but I'm sure the Honda management will produce good things. Geoff Willis is an excellent technical director and BAR I think have a lot of innovations on that car. I'd like to see them do well again.

You can never discount Ferrari. They may have been outpaced comprehensively by McLaren at Valencia last week but after 5 drivers title on the trot would you bet against them? Or more to the point, would you bet against Michael Schumacher? They are starting the season with the brilliant F2004, suitably altered to comply with the latest regulations. Juan Pablo Montoya thinks this is a mistake. He might be right. Although Frank Williams is openly worried that Ferrari are up to something and Rory Byrne just might have dreamt up something really innovative and spectacular for the F2005. Michael Schumacher in this article on PlanetF1, thinks its going to be hard work. But then he always says that doesn't he, before he hammers the opposition to dust. Rubens Barrichello isn't one to be worried. He's dismissed the Valencia test as a blip. Ferrari he says don't test there regularly and they haven't been spot on with the tyre choices in Spain. No worries according to him, come Melbourne, its business as usual. Much as I would prefer to see a McLaren cross the finish line in the lead I know this warning cannot be ignored.

Toyota are a difficult one to quantify. Jarno Turlli actually set a really quick time outpacing his surly team mate Ralf Schumacher. Jarno's best time was actually quicker than Michael Schumacher's best, prompting Ralf Schumacher to comment that the new car is better than expected. But then Toyota always does well in the winter world championships only to flounder during the summer. Its as if when they get to the actual race itself they are left lost without a clue. However, with more and more F1 experienced personnel replacing rallying and sportscar men under the leadership of Mike Gascoyne, they might do better this year. And they really need to. Toyota doesn't really need the F1 programme. They are after all the most profitable car manufacturer already. Public humiliation (especially humiliation heaped on by arch enemy Honda) in one of the most widely watched sporting events in the world is something they can do without.

The rest? Has beens. Jordan are in their final year as Jordan Grand Prix before being reborn as Midland F1 next year. Interestingly they have hired Narain Karthikeyan as a driver. Narain is quite highly rated. During the 2001 Monaco Grand Prix he outpaced teammate Takuma Sato in the Carlin Motorsport Dallara Mugen. And everyone agrees he'd slaughter Alex Yoong anytime, anywhere. He's also now got himself into a better team than Alex did. It must have been frustrating for him to watch Alex Yoong in Formula 1 embarrasing himself whilst he waited in the sidelines. Now he has his chance. I'd say its odds even he'll get the better of his team mate Monteiro in the other Jordan. Whether he'll go further in Formula 1 is entirely up to him but it is really going to be tough for him despite his talent. I hope Eddie Jordan will go down fighting. He won't be at the races this year apparently but with that Toyota engine behind the car, they'd be able to do some real damage if they had a chassis that was of the quality of the 1999 Jordan.

I think nobody expects Sauber to win anything. Ferrari simply won't let them. Still I wish the battling Jacques Villeneuve good hunting. He really deserves better than what he's got. I wonder if he'll let Michael Schumacher through if they end up battling for position. I suppose not but Sauber are the junior team after all. Ferrari can have them take their pants off anytime.

Last of course if poor old Minardi. Devastated by the pullout of Ford from Formula 1, they are of course going to struggle yet again. Paul Stoddart has been heard as saying that should someone want his team he wouldn't hesitate to let it go. With sponsorship hard to come by in this current economic situation, staying in Formula 1 is a heroic effort in itself. I think Minardi won't have anyone to race against this year now that Jordan's got those Toyota engines. I think the FIA should pay them to make up the numbers although there are some pundits who think that they should just go out and let people like Ferrari and Williams supply third cars to make the show much more interesting.

So there you have it. I think everyone is praying that this year will not be a repeat of the last. On the face of it, it looks like its going to be a interesting championship at least, if not a spectacular one. The battle lines aren't fully drawn until Ferrari put the F2005 on the grid, so McLaren et al would be smart to take full advantage of that. My tip for the championship? I'd have to say Michael Schumacher again. Although you'd get better odds and a reasonably good chance of winning if you place your money on Kimi. I'm just hoping for a good show.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I think nobody expects Sauber to win anything. Ferrari simply won't let them. Ferrari can have them take their pants off anytime."

I totally disagree with what you are saying. Sauber has made it clear that they are not the junior team for ferrari. Not anymore they don't.