News and views on motorsports

Friday, February 24, 2006

The State Of Play

The winter world championship is drawing to a close now. I should think everyone's pretty excited that the F1 season is only two weeks away. Just one more day's testing remains I believe but I think from yesterday's times we can roughly estimate who's quick and who's not.

Different teams and drivers are on different testing programmes of course. Jenson Button ended up with the quickest time this year at Barcelona but he may have been simply going for glory at the end of the session. Nevertheless, it would seem that despite some sparkling times for McLarens in the last week, indicating some improvement, Honda and Renault remain the teams of the moment.

A pity that Ferrari is not here to join them and yet if we compare the performance of the latest 248 F1 with the latest Hondas at Sakhir, one could say that at best they'll be slugging it out with the BMWs, McLarens, Red Bulls and Williams. You can never discount Michael Schumacher though and for sure he'll be pushing the car well beyond its limits, even if his brother Ralf is saying he hasn't got a chance. Still, Ferrari are facing some reliability issues and the car's speed has not been that impressive. Perhaps once again, those Bridgestone boots aren't simply at the level of the French rubber.

The Renault team are certainly to be congratulated for producing yet another quick car. This despite being the last of the teams to introduce their V8s and having very little V8 experience in the first place. I thought they'd be struggling but I am glad to have been proven wrong. As to which team is quicker, Honda or Renault, they jury is out on this one but I've got to say that perhaps Renault do have the slightest of edge. Their long runs have been most impressive and this is perhaps a better indication of true race pace.

Its now 2006 and that makes it 7 years since McLaren's last championship victory. A long time to be sure and early indications are that they'll have to wait at least another year... at least. With the defection of senior design people the quality of next year's challenger is questionable. As for this year's car, once again Mercedes let the team down. They're in their second iteration the V8 engine having scrapped the problematic and limp version one. Dear Fernando, what have you got yourself into?

What of Toyota? The evidence thus far suggests yet another year spent in the midfield. The cars haven't been quick at all I'd say although they've only just got together their latest aero package. And that still doesn't impress me at all. Perhaps like Ferrari they're suffering from the use of Bridgestone rubber.

As is Williams I should think. This despite topping the timesheets in previous weeks testing. They're expecting an interim year at Williams I believe and perhaps there isn't any harm in gathering experience with the Japanese tyres this year. Seventh and eleventh respectively for Webber and Rosberg yesterday. The signs are not that good.

Hard to judge the pace of BMW. They seem quite happy to be off playing on their own or with Toro Rossos and Red Bulls. Middle of the grid is my best guess but these Swiss and Germans really are a bit of a mystery. I think they'd do well if they're competing against the likes of Red Bull and Toyota for the final world championship points.

At the back of the grid its Toro Rosso, Midland and Super Aguri. The engines in these cars are nothing to scoff at though. Midland have Toyota power whilst Honda clearly is throwing a lot of help in Aguri's way. On the chassis side though, there's no way the Aguris are going to be competitive. I mean, 2002 vintage Arrows? Puh-lease. As for Toro Rosso, we all know about the V10 / V8 argument. I still believe their engine is going to do just fine against the Midland Toyota V8s. With Dieter Mateschitz a guest at Max Mosley's Legion de Honour award ceremony, do you really think Max will slap further limits on the Cosworth V10 if they run away with it?

They may be in league with Max but I hope they trump the Midlands for I simply can't stand that Shnaider bloke. Nor can I abide that incompetent moron Tiago Monteiro. I know he's a favourite in a lot of people's books after being best rookie last year but given the way the bungled into more than one car last year I think he's an idiot who shouldn't be in this sport. NASCAR perhaps but not Formula 1.

Honda and Renault have both won world championships in the past. A great rivalry existed between these two concerns in the late eighties and early nineties. Renault got the upper hand after 1992 and Honda left that same year. I believe we are about to witness a resumption of hostilities between the two that rival those heady days. Make no mistake. These are serious people with a proud racing tradition and when they decide to go for it, the rest had better watch out.

Hopefully with a competitive season this year, Honda will prove to a lot of people that that con man and Mosley cohort, David Richards really is surplus to requirements.

Whilst one can say that Honda and Renault are the cars to beat nevertheless, I think this year will see some close racing between all the teams. Once in a while we might just get a pleasant surprise or two from the rest.

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