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F1 2008 Season Preview

The 2007 Formula One season saw great competition on the track between the two Ferrari drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, and McLaren Mercedes “teammates” Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

There was also a spy scandal between these two teams which filled up time between events and ended with McLaren being kicked out of the manufacturer’s championship. And a feud between Hamilton, Alonso and Ron Dennis that probably cost them a championship.

Hopefully in 2008, we can get back to the great racing, but drama and the F1 series usually go together.

Officials have made a number of changes for 2008 in hopes of putting the driver abilities in front of technical advances. All teams will use one “brain” called a Standardized Electronic Control Unit. Its introduction is to prevent teams from using many banned driver aids such as traction control, engine braking and launch control.

Without these aids drivers will again be the most important piece of equipment. No longer will a driver simply push a “launch-control” button to start the race. Now, instead of who has the best launch software, the start will be won by driver reaction time and ability to get off the line without spinning the wheels.

Without traction control, it will again be the driver in charge as he slids through the corner. The same with engine braking versus driver braking.

“It is in the low-speed corners that you notice the difference, because that is where the traction control would normally kick in,” said two-time World Champion Alonso. “That means you have to change your driving style quite dramatically. Last year we used to go straight to full throttle, but now we need to be gentler and feather the throttle.”

Gearboxes have been mandated to last four races or be subject to a five- position starting grid penalty. This goes along with last year’s rule that engines must be used in consecutive events or suffer a 10-position penalty.

All these rules have been designed to both bring the racing back to the driver and lower costs.

Still, with all these changes, the championship will likely go to either Ferrari or McLaren.

The F2007 Ferrari was fast from the beginning of the season to the end. Raikkonen won the opener in Australia, his first race with Ferrari, and the final two events in China and Brazil to win the title by one point.

The new F2008 model will be very similar to last year – why change a winning combination? The wheel base will be slightly shorter and side pods were added to aid engine cooling, but it will look much the same as the F2007.

Raikkonen’s car will have the No.1 on the side and the confidence from being the defending champion should make him even tougher in 2008.

“Anyone who thinks I’m now happy and satisfied is mistaken,” said Raikkonen. “It has never been fun for me to drive for a fifth or sixth-place finish. I’m here to win.”

However, should he stumble, Massa could easily take the reins and a title. The Brazilian finished fourth in 2007 with three wins and six poles. If not for DNFs in Canada and Italy, Massa would have been right in the mix heading to the final event.

While Raikkonen and Ferrari won the 2007 titles, by all rights it should have been McLaren and Hamilton taking the accolades. Hamilton burst on the scene with nine consecutive podium finishes and heading into the final two events held a comfortable 12-point lead. But a spin out in China and a seventh-place finish in Brazil left the rookie one point short of the championship.

It didn’t help Hamilton that he and “teammate” Alonso were feuding for most of the season. Or that Alonso and team boss Ron Dennis didn’t speak to each other through the second half of the year.

The situation was resolved after the season as Alonso went back to Renault where he had won two titles. He is replaced by youngster Heikki Kovalainen giving the team plenty of talent, but little experience.

The McLaren is obviously fast and as long as Hamilton’s first year wasn’t a mirage, he will again compete for the championship. And maybe last year’s failure will show him the way to the top rung in 2008. Kovalainen, while talented, probably will not challenge for the title, but on the other hand will likely be much more supportive of his teammate. That additional help, both on the track and in Hamilton’s head, might be enough to put the Englishman over the top.

“I would say last year was an uncontrollable determination and excitement and just not really knowing what was coming up, just going into the deep blue,” said Hamilton. “Now I know what to expect, I know about my preparations so I am storing energy.”

After the “big two,” there is a pretty big drop off to the third best team – BMW.

Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld are quick, but not quick enough to challenge Ferrari and McLaren. Even in testing they could not keep up with the “big two.”

The big unknown for 2008 is what the addition of Alonso will do for Renault. When he left the team, he had just won two consecutive titles. At McLaren he could never get comfortable and thought the team favored his English-speaking teammate. Still he only finished outside the points in one race – Japan. Had he and Hamilton worked a little better, one of them would be the defending champion.

“Last year is the past, everything is closed,” said Alonso. “We have enough problems with this year’s car, to improve it, to develop it and get used to the new regulations. It is impossible to think about the past, we have to move forward.

“I had some difficulties, but I am here in 2008 ready to fight again and be happy.”

Alonso’s teammate this year is another rookie, Nelson Piquet Jr., son of the three-time World Champion (1981,1983,1987).

Although the car is not yet up to Ferrari and McLaren, the Spaniard might be worth half-a-second. At McLaren, Alonso once claimed he brought six-tenths of a second to the McLaren in preseason testing. If that’s the case, the “fired- up” two-time champion might just put Renault back in the middle of the fray.

The rest of the “field fillers” are just that. One shouldn’t expect much from Williams, Red Bull, Toyota, Honda, Force India or Super Aguri. For Super Aguri just getting to the starting grid will be a “win” as the team has major financial problems.

From this vantage point, it appears to be another big year for Ferrari and the “Tifosi.”

F1 2008 Australian Grand Prix Highlights 1996 – 2007

2007 – Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari
Raikkonen won on his Ferrari debut after starting on pole. Alonso was second for McLaren with debutant Hamilton, who overtook his Spanish team mate at the start, third after leading for four laps. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa started at the back of the grid due to an engine change and finished sixth.
2006 – Fernando Alonso (Spain) Renault
Alonso took his second win of the season in an incident-packed race. Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher and team mate Felipe Massa both crashed. Jenson Button started on pole and failed to finish after his engine caught fire.
2005 – Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) Renault
Fisichella’s second career win came from pole after a rain-hit qualifying. Schumacher started on the back row and retired after a collision with German compatriot Nick Heidfeld. Alonso roared from 13th to third. Raikkonen started from the pitlane after stalling on the grid.
2004 – Michael Schumacher (Germany) Ferrari
Ferrari ran away with the season-opener after blitzing their rivals in practice. Schumacher started on pole and set the fastest lap. He went on to equal Nigel Mansell’s 1992 feat of winning the first five races of the season.
2003 – David Coulthard (Britain) McLaren
Coulthard’s 13th win ended Ferrari and Schumacher’s record run of success. Schumacher finished outside the top three for the first time since 2001. Ferrari had enjoyed 53 successive podiums up to then.
Interesting Facts
The Australian Grand Prix was first held in 1985 on a street circuit in Adelaide and was the last race of each season. In 1996, it switched to Melbourne’s Albert Park and the start of the season.
The circuit can be dusty and is tough on brakes. Drivers approach the first corner at more than 300 kph.
Australian Grands Prix have been dramatic and 1991 was the shortest race in Formula One history, stopped after 14 laps because of heavy rain.