2008 Formula One Season Preview: 2008 is upon us. The biggest change? No more traction control! Now we'll see who the best really are. Take a drive with me as we take a peek at the upcoming season and what we can perhaps expect.
I wrote a preview last year on here. My predictions weren't bad. I called Raikkonen winning the title correctly, and, had the FIA not pulled "BANISHMENT" from the random punishment hat of death, I called the constructors right too.
In 2008 the tedious, unending espionage tale continues on, and will do for some time. It's the story that won't die. Except here. I will not mention it again.
Going into the season, Ferrari would be the obvious horse to back. I'm calling Raikkonen for champion again. Ferrari has the best car, and Massa just isn't man enough to win the title. Lewis Hamilton is quick, but still an immensely flawed driver who doesn't understand race strategy or subtlety behind the wheel. There is a certain naive charm in his style of "mash the pedal to the floor until I finish the race or crash", but until he tempers that with wisdom and critical thinking, he's destined to see his title end in a Chinese rock garden again.
The dark horse this year is Kovalainen. Heikki was fun to watch in 2007. His first few races were not good. Rumours were flying that he was hanging by a thread at Renault and was going to be booted and replaced with Piquet - The Next Generation. Then came Canada. On the Friday, he stuffed the car into the wall. Then he wound up starting the race at the back, only to drive a storming race and score a fourth place finish. His season picked up from that point and he was a changed man. This season he has a drive at McLaren. Unlike Massa who will always be in Kimi's shadow, I don't think Heikki is going to be one to play second fiddle to Lewis. Another interesting year for young Mister Hamilton looms. Does Lewis have the resilience to survive another teammate onslaught?
Speaking of Lewis, we saw what happened at McLaren in 2007. Which is why Fernando and McLaren have parted company, and the floppy haired one is now back with Renault. The team fell off the pace quite horribly last year, and according to Alonso they have to find 0.6 seconds per lap to match McLaren and Ferrari. While Alonso is more than capable behind the wheel, asking him to get the Renault consistently up to the front is a big ask. At certain races I'm sure he'll be up there, but to place him in even the top 3 of the championship comes seasons end would be extremely naive.
The last of the top four teams is arguably BMW. They've slowly moved up the grid to where they can bother Ferrari and McLaren. 2008 is the year they really need to start challenging for race wins. Going back just five years, BMW would have most likely won by now, purely and simply on reliability issues hitting other cars. However we're now in an era of astonishing reliability. For BMW to win, both Ferrari's and Mclaren's have to hit trouble, which is extremely unlikely.
This time last year, I'd have picked Heidfeld for that first BMW win. This year I'm not so sure. Kubica bounced back from his horrendous Montreal crash that by rights, should have killed him. The big test of any driver is how quickly and easily they bounce back from a truly epic accident. Kubica showed no psychological effects whatsoever and it'd be a very tough call to pick which driver at BMW will reign supreme this year. Once again, the intra-team battle at BMW should be fun to watch. It's like the Mclaren one, only with less annoying personalities involved.
Of the rest, what do we have? Well Toyota are supposedly going to surprise us this year. Though if previous years are anything to go by, then the surprise will be just how slow you can be with a half billion dollar budget. Jarno deserves better.
We also have musical teams going on again, with Jordan/Midland/Spyker changing once again, this year to Team Force India. The big news is they've raised the cash to pick up Giancarlo Fisichella as a driver. Which admittedly may have been quite easy, what with that "Will Drive for Food" sign and all... I feel bad for Fisichella. His dream was always to drive for Ferrari. At least he gets a Ferrari engine behind him this year. Hopefully that's worth the cost to his dignity slumming it at the back of the grid and leaving F1 with a whimper rather than... Erm... A slightly smaller whimper. I really feel he should have done what Ralf Schumacher has done, and quietly walked away, rather than put this sad little footnote at the end of his career biography. Fisichella was always one of the good guys, and it's sad to see it end this way.
Super Aguri have been the "will they, won't they?" team in regards to this season. However they just received an injection of hot juicy cash and now Aguri are assuredly going to be on the grid at Melbourne. HURRAY! Let's not forget that last year at Montreal, Takuma Sato was well up there and actually PASSED Alonso on track. Sato and Davidson will no doubt be bringing up the rear again most of the year, but they'll be doing it with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts. Their big brothers at Honda should be expected to move up a bit with Ross Brawn now guiding the ship, but just how much influence will Brawn have?
Lost among all the noise for the upcoming season is the fact that the big fish from Champcar, Sebastian Bourdais, has left what WAS the safe confines of American open wheel racing (unless he had some serious advance warning that Tony George was going to crush Champcar like a bug) to take his place in a lower to mid-grid F1 team, alongside the highly rated Sebastian Vettel. With Red Bull having a test driver called Sebastien Buemi, I have come to the conclusion that Scuderia Torro Roso will soon become Sebastian Torro Rosso, as clearly Dieter Mateschitz is trying to create a team where everyone has the same name, just like that old Monty Python sketch with the Bruce's.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the season is the banishing of traction control. Just watching onboard footage from the previous few years you can tell which drivers mash the pedal to the floor, and which prefer to use a more delicate touch. According to reports Felipe Massa is finding it especially hard to adjust to having the "tool sent by Satan to destroy motorsport" (as Dave Despain once called it) removed.
My fervent hope for the year is that when we look back on 2008, it's for what happened on track rather than what happened in a courtroom. It all kicks off this Friday in Melbourne. I can't wait!
(Cheap plug: You can find me spitting venom and rage about Formula One here. After a two year break from writing, I decided enough was enough, and I had to stick the boot in on my beloved sport once again.)