In the first of a three-part feature examining the 08 prospects of all 11 teams, we take a closer look at the three that finished top of the heap in last years championship…
1 Kimi Raikkonen 2 Felipe Massa,
Testers: Luca Badoer, Marc Gene, Michael Schumacher
Forget all the hoopla about the spy scandal, the most significant thing about Ferrari in 2007 was that they won the world championships for drivers and constructors.
Just think about that for a moment, then cast your mind back to how Kimi Raikkonen became the worlds third Finnish champion at the very last race.
There were signs all the way through that Ferrari werent quite themselves in the post-Michael Schumacher era. There were times when the cars lacked their usual bulletproof reliability, when the drivers made mistakes, when the radically long-wheelbased F2007 wasnt quite up to the job on some types of circuit. They werent simply missing Schumacher, they were missing the calming influence of Ross Brawn, too. Yet they came through to win despite all that, and all the politics that raged around the Scuderia and McLaren like a never-ending tornado.
All of which means that, in the calmer seas that must surely characterise 2008, the red cars will be formidable opposition. All through winter testing they have been very quick, and Raikkonen and partner Felipe Massa both believe they have the tools to do the job with a lot less drama this year. Make no mistake, these are the favourites.
3 Nick Heidfeld, 4 Robert Kubica
Testers: Christian Klien, Marko Asmer
A year ago much was expected of the revamped BMW Sauber team, and they delivered all season with a series of strong drives from Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica that saw the team place third in the constructors championship on merit, and move to second when McLaren were disqualified.
Now comes the crunch year, when a very aggressive development policy must pay off. Team principal Dr Mario Theissen expects at least one victory this year, to keep his men on track for a world championship challenge in 2009 and 2010.
Winter testing showed initially that there were issues to be resolved in the F1.08s handling, but towards the end of the various tests the pace of the white and blue cars certainly caught the attention of Renaults Fernando Alonso, who believes they can be very quick in race trim.
Heidfeld got the most out of the F1.07 last year, leaving Kubica slightly in his shadow, but the roles have been reversed thus far in testing and one of the fascinating aspects of the new season will be monitoring their inter-team battle. Expect the team to be in the thick of the fight for third spot, behind Ferrari and McLaren.
5 Fernando Alonso 6 Nelson Piquet Jnr
Testers: Romain Grosjean, Lucas di Grassi, Sakon Yamamoto
Have Renault really lost their confidence, as prodigal son Fernando Alonso recently suggested? Or was that merely talk to lull rivals into a false sense of security?
There is no question that 2007 came as a major slap in the face for the team which had won dramatic championships for Alonso in 2005 and 06, while also annexing the constructors trophies for themselves. Problems with the switch from Michelin to Bridgestone, the aerodynamics, and the loss of Alonso to McLaren really hurt the Enstone team.
Now Alonso is back, partnered by hungry young Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr, son of the 1981, 83 and 87 world champion. The Spaniard will be worth half a second a lap immediately, and Renault have spent the winter in an intensive race to claw back the ground lost so unexpectedly to Ferrari and McLaren. Alonso has been candid about their performance thus far in testing, and says that it isnt good enough to put them back on top yet. Instead, they aim initially for podiums, and to snatch back third place from BMW Sauber. Whether they can aspire to victory by the end of the year is one of 2008s key questions.