What will and won’t happen in 2007

Thu, 15 March 2007, 08:12

While there have been very few predictions with regards to the 2007 championship winner this past off-season (compared to what’s become the norm anyway), the usual vast array of predictions of all other aspects of the F1 circus prevailed. Some of these predictions are probably worth a listen, while others hardly warrant a second thought. Let’s take a look at some of them and separate the wheat from the chaff, the on from the off, the Sennas from the Nakanos…

Prediction 1: Kimi will lead Ferrari to ruin
This prediction actually took many forms. Some said that Kimi’s partying ways will not fit in at Ferrari, others (like Niki Lauda) that Ferrari are used to a very different work ethic and method than that of the Finn, yet more that Ferrari won’t make it without Michael Schumacher’s, or indeed Ross Brawn’s, influence. When it came to Massa, some believe that Kimi will decimate the Brazillian, others hold to the belief that Massa’s knowledge of team and car gives him such an advantage that Kimi will never catch up in the course of one season.

The Verdict: Ferrari is not about to fall flat due to Schumacher’s departure. Not by a long shot. We are dealing with an established team that has everything that it takes to keep winning – including succession planning. There is a chance that they won’t win, but there is a bigger chance that they will. As for Massa vs Kimi, it’s almost impossible to call. Kimi has far more natural pace but Massa has been with Ferrari for very long now. His knowledge of the team will have a huge impact.

Prediction 2: BMW-Sauber will win the championship
It was none other than Massa who spewed this pearl of wisdom, stating that, if they can maintain their testing pace, they are a serious threat. Swiss newspaper Blick proceeded to fuel the fire when, shortly thereafter, they published a report stating that BMW has the fastest car on the grid – based on their highly scientific studies of winter testing.

The Verdict: Bollocks. Massa was likely jesting and the press blew it out of proportion. And Blick’s expert opinion? It was early in winter testing and, besides, if their method was anything approaching accurate then every team in track racing would be using it. Make no mistake, BMW-Sauber will perform well this season – should they prove reliable. They are a team on the charge and their level of improvement was most evident in winter testing. Will they win the championship? No.

Prediction 3: There will be more passing this season
Actually, Massa predicted that there will be less passing as a result of the new, harder tyres, after which Ralf Schumacher contradicted him, stating that there will be more. Massa reasons that the harder compound will cause drivers to be less daring, while Ralf reasons that the more daring ones may well get more done.

The Verdict: This may come as a bit of shock, but for once we have to agree with Ralf – if not necessarily with his reasoning. Due to the very different compounds and teams potentially being forced to use both during a race, different cars will be fast at different stages of the race. More than likely there will not be a radical increase in overtaking quantity in 2007 but there may well be slightly more.

Prediction 4: Kimi will break his cars
Ferrari will need to build Kimi a tank if they want him to win races, reckons none other than Mario Ilien – his engines blew up like crazy and he attacks the kerbs with far too much venom.

The Verdict: A very misguided statement this. The race-engineer tells the driver exactly how much leeway he has with his rev-limiter and the driver can’t push harder than that (as an engine designer Ilien knows this well enough). Even the much-maligned Sato wasn’t responsible for his numerous engine failures in 2005 – Honda later admitting that they tried experimental engine parts on the Japanese driver’s engine all the time. No, the blame for the engine failures cannot be laid at Kimi’s feet, but rather at the feet of Mr Ilien himself.

As for Kimi wrecking the car itself? It would be most educational to hear where Mr Ilien dredges that one up. Kimi is no car-breaker. Simply comparing his record over the last two years with that of his various team-mates makes this instantly clear. In both 2005 and 2006 Kimi and his respective team mates retired twice each due to mechanical failures. One of Kimi’s 2006 failures was a burning heat shield – which could not possibly be blamed on him. So Mario, look within – we hope for Alonso’s sake that you’ve done so already.

Prediction 5: Michael will race this year
There has been so much speculation about Michael Schumacher racing in at least one race this year that some betting companies have odds as high as 16:1 on his return.

The Verdict: Let it go people. As Michael has repeatedly said himself, it will not happen. What earthly reason would he have? There’s an outside chance of him testing but that’s it.

Prediction 6: This is Fisichella’s last year
While Fisichella is stating that he has no plans to retire, he may well be forced into retirement. Such is the prediction of multiple championship-winner Nelson Piquet, who has issued a warning that his son may even drive a race for Renault during 2007 if Fisichella doesn’t shape up.

The Verdict: There is no doubt here. While Gascoyne has speculated that Fisi is on his last legs, none other than Bob Bell has stated flat-out that this year is the Italian’s last chance – at least at Renault. Fisichella was once one of the most respected drivers in F1 but his last two years at Renault have fiercely eroded his reputation. He has one chance and one chance only this season to prove that his lack of recent form was due mostly to Renault’s focus on Alonso.

Prediction 7: Toyota will win a race this year
Toyota have been targeting its maiden win every year since 2003. As has been the case every year since Ralf joined the team, he has expressed confidence that it will happen this year.

The Verdict: As usual, Ralf is wrong. As close as Toyota came in ’06, they are highly unlikely to win this year. Sure, if there’s a race with massive attrition then they can win – but that can be said for any team. They won’t win a race against the top three teams on merit.

Prediction 8: Button and Hamilton will be rivals
Damon Hill believes that there will be rivalry between these two Brits from day one on race one.

The Verdict: Yes they will. Button has only won one race after struggling to do so for many years and now suddenly there is a young gun, and a fellow Brit to boot, on the scene and to make matters worse he walked straight into a top team. Make no mistake, as fast as Hamilton may be at this point, Button is faster. Between Button’s experience and Hamilton’s superior car though, we may see some spectacular wheel-to-wheel racing this year. And once Hamilton has some experience under his belt and Honda has picked up their pace, the battle may even become more long-term.

Prediction 9: Alonso will take his third title
Mark Webber, amongst others have predicted that Alonso will be the class of the field in ’07, decimating all who oppose him.

The Verdict: The toughest one to call. Alonso may well win – it just isn’t as likely as Webber and some others believe. Ferrari is looking exceptionally strong and they have two very rapid drivers. What is almost certain is that the Spaniard will not dominate. There is way too much in the form of rather good competition.

Edu de Jager

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