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The 2007 Preview - Team by Team 12 Mar 2007

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 F1 Testing, Day Five, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Wednesday, 28 February 2007. World © Patching/Sutton Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2007. Formula One Testing, Day One, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Thursday, 22 February 2007. World © Hartley/Sutton Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren MP4-22, Formula One Testing, Valencia, Spain, 17 January 2007. World © Sutton Jenson Button (GBR) Honda. F1 Testing, Day Five, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Wednesday, 28 February 2007. World © Patching/Sutton Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R27 Formula One Testing, Day Two, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Friday, 23 February 2007. World © Patching/Sutton

Renault may be champions, but it’s McLaren and Ferrari who have made the headlines in winter testing - testing which arguably threw up more questions than it answered. Can Honda maintain their late 2006 form? Will Williams fight back? Can BMW Sauber really score a shock first win? Will Super Aguri move off the back of the grid in only their second season? We can’t promise the answers, but we can provide some clues…

McLaren
1 Fernando Alonso, 2 Lewis Hamilton
Testers: Pedro de la Rosa, Gary Paffett

You don’t spend more than a few moments in the company of McLaren personnel these days without feeling the ambition vibrating off them. The team made mistakes with their aero package in 2006 that cost them dearly, but now there is an air of determination and confidence pervading the McLaren Technology Centre that is almost tangible.

So much within this team is new for 2007: Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, and title sponsor Vodafone, for starters. World champion Alonso has looked strong and quick all through winter testing in the new MP4-22, and his work ethic is precisely what the team need to hone their act. The Spaniard will certainly win races this year, and he is a definite favourite to challenge for the title too.

Hamilton faces a rookie season that would daunt a less competitive man, running alongside the best driver in the world, but he is up for it and is focused on giving his best. Would it be fanciful to envisage him winning a race? Perhaps not, if the cards fall in his favour.

Renault
3 Giancarlo Fisichella, 4 Heikki Kovalainen
Testers: Nelson Piquet Jr, Ricardo Zonta

Is Giancarlo Fisichella big enough to carry the burden of Renault’s expectations in 2007? That’s the key question, as the Italian veteran seeks to mould what was Fernando Alonso’s team around himself. Fisichella is desperate to prove that he can be a title contender and that he can step up to the plate following the Spaniard’s departure. His critics suggest he will be lucky to see out the season without being replaced by test driver Nelson Piquet Jr - or not to be blown away by rookie team mate Heikki Kovalainen. His admirers argue he will rise to the occasion.

This is what makes 2007 such a great season, because there are no certainties any more. Renault were top dogs in 2005 and 2006, but how much did that owe to Alonso? Are the drivers really that important, or have Bob Bell and his engineers spent new title sponsor ING’s budget creating in the new R27 another masterpiece that will do much of the job for them?

Ferrari
5 Felipe Massa, 6 Kimi Raikkonen
Testers: Luca Badoer, Marc Gene

In their first season since 1995 without Michael Schumacher, and also without the redoubtable engineering talents of Ross Brawn and Nigel Stepney, Ferrari face a different series of challenges in 2007.

Testing has indicated that there isn’t much wrong with the new F2007, which has vied for fastest times with McLaren wherever the two teams have run. And Felipe Massa now has his feet nicely under the table at Maranello and comes into the new season buoyed with confidence after his fabulous triumph in Brazil last October. The likable Brazilian proved himself in 2006, winning for the first time in Turkey and showing well against Schumacher, and has to be considered a genuine title aspirant.

So, of course, does his new team mate, Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn is arguably the fastest man in Formula One right now, but it will be one of the enduring fascinations of the season to see how well he fits into his new environment, and whether it will be him or Massa who gains the upper hand. Whatever happens, expect the red team to be one of the title favourites.

Honda
7 Jenson Button, 8 Rubens Barrichello
Testers: Christian Klien, James Rossiter

Putting aside the argument over Honda’s decision to go ‘green’, peel off sponsors’ logos and spread a map of the world over its RA107s, the real issue is whether the new car is going to give Jenson Button, who dominated team mate Rubens Barrichello in 2006, a crack at the world championship.

The Englishman has suggested of late that it is not quick enough to do so, indicating that yet again the Brackley team will start the season playing catch up. There have been the odd signs of speed, but it’s always difficult to judge that accurately in tests, where fuel loads can differ so widely.

Honda and Button scored more points than anyone else in the second half of 2006; those with a British interest in the title fight will be praying that his predictions for 2007 have been pessimistic and that Honda are genuine contenders.

Click to see Page Two or Page Three of our Team by Team preview.

For further details about the new season take a look at our 2007 preview introduction or discover this year's key regulation changes in our What’s New for 2007 feature.