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The winners and losers of 2007 - Part two 21 Aug 2007

The podium (L to R): Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren, second; Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren, race winner; Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari, third.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 8 April 2007 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007 and Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2007.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, British Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Silverstone, England, Saturday, 7 July 2007 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.07 celebrates his second position at the end of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 10 June 2007 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday, 24 May 2007 Alex Wurz (AUT) Williams celebrates his third position on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 10 June 2007

Rarely have two leading teams provided so much action and intrigue in the space of 11 races. The championship battle between (and within) McLaren and Ferrari has been gripping, but it’s the teams’ off-track dispute that has added an unexpected twist to proceedings.

Part two of our mid-season team review examines the fortunes of not just the title favourites, but also those of the blossoming BMW Sauber squad, defending champions Renault and former title holders Williams…

McLaren:
With the disappointments of 2006 firmly behind them, a new title sponsor, plus a world champion and a determined rookie in their ranks, McLaren were bursting with confidence as the ’07 season opened. Questions, however, remained. Would the MP4-22 prove as reliable as it was quick? Would Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton gel? Above all, could the team end their eight-year wait for a constructors’ crown? So far the answers have been almost entirely positive.

Five pole positions, 17 podiums and six wins mean McLaren can already smell that elusive title. But it has been far from easy. Hamilton has proved sensational and more than capable of challenging Alonso. As a result the team mates’ rivalry has brought untold strain to the squad’s dynamics, nowhere more so than in the Budapest pit lane. On top of this Ron Dennis has had to cope with the ongoing legal storm over his team’s possession of confidential Ferrari data. Their Italian rivals have been worthy adversaries, both on and off track, and it is still more than possible that McLaren could have the title whisked from under their noses by the Court of Appeal.

In summary: With a 19-point advantage, McLaren look capable of defending that lead. But in the season that brought us ‘Stepney-gate’, things might not be that simple…

Ferrari
2007 was always going to be tough for Ferrari. Aside from Michael Schumacher’s departure, the Italian team also suffered something of a technical exodus, with engineering talent Ross Brawn amongst the big names to take a step back. However, with Jean Todt remaining at the helm, the transition has proved surprisingly hiccup-free. Incumbent Felipe Massa and new signing Kimi Raikkonen quickly showed off the F2007’s race-winning potential and have enjoyed two and three victories respectively.

Reliability, however, has been a constant, niggling concern and the team have admitted they were dealt a performance blow when the FIA tightened the regulations relating to ‘moveable’ floors. Nevertheless, the points tally has increased with steady momentum and, with six races to run and just 19 points in it, Ferrari are still in a more than strong enough position to challenge McLaren for both drivers’ and constructors’ titles.

In summary: a strong outside bet for the title, especially if McLaren lose out in forthcoming appeal hearings.

BMW Sauber
Despite an upswing in BMW Sauber’s performance late last year, many forecasters had pegged Honda as the midfield’s 2007 yardstick. Not so - as the Japanese team have struggled, their German-Swiss rivals have pressed on and defiantly led the chase for third in the standings. Although not yet fast enough to muscle in on the McLaren-Ferrari fight, BMW Sauber look certain to take the ‘best of the rest’ prize this season.

With the F1.07’s pre-season reliability problems solved pretty early on, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica have had a quick and consistent car at their disposal and they’ve used it to good effect. In spite of missing a round after his huge accident in Montreal, Kubica continues to impress with solid performances, but it has been Heidfeld who has been the real revelation. The German, who many considered to have reached the twilight years of his career, has graced the podium twice and has enjoyed a further seven top-six finishes.

In summary: a season to be proud of. If Ferrari or McLaren slip up, expect to see more podium appearances.

Renault
Despite back-to-back championship doubles in 2005 and 2006, many predicted that Fernando Alonso’s defection to McLaren would have a serious impact on Renault’s 2007 performance. Whether the Spaniard’s departure was really the cause we will never know, but Renault have indeed plummeted down the order. It quickly became apparent they would not be title contenders and Flavio Briatore’s squad now look set for fourth place in the rankings, overshadowed not just by McLaren and Ferrari, but also by the ever-improving BMW Sauber.

The team have admitted that the enforced switch from Michelin to Bridgestone tyres hit them hard, but they have also struggled with the performance of the R27 in general. Giancarlo Fisichella was always going to have a tough time filling Alonso’s shoes and so it has proved, a fourth place at Monaco the highlight of his season so far. Great things were expected of rookie team mate Heikki Kovalainen, but after a difficult start to his campaign, only recently has he got on top of the car and started to show his true potential.

In summary: improving all the time, but probably a case of too little too late to secure any 2007 podiums.

Williams
After the disappointments of last year, Williams have bounced back with a renewed sense of purpose this season. The new engine deal with Toyota and a pre-season management reshuffle seem to have paid dividends and they’ve already scored almost twice as many points as in ‘06. The squad have enjoyed several tangible results, including Alex Wurz’s podium finish in Canada, and are currently fifth in the standings - eight points ahead of the Toyota works team!

As for the drivers, question marks over Wurz’s ability to get the best out of the FW27 persist, especially in qualifying, where he has fallen far short of Nico Rosberg’s sparkling performances. Then again, Rosberg’s race pace has rarely matched his Saturday speed and it’s been Wurz who has scored the bulk of the points. Either way, it seems a better and brighter future awaits the team.

In summary: a great deal to take heart from, but a lot more work required if they are to return to anything like their race-winning form of old.