The 2008 Season Preview - let battle commence 07 Mar 2008
One of Formula One racings greatest assets is its ability to renew itself. Its what gives this fantastic sport its appeal, that sense that nothing stands still.
Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari are the world champions, after a gripping, if controversial, 2007 season when the action on the track between the Scuderia and McLaren reached fever pitch. But what are their chances of retaining the titles? Having come so close in his rookie season, can Lewis Hamilton win redemption for McLaren by going one better in 2008?
Testing form is notoriously difficult to read - you never know for certain what fuel load or set-up a team is running at any one particular time - but there are always the indications to be had, and thats another fascinating aspect.
Over the winter, Ferrari appeared to make a step forward even on their late 2007 form. McLaren, however, hit back with very quick times in Barcelona, where the track mercilessly highlights any shortcomings with its wide range of corners.
There is broad agreement that, barring lack of reliability, these two teams will have a lock on winning, but which of their drivers will come to the fore? Will Felipe Massa be able to raise his game and challenge Raikkonen? Will Heikki Kovalainen, who has been very quick in testing, be able to do to Hamilton what Hamilton did to Fernando Alonso last year? Both teams say they do not have number-one drivers, and that each has total equality, so hold on to your hats.
Then there is the fight to be third. Last year that was pretty much the preserve of BMW Sauber, but the signs are that they will have fearsome opposition. Williams have looked very strong in testing. Renault, despite gloomy predictions from Alonso, will be in there sooner or later, as may be Red Bull and perhaps even Toro Rosso and Toyota. It is going to be another of those seasons where the lesser lights will be praying for the stars to suffer unreliability, and where any star whose car breaks will be cursing his misfortune. Watch out for intense, no-holds-barred racing all down the field, even in the lower midfield where Honda will be doing all they can to stay ahead of Force India and Super Aguri.
The renewal is not confined to what happens on the track. In two cases, it is the tracks themselves that are new, with exciting new street venues in Valencia, for the European Grand Prix, and Singapore. Both will take the racing to the people in exotic locations. But the latter will also usher in a new era, as it will introduce the fascination of Formula Ones first-ever night race in September - a further indication that the sport never misses a trick in evolving itself for the fans benefit.
This is always the time of year when anything is possible, a great point at which to let ones expectations for the campaign ahead to be coloured by the excitement of the previous season. As things stand, at least four drivers may be vying for the world championship in November. So dont go away. This is where the fun really starts.
Over the coming days we will bring you a team-by-team analysis of all the contenders, but first a round-up of what's new for 2008...