2008 Team Preview - Williams, Red Bull, Toyota, Toro Rosso 12 Mar 2008
Winter testing suggests this years midfield battle will be incredibly close. With their combination of Nico Rosberg and the FW30, Williams are looking ominously quick, while both Red Bull and Toyota are hoping 2008 will be their breakthrough season. And then there is Toro Rosso, lurking in the wings waiting to steal all threes thunder.
In the second of our three-part feature, we take a closer look at the teams that clinched positions four to seven in last years championship table
7 Nico Rosberg 8 Kazuki Nakajima
Testers: Nico Hulkenberg
Williams did a huge amount in 2007 to dismiss any suggestions that they are slowly declining into the sort of supporting role which eventually claimed Tyrrell. And their performance so far in pre-season testing makes them a clear contender for the position of dark horse prior to the 2008 kick-off.
The FW29 did much to put the team back on the right technical track in 2007, and its similarly Toyota-powered FW30 successor has looked very strong all winter. Senior engineers Patrick Head and Sam Michael both firmly believe that, while they arent yet ready to claim victories, the gap between themselves and Ferrari and McLaren will be a lot smaller. In the quiet ebullience of one of the most popular teams in the sport, one sees the shoots of recovery to the level of competitiveness that made them great.
On the driver front, two sons of famous fathers will battle it out. Nico Rosberg made a great name for himself in 2007, but was that just because the FW29 was a great car? This year he has to beat decisively new team mate Kazuki Nakajima, son of the former Lotus and Tyrrell racer Satoru, if he is to maintain his career momentum.
9 David Coulthard 10 Mark Webber
Testers: Sebastien Buemi
2007 was a crucial year for Red Bull Racing that appeared to achieve little thanks to the inherent lack of reliability of the long-awaited RB3 from technical chief Adrian Newey. The idea was to challenge for fourth place overall with the Renault RS27-engined contender, but it didnt work out that way. Instead, Red Bull remained firmly mired in the midfield, from which escape will be a very tough task.
David Coulthard and Mark Webber need no introduction and are comfortable together. They have similar speed, which manifests itself in different ways. Webber is the better qualifier, but Coulthard can still drive a good race. Both have to be fully motivated, however, and that will come if the RB4 can deliver. The signs thus far are that more work is needed before it can break through, but results must come in the most critical season the team has yet faced. The time for excuses is long past.
11 Jarno Trulli 12 Timo Glock
Testers: Kamui Kobayashi
Red Bull Racing isnt the only team that faces tough questions if they fail to deliver. Toyota have been on that knife edge for far too long and in 2008 they must surely start to show signs of being able to challenge regularly for podiums if they are to stand any chance of long-term survival. Even Toyota, who are rumoured to be spending more than anyone else on Formula One racing, cannot do so indefinitely without solid results.
Jarno Trulli said recently that he believes the TF108 has the potential to do well, but this is what drivers always say at this stage of the season when anything is possible. In Timo Glock he has a German partner who can be guaranteed to push all the time, but unless the technical package is right both will face the usual uphill struggle of a Toyota driver.
14 Sebastien Bourdais 15 Sebastian Vettel
Test driver: TBA
Toro Rosso were one of the least happy teams for much of 2007, with the management of Gerhard Berger and Franz Tost regularly belittling the efforts of drivers Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed. The American was dropped in favour of Sebastian Vettel by Hungary, and despite matching the Germans pace, if not his luck, Liuzzi was also shown the door at the end of the season. The man who replaces him is Sebastien Bourdais, whom many acknowledge should have got a Formula One chance a long time ago. The four-time ChampCar champion has been struggling for speed during testing, and faces a tough challenge learning the ropes while keeping up with Vettel.
Among the teams greatest assets is former McLaren and Ferrari engineer Giorgio Ascanelli, whose arrival set them on the right technical course partway through 2007. They start the year with a modified, B version of last years STR02, and are hoping that as a known quantity it will enable them to achieve decent results early on before the introduction of a new machine later in the year.