F1 2008 – Get your popcorn ready?

The 2008 FIA World Championship is going to be boring one. No, I don’t mean it’s going to be boring because there is no McLaren-Ferrari Stepney-gate spy scandals and there isn’t a feuding teammate rivalry. Sure Traction Control is gone, finally something to applaud the FIA on for once, but let me tell you why it’s going to be a snoozer. Then we’ll see where the other teams will end up.

The front of the parade…

You might as well just hand to the trophy to Ferrari now. The “Winter World Championship” means nothing, but let’s be realistic, they’ve pretty much crushed everyone in open running. With a shortened wheelbase to work better on slower corners and an on-fire Kimster, the F2008 will again make use of it’s Bridgestones better than any car on the grid. Forget Massa, he’s the new Rubens Barichello punching bag at Ferrari, this is the Kimi show. It’s just a matter of where he clinches the WDC…

Hammy, start sulking, the 2007 WDC is as close as you’re going to come to the coveted title for awhile. Watch your back too, ’cause Heikki is going to be lock-step with you, given equal equipment, just as he was in GP2. That’s a big if and let’s hope Dennis can manage this pairing better than last year’s implosion. The upside, the MP4/23 is going to be quick, just as the MP4/22 was. They’ve shown well this winter and Heikki has taken well to the team already. With two young guns that can mix it up, they’re the solid P2 to Ferrari.

The big mover, the Renault boys will make some noise again and it comes with no surprise that it coincides with the return of double WDC Freddie Alonso. A determined Pat Symonds technical direction vowing to rectify the misdirection of the R27, dumping off the dead-weight of Fisi, they will be podium contenders. Add Fred bringing the extra few tenths (yep, he’s that good and I don’t care what anyone says, McLaren did him wrong) and another year on the Bridgestones, the R28 will be in front of 2007’s big gainer, BMW-Sauber.

Even as ugly as F1 cars are now a days, Sauber always seems to have an aesthetically pleasing car and the trend continues under the BMW banner. Unfortunately, working appendages, wheel-shields, barge boards, and horns win points where it counts, performance. They have formidable drivers, Nick and Kubica are blazing fast. Early impressions for the F1.08 however, indicate that they’re having a hard time finding the balance. They will be though, a consistent podium worthy squad. The 2008 season will bring a handful of podiums and maybe a sneaky win if they get lucky. Granted, that luck might need to be Ferrari, McLaren, or Renault not showing up.

Best of the rest…

Red Bull Racing will do the best job of mixing it up with the top 4 with Williams, with these two teams being interchangeable. Unfortunately 8 potential cars stealing the spots on the steps, a podium will be a scarce commodity. They are improving though, this is the real Adrian Newey RBR and the additional of Geoff Willis can only help. They have stability with the driver combo, the old man David Coulthard and the eccentric Mark Webber. The mission statement should be full reliability, they were awful in the mechanical DNF department in 2007

Nico will be making inroads to the front runners at Williams. There is no doubt Rosberg is quick. Nakajima doesn’t appear to be a slouch and he should be worth Toyota’s insistence [or checkbook] that he have a seat in the FW30. Look at the data from last year, when they don’t make mistakes in qualifying, the FW is fast despite being mired back in traffic. If they can qualify better to where they’re not committed to heavy fuel loads, expect some decent things. At the very least, they’ll make Toyota think twice about annexing them and making Sir Frank a rich man by making them the Japanese squad’s factory team.

Honda plus Ross Brawn means…a lot of mediocrity in 2008. At least mediocrity is an upgrade from last year. Honda fans, just DVR the race and go about your business. If something miraculous happens like a points finish, you can at least watch it at your own convenience. The painful truth for Honda fanatics is that the big but late arrivals of Brawn and the new new technical additions of Bigois and Zander, mean the new RA108 wasn’t conceived under their watch. The RA107 was enigmatic and they never understood how to solve the poor aerodynamic characteristics, exacerbating the situation was the departure of the concept’s father, Geoff Willis. The spin from Honda is they at least understand the RA108. The reality is, they’re 2.5+ seconds off the one lap pace this winter. No aero package update can fix that big of a gap.

The story for Toyota is short and sweet, outspend everyone and sit back and reap the rewards of getting the worst ROI on the planet, which in this case is 7th or 8th best team on the grid.

Red Bull Jr. will probably disrupt the Japanese Spending War, in what appears will be an updated 2007 RBR. The neat thing for the ex-Minardi crew is that they have an exciting driver lineup at STR-Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel proved himself for BMW, filling in for Kubica after his horrific crash in Canada, and as their third driver. He also had an amazing drive going for him in the rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix last year, before being caught out by an interesting safety car period of all things. We also get to see  the deserving Sebastien Bourdais behind the wheel of an F1 car finally.

Jordan F1, I mean Spyker F1, wait it’s now Force India. With a name that awful, can you really expect anything better than the back of the bus? Their best move this winter, by far, was denying Ralf Schumacher a race seat to pair perennial loser Giancarlo Fisichella. Maybe Gascoyne can work a miracle with the VJM01, but don’t hold your breath. Next year we’ll probably be talking about another new owner.

Someone please give a donation to Super-Aguri. The beloved Super-Best-Friends was the feel good story of the crazy 2007 season, especially Taku’s pass on the outside of Alonso’s McLaren in Montreal. While they’re backed by Honda, they barely have a pulse, skipping testing and soliciting anyone that will give them money. If they do have a cash infusion, their reward is campaigning last year’s Honda RA107, lucky them. It’s an uphill struggle for the Honda B-team.

So the meat, here’s what I’m going out on a limb with on record.

  1. Kimi (clinching by Japan)
  2. Lewis Hamilton
  3. Felipe Massa
  4. Fernando Alonso
  5. Heikki Kovalainen

We’ll see how far off base I am soon enough.

-Brian R.


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