Five drivers will embark on their first full Formula 1 seasons in 2007. Among them are two drivers placed with top teams for their debut seasons, and another two who have already made their first Grand Prix starts.
What can we expect from them in their first full seasons? And what have they done to merit their arrival in F1 in the first place?
Check out the class of 2007.
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes
But even as he scorched his way to the GP2 championship last year, still most people expected him to undergo a year of testing before getting a race seat. And, when he did get to race, he would be placed with some lesser team, rather than McLaren.
Instead the twin departures of Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya prompted Dennis to make the uncharacteristic move of appointing a rookie driver – the first time he has done so since Jan Magnussen substituted for Mika Hakkinen at the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix.
Hamilton won a raft of karting trophies and famously introduced himself to Dennis in 1994. A few years later he became a McLaren Development Driver and his passage through the lower leagues has been assisted by those connections ever since.
But don’t think he’s had it easy. He didn’t just win the 2005 F3 Euroseries – he annihilated the opposition, winning 15 of 20 races.
His prodigal talent was clear for all to see last year in GP2 when he won the championship comfortably. There was an occasional hint of over-driving – but nonetheless he despatched much more experienced rivals such as Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jnr and Hamilton’s ART team mate Alexandre Premat.
The pressure on Hamilton is terrific. For all the racing talents Britain has produced it has now gone over a decade without a champion. Add to that the inescapable label of ‘first black F1 driver’ – plus the weight of his own expectations.
So far he has proven equal to every challenge. But the near-vertical learning curve of Formula 1 is a different matter indeed.
Heikki Kovalainen, Renault
This is, of course, one of those statistics that underlines the occasional uselessness of such trivia. They only met once, at the 2004 Race of Champions which is a deal more light-hearted than a two-hour Grand Prix. Kovalainen knocked Schumacher out in the semi-final, and went on to win the whole thing.
He does have some more impressive credentials to his name, though: 2004 World Series by Nissan champion and 2005 GP2 runner-up to Nico Rosberg.
Kovalainen is an ex-Renault Development Driver but it was not in Flavio Briatore’s original plan to draft him into the race team in 2007. Even when Alonso defected to McLaren for ’07 Briatore tried to get Kimi Raikkonen or even Michael Schumacher in alongside Giancarlo Fisichella.
Pairing Kovalainen with Fisichella – who was soundly thrashed by Alonso in 2005-06 – gives Renault what many perceive to be a weak line-up.
However promising Kovalainen’s talent is, he is still a rookie, just like Hamilton. But where McLaren have Alonso to lead the way, Renault only have the guy Alonso hammered week in, week out.
Happily for Kovalainen, his situation is win-win. People expect Fisichella to have the advantage over a raw rookie, so if Kovalainen can put one over the Italian every now and then he can feel pleased with himself.
But having learned from Alonso last year, Kovalainen will want to do much more than that.
Robert Kubica, BMW
As such, we are already quite familiar with what he’s capable of – witness his third place finish in his third Grand Prix, at Monza last year.
Team mate Nick Heidfeld insists, of course, that he is not concerned by Kubica’s presence. But he should be. That third place at Monza should have been Heidfeld’s – and plenty within BMW have claimed Heidfeld has upped his game since Kubica’s arrival.
With BMW’s F1.07 looking the business in testing, Kubica will have his eyes set on more podiums. And, if there’s a win to be had, to snatch it out from under Heidfeld’s nose.
Adrian Sutil, Spyker-Ferrari
When Adrian Sutil got his seat with Spyker the first person to congratulate him was his former F1 team mate Hamilton:
It’s going to be like Robert Kubica joining Nick Heidfeld at BMW and giving him a big wake-up call. Adrian will do the same to [Christijan] Albers. In fact, I expect him to be quicker. He’s a really good driver who taught me a lot when we were together.
To be honest, this probably tells us more about Hamilton than it does about Sutil. It’s a very complimentary remark to make about a team mate that Hamilton comprehensively beat when they were together.
But give Sutil his due. He wasn’t disheartened and moved on to Japanese Formula Three where, last year, he became champion. If nothing else the two outings he had on the revised Fuji Speedway will stand him in good stead later on in the year.
That aside, Sutil faces perhaps the toughest job of any of the rookies. In a team that lacks the resources of Red Bull, the Honda engine of Super Aguri or the technical nous of Williams, Spyker could well be propping up the championship table at the end of the year.
Anthony Davidson, Super Aguri-Honda
He got a two-race deal with Minardi in 2002 when Alex Yoong was sent to the sin-bin for failing to qualify.
Having subsequently impressed as a test driver for BAR he got a one-off start with the team at Sepang in 2005 – but retired when his engine failed after a couple of laps.
No matter – the pleasant and popular Davidson will be grateful for the chance to prove himself.
His career has been intertwined with that of Honda stable mates Jenson Button and Takuma Sato. He karted alongside Button and worked with him at BAR.
Sato was his team mate at Carlin Motorsport in British Formula Three six years ago, and will be again this season.
But there are many who think that Sato’s career owes more to his Honda connections than his talent, and that Davidson will take him to the cleaners in 2007.
This will be one battle at the back to keep an eye on.
- Who’s Who: Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Robert Kubica, Adrian Sutil, Anthony Davidson
- Hamilton praises Sutil… why?