F1 2007 Preview: Three lions & a Scot

Back the Brits, Silverstone 2007Proud Scotsman David Coulthard is the elder statesman of Britain’s four Formula One drivers this year.

This is the most British drivers at the start of a season since 2000, when Coulthard and Jenson Button (the a rookie) were partnered by Johnny Herbert and Eddie Irvine.

It’s an exciting prospect for British fans – but what are the chances of these four serving up a few victories or even – whisper it – a championship?

Britain’s four Formula 1 talents are all at significantly different phases of their career.

Coulthard is well into the latter stages of his – indeed he’s been written off by many after leaving McLaren in 2004, and has done well to carve out a new beginning at Red Bull.

Button is decidedly a Honda man but, as Damon Hill reminder him in the papers this morning, he has plenty of younger drivers on his tail and must be prepared to drop them if they don’t produce the goods this year.

Anthony Davidson is entering his first full season but, rather oddly, drove his first Grand Prix all of five years ago. His chance at a full time drive with Super Aguri this year is tremendously important.

And Lewis Hamilton has one of those once-in-a-generation chances to make a gigantic impact on his F1 debut.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, McLaren launch, 2007, 2Strengths: Long-term McLaren protege who’s won major junior championships in his last two seasons: F3 Euroseries (2005), GP2 (2006). Has undergone an extensive testing regime and is well-liked by the press.

Weaknesses: Enormous pressure and massive media interest. Despite his stellar performances in GP2 the doubters still point out that he has enjoyed the benefit of the best teams on his rise through the lower categories.

Hamilton has had an extraordinarily successful career so far, winning 15 out of 20 F3 races in 2005, before taking the GP2 title at his first attempt.

Yes he’s not got Grand Prix experience – but is he necessarily in a worse position than Heikki Kovalainen, who’s done loads of testing but didn’t race at all last year?

Hamilton biggest problem will surely be Fernando Alonso. The youngest ever double champion is enormously motivated and is probably underrated by the majority of F1 fans and commentators. Performing well in comparison with his team mate will be tough, but if he can pull it off there’s no limit to what he can achieve.

Anthony Davidson

Anthony Davidson, Honda, Magny-Cours, 2006Strengths: Popular driver with loads of F1 driving experience…

Weaknesses: …but only three Grand Prix starts in five years.

Davidson makes his long-overdue arrival in F1 as a full-time driver. But what can he achieve with the back-of-the-grid Super Aguri?

It remains to be seen as the team’s car won’t be ready until the last possible moment. From that point onwards he will be locked in a battle with team mate Takuma Sato to see who can unlock the most performance from the car.

It promises to be a fascinating scrap. The two drivers know each other well, having been team mates at Carlin in British F3 six years ago.

Then, as now, Sato has more experience. But his reputation has taken a battering in F1 after far too many unforced errors caused by pressure – in 2002 on his (too early) debut, and in 2005 when struggling to shine alongside Button.

This is Davidson’s best opportunity – here’s hoping he seizes it.

Jenson Button

Jenson Button, Honda, launch, pre-season, 2007Strengths: Race winner with no obvious weaknesses in his driving and qualifying skills. Sublimely smooth style may elicit the best from the 2007 tyres.

Weaknesses: Honda are persistently short of the crucial 1% of performance – and arguably, so is Button.

Eight years after he blazed onto the F1 scene Button has just a single win to his name. He has proven himself capable of winning when the opportunity presents itself.

Having scored his breakthrough victory last season more must follow in 2007 or serious questions will be asked – especially considering how strongly Honda ended 2006.

Although the car hasn’t looked quick so far, the speed with which the team have reacted to that and readied a major upgrade for the second round shows some promise.

If the car is not on the pace, however, he faces a major threat of being upstaged by Hamilton.

David Coulthard

David Coulthard, Red Bull-Renault, Bahrain, preseason 2007, 4Strengths: The second most experienced driver in the sport backed by the massive resources of Red Bull, allied to Renault engines and designer Adrian Newey.

Weaknesses: Inevitable questions about whether his best is behind him; often weak in qualifying and facing qualifying master Mark Webber as a team mate.

Coulthard’s priorities are quite different from the other three British drivers. Charged with the task of getting Red Bull to the front of the field, he and Adrian Newey must make steps towards realising that in 2007.

Webber is an enormous threat to Coulthard. The Australian has a habit of chewing up team mates and spitting them out – the cherubic Nico Rosberg didn’t look so rosy after a year with Webbo in 2006.

Coulthard has more experience, guile and backbone than that – but the fundamental weakness of his qualifying performances may prove his undoing against the likes of Webber.

His saving grace, then, is his technical aptitude and ability at developing a car. If he can take the lead in developing the difficult RB3, and keep the Toro Rosso twins firmly in the shade, he may have many more years left at Red Bull.

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