F1 2007 Preview: Out with the old…

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Barcelona, 2007, pre-seasonThe 2007 season is all about change – brand new drivers in top-ranking teams, three vintage circuits dropped from the calendar.

And, of course, one long-time great of the sport finally stepping down. Here are the big names that have left in 2007.

Michael Schumacher

The German driver who has dominated Formula 1 for the last 13 years has finally stepped aside. Not since the death of the great Ayrton Senna at the moment of Schumacher’s ascendancy has the absence of one driver left such a giant void in the sport.

F1 has at least two exceptional drivers to fill his place in Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.

And it’s not as if F1 is short of German drivers these days, with Ralf Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld, Nico Rosberg and Adrian Sutil, to say nothing of Sebastien Vettel, Marcus Winklehock and Michael Ammermuller waiting in the wings.

Going into the new season its easy to think of 2007 as being ‘the first year without Schumacher’. But doing him no disrespect, with the enormous changes taking place among the top teams this year, the memories of Schumacher may not linger for as long as many expect.

Team Schumacher

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Barcelona, pre-season, 2007, 2Equally important as the loss of Schumacher is the departure of key members of the devastatingly successful Ferrari team. Ross Brawn and Paolo Martinelli are gone. Jean Todt remains, but has been promoted to CEO, with a corresponding reduction in hands-on-control.

This can only lead to questions about Ferrari’s competitiveness going into 2007 – but early signs are that the enormous upheaval has been handled with the expert aplomb you would expect of modern Ferrari.

Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen topped the time sheets often in testing. Far from falling apart, this looks like business as usual.

If the new Ferrari functions just as well in a racing environment, they could well claim back the championships in 2007.

Michelin

Heikki Kovalainen, Renault, Valencia, preseason, 2007The French manufacturer departs a year before the mandatory ‘one tyre supplier’ rule is due to come into effect.

Unhappy about the change in the regulations and angered by the FIA’s behaviour in 2003 (another rules change) and 2005 (Indianapolis), the French firm left having won both titles in the past two seasons.

Their departure means profound change in terms of lap times in general, and creates a particular challenge for the teams they have left.

Bridgestone, now F1′s sole tyre supplier, will supply less cutting-edge tyres to save on costs. Early indications are cars will be around two seconds slower over a typical lap.

Teams that were using Bridgestone tyres in 2006 will have some advantage over those that were on Michelins, but the tyres will still be different compounds,

It’s telling that Renault have been conspicuously uncompetitive in testing, having been the most loyal Michelin users with a chassis best optimised to the French product in 2006.

Suzuka

Of the three circuits dropped from the 2007 calendar, the loss of Suzuka hurts the most. From the quick opening switchback curves, to Degner, Spoon and 130R, it had some of the most dramatic bends to showcase the abilities of modern F1 machinery.

Imola & Hockenheimring

As Bernie Ecclestone seeks to broaden the geographical reach of the calendar the ‘European’ portion of the season has been cut from ten races to eight.

It’s not surprising that the two casualties have been races in Italy and Germany – two countries most likely to see an immediate drop in spectator numbers with the retirement of Michael Schumacher.

Yet both seem likely to return next year – Imola is receiving a substantial upgrade as Spa-Francorchamps did last year before returning.

And the Hockenheimring is expected to alternate hosting the German Grand Prix with the Nurburgring – a practice that was once common to the British and French Grands Prix.

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