This is the new face of F1 in 2007.
Regardless of the flabbergasting hype, Lewis Hamilton must still be the most promising new driver to arrive in F1 for years. Coming off the back of successive championships (F3, GP2) the protÃ©gÃ© of Ron Dennis will begin his career at the top – with McLaren.
Last year Hamilton proved capable of wringing far more out of a GP2 car than his more experienced team mate Alexandre Premat. His race craft is exceptional – like a Juan Pablo Montoya with self-discipline.
Out of the car he’s considered polite, approachable and popular. One can never judge a rookie until they’ve seen a full season in the cockpit. But the early signs are enormously encouraging.
He has been loyal to Renault Driver Development as Hamilton has been to McLaren. So much so that instead of taking another crack at GP2 last year (having narrowly lost the ’05 title to Nico Rosberg) he spent the season testing the R26 an absorbing as much of Alonso’s knowledge as he could.
Flavio Briatore has already dubbed him the ‘anti-Alonso’. Knowing that the Spaniard thrashed Giancarlo Fisichella over the last two seasons, Kovalainen’s first step to stardom could be to finish Fisichella off.
Pretty much everything that’s been written so far about the Fuji Speedway has been in the context of the circuit it’s replacing – Suzuka. Largely because, as a circuit, Suzuka was one of the best in Formula One.
But Fuji has a few things going for it too – it was the scene of the first two Japanese Grand Prix including the epic race that decided the 1976.
Set in the shadow of Mount Fuji and the glorious surrounding scenery, it’s a dramatic venue for a Grand Prix. And the circuit might just be one of those tracks that, thanks to its cultivation by Hermann Tilke, allows a lot of overtaking.
But… it’s still not Suzuka.
Champ Car-style safety car and tyre rules
The changes to the safety car and tyre rules have the potential to throw some major wild cards into races.
We will see charges out of the pits under safety car conditions messing up the order Champ Car-style, and drivers forced to juggle different tyre compounds during the race.
The purists aren’t happy – but it could prove a useful way of enlivening the races.
De facto customer cars are here to stay. And they could provide and extremely useful means for Red Bull and Honda to accelerate their car development programmes. In which case, other top teams could be rushing to create their own ‘B’ divisions.
With the departure of Team Schumacher, more top staff roles at Ferrari are falling back into Italian hands. Almondo has been with Ferrari since 1991 but that doesn’t the change fact that he faces the onerous task of filling Ross Brawn’s shoes.
Expected to work closely with Luca Baldisseri and has an utterly crucial role in converting Ferrari’s clear testing pace into race wins. If Ferrari’s winter form doesn’t translate on the track journalists will be beating a path to Almondo’s door.
Sutil is a bit of a conundrum – he took a bloody beating at the hands of fellow rookie Lewis Hamilton in the F3 Euroseries two years ago – but bounced back in fine fashion in Japanese F3 last year.
Has he made the switch to F1 too soon? Team boss Colin Kolles – and Hamilton himself – certainly rate the young German. Christijan Albers better watch out.
Alexander Wurz & Anthony Davidson racing
Two excellent test drivers long overdue a crack at the big time. We know they’re both quick. But can they race – I mean, really race? This year we will find out.
F1 will look very different in 2007 thanks to savings bank ING. Their colours splashed awkwardly across the new Renaults and will be present at 14 of the 17 races, as well as taking over title sponsorship of the Australian Grand Prix.