In particular the psychological battles between the four top drivers promise to be as intriguing as those between Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet twenty years ago.
Coming into this season you would have put money on Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen being dominant over their team-mates. So far that hasn’t happened.
Raikkonen has always come across as a something of a robotic loner. When the car’s there he’ll get in and do the job, but equally if the package isn’t 100% then neither is the Finn.
Where Michael Schumacher was able mould a team around him through commitment, charisma and generosity, you get the sense Raikkonen simply turns up mumbles, drives, mumbles, drives and goes home. For a team that lives and breathes racing as Ferrari does this is not an ideal fit.
In the Schumacher years Ferrari got used to a lead driver who expected 110% from his team, but always paid that back with interest on track. If Raikkonen doesn’t start winning on a regular basis soon it is hard to see him staying with Ferrari in the long term.
In contrast Felipe Massa has always appeared a weaker prospect with neither the psychological strength nor on track speed and consistency (except in his crashing). Yet since Schumacher announced his retirement at Monza last year Felipe has shone, effectively assuming the mantle of Ferrari team leader.
Massa has outperformed Raikkonen over the first four races and the smart money would already be on him out-scoring the Finn this season.
Alonso arrived at McLaren as the current double World Champion with little to prove. So far this season Alonso has been good, but he has not been dominant over either his team mate or the opposition.
Maybe the move to Uncle Ron’s army camp away from Flavio’s workhouse for young drivers has unsettled the Spaniard. Catalunya in particular saw a real sign of weakness as Fernando to all intents and purposes gave up after his touch with Massa into the first corner. A strong performance at Monaco this weekend is a must.
Adjusting to a new team could explain Alonso’s quiet start to the season. But so could the astonishing start of team mate Lewis Hamilton’s F1 career. The Hamilton hype-ometer is in overdrive but it is true that the rookie has rattled his double world champion team mate.
Whether he can maintain this momentum over a whole season, and translate his ability into regular race winning pace, remains to be seen. But for the moment Hamilton is just shading it as the lead driver in the McLaren camp – never mind the whole championship.
Do any of today’s drivers have the status to go down in F1 history alongside Senna, Prost and Schumacher? It is unclear.
Kimi Raikkonen is perhaps naturally the fastest, but needs to get his off-track team work sorted. Felipe Massa has greatly matured but still makes dumb mistakes (Sepang).
Alonso has been rattled by Hamilton, who in turn, despite the hype and the podiums, hasn’t won a race yet. Will we view these four differently come the season’s end?