F1: Season Preview

“And it’s go, go, go!” The new F1 season is upon us. And with new rules, new drivers, teams and the return of tyre changing, this 18-race calendar will become the most exciting and unpredictable championship for quite a while. Walking Leaf brings you the low down in this year’s Formula One World Championship.
This season’s FIA Formula One World Championship has been radically modified with the introduction of 2.4 litre V8 engines, the return of tyre changing in pit stops and a ‘shootout’ contest between 22 drivers in the new look Qualifying session. But what can we expect from the 2005 World Champion, Fernando Alonso, who is now defending his title with the Renault F1 team? Does the young Spaniard feel confident to win a back-to-back championship despite the uncertainly future of the French manufacturer (Renault) in F1? And will Fernando be motivated to win the drivers’ title knowing he will join McLaren-Mercedes in 2007? What about Kimi Raikkonen, who missed out the drivers’ title despite having the quickest car last year? Can he top Alonso and take the title for McLaren? As for Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, can the team/driver regain its winning habits after a disappointing 2005 season? All this and more will be revealed… But lets focus on the main features of F1 ’06: Just what is the difference between this year’s F1 and last year? Well, the key changes are aerodynamics, tyres, engines and the new qualifying session on a Saturday afternoon. Let us take a look at the four key technical and regulation changes:
With last year’s aerodynamic rules remaining unchanged for 2006, it’s the first season for aero stability we’ve had for several years. Such is the rate of progress in F1; however, we can expect downforce to exceed 2004 levels from the start of this season. The reason why the downforce was reduced in 2005 was to cut cornering speeds, as the cars were travelling too fast around the race tracks. But even though the FIA stepped in and changed the technical rules for less aerodynamic grip, the clever engineers and designers have managed to claw back the loss downforce by shaping the F1 cars as we see today. Many hours in CFD and wind tunnel testing has made the cars even faster…

IN Tyre changes during a race
OUT Long-life rubber from Michelin and Bridgestone Of all the off-season rule changes, the new tyre regulations will have the biggest impact on the quality of the F1 show in 2006. Where drivers had to use the same tyre for qualifying and the race in 2005, now they can change them as often as they like, as long as they remain within their allocation of seven dry sets per weekend, of course. Teams can now allocate their compound prior to qualifying, rather than at 8.00am on Saturday morning, so there’s more scope for exploration. Or getting it wrong. Plus with the reintroduction of pit stops, the race will now return to a sprint – stop – sprint affairs instead of an endurance run in which the drivers manage the condition of the tyre throughout the whole Grand Prix weekend. Bad news in my opinion as I found no faults with last year’s ‘no tyre changing’ rule.

IN 2.4-litre V8s
3.0-litre V10s Despite being a cost-saving measure, V8s have cumulatively cost the F1 paddock about $1billion in development over the past 18 months. And that figure is set to rise further as teams try to claw back the 200-bhp (brake horse power) that they have lost under the new rules. There are more restrictions on the V8s, too: the engine must weigh a minimum of 95kg; it must have a minimum centre of gravity height (165mm above the base plane) and it must consist of a 90 degree V configuration. Add to that the banning of metal matrix composites, magnesium and so called ‘intermetallics’. And the goalposts have definitely squeezed closer together for ’06. For 2006 and ’07 there is no option for teams to continue with V10s, rev-limited to 16,700 rpm (revolution per minute) and with a 77mm air restrictor. Scuderia Toro Rosso (Red Bull Racing’s ‘B’ team) is the only taker, but the equivalency formula’s supposed lack of parity could cause political ructions in the early races.
IN It’s a knock-out!
OUT Single-lap heroics Gone is the much derided single-lap system of the past three years – and the equally derided aggregate system used in early 2005 – and in comes a complex new knock-out system. The qualifying hour will now be split into three segments, with the slowest six cars removed from proceedings at the end of both sessions one and two. Session three will be a 20-minute shoot-out for pole position fought between the 10 fastest cars. There will be no limit on the number of laps a driver can complete and there will be no refuelling during the session, but, post-qualifying, these 10 cars must refuel to the same level they started the final qualifying session. Right, moving on to the main runners and riders in this year’s championship. Twenty-two drivers competing against each other with eleven teams fighting for top honour. Who will be hot and who will be not?
Renault | Michelin | R26 | 2005 result: 1st, 191 points www.renaultf1.com 1 Fernando Alonso | Spain | www.fernandoalonso.com | 2005 result: 1st, Champion. 133 points 2 Giancarlo Fisichella | Italy | www.giancarlofisichella.com | 2005 result: 5th, 58 points
The defending champions will start the season as the favourites. After achieving the drivers’ and constructors’ titles last year, they will have the confidence to succeed by winning it again. Judging by winter testing, the new Renault R26 seems strong, reliable and fast so it will be interesting how it compares to the new McLaren and Honda, who are also setting an impressive lap times in testing. But what is the state of mind for Fernando Alonso? He has already made the shocking deal to switch to Ron Dennis’s McLaren team in 2007. Can he remain focus on this year? We will have to see if Fernando performs well this year and I reckon he can win another title providing his car is reliable and quick to beat the others. As for Giancarlo, he has the best chance yet to lead the team and I reckon he will have a far better season than last year. I feel optimist for Giancarlo because I’m a big fan of the Italian and I like to see him do well. Perhaps scoring more race victories?

McLaren | Mercedes | Michelin | MP4-21 | 2005 result: 2nd, 182 points www.mclaren.com 3 Kimi Raikkonen | Finland | www.racecar.net/kimi | 2005 result: 2nd, 112 points 4 Juan Pablo Montoya | Colombia | www.jpmontoya.com | 2005 result: 4th, 60 points
The team are determined to bounce back from their disappointing 2005 campaign after missing out the drivers’ title for Kimi Raikkonen and the constructors’. McLaren have unveiled a new lively, which is certainly eye catching and original with a chrome look. But will the McLarens ‘shine’ on the track? So far in testing, the engine has been unreliable and this remains the weakest link in the McLaren organisation despite the fact that many key designers have left the team (most notably Adrian Newey, who is going to Red Bull Racing). But if Mercedes can sort out the engine durability than expect a strong performance from the team especially in the hands of Kimi Raikkonen. Kimi is regarded as the fastest driver in Formula One right now, perhaps a better driver than Fernando and Michael Schumacher. He has the sheer racer quality in his character and I reckon he could win this season’s championship providing his car doesn’t breakdown… Juan Pablo? The Colombian should perform better and I expect to see him winning several Grands Prix. It was unfortunate that in his first season at McLaren he struggled and it didn’t help with that ‘motocross/tennis’ incident… But I have high hopes that Juan Pablo will do a great job in his second year in the team.

Ferrari | Bridgestone | 248 | 2005 result: 3rd, 100 points www.ferrari.com 5 Michael Schumacher | Germany | www.michael-schumacher.de | 2005 result: 3rd, 62 points 6 Felipe Massa | Brazil | www.felipemassa.com | 2005 result: 13th, 11 points
The never-ending saga of “will he or won’t he?” retirement stories regarding Michael’s future in F1 is still dominated the proceeding at Ferrari. And this shouldn’t distract us as the Scuderia attempts to regain its position at the top of the leader board. After a disastrous 2005 campaign, Ferrari is desperate to win again. Michael Schumacher is entering his 15th season of Formula One determined to add another drivers’ title to his impressive record. He is edging closer to the late, great Ayrton Senna in terms of the number of pole positions, but the talented German has already beaten every Formula One record that the history book needs constant updates on his impressive performance. So will Michael win his eighth title? I think he might actually do it, providing if the new Ferrari 248 is good enough in Michael’s hands. If the car under performs, than expect the seven times World Champion to call it a day after the season’s ends… What about his new team-mate, Felipe Massa? I reckon Ferrari has made a mistake over hiring Massa due to his lack of consistency in race conditions. He is fast, but sometimes makes mistakes and I hope the Brazilian will prove me wrong by settling in with the Italian team and supporting Michael.

Toyota | Bridgestone | TF106 | 2005 result: 4th, 88 points www.toyota-f1.com 7 Ralf Schumacher | Germany | www.ralf-schumacher.de | 2005 result: 6th, 65 points 8 Jarno Trulli | Italy | www.jarnotrulli.com | 2005 result: 7th, 43 points
Toyota has become the biggest money spenders in modern Formula One. The Japanese manufacturer has actually overtaken Ferrari in terms of pouring millions and millions of dollars into creating a successful and winning race team. According to F1 Racing magazine, Toyota spent $499.05m just on last year! That’s $66m more than Ferrari! Unbelievable because money doesn’t buy you success and so far the team hasn’t even won a race yet… The new TF106 was the first car to break cover in winter testing last November, giving the team ahead start over rivals to prepare for the new season. But can Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher win races? Hmm… I have to say no… Why? The car seems to lack the pace over the McLarens, Renaults and Hondas despite having more time to develop it. But considering how much money Toyota has, I reckon sooner or later, Ralf or/and Jarno will win races. But what are my impression of Jarno and Ralf? I really like Jarno as he is fantastic in qualifying and it will be interesting how well he goes in the new ‘knock-out’ session… As for Ralf, he likes to moan doesn’t he? I believe his is overrated and doesn’t deserve such a big paycheck for his racing job. He really needs to step up a gear and motivate the team just like his brother Michael at Ferrari. Ralf needs to get support within to make him feel special I believe.

Williams | Cosworth | Bridgestone | FW28 | 2005 result: 5th, 66 points www.williamsf1.com 9 Mark Webber | Australia | www.markwebber.com | 2005 result: 10th, 36 points 10 Nico Rosberg | Germany | www.nicrorosberg.com | 2005 result: Not available (GP2 champion)
After departing BMW, the Williams team have found itself a new partnership with Cosworth, and so far the engine has been mighty impressive. It is claimed the new Cosworth is revving to an ear-splitting 19,100rpm! I have high hopes for Williams as this is one of my favourite teams in F1 and I would love to see them back to winning ways. Mark Webber will be determined to wipe the disappointing 2005 season with Williams by starting refreshed and ready for the season ahead. I have huge admiration for the Aussie as he has superb race craft and I would love to see him challenging for the podium places. His new team-mate is GP2 champion Nico Rosberg. He is in fact the son of the 1982 champion, Keke, who won the drivers’ title with the Williams and Cosworth partnership back then. So the omens look good for the F1 rookie. I’m really excited to see Nico in F1 and I hope he can score some points now and again.

Honda | Michelin | RA106 | 2005 result: 6th, 38 points www.hondaracingf1.com 11 Rubens Barrichello | Brazil | www.barrichello.com.br | 2005 result: 8th, 38 points 12 Jenson Button | Great Britain | www.jensonbutton.com | 2005 result: 9th 37 points
Honda has undergone a complete overhaul, and is eager to take the first step into the winner’s circle. The team is formally known as B.A.R. (British American Racing) until late last year, when the Japanese manufacturer brought out the whole shares of BAT (British American Tobacco) to claim outright owners. So far in testing, the new Honda RA106 has been spectacularly good with Jenson Button setting superb lap times. In fact, Jenson has undergone over 6,000km in testing only proving he is ready to win his first race and how reliable the car is. Speaking of Jenson, it is amazing to know he has competing over 100 Grands Prix and still hasn’t won a race yet. His best finish is second… Will he win a Grand Prix? Well, he really deserves it and once he won that very first race, he will keep on winning… Rubens? It is so refreshing to see the popular Brazilian in a new team after all these years as Michael’s sidekick at Ferrari. It was best for Rubens’ interest to change team and to my surprise; the reason why he went to Honda was that his late mentor, Senna, advised him to! But how well will Rubens get on as Jenson’s team-mate? So far, they are the best of friends and enjoy each other’s company. But as soon as the five red lights go out, expects fireworks! As for the team, I expect Honda to be a strong candidate for race victories and I believe it can challenge McLaren and Renault for the constructors’ title.

Red Bull Racing | Ferrari | Michelin | RB2 | 2005 results: 7th, 34 points www.redbull.com 14 David Coulthard | Great Britain | www.davidcoulthard-f1.com | 2005 result: 12th, 24 points 15 Christian Klein | Austria | www.christian-klein.com | 2005 result: 15th, 9 points (only 15 races)
Red Bull chairman Dietrich Mateschitz has been on a spending spree and very soon he’ll be demanding results. Can David Coulthard and Christian Klein providing him that opportunity? Hmm… unlikely but it can finish consistently in the top 8 places to score points, but is that enough? With Ferrari engines this year, the Red Bulls will perform very well but so far in testing, the cars are overheating! Plus, I hear that the team haven’t done enough preparation for the new season with these heating problem… I really hope the cars will be solid enough to make it to the finish. As for the drivers, David Coulthard is enjoying his time at Red Bull. He is full of enthusiasm and I reckon he still has that racer ability to perform well. Klein? He is a solid team-mate and able to support ‘Uncle Dave’ with consistence points finish.

BMW Sauber | Michelin | F1.06 | 2005 result: 8th, 20 points (known as Sauber) www.bmw-sauber-f1.com 16 Nick Heidfeld | Ger | www.nickheidfeld.com | 2005 result: 11th, 28 points 17 Jacques Villeneuve | Canada | www.jv-world.com | 2005 result: 14th, 9 points
Starting from eighth in the constructors’ championship but the determination is huge as BMW is planning to move up the grid. After departing from Williams, BMW has decided to go it along and set up its own racing organisation by buying out the former Sauber team. But how well can BMW get on? To be honest, I reckon this will be a steep learning curve for Dr Mario Theissen (BMW motorsport director) to achieve a respectable result in its first full year as team owner. As for the drivers, Nick Heidfeid is underrated and I look forward to seeing some great drive from the German. He has a great talent and expects some strong race performances. What about the 1997 champion, Jacques Villeneuve? This is his make or break year really. It has been a really long time since he won the title and I fear he can’t keep up with the young guys in F1 now. The driving requirement has changed rapidly over the years especially with groove tyres but I would like to see the Canadian do well.

Midland F1 | Toyota | Bridgestone | M16 | 2005 result: 9th, 12 points (known as Jordan) www.midlandf1.com 18 Tiago Monteiro | Portugal | www.tiagoracing.com | 2005 result: 16th, 7 points 19 Christijan Albers | Netherlands | www.christijan.com | 2005 result: 19th, 4 points
Finishing second last in 2005 doesn’t bode well, but ‘Chavski’ and co. beg to differ. The team is formerly known as Jordan is no more and I have to say that this team is frankly appalling. The M16 looks horrible and I doubt it can finish races. I really hate the attitude of this Russian team especially the team boss, Colin Kolles. You noticed the nickname as ‘Chavski’ because of his Burberry choice of fashion when he stepped into the F1 paddock last year… Even though I respect Monterio, who managed to finish every race but one last year, I don’t feel he has that ability to lead this team. Albers is really a nice guy but I would like him to take a test drive offer from a top team than driving a ‘shitbox’ this year. Sorry to sound harsh, but I really don’t like Midland. It has a name that sounds like a form of bank branch and it lacks the charisma and personality of Eddie Jordan’s old team. A real shame…

Scuderia Toro Rosso | Cosworth | Michelin | STR01 | 2005 result: 10th, 7 points (known as Minardi) www.scuderiatororosso.com 20 Scott Speed | America | www.scottspeed.com | 2005 result: Not available 21 Vitantonio Liuzzi | Italy | www.liuzzi.com | 2005 result: 24th, 1 point (4 races)
What used to be Minardi is now the cutest name on the grid. F1’s perennial no-hopers are running rev-limited Cosworth V10s. And they’re powered by Red Bull. Already the team has caused a controversial situation by being the only outfit to use V10 engine in this V8 championship. They are deliberately running this against the spirit of the rules, but why? Well, Paul Stoddard, the ex-Minardi team boss had the permission from the teams and the FIA to allow his Minardi cars to use V10 engines in the 2006 season, as a way of saving cost instead of spending huge amount of money to run a V8 (as Minardi lacked cash then)… But now that Red Bull has bought the outright team and has re-branded it as Scuderia Toro Rosso (Team Red Bull in Italian), it has the financial backing to support it. But will the team run V8s? No, because it is sticking to Paul’s agreement and some team members feel that this is an unfair advantage as V10s have a better torque performance over the V8s. So expect several demonstrations to prevent the Scuderia Toro Rosso running… But what about the drivers? It is a welcome relief to see an American driver in Formula One with Scott Speed (fantastic name by the way). And I suspect Scott will perform very well in his first season in F1. As for Antonio Liuzzi, this is his chance to show what he can do in his first proper full race calendar. Best of luck to the both of them.

Super Aguri | Honda | Bridgestone | SA06 | 2005 result: Not available (new 11th team) www.superaguri-f1.com 22 Takuma Sato | Japan | www.takumasato.org | 2005 result: 23rd, 1 point 23 Yuji Ide | Japan | www.yuji-ide.com | 2005 result: Not available
Absolutely zero Formula One history to speak off so the back of the grid beckons… Super Aguri look all set to take Minardi’s traditional spot as F1’s wooden spoon holders. The all-Japanese Formula One team funded by Honda. Team boss Aguri Suzuki remains optimistic for the season ahead but I believe the team will struggle badly. No time for testing or preparation as the organization was set up as a desperate bid to keep Takuma Sato in F1 this year. Sato was shockingly poor last year. Spent more time crashing and making mistakes than supporting Jenson Button at BAR. As for Yuji Ide? Unknown quantity really. He has competed in Formula Nippon in Japan but lacks the F1 experience and will have trouble learning all the new tracks. Super Aguri will run the first three ‘flyaway’ races with a modified 2002 Arrows F1 car… And then will introduce their proper 2006 car. But expect the cars to be several seconds off the pace of the leaders. Nothing more can be said as this is a brand new team. Other than good luck!

CIRCUIT GUIDE Your full race-by-race guide to all eighteen circuits around the world.
Round 1 | Bahrain | Bahrain International Circuit | Circuit length: 3.36 miles | March 12
The very first race of the new season and it’s difficult to predict who will win this event. Renault and Honda look strong in testing, followed by McLaren. This is also the first chance to see the new rookies in a race situation.
Round 2 | Malaysia | Sepang International Circuit | Circuit length: 3.44 miles | March 19
Perhaps the hottest race of the year and it will be a test of engine reliability considering the two-race engine rule. It will be interesting which team is on the ball for this year’s championship success after the opening two races…
Round 3 | Australia | Melbourne | Circuit length: 3.29 miles | April 2
Moved a month later to avoid the clash of the Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne. The Australian Grand Prix guarantees plenty of great racing down under. This is also Mark Webber’s home race and he is determined to put on a strong performance for Williams.
Round 4 | San Marino | Imola | Circuit length: 3.06 miles | April 23
The first race of the European leg of the tour, the classic Imola track but it’s now full of chicanes, after the tragedy of 1994… Still expect some good race action like last year when Michael was desperately seeking a way by Fernando. Alonso won the race after withstanding the pressure from the multiple World Champion.
Round 5 | Europe | Nurburgring | Circuit length: 3.19 miles | May 7
The first race in Michael Schumacher’s back yard, the Nurburgring may not be the ultimate 14-mile Nordschleife (which was last used in 1976), but still generate good racing action.
Round 6 | Spain | Circuit de Catalunya | Circuit length: 2.87 miles | May 14
Fernando Alonso’s home race and expect a massive crowd supporting for the new World Champion. Not really an exciting track to be honest and traditionally, this is most boring race of the year as the drivers’ cover thousands of miles testing here.
Round 7 | Monaco | Monte Carlo | Circuit length: 2.07 miles | May 28
The most famous and glamorous track in the world. The Monaco Grand Prix is every driver’s dream of winning. Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher have won this race five times and it is the best in terms of seeing Grand Prix cars in action on the narrow streets of the Principality.
Round 8 | Britain | Silverstone | Circuit length: 3.19 miles | June 11
The home of the British Grand Prix and what a fabulous circuit it is! Jenson Button and David Coulthard will have a fantastic reception from the crowd and both drivers aim to please with great racing at the former RAF airfield.
Round 9 | Canada | Montreal | Circuit length: 2.71 miles | June 25
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (named after Jacques’ dad) always provides top-quality entertainment. The fast flowing circuit may contain chicanes but at least the drivers hit top speed down the back straight.
Round 10 | USA | Indianapolis | Circuit length: 2.60 miles | July 2
Following the farce ‘race’ last year in which all the Michelin teams pulled out due to safety fears, it will be fascinating to see if the American public will enjoy the return of F1 racing at the Brickyard. It really needs to make a good impression as F1 has always struggle in the US market. A good and exciting race will solve that.
Round 11 | France | Magny-Cours | Circuit length: 2.74 miles | July 16
The oldest race on the Formula One calendar and ironically the Circuit de Nevers just doesn’t create the sort of racing we expect as the F1 circus return back to Europe from North America. Not my favourite track in my opinion, but it’s Renault’s home race and expect them to do a good job in front of the French public.
Round 12 | Germany | Hockenheim | Circuit length: 2.84 miles | July 30
Gone are the flat-out blasts through the forest and instead we see a Tilke designed track. Even though the new track doesn’t have the same charm with those super-long 220mph straights, at least the circuit provides good overtaking opportunity.
Round 13 | Hungary | Budapest | Circuit length: 2.72 miles | August 8
Not a great circuit to host a Formula One in my honest opinion. Dusty, narrow and very difficult to overtake. The only good things I can say are the Marlboro grid girls who look gorgeous!
Round 14 | Turkey | Istanbul Park | Circuit length: 3.31 miles | August 27
A good debut Grand Prix back in 2005. Now becoming a driver’s favourite with interesting corners especially Turn 8. Probably the best track designed by Tilke as it rewards the drivers with challenging turns at Istanbul.
Round 15 | Italy | Monza | Circuit length: 3.59 miles | September 10
The only track where the cars run low downforce due to the long straights, in which they travel around 230mph. Monza is full of history and it was a great pleasure to attend this event in person last year. The noise and atmosphere from the Tifosi (passionate Ferrari fans) was wonderful and will stay with me forever.
Round 16 | China | Shanghai International Circuit | Circuit length: 3.38 miles | October 1
For some strange reason Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher seem to struggle when racing in China. In the debut Chinese Grand Prix (2004), Michael spun off at the first corner during qualifying and then 12 months later had a warm-up accident with a Minardi as he made his way to the starting grid. In the race, he spun off…
Round 17 | Japan | Suzuka International | Circuit length: 3.60 miles | October 8
The unique 8-figure track always provide challenges for the drivers with the demanding S curve and the super-fast 130R, in which Fernando Alonso overtook Michael Schumacher around the outside in last year’s race. In fact, the 2005 Grand Prix was the best of that season’s championship as Kimi Raikkonen drove an aggressive race from the back to win by passing Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap to take the win!
Round 18 | Brazil | Interlagos | Circuit length: 2.67 miles | October 22
The last race of the 2006 season and its Rubens Barrichello’s home race. Can the Brazilian finally win after suffering so much bad luck over the years? A race victory would be a sweet moment. As the final Grand Prix of the year, expect a party atmosphere as hopefully the drivers’ and constructors’ title will be settled here after a long competitive battle.
Right, that’s it from the ‘leaf’. I hope you enjoy reading this epic season review and let the racing begin!

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