It’s a mystery to me why I didn’t write anything on here about the last couple of races of the Formula One season last year, where Lewis Hamilton blew an extraordinarily strong chance to win the world title (or McLaren blew it for him, depending how you look at it). But the most recent F1-tagged post here was evidently written just after the Japanese grand prix. In truth, the last three races of 2007 were among only maybe 5 really exciting weekends: for the rest of the year, although the politics and the championship viewed over the course of the season were interesting, the racing really was dull.
What we need in 2008 is for some of the mid-field teams to catch up with McLaren and Ferrari, and actually make it hard to say which teams will be contesting each race win when before everyone turns up. Only 1997 in recent years has provided that, with McLaren, Benetton and at times Jordan looking very strong at some races, in addition to – or even occasionally instead of – the then-current duopoly of Ferrari and Williams.
The signs from testing so far are not good: Ferrari and McLaren appear to remain dominant. Williams have put some decent times in with their new car, but remarks from Mark Webber about “certain teams” flattering to deceive by taking the fuel load out make me wonder: who else could he have in mind? And teams certainly do that kind of thing in testing every now and again: in 2001, Prost claimed to be turning up at the first grand prix with a lightning-quick car, but after two races it was obviously little more than respectable.
Of the other teams, Renault’s new car hasn’t really done enough mileage to give any clear impression – although guessing the season’s form from early tests is a difficult exercise even for teams who have done a lot of laps (although it is certainly fun). Honda’s new car has only done a couple of days’ testing, but has been rooted to the bottom of the field both times: is this just because they have been doing very basic installation work, or could it be they are facing the dreadful possibility of not having made any advance from their terrible 2007 machine? It certainly looks a lot less advanced in terms of the front wing and the aerodynamic bits and bobs than most of the other new cars – most notably, Honda have gone for a high nose without the now-fashionable top wing, rather like the cars from c. 1998.
Other teams looking to make a leap forward also look to be disappointing, Williams aside: the Toyotas have yet to post any fast times, while the new BMW is having balance problems and hasn’t yet gone especially quick. Red Bull seem to be doing OK, but unspectacularly. Of course, the McLaren and the Ferrari were the first new cars launched, so maybe it means nothing that they are currently making the running in testing. But the fact that nobody bar Williams seems, even briefly, to have made any gains on them, bodes ill for the season.
That said, wouldn’t it be nice to see Williams running at the front again, particularly as a privateer team out-classing so many manufacturers? If environmental worries and EU politics really do make the big manufacturers decide they have better things to worry about than F1, Williams are well-placed to be laughing all the way to a new era of dominance.