Gearing Up for the Australian Grand Prix: 2007 F1 Season Preview

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Gearing Up for the Australian Grand Prix: 2007 F1 Season Preview
On Sunday (Saturday night in the U.S.), the FIA Formula One series will kick off the post-Michael Schumacher era with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Here, the Bleacher Report's Adam Amick takes a brief look back at last season, and gives you a primer on what to expect in 2007 from the most technologically sophisticated racing series on the planet.



2006 Review

2006 was a tale of two seasons.

Renault dominated the first half of the year, winning seven of the first nine races. The tide turned, though, when the FIA forced the team to remove the controversial "mass dampener" stabilizing device in the nose of its cars. Although it was internally located, the dampener was ruled to be an aerodynamic aid.

That decision benefited Ferrari, which rebounded to win seven of the season's final nine events. The real storyline, though, was Michael Schumacher's quest for an eighth and final F1 title.

After announcing his retirement, Schumacher went on a tear—including a win in Indianapolis at the U.S. Grand Prix—to pull even with Fernando Alonso in points. But an engine failure in Japan and a fourth-place finish in Brazil sealed Schumi's fate, and the German hero would call it quits with seven championships, 91 wins, and 68 pole positions (all records) in 250 career starts.


2007 Preview

Defending Australian Grand Prix winner and two-time F1 Champion Fernando Alonso of Spain will start fresh with McLaren-Mercedes, where he takes over the seat of Finn Kimi Raikkonen.

McLaren was shut out of the winner's circle in 2006, and Alonso will look to guide the team back to prominence. In addition, he'll mentor British rookie Lewis Hamilton, who won F1's junior series GP2 Championship last year. Hamilton's ascension relegates Pedro De La Rosa back to Friday-test-driver status, after De La Rosa had taken the team's second seat last year with the midseason departure of Juan Pablo Montoya.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will move into the seat vacated by Schumacher at Ferrari. He'll be paired with Felipe Massa, who has tenure with the team.

Massa had a strong 2006 in a supporting role, with wins in Turkey and his home country of Brazil. Ferrari has had a shakeup in its engineering staff, but should still contend for the title. The only question is whether Massa or Raikkonen will emerge as the team's new leader.

Italian Giancarlo Fisichella assumes the number-one seat with Renault, and young Finn Heikki Kovalainen will support him as the team tries for a third-straight Manufacturer's Title.

Fisichella was first at Malaysia—his lone victory of the season—and should win more this year. Renault, though, is looking to the future: Kovalainen is coming up to speed, and Friday test-driver and GP2 runner-up Nelson Piquet Jr. (son of three-time champion Nelson Piquet) is waiting in the wings.

The only bright spot for the "also-rans" in the 2006 season was the victory in Hungary by Honda driver Jenson Button—his only career win in 120 starts. The UK-based team, formerly known as British-American Racing (and part-owned by actor Sylvester Stallone), will look to be a factor this year with improvements to its cars. Rubens Barrichello should help them build on last season's fourth-place finish.

Scott Speed, the lone American in F1, re-signed with the Red Bull-sponsored Toro Rosso team and will pilot the second of two Ferrari-powered SBR2 cars for the second-year outfit. Vitantonio Liuzzi of Italy stays on as the primary driver, and the team looks to improve on a lackluster showing in 2006.

BMW-Sauber will field Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica for his first full season, after the latter replaced Jacques Villeneuve in 2006.

Toyota will try to build on its one podium appearance with Ralf Schumacher (Michael's brother) and Jarno Trulli behind the wheel of its two TF107 cars.

Team Red Bull switches powerplants from Ferrari to Renault, in an attempt to improve the cars for drivers David Coulthard and Mark Webber.

The Williams team is also switching power—from Ford-Cosworth to Toyota—and hopes for stronger performances from German Nico Rosberg (son of 1982 F1 Champion Keke Rosberg) and Austrian Alexander Wurtz.

Finally, team Spyker drivers Christijan Albers and Adrian Sutil and team Super Aguri Honda's Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson look to make strides with new chassis and more experience this season.


Predictions

2007 sees F1 move to a single tire provider in Bridgestone, a factor that will help level the playing field for a number of the teams. Gone will be the dreadful memories of the 2005 U.S. GP, when the Michelin drivers pulled out for safety concerns and six Bridgestone-shod cars ran the race.

Look for 2007 to once again come down to a battle between Ferrari and Renault—and particularly between the two Ferrari drivers. Still, expect a win from McLaren and possibly even BMW-Sauber along the way.

Felipe Massa will win his first F1 Championship, ringing in what should be a number of good years for Ferrari in the post-Schumacher era. Fisichella and Raikkonen will battle for second, but Alonso could be a factor if McLaren can give him the speed to compete.
 
 
Coverage

Speed Channel will carry live coverage of practice, qualifying, and the race this weekend. Check your cable or satellite listings for times in your area.

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