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Honda and BMW Sauber

Ignoring the race for the championship (which Alonso will win in the end – my prediction), the two most interesting teams at the moment are Honda and BMW Sauber. Both seem to have caught Toyota for performance and are now locked in a battle that may decide whether either of them join the top three teams next year.

Button

Jenson Button in the Honda

Jenson Button has come on song for Honda in the latter part of the season and was fastest in testing at Jerez this week. The car is over its mid-season problems and improving all the time. Given that the team was expected to do much better than they have this year, the sudden up-turn in their fortunes does make them look a good bet for 2007. Honda is steeped in racing and they were bound to get it right sooner or later.

For some reason, the constant improvement in the BMW Sauber impresses me even more, however. They look like a team that has the determination and technical innovation to start winning races very soon. I hate to say it but their somewhat shabby treatment of Jacques Villeneuve is an indication of a team that is going places. Faced with a situation where their test driver, Robert Kubica, seemed to be quicker and hungrier than their aging star, they did the ruthless thing and put the younger driver in the racing seat.

Kubica

Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber

But it is the car that impresses most. There is an old saying in racing that “what looks right, is right” and the BMW certainly looks good. Everything about it speaks of quality, its compact design, careful presentation and tasteful paint job. On the track it has confirmed that it has the potential to be a winner, especially now that Kubica is showing that he has a race brain as well as speed.

Toyota remain the biggest disappointment of the year. They have all the necessary elements and have shared the Bridgestone tire advantage that Ferrari has enjoyed mid-season. Yet the results just will not come – they pick up points but really should be fighting for the lead by now. As I have said before, it looks quite likely that the company will buy Williams and amalgamate the two teams in the end, thereby adding a long experience of successful racing to their existing technical skills.

With all three of the top teams experiencing big changes for next year, it becomes very hard to predict a result. Raikkonen looks to be favorite for the championship but we have yet to see how Ferrari will fare without Michael Schumacher. Both Renault and McLaren will have less than the team they wanted (since McLaren wanted to keep Raikkonen and Renault Alonso) and they may struggle for a while. Which opens up the competition a little and gives an opportunity for new teams to grab some of the glory.

Watch BMW Sauber – if anyone can upset the big three, they are the ones to do it.

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