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Thoughts on Next Season

A few posts ago, I made the crazy prediction that Jenson Button would be World Champion in 2007. That was done in a rash moment of enthusiasm but, since then, it has begun to appear a little less insane than I thought at the time. If ever there was a chance for a team outside the Big Three to get in there and cause a few upsets to the status quo, next year looks like being the right time.

Jenson

Jenson Button

All of the top teams, Ferrari, Renault and McLaren, are experiencing big changes for the coming season. Ferrari has replaced departing important members of the team with new faces as well as a new driver, Renault has lost perhaps the best driver of the moment and must rebuild with unknown quantities, and McLaren has to halt its slide from the top while coping with personnel changes. It is unlikely that any of them will have as bad a season as Williams did this year, but the chances of chinks in their armor appearing are increased by such fundamental changes. If one of the lesser teams gets everything right suddenly, this would be their chance to steal the trophies.

As far as I can see, there are only two teams who are poised to produce the kind of performance necessary to win races consistently: BMW Sauber and Honda. Both raised their games towards the end of this season and became visitors to the podium. If they continue this surge into 2007, wins become very possible.

Of the two, it seems to me that Honda is the more likely to come good. BMW were surprised to do as well as they have this year and that speaks to me of limited ambition. Their drivers, too, do not convince me. Robert Kubica may be the find of the season but he still has a lot to learn; it’s too early for him to have the consistency necessary to win a championship. And word is that Heidfeld is not as fast as Kubica in races…

Honda, however, will have pretty much the same team as last year (okay, I know they lost an aerodynamicist to McLaren but one designer does not a team make). Both of their drivers have something to prove – Barrichello that he is not just a cast-off second man from Ferrari, Button that the promise of former years is still there and just waiting for the right equipment. And Button will have been fired up by Bernie Ecclestone’s comments of a few weeks ago.

All it needs is for Honda to build a good car. That was expected this year but the competition proved too strong. If they are able to improve the car and have learned from the mistakes of 2006, the championship should be within their capability. And I pick Button over Barrichello because he seems hungrier to me.

Of the other hopefuls, Toyota seem unable to capitalize when things go right, it will take a year for Adrian Newey’s presence at Red Bull to have full effect and Williams will have their hands full adjusting to the Toyota engine.

So I’m giving Jenson Button one more chance. It would be easy to say Raikkonen will walk it or Alonso will knock McLaren into shape to surprise us all. But no, that’s just not me – to take the obvious route. I can still dream, after all…

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