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Drivers for 2007

With McLaren’s announcement of Hamilton’s promotion to second race driver for the coming season, it looks as though there is only one seat left to be filled in F1: the second Spyker drive. That is assuming that Gerhard Berger is telling us the whole truth when he says there will be no changes at Toro Rosso for 2007 – the official announcement has yet to be made.

Button

Jenson Button in the Honda RA106

My bet is that Tiago Monteiro will get the Spyker drive. The team know him and none of the other drivers have been outstanding in their tests for the team. A threat of sorts came from Christian Klien but he has now been confirmed as a Honda test driver so that takes him out of the equation.

The teams that are sticking with their drivers for next year are Toyota, Honda, Spyker and, if you count the last few races of 2006, BMW Sauber. These are the ones that know exactly what they can expect from their drivers, have already established a working relationship with them and are satisfied with their choice. And that should give them a slight advantage over other teams that are still settling down after changes and learning how to get the best from their new drivers.

Or so it would seem. In fact, we all know that Spyker will not be challenging for race wins so any advantage they have will make little difference to the leaders. And Toyota’s choice seems typically conservative to me, a driver pairing that has already shown itself to be subject to some strain, with Ralph tending to underperform and Jarno more interested in his own career than in the success of the team. This is one team that could have done with a good shake-up on the driver front; I’d have sacked them both and looked for a good veteran and a promising youngster.

But that is not Toyota’s way. The reputation for reliability of their road cars is founded upon their philosophy that nothing new goes on the car until it has been tried and tested to the point of boredom. And this seems to be spilling over into the race team; they are not known for their introduction of fresh and innovative new designs in F1.

Which may go a long way to explaining their failure to deliver on the success we expect from a big manufacturer in the sport. Had they decided to go with a more radical driver line-up for 2007, their chances would be better, I think.

The other two unchanged teams, Honda and BMW, are the bright hopes for the future, of course. Both of them are looking very good, they have potentially exciting drivers and the ambition and ingenuity to succeed. My only doubt comes from BMW’s caution when it comes to their prospects for next season; they are low key on this and clearly do not expect to be challenging for a championship just yet.

That may be realistic but it also indicates a certain surprise at their progress so far. They are ahead of schedule and seem a little unsure of themselves as a result. And one thing we do know: any team that is going to win the championship must be absolutely convinced that they can do it.

Things are very different at Honda. They expected to be in amongst the leaders in 2006 and their disappointment at their results in the first half of the year showed in changes in personnel and rumblings from upper management. The fact that they did turn things around in the last races of the season shows that, whatever they changed, it was a step in the right direction and they are motivated now to erase the embarrassments of 2006. Conviction and determination will not be lacking in the Honda camp next year, methinks.

All of which is good for Button and Barrichello. Both drivers have made a habit of being in the wrong place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time. It may just be that, at last, they have managed to get everything right and 2007 will be theirs for the taking.

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