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Prospects for 2007

Ferrari grab the best times at the second session of testing at Barcelona and suddenly everyone thinks they are the team to beat again. It’s like Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame – first McLaren, then BMW and now Ferrari. Any bets on which team will be favorite next?

JS11

Ligier JS11

What it really means is that there is very little to choose between a lot of the teams. Alonso reckons there are five in with a chance of winning GPs: Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, BMW and, although still a little behind the best, Honda. To that list I would add Williams and Toyota. Red Bull has been disappointing to date and we can only presume that Toro Rosso will be more of the same since they will be running a very similar car. And Super Aguri and Spyker have their sights set a little lower than race wins this year at least.

That leaves a lot of teams in the running but of one thing we can be sure – the numbers will thin out once racing starts in earnest. Some of those who show well now will fade in the heat of competition and unexpected weaknesses will appear. The problem is in working out which of the contenders will maintain the challenge throughout the season.

The big three have an advantage in this through experience; we expect them to do well because they always do. Sooner or later the old order must change, however, and the chances of it happening this season are very high. BMW are looking like the team that could upset the apple cart. The car has been consistently good at all the circuits so far and the drivers and team members seem focused and quietly efficient. Their moment may have arrived rather earlier than Mario Theissen expected but, if they can build on early successes, they could be in with a chance of a championship.

We have seen a lot of change over this off season and big changes usually bring about re-shuffling of established orders. In 1979, the year ground effect spread to everyone, Lotus failed to capitalize on Chapman’s invention and were nowhere, while Williams emerged as top rank contenders for the first time. The fact that Ferrari managed to squeeze out a last gasp championship that year might be a good omen for them in 2007 but I doubt it. This time around, they are the team that has had more change than any other.

1979 was also the year that Ligier won the first two races with their JS11 and looked the team to beat, only to fade away as the season wore on. Could BMW be the Ligier of 2007?

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Olivier Panis to Retire

As reported by F1 Racing-live, Olivier Panis will retire from his position as Toyota’s test driver at the end of the year. He is hoping to race in other formulae but has decided that F1 is no longer for him.

Panis

Olivier Panis

Olivier’s career in F1 began with the Ligier team in 1994. He showed considerable promise, driving the uncompetitive car to unexpectedly high positions and, in 1996, he won the Monaco Grand Prix. Admittedly, this was after almost the entire field had spun off or collided in the wet conditions but Olivier avoided the trouble to come through at the end. And that’s what counts.

Panis continued to drive for Ligier after Prost took over the team and renamed it. In 1997 he produced some excellent early results, second in Spain and third in Brazil, but in Canada he broke his leg in a bad accident, thus putting an end to a promising season.

Thereafter, Olivier’s F1 career went downhill. He left Prost at the end of 1998 and signed for McLaren as a test driver. Returning to competition in 2001 with BAR, he found that the car was less than he’d hoped and, after two years, he departed for Toyota’s new team.

Although the Toyota improved steadily during 2003 and 2004, Olivier elected to take on a test driver role for them from 2005 onwards. And now he has decided to call it quits. He leaves F1 with a reputation for being a competent and solid driver. Always honest, Olivier could be counted on for some good quotes on F1 events. I will miss his insights into the Toyota team.

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