Alarm bells started ringing in the F1 community this week as Kimi Raikkonen set a searing pace in the new F2008. But just how worried should fans be about a Ferrari whitewash in 2008?
Kimi Raikkonen looked very impressive at Bahrain testing this week. Had he not been consistently a second faster than Massa and some two seconds faster than last year’s pole time, you might have been forgiven for dismissing the results as inconclusive pre-season form. But one can’t help but feel it is a different Kimi Raikkonen to the one that began the 2007 season. Worryingly still is that Ferrari have yet to implement a radical new aero package for the F2008. That said here are a few reasons why fans worrying about a repeat of 2004 should not despair. Well, not yet anyway.
Firstly there is the issue of testing itself. For anyone that isn’t a team member, predicting performance really does require a crystal ball. For every positive indicator of performance one can almost always dig up counter arguments. True, Raikkonen’s 1m30.415 flyer on Wednesday was considerably quicker than last year’s pole. But as some commentators have been quick to point out, comparing a test session with a race is somewhat superfluous given the differences in track temperature. In 2007 the teams were considerably slower at the April race than they were at the February test session. Indeed, compare testing with testing and Raikkonen’s 1m 30.415 this week was actually beaten by several other cars at the February/March test last year. But to counter the counter argument as it were, track temperatures at the February test last year were higher than the cooler 12/18ºC (air) and 14/28ºC (track) temperatures that Raikkonen had to contend with earlier in the week.
So fans should avoid reading too much into the furore that was made in the newspapers about Raikkonen’s pace. That is not to say that Ferrari are not super quick of course, but rather that it is difficult to make such a judgement on the time-sheet alone.
Leaving testing aside, I think there is a broader reason why a repeat of Ferrari’s dominance in the early millennium is unlikely. I will make a bold statement here and say that in the early 00’s Michael Schumacher was the quickest driver out there. There was simply no one to challenge him. True, the Ferrari was supreme but so was Adrian Newey’s Mclaren in 1998/9 and there was one driver out there who still found a way to mount a championship challenge. (It really annoys me when people ‘blame’ Schumacher for making the sport boring. People have short memories. If he hadn’t been around in 1998 and 1999, it would have been Mclaren and Mika Hakkinen making the sport boring.)
The era of one driver supremacy is long gone; Raikkonen and Alonso effectively put an end to it. And now with Hamilton, we have the mouth-watering prospect of three drivers – in which there is absolutely nothing to choose between in my view – battling it out in separate teams. Combine this with the loss of traction control, which should mix things up a bit and make driver errors more likely under pressure, and I think it will be a while before we see the same kind of Ferrari dominance that existed in the Schumacher era.
I wait to be proven wrong.