No fewer than four teams could be fighting for the ‘best of the rest’ mantle this season, but for Honda the nightmare is not quite over
BMW Sauber, expected by many to be nearer the front this year, got off to a disappointing start with the F1.08. The drivers complained of handling problems, but gradually the cars have figured more strongly.
In the team’s 30th anniversary season Williams has clearly made a big step forward with the FW30, and its potential has been reflected in the speed of rookie Kazuki Nakajima.
Red Bull has figured strongly, and crucially reliability appears to be much improved. Mark Webber headed the times on day two of the Jerez test, while the sister Toro Rosso outfit caused a stir when Sebastian Vettel set the fastest overall time at the early February Barcelona test.
The one clear message to emerge from winter testing is that Honda is again struggling to find speed, having rebuilt its aero department with new recruits. The team shook down the RA108 at Valencia at the end of January, prior to its official launch in a revised ‘earthdreams’ livery.
The machine did not impress on its initial outing, but that was put down to the fact that it was not yet in full 2008 spec, and an older rear wing was restricting straightline speed. Rubens Barrichello also complained of an uncomfortable driving position.
In later outings at Barcelona and Jerez the situation did not seem to improve, and the white cars were typically a couple of seconds off the front-running pace. However, Jenson Button and Barrichello insisted that driveability was improving, and that they were gaining confidence in the car.
Fernando Alonso has played down expectations of a return to winning form by Renault this year.
While acknowledging that the new R28 is better than last year’s car, which he sampled in testing, the typically cautious Spaniard said the team has some way to go to catch Ferrari and McLaren. He added that the last few tenths are going to be very hard to find.
“At the moment there is not any possibility to fight for podiums or wins or anything like that,” said Alonso at the car’s Paris launch. “That is the first priority of the winter tests and the first race.”
In contrast Renault team boss Flavio Briatore made it clear that the team has to be fighting for podium finishes on a regular basis, having achieved just a single second place – in the wet at Fuji – last year.
“I want every time we start a race to have at least a 50 per cent possibility to achieve a podium,” he said. “Don’t forget we had Ferrari, McLaren and BMW all in front of us last year. The podium is only three drivers, and you need to be in the top two or three teams to get there. So this would be fantastic for us. After that, you never know.”