As the 2010 Grand Prix season beckons, most of my acquaintance are agreed that it’s been a very long time since we anticipated a year with such relish. Schumacher back… Alonso at Ferrari… Button with Hamilton at McLaren… four World Champions in the pack… the prospect of four highly competitive teams… All right, we have lost BMW and Toyota (after Honda), and one or two of the new teams look more than a little flaky, but overall the prospects are indeed enticing.
It’s interesting that, when forecasting the likely World Champion, most seem to be choosing between Schumacher, Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel – to be focusing, in other words, on one driver in each of the four top teams.
There’s no denying that, in the normal course of events, within a team one driver tends to assert his superiority over the group, to become the de facto number one, even if this is not officially acknowledged. And it’s a fact, too, that Michael, Lewis, Fernando and Sebastian have all shown themselves to be very keen on this thing of having the team revolve primarily around them. But I wonder if it’s going to be as clear-cut as some imagine.
Consider the ‘other’ driver in each team: Rosberg (Mercedes), Button (McLaren), Massa (Ferrari) and Webber (Red Bull). Of these only Nico has yet to win a Grand Prix, but then he has never – until now – had the car to enable him to do so. Shout me down if you will, but I have a suspicion that he will show a great deal better against Schuey than most appear to believe. Although Ross Brawn presided over a Ferrari team that for years clearly favoured Michael, he has publicly said that such will not be the situation at Mercedes.
Over at McLaren, Martin Whitmarsh has said the same about Hamilton and Button – and, again, I expect the performance gap between them to be far less than some suggest.
On to Ferrari. While I believe Alonso to be the best driver in the world, don’t forget that Massa – fully recovered – largely dominated Kimi Räikkönen, and came within a Toyota dry tyre of winning the 2008 World Championship. Felipe is cowed by no one these days, and quite right, too.
Finally, there is Red Bull: Bernie Ecclestone has predicted that Vettel will win the championship this year, and that’s not the silliest thing he has ever said, for Sebastian is prodigiously talented, with ambition to match.
I do, however, think it would be a great mistake to underestimate Webber. Because he’s in his thirties, and has been around a while, Mark is sometimes overlooked, but remember that last year he won twice – and that included a sound defeat of Vettel in Germany. Webber is Trulli-quick over one lap, and in a race no one fights harder. Twelve months ago he began the season with virtually no testing behind him, legacy of the badly broken leg sustained the previous autumn, but he never moaned about the discomfort, put up with his team-mate’s occasional tantrums, and simply put his head down and got on with it. I’m sure he will do the same in 2010.
Four top teams, then – but there are more than four drivers in the mix, and that’s what makes the forthcoming season so mouth-watering. And I’d add a final thought: if Renault comes up with competitive package, expect Robert Kubica – as talented as there is – to be in the thick of it.
If pushed, my money would be on Alonso for the title – but I’m not sure I’d bet very much…