I’m sure that Ferrari will have gained some inner symbolic satisfaction from being the first team in the F1 business to unveil their 2008 F1 world championship car, just pipping McLaren’s new MP4-23 by a single day. Low key presentations have been the order of the last few days, Ferrari taking the wraps off its new car at Fiorano (below) while McLaren showed off their latest handiwork at the new Mercedes museum at Stuttgart.
So does all this presage another season of two horse races with Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa carving up the 18 race wins between them, while the rest of the grid look on from a distance – and in mounting frustration?
McLaren, of course, has a delicate balancing act to manage. They have to develop the MP4-23 into a race-winning car whilst avoiding the incorporation of anything into its design which might be interpreted as owing its antecedence to a Ferrari design concept. McLaren’s F1 CEO Martin Whitmarsh is bullishly confident that this can be achieved without Krakatoa erupting from the general direction of Maranello.
Remember, of course, that McLaren Electronics won the FIA contract to supply the standard ECUs for the entire F1 field in this first season without traction control since 2000. This in itself has made Ferrari nervy, which under the circumstances is understandable, because they reckon this might give McLaren a slight edge, although they’ve accepted this is something they’ve just got to live with.
Ferrari is clearly banking on their man Raikkonen as a good bet to retain his championship crown, Lewis Hamilton or no Lewis Hamilton. And McLaren also feels further strengthened by the arrival of Kovalainen whose drive to second place in last year’s rain soaked Japanese GP was the highlight of Renault’s troubled 2007 season.
Alonso, of course, is going back to Renault this season, reportedly on a two year deal with a break clause which might allow him to leave at the end of a single season. Quite how he could get in at Ferrari if this break clause was triggered is another matter altogether. Of course, when it comes to the crunch, he just might want to get in at BMW Sauber. The most improved team of 2007 will be unveiling its new car on Monday and believes it has everything to play for.