F1 action gets underway today
Renault's Fernando Alonso will eye a repeat in a season where politics could be just as dazzling as action on track.india Updated: Mar 05, 2006 15:47 IST
Fernando Alonso confidently expects to hand Renault a second successive Formula One world title in a season where paddock politics could be just as dazzling as the action on the track.
The Spaniard became the youngest ever winner of the world title in 2005 but will leave Renault at the end of this season, which gets underway in Bahrain on Sunday.
Alonso's decision to decamp to McLaren which will keep the rumour mill in overdrive.
Will Kimi Raikkonen, badly let down by his McLaren last year, be content to have Alonso as a teammate in 2007?
If not, will the Finn, often touted as Michael Schumacher's heir apparent, head for Italy and a dream job with Ferrari?
Is Renault, as widely rumoured, preparing to close down their F1 operation?
Despite the questions, Alonso insists he is leaving Renault on good terms.
"The best farewell present for all of us would be to win the championship," he said.
"Renault has been my family from when I started in Formula One. I gave a lot of things to Renault and they gave me a lot of things. We need to do the maximum together again this year."
Much of the idle chitchat will centre on what passion the seven-time world champion Schumacher still has for his sport.
Schumacher, who has a new teammate this year in the shape of Felipe Massa, believes Ferrari as well as Renault, Honda and McLaren will be locked in a four way fight.
"I think we'll see a very close fight between three or four teams," said Schumacher whose one win last year came in the six-car farce at Indianapolis.
He believes pre-season testing means that the new Ferrari car won't be far from the pace.
"If you look now, we're pretty competitive. We're there with our lap times and that's very promising for us," he said.
Despite many paddock rumours pushing him towards retirement this year, Schumacher insists he still has a burning passion for racing.
"I feel very different, simply because after you've had a story of success like we had, to then have a hard season... you sort of get tired by the end of a season like that.
"After a season like that, to then be off the pace all winter would be very tough. It's very consuming on the energy side.
"Now it's the opposite to last season. You feel so much more motivated and happy to run with this car. It's great."
Ferrari also believe the decision to allow tyre changes again will work in their favour as Bridgestone look to match the dominant Michelin.
The sports press in Finland have even reported that the 26-year-old has already signed a contract to switch to Ferrari in 2007.
McLaren go into the new season in a state of flux.
As well as the question marks over Raikkonen's future, their other driver Juan Pablo Montoya has also hinted he is open to offers.
It would be another setback for McLaren after head designer Adrian Newey left for Red Bull.
Williams too have endured a less than comfortable winter but team boss Sir Frank Williams remains confident despite the team splitting with partner BMW who are now running their own team after taking over Sauber.
"We are as ambitious as anyone but we are also cautious," said Williams.
"If we finish in the top three in the constructors that will be good."
The 2006 season will feature 18 races and not 19 after the Belgian Grand Prix lost its slot.
There will also be 11 teams with Super Aguri joining the championship while Toro Rosso fill the gap left by Minardi and Midland supplant Jordan.