In my opinion, McLaren start the 2006 season the favourites to steal it away from Renault. Whilst last year was less than perfect, they came back very strong in the second half of the season and proved to the world they had a very fast car. Had it not been for reliability issues, Kimi Raikkonen would have had a better shot at the drivers’ title, and McLaren would almost certainly have taken the constructors’
Unfortunately though, as last year proved, having tremendous speed is only half the story, and McLaren need to work very hard on getting their cars to finish line.
The Woking squad took a big blow just after the final round of the championship when it was announced that the teams Chief Aerodynamicist was intending to leave the team and head over the Red Bull. Adrian Newey cited “needing a new challenge” as the primary reason, echoed by the statement put out by McLaren. Not to feel too discouraged though, Ron Dennis then managed to swipe Vodafone out from under Ferrari’s noses to be McLarens’ primary sponsor from 2007 onwards. And just after this announcement, the canny Mr. Dennis secured the services of the just titled World Champion – Fernando Alonso. The deal sent shockwaves through Formula One as Alonso’s manager is also the team principal at Renault, and knew nothing of the deal until it was too late. Does Fernando know something he shouldn’t regarding the future of the Renault squad, or does he feel that the McLaren team are on the up again and look set to dominate the field again. I’m leaning towards a little bit of both.
For sure, McLaren are on the up again. They have worked hard with Kimi Raikkonen, but I can understand if his motivation has been evaporated of late. McLaren and Mercedes let him down last season, and that must leave a bitter taste in his mouth. Kimi is often seen throwing his helmet around and ignoring Norbert Haug [Merc bod] when engine failure precedes engine failure. Clearly, the young man is frustrated at times, and twice with the Silver Arrows he has been very close to becoming World Champion. Kimi has the talent and the speed. He continues to impress me with his ability to control the car, and is, without doubt, championship material. I feel with more reliability and a more consistent package, Kimi could get the job done. That is a big ‘if’ though.
Juan Pablo Montoya partners Raikkonen again, and must be looking forward to a better season this year, free from injuries and bad luck.
JPM has shown many times in the past that he is a capable and very determined driver. His audacious overtaking moves have wowed crowds and ruffled drivers feathers previously, and if Juan can motivate himself enough, I think he has a strong chance of pushing Kimi right to the very edge. However, whilst I think he can push his Finnish team mate, I also think that he can throw it away too easily. His sometimes recklessness is his downfall, and if wants to form a serious campaign on the world title, I feel Juan needs to take leaf from the Alonso Book of Winning the Championship and calm down at times when it is easy to get rattled.
I’m sure that JPM will win races this year, and I’m also certain that he will make it difficult for Ron Dennis to decide which driver to back. But ultimately, I think Kimi will win the toss.
Juan Pablo must also decide, along with his team mate, what to do for 2007. Both drivers’ contracts are up for renewal, and there is much speculation over Kimi’s future. Should Kimi leave, then I think JPM needs to stay at McLaren. Presuming Raikkonen goes to Ferrari, there won’t be many top-spots left for a driver of his calibre. However, should Kimi stay (and I believe the Finn is Dennis’s first choice, even if it isn’t vice versa), then Juan had better have a back-up plan for a drive.
If McLaren can produce a reliable car, then they should thrash the competition. That reliability question though, is a very big question…