The 2005 Formula One auto racing season kicks off this week with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Several teams have new drivers and there have been some major rule changes as drivers try to loosen Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher's grip on the title.
When Ferrari rolled out its new F-2005 car last month, team chairman Luca Di Montezemolo said that after six world titles his goal is to capture a seventh crown this season. The Italian team has won the manufacturers' title every year since 1999.
Ferrari won 15 of 18 races last season with German Michael Schumacher winning 13 times en route to his seventh drivers' title. Ferrari plans to race its F-2004 model until probably the Spanish Grand Prix May 8. The decision to start the new model later in the season is intended to give team technicians time to test the car's reliability in response to new rules imposed this season.
Bob Varsha of The Speed Channel told VOA Sports some rules changes could put a crimp in Schumacher's style, particularly the rules on tire changes.
"Michael's a guy with just unbridled speed," he said. "The secret to his success has been that he can slap on a set of tires and get the most out of the car and the tires and then come in and slap on a new set of tires. But under the new rules, he is only going to get one set of tires for qualifying and the race. One set of tires, that the driver has to manage from flag to flag (beginning to end)."
Those new rules are part of International Autmobile Federation President Max Mosley's attempts to get someone other than Ferrari to win a race this season. Aerodynamic changes will reduce traction and engines have to last two races.
In addition to the new rules, several drivers have changed teams this year. Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia is driving for McLaren after moving from Williams. Jacques Villeneuve of Canada is with Sauber while Giancarlo Fishichella of Italy went from Sauber to Renault. McLaren did not renew British driver David Coulthard's contract and he moved to Red Bull. German Ralf Schumacher is at Toyota.
With all these changes, Bob Varsha said that fans should not be surprised to see some new winners in the early races in Australia, Malaysia and Bahrain because the drivers are living out of a suitcase.
"These are away races for the teams," he said. "They are all thousands and thousands of miles from the team's home bases in Europe. So they are going to scramble if they need parts and that sort of thing. We could see a really exciting beginning to this season, particularly in the first three races."
One team that is looking for a reversal of fortunes this year is Jordan. Ironically Jordan, which finished last season next to last, trotted out its new car on the same day the Ferraris rolled out in Maranello. Jordan cars will have Toyota engines this season. Russian-born Canadian businessman Alex Shnaider bought the team this year, and is hoping for a better finish than last year.
Jordan also boasts the first Indian Formula One driver, Narain Karthikeyan. He teams with Portugal's Tiago Monteiro. The last time the British-based team won a race was in the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2003.