2003 Totally Biased Season Preview

Well, here we go again with the seventh Formula One season preview -- in the spirit of the new regulations, I will be attempting to introduce new bad puns to this year's review but inevitably the same old bad puns will still take the podium positions. The reviewers this time are:

RGC: Richard G. Clegg

KF: Kriss Fearon

PF: Pete Fenelon

EC: Emma Crawley

Note that the views of the authors are not necessarily the views of their employers, their friends and especially not the other authors (who are quite frankly, often appalled).

RGC: Well there were some good things about last season but I think it will be a season viewed more for its historical significance than for being great to watch. This year though it's all change. New qualifying rules, new tyre rules, new team lack-of-orders rules, new engine rules, new Schumacher must drive with one hand tied behind his back rules. It should make things very interesting. We should see some really unusual grids and unexpected race wins. For clarity then, here are those FIA rule changes to make things cheaper:
All drivers must roll a dice to get tyres, the first to roll a six gets pole. If your engine blows up you must go back five squares. If you roll a car then you must roll a twelve to restart and your spare car must be scrounged from parts you can find in the car park. After qualifying, Bernie will take your car and lock it in a seedy garage in Croydon. Roll a seven to try to find a new car to race in. All drivers will stop driving for advertising breaks (car adverts during afternoon races, gay sex chat lines for gay icon David Coulthard's fans during the night races). You must roll a three to rejoin the uninterrupted coverage. If you are Ron Dennis you must lodge a protest at some point in the race: splutter incoherently and roll dice until it is ignored. Roll two dice to see how many times Villeneuve will spin during the race. Roll one dice to see how many times Trulli will roll when he crashes. The Ferrari drivers will each roll a dice to see who will win (if they roll the same then Schumi will try to stage a dead heat). Throw the dice at the first person to say "It isn't the same without Muzza." I hope that clears up any mystery.

PF: It'd be quicker if they just adopted NASCAR rules, and of course the Jim Bowen principle - 'no-one goes 'ome empty 'anded'. Still, getting rid of traction control is a damn good idea. And, as I say every year - let's get back on slicks, adopt CART road-course aero rules and stop futtering around 10mm off the ground.

RGC:NASCAR rules? Hell, why not just have an egg and spoon race? I don't mind the grooved tyres -- this generation of cars has more grip than engine power anyway (in my opinion at least). But the CART aero package? What is the CART aero package? "What's Cooter got in his garage Luke Duke? A big ole barn door back wing?" No thanks. This is the self-proclaimed "pinnacle of motor-racing" (tm) not scrap-heap challenge.

PF:No diffusers, small front and rear wings, and a measure of ground-effect from sidepods, ta. Means cars can run close without creating filthy air.

KF:It must be all those soap operas that make me think F1 is boring now. Oh joy, watching the best driver in the world go round and round a track without so much as a challenger in sight, playing games about whether he or his teammate gets to win, and the cameras on him no matter what goes on in the midfield. Meanwhile, a bloke is about to get back together with the wife that used to beat him up because she had post-natal depression after their son got let off from drowning someone who was bullying him. And a couple have decided to be just good friends after they got together when she was vulnerable from her sister dying after being in a coma because she fell out of a window trying to escape from the drug-crazed armed robbers that had taken the family hostage for a week, and he was lonely after being dumped for having mental health problems stemming from his heroin abuse, divorce, breakdown and son's murder. Sorry, but I'd rather spend 3 hours of a weekend watching Brookside if all we're going to get is a repeat of last year -- and F1 used to have enough intrigue in it to hold my attention even if the race was dull. Clearly I'm not a real fan.

RGC: So what we're saying is that, to spice up the show, Villeneuve should sleep with Schumi, Rubinho should be involved in a tug-of-love over DC's dog and Kimi Raikkonen should steal the drilling rights to Montoya's oil wells?

Ferrari (Ferrari engine, Bridgestone tyres)

KF: Yawn.

RGC: Lest we forget, in '96 it looked like Ferrari would never win the championship. In '99 it looked like they would always win it next year. Let's be happy for them in their moment in the sun eh? It's not their fault they're so damn good. Or, to put it another way, "Schumi is going to romp home. We're tired [of him] and we want to go to bed."

PF:Yeah, well. We'll see how well it all lasts when Schumacher, Brawn, Byrne and Todt all retire simultaneously... oh and Martinelli will probably leave in sympathy... I think Ferrari's domination won't outlast the departure of their key players, and I think most of the key players will quit together. Paint '03 and '04 red, but perhaps things might get interesting in '05.

RGC:I don't want to look that far ahead though. Remember when it looked like Williams could never loose? They can do that in spades now.

PF:At this point I'd stick in the wonderful Boethius quote that Tony Wilson/Steve Coogan uses in 24 Hour Party People... but it's too long to type in. You know, the one about the wheel of fortune...

KF:Ah yes. 'Inconstancy is my very essence; it is the game I never cease to play as I turn my wheel in its ever changing circle, filled with joy as I bring the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top. Yes, rise up on my wheel if you like, but don't count it an injury when by the same token you begin to fall, as the rules of the game will require.' Boethius was in prison when he wrote the Consolations; perhaps someone should send a copy to Tom Walkinshaw.

RGC:Or perhaps someone should just crush Tom Walkinshaw under a big wheel?

1) M Schumacher

RGC:Watch as Schujira, breathing fire, rampages through Neo Tokyo. Who can stop his reign of terror? Can Little Rubens be freed from his tyrannical clutches? Can Dennis San and Williams San unite to create Mecha-Schumi and end the horror? Not this year!

PF:Keep taking the tablets, dude.

RGC:Hey, you try writing "Michael Schumacher will win" in different ways for four years. I was bound to go off the rails eventually. But who knows? Maybe he'll be kidnapped by Mothra. To clarify the above then: "Michael Schumacher will win" (unless he's eaten by Godjira).

PF:I think Michael may get a podium or two, yeah.

RGC:Careful now.

2) R Barrichello

RGC: Rubens, Rubens, he's our man. If he can't do it, he was stymied by Ferrari team orders.
Actually, he had a superb season last year. He really came of age. Forza Rubinho. Schumacher's closest team mate by far. I think he could run Schumi even closer this year. My prediction is that we will grow awfully tired of his comical "tumbling off the podium" trick by 2004.

KF:You said that last year - and the year before.

RGC:Oh dear. Well, are you tired of it yet?

PF:A good number two driver who struck it lucky in a car that suits his driving style. I wouldn't trade Montoya, Raikkonen or Coulthard for him.

RGC:A driver who has never been bested by a team mate apart from Schumi (well, there's question marks vs Irvine I suppose, my interpretation of the figures is that he had the best of it -- and you have to allow for the fact that the Jordan mechanics were too fat-witted to notice that his brakes were partly on down the straights for most of the season) and who has been Schumi's best team mate (and there's been some highly rated drivers in that crowd -- or at least some drivers who were highly rated until they became Schumi's team mate). I think he's easily the match of Coulthard and probably Montoya or Raikkonen. No driver does well in a car that doesn't suit them. Now Coulthard, there's a driver for whom the phrase "number two" was made.

PF:Ah, it's like taking candy from a baby. Every year I say Rubens is an OK driver, nothing more or less, every year you trot out a load of stats, and Rubens still, er, well, he's OK.

RGC:I have my fingers in my ears. I can't hear you. La la la. Damn, he's typing, I can still read him.

Williams (BMW Engine, Michelin tyres)

RGC:"This championship challenge is dead." "No, it's just resting." "It's just pining for Alan Jones." Continue weak Monty Python parody at will... I'm sure you've seen enough of them to fill in the details yourself. Not this year Frank. Next year... next year.

PF: Need a chassis that can match the grunt of that BMW engine. Unfortunately, recent Williams chassis appear to have been designed by grunts - whatever they say about the loss of Newey and then Willis it's showing. JPM will drive the nuts off it and put it where it doesn't belong, Ralf will bend over backwards to let anyone past.

RGC: I can see it now "Bend over Ralf, it's contract renewal time". As for "matching the grunt", thought you were talking about the tractor-makers who've been doing William's aero for the last couple of years.

3) J-P Montoya

RGC: As James "I don't have depression but I'm a transmission vector" Allen puts it "Juan-Pablo is reaaally monstering the car this afternoon." But if he were a monster he'd be the honey monster. He's a bit cuddly to be a modern F1 driver and he may look fierce but he's no threat to anyone this year unless he barges into them by accident. Never mind, there is plenty of time. When Michael wins so many times they let him keep the sport to take home with him then Montoya and Raikkonen can fight it out in CART or sportscars. That will be worth watching -- and I imagine they will settle it with headbutting in the end.

PF: Not JPM's year - the car just isn't quick enough and I can see Renault challenging Williams quite hard this year. He will give 110% as usual, and is still the best entertainer out there, but I don't feel this year's car is showing anything like enough promise.

RGC:Best Entertainer is not the prize you want to win. I mean Pedro Diniz won that for several years.

PF:And the best car control and, quite probably, balls the size of Medellin. Trouble is, JPM was born 30 years too late. He belongs in the 70s alongside nutters like Peterson etc. Guys who liked chucking the car around and raced hard but fair.

4) R Schumacher

RGC: Many people use the word Ralf as a synonym for vomit, and he must be feeling pretty queasy going into this season. There's a lot of other children wanting to play in Ralf's toy car. He's had a very long go now and it must be someone else's turn soon. Ralf's been respectable but uninspired for a long time. He's not going to get many more chances with this team. To put it bluntly (and forgive my Anglo-Saxon): "Stop being shit or get off the pot."

PF:Mediocre old tugger. Whinger. He couldn't pass water, let alone another driver. Utter and total wrist-artist, belongs in V8-Star or some other Krautkrap series.

RGC: Let's not get carried away, he's still a mediocre young tugger. He could be inspired to brilliance yet, you never know. But I don't see it happening.

KF:Ralf, a whinger? Are you doing an impression of Patrick Head giving a motivating talk to the team, or have you not been reading what you've written? I dunno. Don't you two get a bit demoralised, after all this is the 6th year you've been doing this and it's mostly about 30 screens of how crap everyone is and how much worse things have got since they banned slick tyres. Come on guys, all this relentless negativity can't be healthy, you're beginning to sound old, cynical and clapped out. Where's the joy? Where's the passion? Liberate that inner child! Oh, all right, I'll shut up now :-(

RGC:My inner child is perfectly liberated thank you. He's playing on my Dance Dance Revolution mat right now and will then have a go with my collection of remote controlled cars.

PF:Frank looks bored with Ralf (then again Frank looks bored with most things). Patrick looks bored with him (then again after he's broken a man's spirit Patrick tends to look bored with most things). Even Gerhard is looking bored with him now. We taking bets on how many times he makes a cretinous start and tangles with JPM then pootles around at the back? Nahhhhh. Laughing boy's been in F1 for long enough now that if there was any actual evidence of him being any more than a flash in the pan he would've demonstrated it. Something's gone wrong in Ralf's head - he doesn't seem to like racing any more.

RGC:So, a flash in the pan then his career down the pan after it?

McLaren (Mercedes Engine, Michelin tyres)

RGC: Mercedes Will Eat Itself: Gimme big mac, gimme fires to go.
If they can sort out that damn engine then they have a chance. Not a big chance but a chance. Last year Mercedes seemed to be getting their engine parts from the same company that Wille E. Coyote gets his roadrunner traps from. I think they've got some work to do but I think Ron "protest to the FIA" Dennis (Rondalf the Grey) will be leading his fellowship to... a solid second place.

EC: Don't mess with Ron, his new Paragon factory isn't finished yet so you, or anyone else who annoys him, could still end up at the bottom of the ornamental lake.

PF:Seen the pics of Ron walking on water there? Excellent. Ripping Ferrari off by starting the year with an old car. You would think Ronzo would think sharp though and perhaps revive a REALLY old car like the M23 to give them some early-season reliability....

KF:I can see Ron pulling on a pair of black leather gloves and flexing his fingers while deciding which old codger to hit over the head next. Not with a spanner - with a copy of this year's regulations.

RGC:He can walk on water now? Well, if he can perform miracles perhaps he can turn Coulthard into a driver? Or will he just stick to turning air-time into whine?

5) D Coulthard

RGC: "Can you fetch it from the back of the cupboard?"
"The 'Can David Coulthard be World Champion?' article for our Formula One review."
"That old thing? But it's ancient and full of crap."
"Well, it's an accurate review of DC then."
No, no and thrice no, he can't be World Champion. He can do many things. He can brush his teeth and hair and smile nicely. He can say the right things in a press conference. He can do exactly what Mr. Dennis tells him to do exactly when Mr. Dennis tells him to do it. He can do lots of press ups. He can be a stunt double for crash test dummies. He can be an action figure of himself (with realistic gripping hands). But he cannot under any circumstances be world champion. I forbid it absolutely.

PF: Of course, if DC ever does win a championship it'll take the shine off- he'll just be another underachiever like Hawthorn or Hunt rather than a romantic hero like Moss! Sure as eggs is eggs and next week's autosport will be 10p dearer, there's bound to be a "WHY 2003 IS MY YEAR" article...

RGC: In what world is DC a romantic hero? Not even the "British Drivers in British Cars" petty nationalist droolers can get worked up about him. He's a plastic fetishists dream man but other than that he has no appeal.

PF:I was preempting Kriss' usual defence of DC...

KF:What can I say? He's sexy, witty, charming and rich. Someone I wouldn't mind being stuck in a lift with. He gave us a blinding race in Monaco. I just wish it was all a bit more consistent.

6) K Raikkonen

RGC: Kimi Kimi Kimi (a man after midnight) could do very well this year. He's my tip to challenge the Ferraris. I don't think he can beat them but I think he can challenge them. He's still immature and prone to fitfull imbecility but I'm expecting great things this year and greater things next year.

PF: I'm expecting his first win this year, certainly, and if Mercedes can keep the rotating machinery somewhere vaguely inside the crankcase he will be Ronzo's best hope of a title challenger.

RGC:Yep. I expect him up there on the podium regularly and on the top step at least once.

PF:And, unlike the last Finn - no knacker-manipulation!

KF:The quiet ones always do something you don't expect - but I hope that isn't one of them! I'm looking forward to him finding his voice this year and giving us a few choice comments in the post- race interviews.

RGC:Hmm... I think he's another one who learned english from formula one mechanics. Swearwords have the role of punctuation.

Renault (Renault Engine, Michelin tyres)

RGC: I really think that Renault have a good chance to win a race this year. Opting for the two hour pre-qualifying testing is an incredibly smart move since they mainly need to work on the engine (which can all be done at the dyno). Expect to see them go very well at Monaco and Hungary. Expect to see them panting along at the back like a fat asthmatic at Monza and Barcelona. If I were forced to predict I expect to see them remain fourth team but closer to the top three.

PF: I think Renault will possibly fluke some good results, but I don't necessarily think they're in a position to string a good season together. As the man says, look for them on low-speed circuits where they can dial in the tyre package in Friday testing.

7) J Trulli

RGC: An interesting driver line up here. Trulli has to blow away Alonso to maintain credibility but Alonso is good and the management like him. This year I think the car will be good enough to put Trulli fully into the limelight and people will notice if his performances are not up to scratch. I'm not sure this year will serve him well.

PF: I've never been all that sold on Trulli, I know how fit the guy is, how hard he works on his game, etc. etc., but nothing makes me think potential champion - and now he's up against a heavily hyped youngster. Jarno's last stand - if he can't blow Alonso away that's his lot.

RGC:If only we could transplant Trulli's qualifying ability into Panis' race ability we'd have... a mediocre driver. But a BETTER mediocre driver than we have now. The driver left over with Trulli's racing ability and Panis' qualifying could be Riccardo Rosset(anag). Seriously though, I detect some talent trying to get out here.

PF:Trulli's problem could be his faintly sinister Svengali-like relationship with Flavio Briatore...

8) F Alonso

RGC: This is the guy's big chance, it really is. I hope he does well. I think he will do well enough to embarrass Trulli but we shall see. I'm certainly not confident enough to bet on it.

PF: Jury's still out on this guy - he was quicker than his car in 2001, sat out 2002 testing, and needs to leap straight in and start outperforming his teammate to justify the hype from Briatore. He should be able to do it - but the team might have a problem in that Trulli's too close to him in terms of ability to act as a reliable team leader, and the drivers might get into a counterproductive internal battle rather than actually working together to push the team forward.

Sauber (Ferrari Engine [badged Petronas], Bridgestone tyres)

PF:The definitive midfield team, nothing Sauber does ever pushes them significantly further up or down the grid, and Peter Sauber doesn't seem minded to take the team out of Switzerland to somewhere where they actually have a racing industry. I'm sure, as usual, they'll score well where reliability is more important than out-and-out pace and they'll probably do OK on fast circuits with Ferrari power. But they won't sparkle.

RGC:Ferrari manage to be the only team to build a proper car in Italy so it's theoretically possible to be the only real constructor in your country and win. And let's not forget their heavily touted "twin keel" that was the next big thing two years ago -- until it wasn't. Let's not forget that they were wobbling gradually up the field in 2001 and are better off than they were by a long way.

PF:Yeah, but there's a racing industry in Italy. Lots of infrastructure. What is there in Switzerland? Cows that can stand sideways on hills. Cool.

9) N Heidfeld

RGC:Is he still here? Actually, he's pretty good but seems to be kind of hanging around in a way somewhat reminiscent of his team mate's early career.

EC:He looks like a 14 year old - that's why he can go around unnoticed. Could he turn out to be the next Riccado Patrese? Flashes of what he can do now and then but really just an plodding workhorse.

PF: He was OK in F3000, but... if all the faith McLaren had in him was justified surely he would've got the drive rather than Kimi. Probably sticks pins into an effigy of the young Finn on a regular basis. Ron has clearly forsaken him, he's never going to rise much further up the grid than this, and this season must be a de facto demotion with the vastly experienced Frentzen beside him. Time for Nick to go for a seat fitting for an Audi R8 or a Porsche GT for next season?

RGC: The problem with Frentzen as a team mate is that if you beat him then people will say "Frentzen is having one of his crappy seasons then?" and if Frentzen goes well and beats you then your team mate has showed you up. HHF is so inconsistent that beating him doesn't prove much. I'm afraid to say that Heidi really does need to prove himself this year or he'll be sent back to live with Grandpapa by Goat Peter Sauber.

10) H-H Frentzen

RGC:Did you ever see that episode of Red Dwarf where they were on "backward world"? That is Frentzen's career. He's just finished the "being at team at exactly the wrong point in their career" part for the second time (after his Williams hell, and the down up down of Jordan came his Arrows hell) and now is at the "starting his career with Sauber" stage. Next year he'll be back in F3000 and finally absorbed back into his mother's womb around about 2030. Poor bloke.

PF: To think that this is the guy who could, with a bit of good luck, have lifted the 1999 drivers' championship! H2F never seems to be in the right place at the right time, and when he is there he never seems to have the charisma, the chutzpah that a true great needs to polarise a team around him.

RGC: I'm not sure about that one. I mean Nigel Mansell could polarise a team quite easily and I'm not sure it was charisma. Or do you mean polarise a team so that they all like you?

PF:Nobody says a great leader has to be likeable. Mansell was an egomaniac tosser who surrounded himself with a bunch of sycophants - but teams knew that for all the histrionics, for all the bullshit, when the flag dropped Oor Noige would go out there and stick it to anyone.
Er. We'll ignore 1994 and 1995.

Jordan (Ford Engine, Bridgestone tyres)

EC:A team that thinks we are all swallowing the "but the car looks more streamlined without sponsors" line. I'm glad they're still there and I'm sure that they will survive the year...somehow.

PF: I'm more worried about Jordan than Minardi. Paul Stoddart at least seems to have some cogent plans about how to struggle through the season; EJ seems to believe that bullshit and yellow paint are enough. I reckon they'll be one of the first teams to turn to customer chassis in '04, if they last that long.

RGC:It's revealing that I actually forgot to say anything about Jordan the first time around. Um... did I do a huge tits joke yet? Oh yeah, it comes later in the Eddie Irvine section (foreshadowing, a literary technique, let's lay it on with a trowel). This team has not only lost the plot, it's lost the people who knew where the plot ever was and is making do with press releases about their ongoing year-on-year plot-locating master scheme while complaining that the FIA should set up an emergency plot fund for small teams to find bits of the plot in. Well, I don't think they're totally fucked yet but they're certainly into some heavy under-the-clothes petting and are wondering about contraception.

PF:Which reminds me of the old joke - why do Irishmen wear two condoms? "To be sure, to be sure".

RGC: That was brought to you by the historic joke reenactment society. Now we return you to bad mouthing formula one.

11) G Fisichella

RGC:Apparently Fisico was voted "Drivers' Driver" in a poll of all the F1 drivers. It's easy to be popular when you're damn good and clearly no threat to anyone. In a Jordan he is clearly no threat to anyone. Which is a damned shame. Oh the waste, the senseless waste of a human life.

EC: I'm sure he's "very 'appy" anyway...

PF:A man who has no enemies in the sport, seemingly, and whose career has fluttered between Jordan and Benetton/Renault to seemingly no avail. If Fissi had got his bum into the second Ferrari or a McLaren I'm sure he would've been an established GP winner by now; as it is, he's been around for ages, drives and qualifies well, is respected by everyone and... hasn't actually achieved anything.

RGC:Yup - if this was Casualty, they'd be standing around his career with those big metal iron things shouting "Clear."

12) R Firman

RGC: Coming from formula Nippon I believe? "Mind the step (up from minor formula)." Anyone know if he's any good?

EC: Well he's a half decent replacement for Irvine on the cuteness stakes - is that enough? Always felt he was one of those drivers who although he had good connections never made the most of them. I hope he'll shine but I fear he won't.

PF: In at the deep end in a shoestring operation. I just don't see Ralph doing much this year, and I think his involvement with Jordan is largely due to the 15 million of baccy money EJ gets for running a British driver - despite him being one with no profile as far as the public are concerned. Yeah, he's OK, but what about Darren Manning? Jamie Davies? Anthony Davidson? Gareth Rees? Oliver Gavin? etc. etc. etc. etc. Will be in and out of F1 inside a couple of years without so much as a crappy Christopher Hilton-ghosted autobiography.

RGC: Well, let's not forget that Oliver Gavin has driven in many F1 races and lead the field. The pace car guy gets so little credit on "laps lead". I'm horrified to hear that Emma thinks that Irvine is cute... genuinely horrified.

Jaguar (Cosworth Engine, Michelin tyres)

RGC: In a variant of last year's Jaguar joke: Rat forced out of sinking ship. They've lost Niki "superrat" Lauda and to lose both drivers and the team manager looks like carelessness bordering on the fuckwitted. Jaguar terminates at this station would all passengers please ensure they have their luggage with them when they get off the train. Actually, the train metaphor is a good one. This team is subject to frequent delays, over costly and if you're unlucky there's a drunken bozo mouthing off (get back in your seat Irvine, we're throwing you off at the next station). I said last year they should write the team manager's name on an etch-a-sketch. Who's on the etch-a-sketch this year? I can't even remember. It should be an ITV bozo-phone competition: Win a year managing Jaguar by answering this simple question:

  1. This year is a rebuilding year
  2. We are aiming for race wins in another three years
  3. We have made the necessary modifications to team infrastructure and success will follow in three years as originally planned

Come back Jackie Stewart, all is wholeheartedly forgiven.

PF: Currently they're talking about Zanardi as Sporting Director. Now Sandro was an incredible driver in CART, and he's a phenomenally brave guy, and seems to be a genuinely nice bloke and all that. But does that qualify him to run a team? Maybe there's some perverse, sick logic to it - Williams can do pretty well run by a paraplegic; maybe Jaguar, after trying a burns victim, can do well with a double-amputee in charge?
On the technical side, Jaguar can't do much worse than last year. I mean, it'd be difficult to see a worse dosh-to-points ratio without things actually turning negative. The whole season was an acute farce. Apparently there's already a team wanting to run a pair of private cars next year, so even if this year's cars are shit they'll still make a few bob out of them.

RGC: What's the theory behind Zanardi being manager then? "We're working on the principle that good drivers make shit team bosses and therefore logically, a shit driver...?" or "We find that after a year with us the manager just wants to get legless and we thought we'd cut out the middle stage?"

14) M Webber

RGC:Well, I suppose this counts as a promotion from Minardi (just). The boy done bonza. If the Cossie engine continues its reliability from last year then you can expect to hear me saying: "Another prawn on the barbie" an awful lot this year. He's a talent looking for somewhere to go. The best non-Brabham Aussie since records began?

PF: WHAT ABOUT JONESEY! Seriously though, Mark seems to be at least as promising as the car, and he doesn't seem to make many stupid mistakes.

RGC:What about Jonesey? I meant best driver not best beer-guzzling, foul-mouthed lout.

PF:Ok, ok, you've got your pro-Rubens thing. I've got my pro- Alan Jones thing. And I don't think we'll ever convince each other...

RGC:We could make them race against each other? I feel pretty confident who'd be shown right.

15) A Pizzonia

RGC:Wahay. I've been saying for years he should be in F1. Does Jaguar count? I hope Pizzonia shows them what he's capable of even if he's in a car which is not capable of it. In a similar spirit to the Webber engine blow-ups line: "Your Pizzonia is in the oven".

PF:Count me in the Jungle Boy fan club, he was bloody awesome in FRenault and F3, quite simply the best I've ever seen in junior formulae. Didn't take F3000 very seriously due to his Williams test deal, and besides, F3000 seems to be a road to nowhere (or maybe CART) these days. I'd love to see this guy mixing it with JPM and Kimi for the championship in a few years - three really fast, hard drivers. Give him a while to settle in and I think he'll be right up there. But maybe not with his current team... I reckon he's a born Williams driver and once Ralfie's hustling a DTM car round Ochsersleben for a living he'll slip back into a real racing team.

RGC:And he does genuinely come from the Amazon jungle. So when they say that formula one is "the piranha club" he'll just be totally at home.

BAR (Honda Engine, Bridgestone tyres)

RGC: Apparently they are rebranded as B dot A dot R this year (with the dots centrally positioned). That's so laughable as to defy parody -- which reminds me of Craig Pollock. This year we will see what Dave "designer stubble" Richards can really do. I think they will improve. But not enough.

PF:This team won't improve until the last vestiges of Villeneuve are banished from it. He's the main thing standing in the way of continued success there - the man radiates negative attitude like Chris Evans at the height of his wankerhood. Yes, Bollocks has gone, Reynard's gone, a lot of good people have gone - but I don't think Dave Richards can really claim to be in control until he's pushed his remaining loose cannon overboard. And at that point Honda will rush in and things will really get going.

RGC:Hmm... I think if he pushes loose cannon Villeneuve over the side of the boat then something will rush in... but it'll probably be water. Then we'd be looking at a team without a star driver, without a star designer and without anything to show for years of investment pointlessly piddled away. God, I know tobacco companies are in the business of seeing money go up in smoke but the endless farcical futility of this team must depress them? That's the problem really, they've got F1creatic cancer -- unless some useless lump is excised then they'll never improve. Mind you, they've had a grotesquely swollen Pollock removed already.

PF:I figure there must be a deal for BAT to dump its shares to Honda already agreed - maybe they're using the team as some sort of tax loss at the moment.

16) J Villeneuve

RGC:According to the ITV review of the year, there is an air of "creative tension" between JV and JB. Translated they hate each other's guts. I imagine that by mid season they will be licking any blonde who passes down the dreggsy end of the pitlane and yelling "She's mine now, I've breathed on her." JV deserves better than this, he really does. He's still motivated I think - but this is his last year at BAR I feel sure.

PF:Yeah, he's out. Badmouthing Button, who I reckon will slaughter him this year, is a bad strategy. When he feels like it Jacques can still look sublime in the car. The problem is he doesn't feel like it very often and he'd rather try to play mind games. Problem is, you can't get mind games for the PS2 or whatever Jacks likes playing with, and he's not very good at them. Jacks has become Feel Heel mark 2 - World Champion leaves team on the way down to move to team even further on the way down - although he lacks Phil's philosophical attitude and natural dignity. In fact, he's become a whingeing brat. A real shame - I had a lot of time for the Jacks of 1996-7.

RGC: Jacques was always a whinging brat. It was just easier to forgive him when he won things. These days though he's such a shit that his official job description is BAR stool.

17) J Button

RGC:JV said Button has been "highly unimpressive" in his three years of F1, and "brings to the sport what boy bands do to music". I'm not sure I can improve on that.

KF: Jacques is in the lucky position of having proved himself in other teams before he went to BAR and it all went sour. From the way he's performed since you really wouldn't be able to tell much difference between him and any other mid-ranker.

EC: Jacques is only jealous that Jenson has more hair than he does...

PF:Most people do. This is Jenson's chance to take Villeneuve apart and stake a claim as a top driver. On the other hand, in the unlikely event that he doesn't, it probably marks the beginning of the end for him.

Minardi (Cosworth Engine, Bridgestone tyres)

RGC:Well, they aren't broke but they can't afford to fix it. Inevitably dubbed by lazy Autosport journalist as "Formula One Minnows Minardi" that this year they have actually, got sponsorships from minnows. Unfortunately it doesn't bring in much cash. There's nobody left for Minardi to play with. All the really crap teams are dead or improving. This is going to be a really troublesome season for them. To describe Wilson and Verstappen in a phrase: "That's about the long and the shite of it."

EC: Has Stoddart stopped moaning that life isn't fair yet? It's all he seems to have done since he arrived in F1. I know we are all suppose to love Minardi but when the Italians left so did the soul of the team.

PF:He's moaning about his airline being in dead stuke these days. I don't see BA and Air France and Alitalia and Lufthansa having a whipround for him... is he going to start moaning about that? At least Stoddart is philosophical about the fact that the team's worthless now. There are still a lot of Italians at Minardi - it's a major employer at Faenza - and most of the UK end is ex-Tyrrell guys. So I've a certain degree of sympathy for them, but really if PS didn't know what he was getting involved with maybe he shouldn't've got involved....

RGC: I feel I should point out that if you're Paul Stoddart then life isn't fair. I mean he's a great guy and I love the team.

18) J Wilson

RGC:Tall. Possibly taller than he is good. But he deserves a chance in F1 certainly. I'll be interested to see if he goes well -- he certainly convinced in F3000.

PF:Well, ok, he fits into the car and it looked great on F3000 slicks. I bet they'll send him out on fumes at least once to get him into the top half-dozen on the grid, and I'm sure he'll give it everything he's got. But I am not sure whether the shoestring chassis (even though it's got the best engine they've ever had) is up to it.

19) J Verstappen

RGC: Stop him before he kills again.

EC: Jos has had surgery to fix a hole in his ear drum which he claims affected his balance and that is why he fell off track all the time - you have to give credit to anyone who can come up with an excuse like that!

PF:It's novel, certainly. But, er, why didn't he notice years ago that he had crap balance and kept falling off? Can every team boss he ever worked for sue Prof Sid for contributory negligence - after all, presumably Sid passed him medically fit to drive! Really has to put Wilson in his place or he really, really, really is branded as a tosser once and for all. This man's had more comebacks than Lazarus!

RGC:I'd not heard about his ear drum problems. Perhaps, while they're in the area they could fix some of the mental problems. I think other drivers should start using this kind of medical excuse. For example, David Coulthard could be pronounced clinically dreary and excused from press conferences. Jacques Villeneuve could have an operation to remove his arsehole from his personality. Jenson Button could have his gob sealed because of the anal leakage problems it was having... Yes, surgery could help the formula one field a lot.

Toyota (Toyota Engine, Michelin tyres)

RGC: I wonder if their instructions on how to manage an F1 team were written in Engrish? It's hard to explain their bizarre decision to replace everyone after a really very good opening season. This year the car is meant to be more radical. I certainly expect them to make small strides forward.

KF:Surely a small stride is an oxymoron (another literary term for you).

RGC:I'm right literary, me. Short strides are worn by Australian scout troops everywhere.

PF:I still can't believe how much money these guys are sinking into F1. I mean, it makes Ferrari look like Sauber. I guess their first success criterion will be if they can regularly beat BAR to be top dog Japanese engined team - and I don't see that happening for a while. Although people were talking about a slow Toyota buildup, it seems to be happening with plate tectonic levels of sloth...

20) O Panis

RGC: I can't be enthused by this man. What magic voodoo makes them think he is better than Salo? What makes them think he is better enough (if you'll forgive the clumsy english) to buy Salo out of his contract and replace him with Panis?

PF:A great tester, with a wealth of experience, which is something Toyota seem to like. A great racer, which is pretty good too. A piss-poor qualifier, unfortunately, which kind of rules him out of contention for almost anything. Apparently one of the more normal and approachable people in the F1 pitlane. I've always had a soft-spot for Olivier 'cos I was there when he got his one and only - and it'll remain that way I reckon! - GP win.

RGC:Maybe the new qualifying rules will help him. After all, I imagine plenty of people will screw up qualifying now. A great tester is a formula one euphemism for 'He's not stupid but he's not good enough for a race seat.'

21) C de Matta

RGC: "Q:What's da Matta?" "A:The latest lucky contestant to win the top prize in CART racing, a chance to drive a car for one year only."

PF:Does not seem to be settling in well. Cristiano was damn good in CART but I get disturbing echoes of Zanardi's return to F1 - he just doesn't seem to be making the car behave.

KF:Are we allowed to make stupid puns about christians in the lion's den?

Goodbye and Adieu and Farewell

In this section we say goodbye with various degrees of hostility to departing characters.

Niki Lauda

RGC:Well, he had his fifteen minutes of Ford management. Who's next to be chief Turd Polisher for the Keystone Konstructors? He was better than Mr. Blobby Rahal (which is not saying much). I will miss him though. He's a witty and interesting guy and one of my top five F1 drivers. Give him another go someone.

Eddie Irvine

RGC:I can't even be bothered to hate him any more. It's a real shame that Jordan didn't employ him because every time he stood next to EJ I could say "Hey, look, Jordan's got an enormous pair of artificial tits."

PF: Farewell, the Ricky Gervais of F1. And good fucking riddance, you bogtrotting gobshite. Second best driver in the world my arse.

Allan McNish

RGC: (Must not look smug about last year's correct prediction, must not look smug, must not look smug.) Well, Nishy did quite well for a Sportscar driver eh? (ducks)

PF: Yeah, yeah, fair enough, he had a go. Had all the bad luck though. I'm sure he'll resume his sports car career where he left off - near the top.

RGC:At the moment he seems to be resuming his sports car career testing F1 for Renault and drunkenly slurring "Giz fiddy pee for a ride in an F1 car" to Flav.

KF:Well, as he actually replied to one of my emails once I think he's totally wonderful and won't hear a word heard against him. And he's a Borders lad so you can stick that one Mr 'I'm not really a Cumbrian it's just the rest of my family happen to come from there'. He seemed to have the team's bad luck mascot for the year, plus more than his fair share of accidents. Never quite got it off the ground. But I hope he does well in whatever comes next for him, because he's a good driver and a great bloke.

RGC:But I'm not really a Cumbrian it's just the rest of my family happen to come from there. Damn.

Tom Walkinshaw / Arrows GP

RGC: Whither Tom W? Actually, sod it. Wither Tom W! Jackie Olivier must be weeping into his Absinthe. You took a working team and converted it into a shambolic wreck with Prost-like efficiency. You are a great Scottish nit. You are the weakest link. Goodbye.

PF:And he's lost TWR group now too. Frankly I lost any respect I had left for Tom over the whole Phoenix/DART/Prost fracas. Good riddance.

KF:I dunno. For a few weeks there he looked like getting the 'Brookside Award for pulling off the most far-fetched plot'. And like Brookie after a few great moments it's all gone down the tubes horribly.

Mika Salo

RGC: "Hey Mika, you're so fine, you're so fine you've been bought out of your contract and replaced by other drivers." Oh well.

EC: Ah but he's gone off to join ex BAR boss Pollock in Champcars - I'm sure it was a planned move - honest.

PF:Dunno about planned, it seemed a bit last-minute with Bollocks getting the team together, but it was hardly unexpected - the logic of it was pretty obvious!

RGC:Remind me of the logic of it? A driver who wasn't ever that good paired with a team boss who wasn't ever that good? I think Mika deserves better than CART -- but not much better.

Pedro de la Rosa

RGC: Does anyone else think this is harsh? Please sir, can he have some more?

EC: I want him back, if only so my 'de la Rosa.com' cap becomes fashionable again!

PF:A crying shame that Pedro's out and Verstappen's in.

RGC:Actually, dot com is the perfectly metaphor for de la Rosa. Briefly over-valued in the late nineties but currently the market has crashed him down way below his real worth.

Spa Francorchamps

RGC: A classic course which will be sadly missed. Old buffers predict the end of formula one as we know it. Film at 11.

PF:I'm sure they'll be back eventually. If not, count me in for the CART round there!

Alex Yoong, Felipe Massa, Takuma Sato

RGC: A case of "much too much, much too young". Except in the case of Yoong for whom it was simply a case of "much too much". I hope that clarifies matters.

KF: 'Too much too yoong'? Groan.

PF:I reckon Taku-san might be back - Honda might want to place him somewhere. And with one BAR driver... looking tenuous, let's say... I could see him replacing JV at BAR in '04

RGC:I could see him replacing the guy who played Monkey in the 70s TV series. I've just noticed that nobody has said Taki Inoue yet this year. Thought I'd better.

The All Important Bet

This year, we have the following "Richard and Pete go for a meal" bet:

For the meal: PF bets that Button will qualify ahead of Villeneuve more often than Villeneuve will qualify ahead of Button

For the drinks: RC bets that Webber will score more points than Pizzonia in the drivers' championship.

For the tip: RC bets that Renault will win at least one race this year.

For the record, RC won 2/3 last year but lost the all important meal part of the bet.

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