The 2005 Drivers Preview

By Richard Barnes, South Africa
Atlas F1 Magazine Writer

1. Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher

After a run of five straight WDC titles, Michael Schumacher tackles the 2005 season with nothing to prove, little left to gain and an awful lot to lose. The new technical regulations and qualifying format won't faze Schumacher in the least. Over his 14-year career, he's learnt to adapt to a huge range of car specifications and traction levels. The real question is not whether Schumacher can still deliver - he's proved that beyond doubt - but whether Ferrari and Bridgestone can still keep ahead of the field. If they can keep their performance within striking distance of the best in the field, Schumacher will do the rest.

2. Rubens Barrichello

Rubens Barrichello

Barrichello starts his sixth season as Michael Schumacher's Ferrari teammate and there's no reason to believe that the status quo at Ferrari will change. For Barrichello, that means WDC points accumulation and the vain hope that his team leader will be plagued by unreliability, promoting the Brazilian into the unlikely position of Championship frontrunner. It is not an approach that has succeeded in any other season for Barrichello, not least because the Ferrari has been developed into the most reliable F1 car in history. However, with Schumacher as a teammate and the current team structure at Ferrari, it's the best that Barrichello can hope for.

3. Jenson Button

Jenson Button

Despite the upheaval of former team boss David Richards' departure during the off-season, BAR look well settled in driver terms. For the first time in his career, Jenson Button wasn't paired with an intimidating teammate in 2004, and used the opportunity to develop into a fine and consistent performer. This year, he'll enjoy the luxury of being the team's clear leader and Championship hopeful again. However, that must be balanced with the growing team and personal pressure on Button to claim his maiden win. Ten 2005 drivers, fully half the field, are GP winners. It's not a particularly exclusive club, nor one that Button will want to be excluded from for much longer. Another winless season could be disastrous for the Englishman's development and Championship credentials.

4. Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato

BAR had good reason to be pleased with the development of both their drivers during 2004. Sato suffered an abysmal start to the season, marked by frequent engine failures and his tendency to over-drive. During the second half of the season, Jenson Button's smooth and unruffled style seemed to rub off on Sato. Although he lost some pace, he was at least making it to the finish and raking in precious constructors' points for the team. With his newfound ability to keep it on the tarmac for the full race distance, Sato should show another year of promising development.

5. Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso

Yet another entertaining internal tussle emerges at Renault, with veteran Giancarlo Fisichella hoping to establish himself and unsettle the team's rising franchise star, Fernando Alonso. For most of 2004, Alonso trailed his more experienced teammate, Italian Jarno Trulli. By mid-season, the gap between the two was 16 points and Alonso only managed to overhaul Trulli once the Italian had fallen out of favour with Renault. Fisichella is likely to prove equally tough and there is also the burden of increased team expectations following very promising pre-season testing runs. Alonso has been prone to occasional costly qualifying errors, a weak link that he will want to address during 2005.

6. Giancarlo Fisichella

Giancarlo Fisichella

Like Williams' Nick Heidfeld, Fisichella finds himself with a rare opportunity to re-establish his career after years running with the minnows down the field. Fisichella remains something of an unknown quantity, even after eight years in the sport. His ability to wring the maximum out of an underperforming car is well known, as witnessed by the 2001 season when he comprehensively outclassed Jenson Button at Benetton. It's still unclear how well the Italian will perform in a potentially race-winning car. If the 2005 Renault is anything like as good as testing times suggest, we'll get a definitive answer in 2005.

7. Mark Webber

Mark Webber

The 2005 season will feature an array of fascinating new teammate match-ups, starting with Williams-BMW. Since debuting at his home Grand Prix in 2002, Australian Mark Webber has driven roughshod over the 'potential champion' credentials of a succession of moderately talented teammates. In 2005, Webber will get his first genuinely testing stablemate in Nick Heidfeld and, although Webber has been clearly identified as a probable franchise driver for Williams, Heidfeld should prove a handful. The Williams will also be the first genuinely competitive car that Webber has enjoyed, although perhaps not yet competitive enough to put him in the frame of potential season champions. Whatever happens, the F1 world will have a far more accurate benchmark of Webber's true capabilities by the end of the year.

8. Nick Heidfeld

Nick Heidfeld

If the upgrade to Williams comes as a deserved boost for Mark Webber's talent, it's a positive career-saver for Nick Heidfeld. Even if the Williams doesn't live up to the potential of its race-winning heritage, it will still be a huge improvement on the dismal Jordan that the German had to endure in 2004. Of the Williams pairing, Webber is likely to be more concerned about the internal teammate battle. Heidfeld will be looking to beat Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren, the drive that he felt should have been his from the start.

9. Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen

The most explosive (and possibly most bitter) of the new teammate pairings will be at McLaren. Kimi Raikkonen has not yet reached Alain Prost's level of effortless efficiency and Juan Pablo Montoya is some way shy of Ayrton Senna's fierce intensity. Yet the partnership offers the same blend of Euro coolness versus South American passion. Raikkonen has developed an almost bullet-proof lack of concern about his teammate's fortunes and seems entirely focused on his own racing. It's unlikely that the Finn will indulge those fans who wish to see heated in-fighting at McLaren this season. Instead, he'll be aiming to work himself into the same mid-season position as he enjoyed in 2003 - leading the Championship pack and putting the catch-up pressure squarely on Michael Schumacher.

10. Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya

Paired with the occasionally inconsistent Ralf Schumacher at Williams, Montoya could afford the luxury of several below-par performances each season. During the latter two-thirds of the 2003 season, he sustained a sequence of remarkably consistent and competitive races. If he is to oust Kimi Raikkonen as the McLaren champion elect, Montoya will have to repeat that level of form and consistency. Contrary to the expectations of teammate fireworks at McLaren, Montoya may well adopt the same approach as Raikkonen and treat his team-mate with studied indifference.

11. Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa

The Brazilian certainly has the most distinctive and individualistic style in F1, although it's debatable whether this can be considered a compliment or not. Massa will undoubtedly develop during 2005 - the only question is which direction he'll take. As the first of the 'lower division' teams, Sauber don't have realistic winning expectations going into 2005. That will allow Massa some measure of freedom to continue going for broke, which in turn will result in a season of cameos and memorable moments. If he can ensure that a good proportion of those moments entail outpacing teammate Jacques Villeneuve, then Massa's stock will rise.

12. Jacques Villeneuve

Jacques Villeneuve

After his acrimonious split with BAR before Japan 2003 and almost a year of inactivity, Villeneuve was very disappointing in his return for Renault late in 2004. It was unfair to expect Villeneuve to be on Fernando Alonso's pace in an unfamiliar car, but even he was surprised by his lack of pace. If Villeneuve could afford a year of career rebuilding, then 2005 could be approached from that angle. But, unless he impresses right from the season opener, Villeneuve's star will continue to wane. Adding to the pressure, he has Felipe Massa as a teammate. While not universally highly-rated, Massa is capable of surprising speed.

14. David Coulthard

David Coulthard

For the first time in his 11-year career, David Coulthard will start the year in a car that is not even expected to score a podium finish all season, let alone a win. On the one hand, Coulthard's demotion from the top tier of teams probably spells the end of his unfulfilled Championship aspirations. On the other hand, Coulthard will not have the burden of winning expectations nor a highly-rated teammate to compete against. Without these pressures, the Scot may rediscover his best form and race to an unusually high standard this year. While he has never achieved his full potential, it's worth noting that Coulthard has won more GP than any other driver in the field with the obvious exception of Michael Schumacher. Coulthard won't add to that win tally, but he may prove a canny investment for his new employer.

15. Christian Klien

Christian Klien

Klien's first full season in F1 was more about survival than performance, and the trend continues. He did just enough to avoid being swamped by 2004 Jaguar teammate Mark Webber, and only secured his Red Bull seat at the proverbial eleventh hour. The team will rightfully focus their efforts on team leader David Coulthard this year. But, with extremely keen competition for every seat in F1, Klien will still need to show more than he did during 2004 to secure a longer-term future in the formula. If he fails, even just at the season opener in Australia, Red Bull may hand the second drive to current third car driver Vitantonio Liuzzi. Klien is renowned as a very self-assured driver, a character trait he'll need in abundance this year.

16. Ralf Schumacher

Ralf Schumacher

The last of the intriguing new team partnerships is at Toyota, who are hoping that new signings Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli can provide at least some of the missing pieces in the F1 success puzzle. Having spent six moderately successful years at Williams, the younger Schumacher may struggle to transition to a new team with a different mindset and operational style. For a driver like Schumacher, who seems dependent on a comfortable and supportive environment to deliver his best, Toyota's high ambitions and lack of patience could prove unsettling. Schumacher has scored at least one podium finish in each of his eight years in F1. Continuing that run in 2005 might, in itself, be enough to establish him firmly in the team's future plans.

17. Jarno Trulli

Jarno Trulli

Trulli's 2004 effort with Renault was easily his best season ever, bringing an unprecedented haul of 46 WDC points and the all-important maiden GP win at Monaco. Trulli's relationship with Renault eventually turned sour, leading to a bitter split late in the year. Nevertheless, the Italian will feel buoyant heading into 2005. He has put the 'qualifying specialist, so-so racer' tag behind him, and upstaged Fernando Alonso for the first half of last season. Even though his first few races with Toyota failed to deliver any points, Trulli proved immediately quicker than drivers who had far more miles in the car. If Trulli can perform creditably against Ralf Schumacher (and there's no reason why he shouldn't), he could become a fixture at Toyota.

18. Narain Karthikeyan

Narain Karthikeyan

2005 will feature four rookie drivers, appropriately driving the four cars that will routinely occupy the last two rows of the grid. Of the four rookies, Indian Narain Karthikeyan has aroused the most interest. A graduate of Formula Three, Formula Nippon and the Nissan World Series, Karthikeyan has also tested for Jordan, Jaguar and Minardi. Having already achieved his goal of becoming the first Indian to race in an F1 GP, Karthikeyan must meet the challenge of entrenching himself as a genuine F1 talent. The 2005 Jordan is not likely to frighten any of the frontrunners, and unreliability further up the grid seems to represent the team's (and Karthikeyan's) only hope of scoring points this year. Consistently beating the other three rookies will be a more realistic goal, and a satisfying outcome for Karthikeyan's first season in F1.

19. Tiago Monteiro

Tiago Monteiro

In recent years, the second seat at Jordan has been a fearful place, pitting rookie drivers against established team leaders like Giancarlo Fisichella and Nick Heidfeld. 28-year old Portuguese rookie Tiago Monteiro has no such concerns this season, and has the same junior formula pedigree of F3 and Nissan World Series as teammate Narain Karthikeyan. Their contrasting styles - with Monteiro less flamboyant but also less error-prone - should lead to an engaging struggle within Jordan.

20. Christijan Albers

Christijan Albers

After a career of mixed fortunes in F3 and F3000, and being Minardi's test and reserve driver in 2001 and 2002, Dutchman Christijan Albers graduates from the unconventional platform of German Touring Cars to the full Minardi F1 drive in 2005. As ever with Minardi, the driver's ability to bring sponsorship was a major consideration, and Albers is backed by a number of Dutch companies and investors. Nevertheless, his results in DTM and German F3 indicate that he may find the transition to F1 less challenging than pay drivers before him.

21. Patrick Friesacher

Patrick Friesacher

An F3000 regular for the past four seasons, Austrian Patrick Friesacher appears to have the most relevant recent experience to make the leap to F1 successfully. It won't be particularly encouraging to Friesacher that, of the nine rookies hired by Minardi since 2000, only 2 (Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso) have gone on to secure racing seats with other teams. It looks unlikely that either Albers or Friesacher is in the same class as Webber and Alonso. They will need to make every race weekend count.

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Volume 11, Issue 8
February 23rd 2005

2005 Season Preview

The Atlas F1 2005 Gamble
by Atlas F1

The 2005 Drivers Preview
by Richard Barnes

The 2005 Teams Preview
by Tom Keeble

The 2005 Technical Preview
by Craig Scarborough

Regular Columns & Articles

F1's Tobacco Addiction II
by Dieter Rencken

On the Road
by Reuters

Elsewhere in Racing
by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

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