From the pulpit

Done all your Christmas shopping? Feeling smug? Ready for a nice long rest (with all the trimmings), in preparation for 2005? Well, then, you've got a lot in common with some of the stars of Formula 1. But not all of 'em

From the pulpit

Ferrari, of course, did their Christmas shopping months ago. Their team's high-ups gave one another extremely handsome prezzies - in the form of multi-million-dollar bonuses for having won everything in sight once again. This winter, they're just as sorted. They'll start 2005 with the F2004, which will be both reliable and rapid, and then they'll blitz everyone else at Imola with the supa-dupa F2005-LDM (geddit?!).

Or will they? McLaren are quietly confident that their MP4-20 will be the car that takes them back to the front once again - and I, for one, am champing at the bit to see just what Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya will make of it. And, more particularly, of each other. I rate both drivers highly - doesn't everyone? - but I fancy Kimi will end up with a few more world championship points than Juan Pablo by season's end.

B.A.R-Honda will have another good season, but they'll be hard-pressed to finish second in the constructors' championship once again. As I say, McLaren will be stronger in 2005 than they were in 2004, and the boys from Brackley will surely miss David Richards. No offence to new boss Nick Fry, who is a good chap, but experience and continuity count for a hell of a lot at the sharp end of the F1 grid... and the continuity and experience provided by the sure hand of DR will be missing.

Jenson Button will win his first grand prix - possibly in Melbourne, so set those alarms! - and Takuma Sato will work extremely hard to improve his speed/consistency quotient. If he succeeds, BAR-Honda could be second in the constructors' championship once again; if he doesn't, they could drop to fourth. Pressure? You bet.

Renault? Well, Fernando Alonso will be better than ever, inspired as he will be to even greater things by the challenge posed by his mega-quick new running-mate Giancarlo Fisichella. This battle is likely to be one of the most interesting of 2005, in fact, but I reckon Giancarlo will end up a smidgen ahead - albeit only a smidgen, mind. I've had a bet with 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg on this subject; Keke reckons Fernando will beat Fisico fair and square. I beg to differ. The loser buys the winner a big dinner... with big wine.

Which, of the top teams, leaves Williams. I hope - no, I pray - that their Brazil 2004 form is an indication of what we can expect next year, but I have to admit I have my doubts. Loic Bigois, the team's new chief aerodynamicist, was a 'surprise' (make that 'shock') signing, for his CV - lacklustre stints at Ligier, Sauber, Prost and Minardi - hardly qualifies him to follow in the footsteps of such as Adrian Newey and Geoff Willis (ex-Williams aero chiefs both, but who are now, with Ferrari's Rory Byrne, the stars of the current age). Moreover, much as I rate technical director Sam Michael, at 33, he's worryingly young for so challenging a role. Think about it: would you fancy having Patrick Head report to you?


No, thought not...

And the drivers? Mark Webber just could be a real gem... but, dammit, he'll need to be. And, whoever's in the other car (Heidfeld? Pizzonia? Does it matter?), as sure as eggs is eggs Sir Frank will be casting wistful glances next door, and wondering how on earth his old foe Ron Dennis managed to land the best driver pairing since Senna-Prost... while he, Frank, makes do with something pretty obviously second-rate by comparison. If you were being uncharitable, you'd have to describe Williams's 2004 line-up as "Mark and a no-mark", wouldn't you? And I guess I just have.

Sauber? Well, personally, I'd like to have seen Anthony Davidson in one of Peter Sauber's pretty mauve cars, but, for some reason known only to himself, ol' Pete chose to revive Jacques Villeneuve's flagging career, thereby angering erstwhile Sauber sponsor Red Bull's Dietrich Mateschitz and Helmut Marko so much that they withdrew their funding. (Mateschitz and Marko wanted to run a man considerably younger than the balding, bespectacled and 33-year-old JV - ideally, the 24-year-old Vitantonio Liuzzi - but they might well have accepted the 25-year-old Davidson instead.)

Which leads me to a thought: if Peter Sauber had done as bidden by Mateschitz and Marko, and hired Liuzzi, would Red Bull have bought Jaguar Racing? Maybe, but maybe not. Perhaps they would simply have prolonged their 10-year sponsorship of Sauber, and watched their super-talented young hotshoe blow Felipe Massa into the boonies (for, surely, that's what would have happened), resplendent - no, fizzin'! - in the colours of their product. So, may I suggest a toast that the 350 guys and gals of Red Bull Racing should make this Christmas: "To Peter Sauber, saviour of Jaguar Racing!"

Getting back to more serious matters, I reckon Sauber could do all right next season. Okay, their driver line-up will be less impressive than it was last year (JV is no match for Fisi, for 1997 is a very long time ago), but I ask you this: just how bad a car is it possible to build around one mega Ferrari V10 and four mega Michelin tyres? Exactly.

And what of Red Bull Racing themselves? I've got an enormous amount of time for managing director Dave Pitchforth and team principal Tony Purnell, but they've got their work cut out. They lost about six weeks' development time during the kerfuffle over the sale of the team to Red Bull, and, now that Jordan have Toyota engines, only Minardi will have less power than David Coulthard and Klien/Liuzzi. (Incidentally, I reckon Christian will start the season, with 'Tonio in the third car; then, by about Imola, 'Tonio will be promoted, leaving Klien to perform the Man Friday duties. But what do I know...?)

Should DC have signed for Red Bull? Nope, in my view, he shouldn't. His CV - 13 wins an' all - is simply too glittering to risk being sullied by a damp-squib ending. And it's that CV - the DC brand, if you like - that ought to be earning his keep for the next 50 years. However, it goes without saying that I wish him well. There's life in the old dog yet, and it'd be great to see him score RBR's first podium finish. For that to happen, though, I fear he'll need attrition... and rain... and luck...

Toyota really should kick ass in 2005 - but will they? They've got two rapid but ever-so-slightly flawed drivers in Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli, and an awful lot of downforce to find. Last year's TF104 really was a bit of an old crate, truth be told. The engine was good, though, so there's potential there. And budget aplenty, too, of course. Is technical director Mike Gascoyne under pressure? Yes, more pressure than anyone else in the sport today, believe me.

Jordan? They've got Toyota engines, but not much else.

Minardi? Just... not much else.

So who'll be world champion driver? Easy: Schumi. And world champion constructor? Yep, you guessed it: Ferrari. Boring? Sorry. But, to give you something to laugh about (and take the mickey out of on F1 chat rooms everywhere, I'll warrant), I'll predict the finishing order of the 2005 FIA World Championship for Constructors (to give it its full title).

Here goes:

1. Ferrari
2. McLaren-Mercedes
3. Renault
4. B.A.R-Honda
5. BMW-Williams
6. Sauber-Petronas
7. Toyota
8. Red Bull Racing
9. Jordan-Toyota
10. Minardi-Cosworth

Ho-ho-ho and all that (go easy on the Christmas pud!).

For aye...

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