It was inevitable that the passing of the Michael Schumacher era would bring about a sea change shake-up in the hierarchy at the head of Formula One. After five years of Schumacher and Ferrari domination, the 2005 season marked the breakout - with the reigning champion not only failing to defend his crown, but not even figuring prominently in the championship chase.
With Ferrari hegemony giving way to a keen struggle between closely matched rivals McLaren and Renault, the 2006 season should have been one of consolidating the rivalry. Fans could have expected to witness the intensifying of the next classic driver duel between the leading teams' two franchise stars, Fernando Alonso for Renault and Kimi Raikkonen for McLaren. The icing on the cake would have been a rejuvenated Schumacher in a more competitive 2006 Ferrari, turning the championship into a titanic three-way clash.
Instead, each of the three protagonists faces possibly their last season with their current employer. It has long been known that Schumacher's contract with Ferrari expires at the end of 2006, and that the seven-time World Champion may opt to retire rather than renew.
Likewise, it has been rumoured for several months that Kimi Raikkonen, frustrated by McLaren's unreliability, was considering a Ferrari drive for 2007. The bombshell was dropped in mid-December, when McLaren trumped any rumours of Raikkonen's departure by announcing that they had signed Alonso for 2007.