Even before it kicked off in Bahrain on 12 March, the 2006 season seemed set to be one of transition, of drivers seeing out their old contracts before moving on to fresh challenges. We already knew that Fernando Alonso would be at McLaren in 2007, Kimi Raikkonen was rumoured to leave McLaren for Ferrari, and seven-time WDC champion Michael Schumacher was reckoned by many to be on the brink of retirement.
For once, the rumour mill was spot-on, as all two events came to pass exactly as predicted. What couldn't have been foreseen, however, was the departure of two more of the sport's established stars - Juan Pablo Montoya from McLaren and Jacques Villeneuve from BMW.
Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen © XPB/LAT
Although, in hindsight, neither departure was particularly shocking. The second half of Villeneuve's career was marred by regular contractual wrangles, while Montoya's 'all or nothing' tendencies got him into too many unnecessary incidents for a team of McLaren's expectations.
Speculation on the prospects of Schumacher, Villeneuve and Montoya - three of the most widely-supported drivers on the grid - has been a feature of every off-season for years. In a break with tradition, the 2006 winter recess will pose no such questions. However, the retirements and departures didn't mark the only break from the established traditions.