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1997 Season Preview
Team By Team Analysis
Our Staffs' Predictions

TWR Arrows - Williams - Ferrari - Benetton - McLaren - Jordan - Ligier - Tyrrell - Sauber - Minardi - Stewart - Lola

TWR logo
Danka TWR Arrows (Yamaha V10 / Bridgestone)

Without a doubt the most changed team since '96, with Tom Walkinshaw taking full control of the team and putting together a programme capable of winning races. The signing of World Champion Damon Hill was quite a coup, but in order to pay for Hill the team had to go with Pedro Diniz as number two, due to the sponsorship he brings rather than his driving abilities. Waiting in the background is young test driver Jorge Muller, who has shown well during the preseason.
The new Bridgestone tyres look promising and the team has been working on the '97 chassis design since the middle of last season (to the detriment of Verstappen and Rosset), however the Yamaha powerplant remains the weak link. Tyrrell suffered an alarming number of detonations during '96 (going through about 65 engines!) and the reliability of the engine could be the teams Achilles Heal.

Qualifying : Look for Hill to qualify in the top 12 and Diniz in the top 20.
Race Day : As long as the engines stay together, both drivers could pick up points regularly, although podium finishes may be a little to much to hope for this year.

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Williams logo
Rothmans Williams (Renault V10 / Goodyear)

There is little doubt that Jacques Villeneuve and the team enter the season as favourites to take both Drivers' and Constructors' titles, however the biggest hurdle for the team to overcome however maybe the Senna manslaughter trial. The outcome (and the fallout from it) could seriously compromise the teams chances - a possible boycott of Imola and Monza removes two races from the teams' calendar - while any conviction Williams, Head or Newey could seriously derail the team.
Take away that aspect and chances are high that '97 will simply look like a '96 highlight reel, with Heinz-Harald Frentzen playing the part of Damon Hill.

Qualifying : Both Villeneuve and Frentzen will be fighting for pole all year.
Race Day : Expect Villeneuve to get the better of Frentzen overall, but Heinz-Harald will definitely be on the top step of the podium before mid-season.

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Ferrari logo
Marlboro Ferrari (Ferrari V10 / Goodyear)

"The Schumi Years : Part Two" begins at Marenello and this could be the year it all comes together. By the end of '96, the atrocious reliability of the car seemed to be overcome and the confidence among the team was very high. Once again the team will revolve around Micheal Schumacher but expect better things from Eddie Irvine as he receives more test and development time.
It is expecting too much for Schumacher to run away with the Championship, but chances are good that he will be in the thick of it up to the end.

Qualifying : Once again, Schumacher will be up front all year. Irvine in the top 6.
Race Day : Expect Schumacher to pick up 3 or 4 wins, and don't be surprised if Eddie gets one too.

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Benetton logo
Mild Seven Benetton (Renault V10 / Goodyear)

It's do or die time at Benetton : this could well be Gerhard Berger's last valid shot at the world title, while Jean Alesi needs to prove to owner Flavio Briatore that he is worth keeping around. Berger has been very fast in testing and the '97 car was finished weeks ahead of anybody else, giving the team vital extra time to prepare.
The unrest between Alesi and Briatore could prove to be disruptive and the rumours of the team "starting from scratch" with the likes of Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli or Alex Wurz do nothing to help. Unless the team gets a couple of good results early in the season, things could fall apart quickly.

Qualifying : Alesi and Berger will be regular top 6 qualifiers, with maybe Alesi sneaking a pole.
Race Day : Berger's consistency has the edge over Alesi's charging. Plenty of points but not many wins.

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McLaren logo
West McLaren (Mercedes V10 / Goodyear)

The return of the Silver Arrows means a new look for the team, which is slowly beginning to show a return to past form. However, the patience of engine supplier Mercedes is beginning to show signs of wearing thin, so good results will be needed right from the start. Ron Dennis showed his faith in Mika Hakkinen by not making a serious effort to sign Damon Hill, he must now repay the team with wins. Partner David Coulthard has to stop trying so hard! He blotted his copybook in '96 with several unforced errors, pushing too hard at the wrong time. If he calms down, he too has the ability to win races for McLaren.

Qualifying : Both drivers in the top 8 with Mika topping DC most of the time.
Race Day : With a little luck and a few key retirements, Mika could finally win. Both drivers consistently in the top 5.

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Jordan logo
Benson & Hedges Jordan (Peugeot V10 / Goodyear)

In '96 Jordan struck out, despite a big time budget and a strong works engine. If they want to continue their relationship with Peugeot beyond '97 (the Alain Prost run "French National Team" waits in the wings) , they have to deliver big results. That may be difficult with their choice of drivers. Ralf Schumacher has shown well in testing but he is not yet on the level of his big brother. The F1 learning curve is steep, and the partnership of the quick but relatively inexperienced Giancarlo Fisichella will not make things any easier for Ralf, but the PR savvy of owner Eddie Jordan will help with the pressure of following in Michael's footsteps.

Qualifying : Regularly in the top 12, though lack of track knowledge will hurt Schumacher.
Race Day : Some points finishes, especially for Fisichella, but podiums may be scarce.

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Ligier logo
Gauloises Ligier (Mugen-Honda V10 / Bridgestone)

Although Olivier Panis drove well to a deserved debut win in Monaco last year, it was simply a case of "to finish first, first you have to finish" - the team managed just 5 more points during the other 15 races!
Though the new Bridgestone rubber and more involvement from Honda will help, don't expect to see Panis get win #2. His team-mate Shinji Nakano (courtesy of Honda) will have the handicap of a lack of track knowledge and very little testing time. Don't expect much from him, except at Suzuka.

Qualifying : Top 10 for Panis, top 15 for Nakano.
Race Day : Possibly a podium finish for Panis, while Nakano will do well to get on the scoreboard

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Sauber logo
Petronas Sauber (Ferrari V10 / Goodyear)

Even though the '96 season was nothing short of a disaster, the loss of the works Ford engine looked like it could spell the beginning of the end for the little Swiss team. But Peter Sauber is a wily negotiator and he persuaded corporate partner Petronas to foot the bill for 96-spec Ferrari V10's (to be developed and badged as a "Petronas" engine).
All this bodes well for pilots Johnny Herbert and Nicola Larini, although the '97 car will not be ready to start testing until early February because of the late change to Ferrari power. Herbert showed at Benetton that he is capable of running up front given the right equipment, while Larini has done more miles in a Ferrari than anyone except maybe Berger and Alesi. As long as the car performs well straight out of the box, for they will have very little chance to test, the team could pull some surprises this year.

Qualifying : Top 10 within a few races
Race Day : It may take them a few races to get going, but expect many points finishes including a couple of podiums.

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Tyrrell logo
PIAA Tyrrell (Ford V8 / Goodyear)

The situation at Tyrrell is a familiar one : Talented drivers, limited budget, no factory engine deal. In Mika Salo and Jos Verstappen, Uncle Ken (one of the greatest talent-spotters in F1) has two that have never shown their full potential. Salo has not been given the right equipment, while Verstappen had the right equipment (at Benetton) before he was mature enough a driver to put it to full use.
Under Tyrrell's wing Verstappen could develop into a winner, whether the team can provide a winning car is quite another matter. Although the oft-exploding Yamaha engine is gone, the team has had to go with the customer Ford ED V8 which, as Minardi found out in '96, is sadly lacking in power. The switch to Bridgestone rubber and the addition of both Torasuke Takagi (as test driver) and Saturo Nakajima (as a director) could indicate a Honda engine in 1998. If that is the case then Salo and Verstappen should spend '97 getting ready to win.

Qualifying : The lack of brute horsepower will relegate both drivers to the bottom of the pile. Getting in the top 15 will be an accomplishment.
Race Day : Though maybe not the fastest thing on the track they will be among the most reliable, giving Salo and Verstappen the chance to pick up points regularly but only in 1 or 2 point increments.

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Minardi logo
Mild Seven Minardi (Hart V8 / Bridgestone)

Things are changing for the better at Faenza, with the involvement of Flavio Briatore and Alessandro Nannini, Giancarlo Minardi can focus on the racing more than the hunt for sponsorship. The partnership with Mild Seven means of course the concession of using Ukyo Katayama instead of the undoubtedly faster Giancarlo Fisichella (and Jordan was the beneficiary of that deal).
In the other seat, the team has in Jarno Trulli one of the best young drivers on the grid. The weak link in the chain is the Hart engine, which showed in '96 that it did not have the output of the major works engines and often failed when pushed hard. This could be the only damper on what looks set to be the best year Minardi has ever had.

Qualifying : Lack of horsepower means places in the rear third of the grid. Cracking the top 15 will be cause for celebration.
Race Day : Katayama is steady, while Trulli is a racer. If the reliability is there, the team will be in the points.

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Stewart logo
HBSC Stewart (Ford V10 / Bridgestone)

The first year of a new F1 team is hard on all involved, it is a very steep learning curve and for every Jordan or Sauber, there are plenty of Pacific's and Simtek's. Stewart however, seems to be bound for success with the former world champion putting together a solid package for drivers Rubens Barrichello and Jan Magnussen.
As with all new teams there are bound to be teething troubles, but Jackie Stewart has set modest goals for his first season (to score just one championship point !) and they are well within reach.

Qualifying : Bottom third of the grid to start the season, but both drivers will be moving up the grid as the year goes on.
Race Day : Reliability will be a major factor, but the cars will be getting in the top 10. The teams first points will come by mid-season.

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Lola logo
Mastercard Lola (Ford V8 & Lola V10 / Goodyear)

As with fellow "new boys" Stewart GP, the works Lola team has secured solid sponsorship and the company's vast racing experience (including recent F1 involvement) means that they already had many of the personnel necessary to compete already in-house.
However, the customer Ford V8 engine that they start the season with, will mean starting at the back of the grid and struggling to get in the top 10 during a race. Even more telling though is the decision to build their own V10 engine. It is a hard enough for a new team be competitive, without having to go through the inevitable (and numerous) failures of a new powerplant. This won't help the teams drivers, neither of which has the experience to develop a brand new car : Riccardo Rosset turned in some solid performances in his rookie year, but did not exactly set the world on fire, while Vincenzo Sospiri has never raced in F1 and did very little running during his time as Benetton's test driver in '96.
"This season will be a learning experience" is a major understatement.

Qualifying : Back of the grid, possibly falling foul of the 107% rule (especially when the new engine is introduced).
Race Day : Both drivers will spend a lot of time looking in their mirrors. With some good fortune and numerous retirements, they may score a point.

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The Predictions :

We gave several of our corresponents the task of coming up with their Top 10's for next season.
We will see how they fared in our '97 Season Review!

World Drivers Championship

Simon Hill
Mike Zenger
Adrian Solitander
Jacques Villeneuve Jacques Villeneuve Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher Michael Schumacher Jacques Villeneuve
H-H Frentzen Gerhard Berger Mika Hakkinen
Mika Hakkinen H-H Frentzen H-H Frentzen
Gerhard Berger Mika Hakkinen Gerhard Berger
Eddie Irvine Johnny Herbert David Coulthard
David Coulthard Jean Alesi Olivier Panis
Jean Alesi Eddie Irvine Gianni Fisichella
Johnny Herbert David Coulthard Jan Magnussen
Damon Hill Olivier Panis Nicola Larini

World Constructors Championship

Simon Hill
Mike Zenger
Adrian Solitander
Williams Williams Williams
Ferrari Ferrari McLaren
McLaren Benetton Ferrari
Benetton McLaren Benetton
Jordan Sauber Jordan
Sauber Ligier Ligier
Tyrrell Jordan Sauber
Ligier TWR Arrows Stewart
TWR Arrows Tyrrell Tyrrell
Minardi Stewart Minardi
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