Hamilton, Raikkonen poised to dominate new frontiers

Lewis Hamilton's unshackled talent and world champion Kimi Raikkonen's ice cool demeanour are set to dominate Formula One this year.

updated: March 09, 2008 07:48 IST
  • Total Shares


Lewis Hamilton's unshackled talent and world champion Kimi Raikkonen's ice cool demeanour are set to dominate Formula One this year and steer the sport away from the controversies of 2007 where the bulk of the championship's most daring manoeuvres took place off the track.

Hamilton, whose debut season with McLaren helped fuel new interest in a sport many predicted would struggle after the retirement of Michael Schumacher, was cruising to a historic world title until it was snatched away by Ferrari's Raikkonen in the season finale in Brazil.

By that stage, the personable young British driver had become used to making headlines.

His team was caught up in the now infamous 'Spygate' affair which saw them thrown out of the constructors' championship and fined 50 million pounds before his tense relationship with teammate Fernando Alonso broke down to the point were the two were barely on speaking terms.

A sulking Alonso has now returned to his Renault safety blanket where he won his two world titles before his ill-starred move to McLaren.

That has left Hamilton in no doubt about his destiny with McLaren and Ferrari once again the two dominant teams.

"Last year I had so much to prove. There was the press asking 'can he do it or not?' I'm sure even people in the team were wondering," said 23-year-old Hamilton ahead of the season-opener in Melbourne on Sunday.

"I think this year is slightly easier. People know how well I can drive. I'm not going into an unknown world."

Even four-time world champion Alain Prost believes Hamilton's time has come.

"I think Lewis will be the top guy," said Prost.

"If he has a good car, I don't think it should be a problem. He has more experience now."

Meanwhile, Raikkonen, whose ability behind a wheel may be God-given even if his talents in front of a microphone are not, has been keen to play down suggestions that he'll dominate the 18-race season.

"I don't believe that it is only between me and Hamilton," said Raikkonen.

"Ferrari and McLaren each have two cars and two very fast drivers, so it will be a very evenly matched struggle," added the Finn keen not to overshadow either his teammate Felipe Massa or Heikki Kovalainen, Hamilton's running mate at McLaren.

However, it is the dominance of the same teams year in, year out that leads to accusations that the sport has become too predictable, too processional with thrills only guaranteed when a crash or bad weather intervenes.

So, ever conscious of the need for sport to be a spectacle, F1's rulers have ordered cars to be stripped of electronic driver aids designed to return power to the man behind the wheel rather than the scientist in the lab.

Equally conscious of the need for new markets, the world championship is looking east and to Asia as money in the traditional European heartlands dries up.

This season will see Singapore host its first race, which will take place at night, while negotiations to stage grand prix in the United Arab Emirates, India and South Korea have already been held.

India will even have its own F1 team this year in the shape of Force India, the repackaged Spyker outfit.

"I am very bullish about the East," said F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone buoyed by mindboggling figures such as the inaugural Grand Prix in China in 2004 generating an estimated 650 million dollars in revenue.

The new season will witness other notable facts.

Rubens Barrichello, once a high-flyer with Ferrari but now marooned in the back row with Honda, will break the record for grand prix raced while the Williams team will smash the 600-race barrier.

There will also be plenty of family moments with Nelson Piquet and Kazuki Nakajima joining Nico Rosberg as the latest sons to follow their fathers into the sport.

Whoever emerges champion at Brazil in November, most people in the sport are praying for a championship free of politics and accusations of sabotage.

"I am hoping for a boring world championship, with no courts or James Bonds," said Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo.