You can't teach an old dog a new trick, or so the saying goes. However the Formula One authorities are hoping that they can teach F1 a new trick, the trick is to level the playing field and to make the sport more exciting. With the aid of a book full of new rules and regulations, they hope to inject some more spills and thrills into the biggest sporting circus on the face of the planet.
I however don't know that it is possible to make F1 any more exciting, if any more stress is added to the sport I will surely be sent to an early grave through my heart stopping for a wholly unhealthy amount of time! But with the new rules cutting down on all manner of things like tire grip, I'd better look at watching the races with a doctor because it looks like the rule-makers may have injected the desired amount of excitement, and in a dose to strain even the best defibrillator!
The action commences this weekend in Australia. For the last two years round one has started 'down under' in explosive fashion. In 1996 Damon Hill and the then new boy, Jacques Villeneuve, battled out one of the most exciting duels I have ever seen. Last year David Coulthard took the top step of the podium after a stunning incident-filled race that saw Jean Alesi running out of fuel despite his crew nearly throwing the 'pit in' board at him as he sped past them lap after lap. (Remember Murray's classic line, "Oh you've got a lot of explaining to do sunshine") Frentzen exited in spectacular style in what could have been his glorious victorious race in his maiden voyage in the Williams car. A fact that commentator Martin Brundle exclaimed "Oh he's lost it, he's lost it, he-has-lost-it!!".
So who can do the biz this year then, who will win the silverware and who will eventually wear the crown? The choices are many and varied, but in truth, things in formula one are rarely that open. My tips for winners are:-
'Goldie locks' Jacques Villeneuve is full of it since he won the title last year. He is positively oozing self-confidence and in his all-new look Williams, he just has to be a favorite.
'Harry Heinz' aka Heinz Harold-Frentzen was a complete and utter failure last year. He was in the same car that Villeneuve took to the top and yet he drove like he had the old bill behind him all the time! (That's the police for all you non-London speakers!) This year he has kept his seat at Williams but he's been told to do something to convince the team that he's not a complete w**ker!
The model magnet David Coulthard is talking up the championship with a car that has looked astounding in pre-season testing. His merc powered McLaren took a good share of last year's silverware and if you're looking for a good bet on who will be champion, you'd not be chancing all that much with the square chinned Scotsman.
The Flying Finn, Mika Hakkinen won the final race of 97 (albeit with a BIG hand from just about everybody!) so he's still riding the crest of the victory wave. As fast as he is I don't think he has the consistency and stability of Coulthard who in my opinion has outshone the Finn at McLaren.
Damon Hill teams up with Ralf Schumacher at Jordan to make what I think will be an even more fiery pairing than the team had last year. He says that he is looking forward to helping Ralf learn F1. But I don't think his German teammate feels he needs to learn that much from the former British champ.
Benetton will have about as much direction as Apple this year which is a shame because I rate their Italian star Giancarlo Fisichella who was forced to leave Jordan at the end of last year due to contractual commitments to Benetton. He teams up with a guy called Wurz who could well be a future star.
Another team that will I think experience more fireworks due to their two drivers' different personalities rather than success is Sauber. They have stuck with Brit Johnny Herbert and added some French Sicilian spice in the form of hot-tempered Jean Alesi who himself must surely be on the road out of F1?
The Prost team has kept Panis and the other guy whose name I have forgotten. They have however got something new in the form of the Peugeot engine. Time will see what they can do with what is argued to be the most powerful F1 engine around.
There are some other teams who enter, but they have no chance and would be best advised to go and spend their money doing something where they have more chance of winning. I won't go into who they are because they're crap and you don't care anyway!
Oh and look out for a couple of guys driving around in a red car that they call a Ferrari. A laid back swearing Irish guy and a German called Michael Schumacher will be piloting this Italian outfit who you never know, they may yet make us sit up and take notice, but then again, who's ever heard of Ferrari anyway?