The four world champions on the grid will vie to add another in 2010
By Martin Brundle
BBC F1 analyst
The 2010 Formula 1 grid is packed with a real quality and depth, including four world champions Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
The last time I remember seeing a field of this calibre was in the ’80s and early ’90s.
On top of that, the make-up of the driver and team line-ups gives an added dimension – with history, and the occasional bit of bad blood, adding spice to the mix.
I’m expecting some sensational performances, bizarre results, and the reigniting of some tasty rivalries on and off the track.
JENSON BUTTON V LEWIS HAMILTON
It’s going to be very close between McLaren’s all-English line-up of successive world champions, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
Right now they are in the honeymoon phase and saying all the right things, but come November there can be only one winner. And of course, one loser.
After winning the 2009 crown for Brawn GP, Button has found a new challenge right inside Hamilton’s backyard.
He has settled at McLaren very quickly and he won’t be any slouch in the car, which I expect to have real pace.
But he still has to gel with the team and his new race engineer because his old one, Andrew Shovlin, remains with Michael Schumacher at Mercedes GP.
On the other hand, Hamilton has been the team’s main man for some time; indeed he joined them at 13 and is very comfortable there.
The 25-year-old won the title with McLaren in 2008 and will be super-motivated. He wants the number one back and will be relishing the opportunity to show who is top Brit.
Hamilton and Button say they’ll work together at McLaren but will it last?
Hamilton knew he could beat his former team-mate Heikki Kovalainen day in day out, and so all the resources and effort were focused on him. The car will automatically have evolved towards his driving style to some degree.
Now both he and Button will be trying to galvanise the team around themselves; after all, they’re both world champions.
As the team’s most expensive employees, they also have to follow instructions, which will include going all out to win the constructors’ championship for McLaren. There will be pressure in and out of the car.
Even if Button and Hamilton manage to keep their personal ambitions under control, I can see there being fireworks sooner or later – it’s inevitable as they both try to achieve a mutually exclusive goal.
The outcome will really depend on how the tyres hold out with no race refuelling for the first time since 1993. If tyre and brake preservation is the key then Button is ace at that. If the car has several handling change phases through a race, Hamilton copes better.
But if I had to choose I’d put my money on Hamilton to shade the battle.
SCHUMACHER V HAMILTON
This is a sporting contest we never thought we’d witness and I’m really looking forward to it. Schumacher may have been away for three years but he’s still the man who is, by some margin, statistically the greatest driver of all time.
We caught a glimpse of this rivalry at the Barcelona test when Hamilton came up behind Schumacher and passed him cleanly.
The seven-time champion effectively carries a great big target on his rear wing; getting one over on him is a way to score some credibility points and enhanced reputations for the whole grid.
I’m eagerly anticipating Hamilton versus Schumacher in the same way I did Schumacher versus Ayrton Senna.
Three-time champion Senna competed against rising star Schumacher from 1991 until the Brazilian’s death in 1994
There are only a few great drivers in Formula 1 and every so often they go head-to-head; there’s always a king and a pretender to the throne.
Senna was the king and then by 1994 Schumacher started regularly beating him. A decade or so later Fernando Alonso seized the initiative.
It’s like the handing over of a baton when greatness passes on, and we may well see that happening this season between Hamilton, Schumacher, Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. Not to mention Button, Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa, and Robert Kubica.
Yes, it’s that good.
HAMILTON V ALONSO
There’s bound to be some friction at some point between Hamilton and Alonso, his former team-mate and Ferrari’s new recruit .
It is not necessarily a grudge match between the two, but there’s some underlying tension from their tempestuous 2007 season as McLaren team-mates.
Alonso won’t be shy to show anybody aggression in wheel-to-wheel combat, be it Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, or his own team-mate Felipe Massa
Hamilton conceded recently that he probably didn’t handle the situation as well as he could have, but clearly Alonso understood he was McLaren number one back then, and rookie Hamilton had other ideas.
Alonso has endured two years in the Renault wilderness since leaving McLaren.
But the Spaniard won’t be focused only on Hamilton; he’s desperate to beat the lot of them. I expect him to be on fire from the first lap, and he really is a man who can drive a car through different phases of handling.
Alonso won’t be shy to show anybody aggression in wheel-to-wheel combat, be it Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, or his own team-mate Felipe Massa.
ALONSO V FELIPE MASSA
Massa is definitely the darling of the team – but Ferrari will back whoever looks most likely to deliver results and titles.
The Brazilian has shown a consistent ability to raise his game, and he’s going to need another step I suspect. Alonso will try to make the team his own in short order. Massa specialises at some tracks such as Istanbul, but he’ll need that form everywhere.
Massa has welcomed Alonso at Ferrari but how long will the smiles last?
Alonso is on fast-forward right now; he’s driving well, the F10 has shown initially good speed in qualifying trim and over longer stints during testing, and pre-season he’d be my favourite for the championship.
Massa will find it an awful lot harder both in and out of the car to cope with Alonso than Kimi Raikkonen, especially given that they have had verbal fights before.
I don’t think Alonso cares who’s in the other Ferrari – he’s not looking for a new best friend
ALONSO V SCHUMACHER
Alonso will relish the return of his old rival Schumacher. He pretty much had the measure of him when he took the seven-time champion’s crown in 2005 and 2006.
I think he’ll have the upper hand again. He’s the man in the Ferrari now and Schumacher has got it all to prove.
The interesting thing for me is how Schumacher will feel going wheel-to-wheel with a Ferrari. Psychologically, what will it be like for him to fight his beloved team?
But Alonso won’t be especially focused on Schumacher, and I doubt he’ll allow Michael to shove him on the grass at 180 mph as he did at Silverstone back in 2003.
But underestimating Schumacher is never a good idea. He’ll be very aggressive and Mercedes will soon have the car sorted out. I expect some intense moments between these two, especially in the later phase of races.
The interesting thing for me is how Schumacher will feel going wheel-to-wheel with a Ferrari. Psychologically, what will it be like for him to fight his beloved team, the one which gave him five titles? It’ll be fascinating to watch.
McLAREN V MERCEDES
The team rivalry that I expect to be played out at full throttle is between McLaren and Mercedes. There are a lot of reputations hanging on that grudge match.
After 15 years together, McLaren are now the customer team and the German company is selling its McLaren shares and has bought into reigning champions Brawn, renaming them Mercedes GP.
While McLaren field the two English world champions, Mercedes have the legendary Schumacher and compatriot Nico Rosberg, son of former world champion Keke.
The England versus Germany aspect is so perfect it’s humorous in many respects, but I expect to see a very serious rivalry between the two.
RED BULL V EVERYONE
Red Bull are now a front-running team and they dominated the end of last season. They don’t quite fit into the rivals category, but what they’ve got that the others haven’t is continuity and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain that dominance into the new season.
Vettel and Webber line-up for their second season as team-mates and there is no palpable sense of internal friction.
Vettel and Webber could do more celebrating for Red Bull after a champagne 2009 season
Vettel is one of the great stars of the future and Webber has a new-found confidence now that he is a race-winner.
All the signs are that Red Bull are in the mix, although they claim to have a power deficit with the Renault engine.
The season will be all about which of the top four teams, Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, and Mercedes, can develop their cars quickly and effectively.
The energy drink tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz has already come out and said he expects his team to go one better and win the 2010 title. No pressure there, then.