by Rob Wilkins

It may only just be 2008, but already the anticipation is building in the countdown to the season opening Australian Grand Prix on March 16. Before then there will be the lots of testing and all the usual pre-season launches, with all the teams hoping that this year they will win races, notch up podiums, score points, etc, etc - delete as appropriate.

Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari will be out to defend their crowns, while McLaren and Lewis Hamilton will be keen to get revenge.

Here Crash.net columnist Mark Blundell grabs his crystal ball and gives us his thoughts on just what might happen in the coming year. This time last year, he plucked for Kimi and the Scuderia - can he get it right again?

Time will tell.

Crash.net:
Mark, how do you see things developing in 2008?

Mark Blundell:
It is going to be a great season again and we have got so much to look forward to. I think Ferrari will be the big boys again and they will be looking to bounce off 2007 and put another world championship under their belt. I am sure Felipe Massa would like to be part and parcel of that.

I expect McLaren to come back fighting as strong as ever and deliver in heaps. Lewis Hamilton has definitely put his credentials in bold

Will Renault and will BMW come on and chip away and fight those guys? I reckon BMW have got half a chance of doing that, but Renault may still be on a bit of a learning curve.

It would be nice to see Honda come back on stream and start being a top-six, top-eight contender on a solid basis. It may be too early though.

At the back and mid-grid much will probably be the same, although Williams could be the surprise. They could surprise many people as they did this year.
Crash.net:
Amongst the changes for 2008, there will be no traction control. What effect will that have on the sport?

MB:
It will show out some of the guys that have been very dependent and reliant on it. It might take them some time to get use to not having that luxury. But some of the guys that have stepped up from GP2 won't find it so much of a problem because they have not experienced it. Some of the people that have got styles of driving that are very aggressive and are quite forceful in the car might need to get the measure of that. Somebody like Jenson Button that is very smooth in his application of delivering the throttle will be laughing in many ways because it will suit his style. There will be some mishaps, more so in the rain, because it will show up more there. But I think it will be beneficial to all of us in the long run to watch that.

Crash.net:
We were meant to see Prodrive in 2008, but this customer car row seems to have ruled them out. How sad for the sport is it not to have that twelfth team?

MB:
It is sad in many ways because we could cope with another team and they would have been a good asset to the grid. It is a shame that there are two drivers that won't get to field there skills out there as well, because it would have be nice to see a couple more guys on the grid. But that is the politics of it and is something we have got to understand has happened. I am sure Prodrive will be working to make sure they can get to the grid as soon as possible. There is a lot more to come out on that side of things though.

Crash.net:
What should we expect from Lewis Hamilton and McLaren? Can he repeat what he did in 2007?

MB:
He can repeat what he did in '07 and a little bit more providing the tools are available to him. That is the big question mark when we are going into a new season. We just have to wait and see if the new equipment has got the performance needed and if so Lewis has got what it takes to get the job done. He has definitely experienced all the highs and lows and has experienced a lot going on outside the team as well - more so than many drivers experience over a whole career of grand prix racing. There is no doubt he has got the potential to step up. Whether he has got the potential to be team leader I am not too sure. It might be a little bit too much too soon but we will have to wait and see what McLaren give him to drive first.

Crash.net:
Will McLaren miss Fernando Alonso's input and experience in terms of developing the car?

MB:
It will be difficult for them in many ways because they don't have the experience there. But it is dependent on where the car is. If the car rolls out and it is good out of the box then that role will be minimised because they won't have to rely so much on the experience and the depth to pull the team along and give them direction. It is one of those scenarios until the first wheel turns we don't really have any clue. But it is always going to be handy to have a double world champion and several times grand prix winner on your books.

Crash.net:
Kimi Raikkonen has got that first title in the bag now - will that give him an added edge?

MB:
It will give him a level of confidence and a level of credibility in the paddock to go out there and fight again for another world championship. Everybody knew he was probably one of the fastest drivers on the circuit. They were just concerns whether he had the level of commitment to finish it all off. That has been proven now and with that he walks in knowing he is number one and I think he can carry on in that same guise. It really will be exciting to see whether he is going to have the hunger to go for another world championship. He will have a hungry team-mate alongside him. There is a lot to look forward to on that front.

Crash.net:
A lot of teams will be looking to improve, how important is it for Honda to make a giant leap - and how much will Ross Brawn help them?

MB:
Ross Brawn is a great asset but it will be a while before any influence comes through. As I have said before, things don't happen overnight. It takes a lot of understanding of producing the right set-up and package of people and infrastructure to move forward. So don't expect fireworks straight off the back of his signing. But I do expect to see some progress and towards the end of the season see something that is lining them up to be sensible contenders for the year after.

Crash.net:
Finally and you got this right last year by opting for Kimi and Ferrari, who do you think will win the 2008 drivers' and constructors' titles?

MB:
I am going to go with Felipe Massa for the drivers' title and I am going to go with Ferrari again for the constructors. We will see though...

Coming in 2008: More thoughts from Mark, in his regular and exclusive columns on Crash.net

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