Hi folks...

There is not long to go now and, after the long wait for the first race of the season, we can now look forward to two races in quick succession, with the Australian and Malaysian grands prix taking place on back-to-back weekends.

I believe it is going to be a great year, and there is a lot of anticipation of what is ahead of us and just what might be in store.

Can Lewis Hamilton take that title this year? Will Kimi Raikkonen be able to retain it? And just how will Fernando Alonso get on now he is back with Renault? Can the Spaniard make amends and come back strong?

There is a lot for us to look forward to - and a lot of questions awaiting answers.

Of course, round one in Melbourne is going to give the first indication of just how the year is going to shape up. It is vital for all the teams to get a good start because, if they have got reliability and consistency, they should carry that throughout the rest of the season.

We often see margins built up in these first few 'flyaway' events because the development and progress is halted. The teams cannot do much until they get back to Europe and so, if they go to Albert Park on the back foot, that normally lasts for the first few rounds.

This year, the calendar is a bit different to normal and not only have we got an extra event in comparison to 2007, but we have two new venues joining the fold.

It's great to have some new tracks and especially as they are street circuits. Singapore is obviously going to be a night race, although how dark it is we will have to wait and see! Valencia should be great too, and it will probably be a very competitive race track. For those that have been to Monaco a lot, it might be a nice alternative.

Another change for '08 concerns some of the rules and there is now no traction control. I don't think it will make a huge amount of difference, however, come the start of the season.

Most of the guys will have got their heads around what is going on and what they need and don't need to do with their right foot. Some of the experienced guys have been there before too, so it will be in the memory bank. Also the engine mapping guys will have got to grips with things, so I imagine it will be a relatively smooth transition.

There should still be a couple of times when they get caught out though, and wet conditions will be especially difficult as a grand prix car is tough to drive in the wet without the technical aids.

Last year, we were lucky enough to have a very close battle between Ferrari and McLaren - and between the four drivers at those teams. From winter testing, I think things are looking very similar, especially with the top two.

It is still Ferrari with the pace and the reliability, while McLaren have got the speed as well, but maybe are not quite so consistent.

Kimi comes in as the man to beat and he will be looking to go for title number two. He should be a more relaxed because he has done what he has set out to do and that is win the world title. It is on his CV and he starts the year as the best driver in the world.

On that basis, it should give him more confidence. He won't be as frustrated and I expect to see a bit more from him.

Despite that though, he is going to be pushed hard by Felipe Massa and both will have good cars.

I am still tipping Felipe for the title incidentally. He really looks like he has that competitive edge back and he will tell Ferrari: 'Look, I have been around a while now and I think I can get the world championship'.

He is ready and has matured a great deal and the support from Ferrari will be there. He has played a supporting role for Michael Schumacher and for Raikkonen in some respects over last season. The time is right. The hunger value is there and he has settled down now in life. He has got married and he has got some stability. He has got everything going for him.

Whether we see the fight early on from McLaren, I am not sure. Ron Dennis' men might be a little bit adrift from what we have seen from testing but, as always, you never really know until the first race.

Lewis, though, is going to be improved because he knows what is going to be coming at him this year. He has got a season of experience and knows what to expect and what not to expect.

He goes into all the circuits now - except for those ones that are new to everybody - understanding what they are all about. He knows how a grand prix team ticks and he knows what he needs to do to get the most out of them. He knows what mistakes he made last year and he should be much stronger.

It just depends on whether he has got the car and what other distractions he has had going on throughout the winter.

The spy row is still rumbling on with the legal investigation in Italy, and that is a concern. As big as McLaren is, everybody is feeling the impact of what is, and has been, happening to them.

In one way then, the start of the season will be a great 'fix point' for them to target and actually go there and say: 'Right, now the races are back on, we will get focused on that and carry on', but there are still many, many rumours floating around, not least with people speculating that Ron is going to step down.

Whether Ron should, or will, stay on, I don't know. What is clear, I think, is that he has been at the head of McLaren for a very long time. He has got to the point in his life when maybe he is starting to think about what else there is to do. There is life outside of motorsport and maybe that is something he is reflecting on.

Whatever happens, however, if he stays or steps down, there will still be a big part of Ron Dennis running through the veins of all at the McLaren Group. I don't think he will be going far if he does go somewhere either.

As for the likes of BMW, Renault et all, I'll look at how I think they might do in part 2 of my preview for Australia.



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