If Renault failed to deliver what was widely expected of it in 2007 given its double world championship-winning status, then BMW by-and-large over-delivered on pre-season predictions, as the Munich and Hinwil-based squad firmly established itself as 'best-of-the-rest' behind the untouchable McLaren and Ferrari.

The other possibly surprising factor about BMW's season was the fact it was Nick Heidfeld rather than Robert Kubica who emerged as the Bavarian marque's leading hope, both in qualifying and on race day. The German amassed 61 points over the course of the campaign to secure fifth spot in the end-of-season drivers' standings, and mounted the podium in both Canada and - for a second successive year - Hungary.

Whilst Heidfeld was a model of polished consistency throughout - failing to score in just three of the 17 races - Kubica's year was more of a rollercoaster ride, encapsulated by his horrifying Montreal crash when he hit the back of Jarno Trulli's Toyota at high speed approaching the hairpin, and somersaulted sickeningly across the track before coming to rest and being attended to by the circuit's paramedics. Miraculously the Pole was back in action again just three weeks later at Magny-Cours, and displaying few ill-effects from his monster smash, but overall he never quite showed the form many had anticipated of him in 2007, given the way he had burst onto the grand prix scene towards the end of last year with a rostrum finish in only his third outing. How he and Heidfeld fare against each other in 2008 will be fascinating to see.

Williams finished fourth in the final constructors' standings, and by the end of the campaign - in Nico Rosberg's case at least - the FW29 could pretty much lay claim to being the fourth-best car in the field. Having begun 2006 in superb fashion only to fade as the season wore on, the young German was one of the revelations of the 2007 campaign, scoring nine times en route to ninth spot in the drivers' title chase, with a particular highlight of fourth position in the season finale in Brazil, when he saw off both BMWs courtesy of some feisty passing manoeuvres in the race's closing laps. If Williams furnish him with an even quicker car next year, be prepared to watch Nico fly...

Alex Wurz occupied the sister Williams for all-but one race of the year, before making way for test-driver - and 2008 racer - Kazuki Nakajima at Interlagos, some say after being unceremoniously informed by engineering director Patrick Head on the Shanghai grid that his services were no longer required with virtually immediate effect. The Austrian - returning to active competition in the top flight for the first time in seven years - struggled in qualifying season-long, never once making the top ten on the grid and consequently leaving himself with far too much ground to make up come the races. A canny third place in the chaotic, incident-strewn Canadian Grand Prix was the sole highlight of a desperately disappointing comeback.

Another driver who has seemingly bid au revoir to the F1 paddock is Toyota's Ralf Schumacher, as the German scored just five points in a depressing year in which the Cologne-based outfit once again flattered only to deceive. The car certainly seemed to have decent one-lap pace on occasion - in Jarno Trulli's hands anyway - and the Italian's supremely brave qualifying effort at Montreal, hauling his TF107 up into the top ten on the grid by the very skin of his teeth after persistent suspension woes had forced both drivers to stay away from the kerbs, the key to a good lap time around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, has to go down as one of the qualifying laps of the season.

The Italian too suffered from Toyota's chronic lack of race-day competitiveness, racking up just eight points, but unlike his team-mate, he at least came out of the campaign with his reputation largely intact.

Red Bull Racing finished ahead of Toyota in the constructors' standings, but could have done rather better still had it not been for early-season gearbox issues that, team principal Christian Horner calculates, cost the Milton Keynes-based squad some 24 points. Given RBR trailed Williams by just nine in the final reckoning, that statistic goes to show just how vital those points ultimately were.

There were highs and lows along the way, from Mark Webber's maiden podium finish for the team at the N?rburgring, a flurry of top ten grid positions from the 31-year-old and team-mate David Coulthard's strong points-scoring finishes in the Spanish, European and weather-ravaged Japanese Grands Prix. Fuji, indeed, was a high and low all wrapped into one, as Webber saw his chances of scoring a dream victory for Red Bull torpedoed by sister outfit Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel whilst lying in a challenging second place under the safety car. The plain-speaking Aussie was nigh-on inconsolable after the race, but should the combined promise of Adrian Newey, Geoff Willis and Renault engines finally bear fruit in 2008, he will surely have chance to make amends.

STR finished just two spots behind its big brother in the constructors' championship, albeit some 16 points adrift, at the end of a campaign characterised most markedly by a very public falling out between Scott Speed and team principal Franz Tost that allegedly culminated in the pair coming to blows after both the American and team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi skidded out of the rain-lashed European Grand Prix at the N?rburgring within two laps of the lights going out. Speed later spoke out about what he saw as the team having no faith in its drivers, a situation seemingly confirmed by his immediate release from his contract and Liuzzi too being shown the door at season's end.

Speed was replaced by Vettel, who stunned the grand prix fraternity in his sixth grand prix - he had already made his F1 debut for BMW-Sauber in place of the recovering Kubica at Indianapolis, impressively scoring a point on his maiden appearance - by running up in third position in the rain at Fuji, before being caught out by the concertina effect under the safety car and clattering into the back of Webber's second-placed Red Bull machine, removing both from the equation in one fell swoop. He went some way to atoning for that with a superb fourth spot next time out in China, and much will clearly be expected of both the young German and new team-mate, four-time Champ Car king S?bastien Bourdais, in 2008.

Behind STR - and a team that amazingly had not registered even so much as a single point up until the French Grand Prix in July - was Honda, who suffered quite possibly the most downbeat year in the company's entire and illustrious F1 history with its earth-themed car, saved only by spirited performances from Jenson Button at Magny-Cours, Monza and Shanghai. Having scored his breakthrough grand prix victory the previous season in Budapest, the Briton had expected much, much more from 2007, but to his great credit he never gave up fighting, no matter how desperate or depressing the situation became.

That the 27-year-old scored all of the team's points in the constructors' standings speaks volumes for the way he handled matters in 2007. For the first time in his 15-year F1 career meanwhile, team-mate Rubens Barrichello failed to trouble the scorers at all, an unenviable statistic the Brazilian will clearly be aiming not to repeat in 2008 - a year some predict will be the 35-year-old's swansong in the uppermost echelon - when he and Button hope to return to the front of the grid where they both irrefutably belong.

Indeed, up until the penultimate outing, Honda lay behind Super Aguri in the points' rankings, as the Leafield-based outfit campaigned the Japanese manufacturer's 2006 car. If it was an embarrassing season for the latter, the former by contrast shone in the early races, with Takuma Sato grabbing the final point in Spain before enticing the Canadian crowd onto its feet in Montreal as he sensationally battled his way past both Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso in the race's closing stages en route to sixth position at the chequered flag. Though no further points would come Super Aguri's way over the remainder of the year, both Sato and team-mate Anthony Davidson - having finally received his big break following no fewer than five seasons of acting as a test-driver for BAR/Honda - impressed with their gutsy performances all the way to the end.

Bringing up the rear, finally, was Spyker - now Force India - for whom rookie Adrian Sutil registered the sole point in Fuji, after keeping his head when so many others had lost theirs. The young German - a former team-mate of Lewis Hamilton's in the F3 Euroseries - had a strong maiden year in the top flight, and will clearly be a man to keep an eye on in the future. He comfortably saw off the challenge of the more experienced Christijan Albers, who parted company with the Silverstone-based concern following a poor start to the season and a calamitous French Grand Prix in which he drove out of the pit-lane with the refuelling hose still attached to his car.

Markus Winkelhock enjoyed his moment in the sun - or rather rain - by leading the European Grand Prix in front of his home fans and on his F1 debut - and with Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya having now taken over the reins and Giancarlo Fisichella rumoured to be joining Sutil on the driving front in 2008, it will be interesting to see just how much progress Force India can make next year, as the squad seeks to leap away from the back of the grid.

F1 2008 is just around the corner - don't go away!

 

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