by Rob Wilkins

The battle between Ferrari and McLaren this season was intense and both teams produced top cars in the shape of the F2007 and MP4-22 respectively, which easily had the edge over the rest of the field. The fact that battle boiled over into the court room with the spy row was unfortunate, but it certainly gave proceedings an added ferocity.

Here columnist, Mark Blundell discusses the impact of that - and gives his verdict on the performances of Ferrari and McLaren and the nine other teams in the sport.

Which car was best - the Ferrari F2007 or the McLaren MP4-22?

Read on to discover MB's take...
Mark, there was a lot of politics this year in Formula 1, with the spy row dragging on for what seemed like an age. How much did that mar the season or is it a case of any publicity being good publicity?

Mark Blundell:
I don't think it was a great thing for F1. OK, on the publicity side you can look at it and turn a negative into a positive, but underneath all that, it was very difficult for people to understand what was going on.

The sport should be easily understandable and it is difficult to follow when results happen on the circuit and are then overturned at the end of it. Not many sports are like that. You wouldn't expect, for example, to watch 90 minutes of a football match and see a goal scored and then an hour or so later come back and find out it has been disallowed. It just doesn't happen.

The overriding factor now though is we have to make sure F1 comes out positive and comes out fighting for next season. We have got to make sure all the new fans are still on board with us and all the old fans still want to either be present or watching.

What has gone on over the last seven or eight months has been quite damaging to the sport. It is something that is over my head a bit and now it is up to the powers that be to review it and see whether they think it is an injustice or whether it has been fully justified.
Ferrari obviously took the constructors' crown, although after McLaren were excluded it was handed to them on a plate. Did that take anything away from the Scuderia's achievement?

I don't think it did. There would still have been a big fight and you just had to see the performance of the Ferrari to see that the Scuderia was still deserving of winning that title. But that was what the whole thing was about - it was all about a straight fight between McLaren and Ferrari and unfortunately we didn't get to see that with the same levels of pressure applied. That is what happened though and that is the end of it. It is history.
Which driver-car package was best this year - McLarens or Ferraris?

It is very difficult to say - it was horses for courses. There were a number of circuits where Ferrari were strong and a number where McLaren were strong. There was times when Ferrari was a little bit weak in terms of strategic decisions and that applied to McLaren as well. I would be very reluctant to say which team had the best equipment and which team did the best job this year. It was as much of a draw as you could get.
BMW continued to make lots of progress and were easily 'best of the rest', but was that enough or were you hoping they might get closer to the top two?

They did a good job. They kept progressing and they had two good guys sitting behind the wheel, in the shape of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubicia, who pushed each other. BMW look like they are getting more understanding of what is required now, but whether they will go the next step is difficult to say because that next step is huge. It is tough to go from podium positions to scoring grand prix wins. When you have got the might of McLaren and Ferrari there you have really got to be on top of your game and have all the resource necessary to match that. We wait with anticipation on that side of things because we know that BMW have done it in the past and we will just have to see if they can do it again.
Quite a few teams under-performed - principally Renault, who seemed to really struggle at the start, why do you think that was?

I don't really know why Renault struggled so much. It is always difficult to analyse and see a team, which has been winning grand's prix and championships previously, all of a sudden drop off the map. The same could be said for Honda as well and probably between both of those teams the expectations were high and the results weren't fulfilling. You can say there was a driver change with Fernando Alonso and maybe that took some enthusiasm and emphasise out of Renault. But I truly don't believe that one guy behind the wheel was the be all and end all. Look at Ferrari, they lost Michael Schumacher but they still continued their winning ways. Renault just didn't quite have the package right and everybody around them had improved their packages. If you look back through the history books you will see that things go in cycles and maybe Renault will come back stronger next season or the season after. But definitely this was one of their weaker years.
Honda, as you mentioned, had a dismal year and so too did Toyota. Were you shocked by just how bad they were?

I was very shocked by what was going on with Toyota because we have been waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen there and it still hasn't come through. You just expect that the might of Toyota, being probably the number one motor manufacturer in the world, would deliver more on the circuit with its motorsport programme. But they still haven't achieved much.

Honda did well in the second half of 2006 and everyone felt that the next step would happen and they would be up on the podium on a consistent basis, but it never came together either. In fact it went very sour and even the sister team, Super Aguri, beat them on occasions and out-performed them. They took a wrong turn and they have paid the price for that. They have had to endure the season and now look at a re-structure. That re-structure looks very healthy and it just depends how long it will take to put it all in place.
How would you assess the year for Williams and Red Bull Racing?

I think Williams and Red Bull Racing both did a very good job, especially the former. Bearing in mind what Williams had in terms of budget - which definitely wasn't up there with the big teams at the front of the grid - and bearing in mind they were using a Toyota engine as a customer, to outpace the Toyotas on many occasions and score 33 points and finish fourth in the constructors' was commendable. They were very good performers and that just showed the depth of engineering and the desire still to win from the team. A lot of it was done with Nico Rosberg behind the wheel and he has probably been one of the most outstanding guys over the course of the season. They have got more to come. It just depends on whether they have got the resource to match it.
The battle at the back was just as tight as at the front - although Toro Rosso ultimately won there by scoring eight points to the four notched up by Super Aguri and the one scored by Spyker. How did you feel those three teams got on?

Toro Rosso were up and down a little bit - they were trying to stabilise themselves to understand what was underneath them and where they could go. They did seem to have a little bit of a push halfway through with Sebastian Vettel stepping up to the plate. However you tended to feel that there was more to come, but it never actually shone through.

Super Aguri were very good in terms of what they had around them. They kept their heads down and just kept chipping away and for a very small team, which was put together still in a very short period of time, they have been a great asset to the sport.

Spyker showed a level of underperformance which started at the beginning of the season and never really improved until the end of it. It was a shame in many ways because we felt there was something more to come but it never quite got to be shown on the circuit. The only thing that did come out was the emergence of Adrian Sutil and he is definitely a star of the future given the right equipment - and that is something that maybe Spyker or Force India F1, as it is now, will be hoping to give him in 2008.

Coming soon: Mark Blundell looks into his 'crystal ball' and previews the 2008 F1 season. Who will win? Mark tells us who he thinks will get the job done in '08...