Ferrari and McLaren dominated the 2007 Formula One season. They were streets ahead of the competition and there is every reason to suggest that 2008 will be the same. With that in mind there was a lot of interest surrounding both teams this week as they unveiled their new challengers to the world, and did so within 24 hours of each other.

The championship battle for 2008 has begun.

The two leading outfits decimated the field last year. Ignoring McLaren’s expulsion the two championship contenders scored 422 points between them which is almost twice as much as all the other teams put together. Only Fernando Alonso’s qualifying penalty in Hungary prevented Ferrari and McLaren from locking out the front row at every Grand Prix. There were only four races all year when a car that wasn’t painted silver or red appeared on the podium making it a very strong season for F1’s two oldest teams.

BMW and Renault spent most of last year developing their 2008 machinery so they may catch up some of the ground but are unlikely to become regular race winners.

Originally McLaren was not going to indulge in a formal launch event at all due to the spying scandal. However, they ended up hosting a low key affair at the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart, almost certainly at their engine supplier’s behest.

They did so just a day after Ferrari conducted their launch at Maranello.

When the covers were taken of the Scuderia’s latest challenger it was fairly obvious that no major changes had been made, although the uber-observant may have noticed the Marlboro barcode is now one line shorter (go on, count them).

There were some huge differences between the 2006 and 2007 models but this year the team have simply evolved their winning concept rather than overhaul it.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the large number one on the nosecone.

There are many changes of course, but they are very subtle to the naked eye. The front half of the car is much narrower this year in an effort to increase aerodynamic efficiency. In fact, it is now so slender there is a bulge around the cockpit to ensure the driver can still fit. The monocoque dimensions are set in the regulations so Ferrari have built theirs to the bare minimum and have sculpted everything else as tight as possible. The end result is a car that Kimi Raikkonen feels is the most constricted he has sat in.

There are also some changes to the front wing. McLaren debuted the new ‘bridge wing’ last year that ended up being adopted by several other teams during the season. This wing included an extra aerodynamic profile that ran over the top of the nosecone and directed air along the car and into the radiators. Toyota introduced one of these mid-season but their nosecone was too high for the ‘bridge’ to run over it. Instead, Toyota attached the upper profile of the front wing directly onto their nose which they extended forward. In 2008 Ferrari have taken on the same philosophy and the end result is a very different front end of the car.

Ferrari will be hoping the new aerodynamics help them on the tight and twisty circuits where they struggled last year. The F2007 was brilliant through fast corners but had a lot of trouble around the slower circuits. Most of this was due to the long wheelbase layout of the car, although the team believe this can be corrected with revised aerodynamics. Ferrari have reshaped the sidepods and engine cover for 2008 and believe that will be compensate for the length of their chassis

McLaren seem to agree, having built a long wheelbase car themselves.

The British team’s plan to move their axles further apart caused a stir when the FIA inspected the new car in November. Some people suggested the Ferrari information that passed between Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan was responsible for the change in McLaren’s design. This is highly unlikely, but the FIA did find an email between McLaren engineers that discussed wheelbase length and referred to the Nigel Stepney dossier. Company CEO, Martin Whitmarsh, admitted in the teams public apology that Ferrari’s information had been “more widely disseminated within McLaren than was previously communicated” so just maybe they have a good understanding of what makes a long wheelbase car work as a result of it.

It is more likely that McLaren elongated their car to accommodate a new longer gearbox.

Then again, who knows for sure?

Ron Dennis and his boys haven’t followed Ferrari’s lead everywhere though. Whilst Ferrari made the car tighter at the front, McLaren have made theirs tighter at the rear. The engine cover is much thinner and the rear bodywork is more compact around the gearbox. This has resulted in the left and right exhaust outlets being much closer to the centre of the new car.

Another example of Ferrari and McLaren taking a different approach to car design is evident in their airbox configuration.

The cockpit opening and drivers helmet cause massive disruptions to the airflow over the car at speed. Both Ferrari and McLaren have tried to take more advantage from this by adjusting the airbox opening that sits right behind the driver’s head. Ferrari have moved theirs forward, whilst McLaren have cut all of the unnecessary bodywork away from it. The McLaren airbox is now visibly separated from the headrest below and the idea of this is to decrease drag from the turbulent airflow.

This may not contribute greatly to overall performance, but every little bit helps.

A little bit of nostalgia might help as well.

The designation of this year’s McLaren is the MP4-23. This holds special significance for the team because the most successful car in the company’s history was named the M23. Between 1973 and 1976 McLaren won sixteen races and four titles with the M23 and it became the last championship winning car built by McLaren before Ron Dennis took over the team.

When the ownership of McLaren changed so did the naming convention of their cars and the MP4-1 was built in 1981.

23 would want to be a lucky number for McLaren because the car was launched on Lewis Hamilton’s 23rd birthday. More interesting still is that he will be driving with the number 23 this season courtesy of McLaren’s expulsion from the 2007 Constructors Championship.

Lewis would probably be happier with the number one on his car, and when the field lines up on the grid in Melbourne he will be able to start fighting for exactly that.

New front wings, engine covers and airboxes count for nothing as 22 Formula One cars scream into the first corner at Albert Park.

Only then will we know for sure if Ferrari and McLaren can dominate just like they did in 2007.

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