Sport in '98: Schumacher to make amends with honour

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The Independent Online
Every year Formula One heralds a new season destined to be different and better. This time it really could be. Possibly.

New regulations give us narrower cars and grooved tyres, which will reduce lap times by around four seconds and, the authorities maintain, make racing safer. They hope also that the racing may prove more entertaining.

The drivers are doubtful that will be the case. After early winter testing the general view appears to be that, even if there initial acclimatisation skirmishes, overtaking will continue to be difficult because of the turbulence encountered as one car closes in on another.

In theory, radical changes to the rules should provide a level playing field. In reality, the teams with the expertise and resources are bound to be out in front again. If anything, the smaller teams may lose much of the ground they have clawed back in recent seasons.

The focus of most attention will be Ferrari, expected as they are to at last reach out for the world championship. Michael Schumacher, following his ignominious final act in 1997, has predicted success this time - and he does not make such predictions lightly.

It would, however, be foolhardy to suggest the champions, Williams, might be more vulnerable. They still have Renault engines by another name, Mecachrome, and their driver department should be stronger now that Heinz-Harald Frentzen has had a year's experience with the team and Jacques Villeneuve.

McLaren Mercedes could be dark horses, especially as they have gambled on adding Bridgestone Tyres to their improving package. Mika Hakkinen finished last season strongly and David Coulthard is intent on launching a championship bid.

Prediction: Schumacher to show that he is the best - fair and square.