The only Schumacher on the 2007 Formula One grid will be a moody minion called Ralf, but, even so, rarely has the sport’s end-of-season shake-up left the prospects for next year looking so good.

After Renault boss Flavio Briatore coughed up his cornflakes at the number of zeros on Ron Dennis’s counter-offer, Fernando Alonso has packed his bags for McLaren. But the world champion should not expect an easy ride – his new Mercedes-powered team has not won a title this millennium, and Kimi Raikkonen stood on the top step of the podium just nine times in five full seasons at Woking.

Losing Alonso is a blow, but Briatore plotted his “plan B” long ago. Rookie Heikki Kovalainen is highly rated but failed to beat Mark Webber’s 2006 teammate Nico Rosberg to the GP2 crown last year. More famously, however, he did overpower one Michael Schumacher in the just-for-fun Race of Champions at Paris’ Stade de France in 2004.

F1’s better known Finn, Kimi Raikkonen, will fill Michael Schumacher’s Puma boots at Maranello. The 27-year-old’s bravery is legendary, but so too is his affection for a bottle of Finlandia. Type the words “raikkonen” and “boat” into YouTube and you’ll find a video of Ferrari’s new number one so drunk that he falls off the top deck of his luxury boat onto his head. Type the combination “kimi” and “drunk” into Google and you could spend the rest of the afternoon re-enacting Kimi’s wild winter nights.

Mark Webber is switching to Red Bull, whose 2007 car has been designed by F1’s highest paid designer (Adrian Newey) and will be powered by the title-winning Renault V8 engine. BMW-Sauber, with Robert Kubica, boasts perhaps the hottest new rookie since Alonso, but even he is arguably outclassed for talent by Alonso’s likely teammate, the rookie and Ron Dennis protégé, Lewis Hamilton.

Honda, meanwhile, possesses what no top-three team does for 2007 – driver stability. Japanese arch rival Toyota are also sticking with a stable lineup, and enjoy a Ferrari-style budget.

Peter Fray

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