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Varsha previews the F1season
SPEED will open the 2007 Formula One season with live coverage of the Australian Grand Prix from Albert Park in Melbourne on March 15 with practice sessions at 11 p.m. ET. In preparation for the season opener, the SPEED Formula One broadcast team of Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Peter Windsor preview the upcoming year in Grand Prix racing.

In 2007, the SPEED broadcast team will call four Grand Prix races on FOX – the Canadian Grand Prix (live), U.S. Grand Prix (live), French Grand Prix and British Grand Prix. The remaining 13 events will be live and exclusive to SPEED, including the famed Grand Prix of Monaco.

“We feel that we have assembled the finest announce team, not only on SPEED, but in all of racing,” said Frank Wilson, SPEED VP of Production. “Bob, David, and Steve have tremendous knowledge and chemistry in the booth and pit reporter Peter Windsor can get more out of F1 drivers and team members than anyone in the paddock.”

Varsha’s take on the upcoming season throughout the season:

SPEED: What is the biggest story heading into the F1 season?
Varsha: Whether the two heirs apparent to Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, can perform in their new environments. Both will be under huge pressure: Alonso seeking to prove that it wasn’t just the car that achieved back-to-back championships at Renault, while Raikkonen tries to demonstrate that it WAS the car holding him back in his five seasons at McLaren-Mercedes. Adding a fascinating extra layer of interest to the story is the fact that both men will also have to deal with very quick teammates. We all know what happens in F1 teams when one driver demonstrates early success over his garage mate.

SPEED: What is the biggest story no one is yet talking about (but we are now …)?
Varsha: Whether Formula One will be able to fulfill FIA president Max Mosley's radical vision of the future of grand prix racing technology, including recovering energy from braking and driveline heat to help power the cars in the years to come. The timetable has already been modified, pushing the deadline back beyond 2010. But is it really a workable vision at all, or mere posturing? We see Honda exploring a parallel line of eco-friendly thought, or perhaps just marketing, with their “earth car” livery.

SPEED: Predict the top-three finishers in the F1 Drivers Championship:
Varsha: Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen. I really can’t see any reason not to back Alonso, despite the change of team, given what he has shown in the last two seasons. I think he really has no weaknesses, although his biggest challenge this year may be organizing the team around him, given the corporate culture at McLaren. I also think Massa will win the early battle to gain the upper hand over Raikkonen at Ferrari if given the chance. That’s a big “if,” but given the upheaval on the technical side at Big Red, they need a driver who is sound on the engineering side, and I think we know that’s not Kimi’s strength. But Raikkonen is so gifted I’ll put him third, and if the car is right he could do much better.

SPEED: Who will be the F1 Rookie of the Year?
Varsha: Lewis Hamilton at McLaren-Mercedes. I think his career to date, including last year's dominant GP-2 championship, shows that he is the class of a very good group of 'rookies,' which includes Heikki Kovalainen, Adrian Sutil, Anthony Davidson (despite his previous experience with Minardi) and even Robert Kubica, whom we tend to forget ran just six races last season with BMW Sauber. Hamilton just seems to be the whole package: race wins and championship success at every level he’s attempted, outright speed, a good head for the engineering side, a short memory for failure, and the car control to make the most of his natural aggressiveness.

SPEED: Who will emerge as most improved and why?
Varsha: Felipe Massa, who has come so far in the last three seasons that he could have been named most improved driver in each. I’ve really been impressed by his evolution from a frequent crasher to a driver with judgment to match his natural speed. I expect a lot out of him this season, and the world championship wouldn’t’ be a big surprise.

SPEED: What could F1 do to enhance interest for an American audience?
Varsha: Generally speaking, Formula One needs to understand and respond to the fact that it is in competition in a sports marketplace here in America that it doesn’t experience anywhere else in the world. I think the biggest single thing that the sport needs is a bigger American presence. More drivers would be great, but what I’d like to see is a true American F1 team, including sponsorship, technology, and drivers, and ideally utilizing the star power of American grand prix heroes including Phil Hill, Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti.

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