As 2005 draws to an end, preparations for the 2006 season are already well underway and next year will start with winter testing in January along with the launches of the new season's challengers. Toyota already got the jump on its rivals by revealing the V8-powered TF106 at Barcelona testing at the beginning of December.
"Of course it is still very early, but the new car felt really good," Ralf Schumacher told Motorsport.com. "It was my first time in the V8-powered Toyota and it was very interesting. Obviously, the power was lower but it was still a very driveable engine with a nice torque curve."
The team will have an official presentation at its Cologne factory on January 14th. Ralf and Jarno Trulli will once again be teammates and Ricardo Zonta will continue as official third driver. Olivier Panis will also stay on as test driver, his fourth consecutive year with the team.
BMW Sauber will unveil its new car at Valencia on January 16th and 17th. Nick Heidfeld, who raced for Williams in 2005, returns to Hinwil after a two-year absence and will be partnered by Jacques Villeneuve next season. 2005 World Series by Renault champion Robert Kubica will make his F1 debut as the Swiss squad's third driver.
Reportedly Ferrari was also due to launch on January 16th but to avoid a clash with BMW has now moved its date back a week, although this has yet to be officially confirmed. Former Sauber man Felipe Massa will be teammate to Michael Schumacher in 2006 and the squad continues with test drivers Luca Badoer and Marc Gené.
Honda will run the new RA106 at Barcelona on January 25th, with details of an official presentation to be confirmed in the New Year. After six years with Ferrari, Rubens Barrichello will join Jenson Button to front Honda's challenge but a third driver has yet to be confirmed. Regular tester Anthony Davidson is a contender to join the new Super Aguri team and Adam Carroll is tipped to replace him.
Williams, which will be Cosworth powered in 2006, as well as reverting to Bridgestone tyres, is due to reveal its new image on January 27th. Nico Rosberg will make his debut as race driver next season alongside Mark Webber. The team has yet to name a third driver but former Jordan man Narain Karthikeyan has been testing, as well as World Touring Car champ Andy Priaulx.
World champions Renault plan to debut the R26 at Jerez testing on January 10th, followed by the official launch in Monaco on January 31st. Champion Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella will once again line up for the French outfit and Heikki Kovalainen takes over the role of official test and third driver.
McLaren has yet to confirm a launch date and in recent years the Woking squad has opted for a low-key roll out rather than a full-blown media event. Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya continue to spearhead McLaren's campaign, while 2005 DTM champion Gary Paffett will join Pedro de la Rosa as an official test driver.
MF1 Racing, formerly Jordan, is expected to unveil the M16 in early February. The team will race under the Russian flag next season with drivers Christijan Albers and (presumably) Tiago Monteiro. Nicky Pastorelli was confirmed as third driver but sat out Jerez testing in December due to sponsor problems. It remains to be seen if he will keep the role.
Red Bull Racing and sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso, formerly Minardi, will launch the RBR2 and the STR1 respectively at the 2006 season opener in Bahrain. David Coulthard and Christian Klien will take charge of the Red Bull cars, while Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed will front Toro Rosso's challenge. Neel Jani will be third driver for Toro Rosso and Robert Doornbos will take the same role at Red Bull.