This weekend, the world’s fastest hybrids return to action in Melbourne, Australia for the start of the 2015 Formula 1 season- and, if the pre-season test period has shown anything, it’s that anything can and will happen in 2015.
The series’ cars are powered by advanced hybrid power units- all new last season- and the best of these is undoubtedly the Mercedes. Cars with Mercedes-built engines bolted to their chassis seemed to be in a different league compared to the Renault and Ferrari-powered machines, and the works Mercedes team made the most of their advance knowledge of the unit’s dimensions. In all, the Mercedes team won all but three races last year, sweeping both championships and putting in the most dominant season if any team in a generation. Will they continue to dominate in 2015? Will the reborn McLaren-Honda team have a hope in heck? Read on.
In short, yes. The Mercedes team will continue to be the team to beat simply because it has a huge head start in terms of engine and hybrid power system development, a proven track record of reliability, a pair of steady hands in Nico Rosberg, and the talented, young, and hungry double-world Champion Lewis Hamilton leading the the charge. If there was ever a Formula 1 dream team, it’s
Ferrari in 2014 Mercedes in 2015.
After years of playing second fiddle to World Championship legends like Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa put in some incredible drives to become one of the two big surprises of 2014. Behind the wheel of the beautifully designed Williams, the Brazilian was the only non works-Mercedes driver to score a pole position in qualifying in 2014, and very nearly stole the win at the last race of 2014, too.
With a year of continuity under their belts, a stronger Mercedes engine, and a driver team made up of a reinvigorated Massa and a talented Valtteri Bottas with another year of experience under his belt, Williams will be strong contenders this year.
Infiniti-Red Bull Renault
The other surprise of 2014 was the breakout talent of young Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who put in a series of blistering drives to win the three races that cemented his status as Red Bull’s number 1 while, at the same time, pushing his 4-times World Drivers’ Champion teammate, Sebastian Vettel, out the door. All the while, Ricciardo’s broad, genuine smile had him winning fans across the globe. This year, RBR will deliver a car built specifically to suit Ricciardo’s driving style and he’ll have their full support as #1 with Daniil Kvyat acting in a support role as he learns the ropes at RBR. As such, the real question about Ricciardo’s 2015 will be this: will he be racing for wins, or for the championship?
In 2014, Ferrari had what was widely considered to be the strongest driver pairing in racing with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. It was expected that the drivers’ combined talents would help drag Ferrari out of the doldrums, but that didn’t happen. Alonso did what he could and scored a few podiums, but Raikkonen was nowhere, and neither champion could manage to put the Ferrari into serious contention. For 2015, however, all is change at the Scuderia- from upper management to car designers to crew chiefs to drivers- and the biggest change is the addition of 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 World Drivers’ Champion Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel may not be the fastest or most daring driver on the grid, but the robotic precision and systematic approach to car development that helped him at Red Bull seems to be just the thing that Ferrari needed. Even Kimi “the Iceman” Raikkonen seemed happy during pre-season testing, and the red cars looked very strong.
Will Ferrari do, with Vettel, what it could not do with Fernando Alonso for all those years? It might, but not because Vettel is better. It’s because Alonso wanted to win more championships for himself, and Vettel wants to win championships for Ferrari to emulate his childhood hero, 7 times WDC Michael Schumacher. In a team sport (which Formula 1 still is), that can make all the difference.
Honda’s return to Formula 1 racing was hotly anticipated by the motoring press- myself, included- but their pre-season has been filled with so much drama, mystery, and weirdness that it’s hard to think of them as serious contenders in 2015. For starters, the Honda-powered McLarens barely made it around a track at their highly-publicized debut appearance. Next, a mysterious, low-speed accident in testing put their new, star driver- the great Fernando Alonso– into the hospital with head injuries. Finally, it’s been reported that Alonso’s memory has been scrambled, and that he awoke with huge gaps- believing himself to be a 13 year old boy, with dreams of one day getting behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car.
For you and me, that would be bad. For the man who passed Michael Schumacher on the outside at Suzuka’s deadly 130R corner on the way to his maiden World Championship in 2005– and who McLaren paid out many, many millions of dollars to hire- it’s catastrophic.
All the same, you could put Alonso behind the wheel of a tugboat and he’d drag the thing into P5 in qualifying- and that, combined with the talents of Jenson Button and the mechanical brilliance of Honda’s engineers, makes it hard to count McLaren out. Expect something from McLaren, then. I’m not saying what. Just: something.
Despite a talented young driver line-up and the millions of Venezuelan petrodollars Pastor Maldonado brought to Lotus in 2014, the car was bad. It was so bad. Combine an ill-conceived chassis design with a terribly problematic Renault power unit and there was nothing anyone, least of all an underfunded Lotus team, could do but slog their way through the year and try not to let the cars burn- literally- to the ground. Which, you know, they didn’t really accomplish.
For 2015, Lotus have secured a Mercedes power unit, a chassis that seems to be more suited to its
accident prone courageous drivers, and a boatload of happy confidence. They will be better, this year, than they were last year, and should challenge for points just about everywhere.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Red Bull’s junior team has proven its concept by delivering not just four-times WDC Sebastian Vettel, but in producing his successor(s) at RBR. This year, all eyes will be on young Max Verstappen, who is set to become the youngest F1 driver ever at this weekend’s Australian GP.
Red Bull management is hailing Max as a future champion, the next Senna, a new Schumacher, and more. With such lofty goals, it hardly matters who is lined up in the STR10 alongside him- it only remains to be seen whether he’ll replace Ricciardo or Kvyat at the RBR team … or if he’ll flame out dramatically and accomplish nothing at all.
Force India, Sauber, and Manor F1
Caterham and Marussia flamed out at the end of last season, descending into bankruptcy and very nearly dragged Sauber and Force India with them. Had that happened, the bigger teams would all be fielding 3 cars this year, and it’s widely believed that Ferrari, McLaren, and Mercedes are prepared to do just that in the event that there are any more team collapses.
For the most part, the teams’ problems are coming from rising costs to compete in F1 coupled with an ongoing decline in sponsorship money- which could be made even worse if international laws regulating the advertisement of alcohol pass. That lack of money, though, is having a very real impact on the smaller teams. Force India- arguably the most well-suited to survival with a talented line-up of future champions, a Mercedes engine, and (historically) decent funding- barely managed to get their 2015 car out in time for the last test session of the pre-season. Sauber, meanwhile, is being dogged by legal troubles. Manor, finally, still hasn’t turned a nut on its 2015 car, and will soldier on with Marussia’s 2014 chassis mated to the leftover 2014 Ferrari engine.
Because of that, it’s hard to imagine all three teams making it through the end of the season- and even harder to imagine any of them making a real impact on race outcomes, despite Force India’s flashes of brilliance in 2014.
2015 Formula 1 Season Preview | Wrap-up
That’s it for my analysis of the upcoming Formula 1 season- and I’m ready to defend just about all of my claims here in the comments section, below. And, don’t worry, I brought my flame suit. 😉
Original content from Gas 2 (photos link to source).