F1 2015: Season Preview

By on Monday, March 9, 2015

Formula 1 roars back into life this weekend as the sport visits Melbourne for the 20th time. F1Zone.net previews the 2015 campaign.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

44 Lewis Hamilton (GB)| 6 Nico Rosberg (D)

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Few doubt that Mercedes will be the team to beat in 2015; the big question is how large their advantage will be? Pre-season testing was ominous for Mercedes’ rivals, more so when neither Hamilton nor Rosberg appeared particularly enthused by their lap times. As in 2014, reliability could be the most pressing concern, with a few minor niggles costing the squad track time across the pre-season tests. Nonetheless, they still racked up the most mileage. Chinks in their armour could be few and far between.

Hamilton has little to prove after finally adding a second crown to his 2008 triumph, though improving his qualifying efforts would make his life a fair bit easier. A third crown would see him become the first Briton to retain the title, as well as enabling him to emulate his hero, Ayrton Senna.

Nico Rosberg was a formidable opponent for Hamilton in 2014 and the German is likely to bounce back stronger, with the experience of a title fight in the bag. Rosberg will look for the minor weaknesses in Hamilton to try and exploit them and upset his team-mate (see: Monaco 2014). Rosberg has taken a scientific approach to improving his ability, such as altering breathing technique, but he simply needs to be on his game for an entire race distance, something which he lacked towards the end of 2014.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing

3 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS)| 26 Daniil Kvyat (RUS)

Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull hasn’t had the most straightforward pre-season campaign, but it was nonetheless far smoother than 2014’s efforts! There’s no reason why the RB11 won’t have a fundamentally competent chassis, so much of Red Bull’s hopes may lay on its integration with Renault’s power unit, and the level of improvement from Viry-Châtillon. Jerez test was tricky for the outfit but Barcelona was more encouraging, even if reliability was sketchy at times and race simulation demonstrated that a sizeable deficit to Mercedes remains.

Ricciardo was the surprise of 2014 as the Australian with the permanent grin swept his way to three stunning victories and impressed with his precise and bold race craft. His task now is to improve on such a meteoric campaign, all the while adapting to a different role within the team. Now that the perceptions of him have changed, expectations will be much greater.

Kvyat’s promotion from Toro Rosso undoubtedly came a year sooner than Red Bull would have hoped for, but he is capable of a ferocious turn of speed. Stepping up to the senior team with his level of experience may be a challenge, but Red Bull has clearly seen the potential in the Russian and is willing to be patient.

Williams Martini Racing

19 Felipe Massa (BRZ)| 77 Valtteri Bottas (FIN)

Williams Martini Racing

Williams Martini Racing

Whereas many of Williams’ rivals have undergone extensive restructuring processes over the winter, stability has been crucial for the Grove squad’s hopes. The FW37 appears to be an improvement on the FW36, particularly aerodynamically, with the team’s pace at Barcelona particularly encouraging. Only towards the end of testing did Williams show its hand, with the squad opting to focus on long runs and pit stop practice. With rivals expecting a slow start, Williams’ trick may be to strike while the iron’s hot early in the campaign.

Massa was rejuvenated at Williams in 2014 and after a tricky start – mechanical woes, misfortune, accidents – he thrived as the season progressed. With Massa, there are always likely to be those races where it doesn’t click, but when it does, he should be right at the sharp end of the grid.

Bottas was one of the stars of the 2014 campaign as he regularly challenged the Mercedes drivers, with his consistency enabling the team to rack up the points. Frustratingly, when Mercedes faltered, he wasn’t in the prime position to pick up the pieces. Achieving that first victory is his target for 2015.

Scuderia Ferrari

5 Sebastian Vettel (D)| 7 Kimi Räikkönen (FIN)

Scuderia Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari has had an overhaul during the winter period, with Maurizio Arrivabene – formerly of long-time sponsor Philip Morris – now heading up the racing division. He has stressed that Ferrari’s recovery will be a lengthy process, but the initial signs have been encouraging, with the James Allison-designed SF15-T pleasing both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen. They’re unlikely to challenge Mercedes, but Ferrari should be back in the mix after a dismal 2014.

Vettel cut a frustrated figure in 2014 as he couldn’t gel with the RB10 as he had to adapt his style after mastering the counter-intuitive techniques used during his dominant period. A move to Ferrari appears to have rejuvenated the four-time World Champion, though we remain firmly in the ‘honeymoon’ period at the moment. Vettel, though, is aware that he is involved in a long-term project.

Räikkönen endured a horrible 2014 as his driving style was antithetical to the demands of the F14-T; minor issues stacked up and left him marooned in the combative midfield. Pre-season testing has been positive for the Finn, who will need a much better season if he is to earn a contract extension for 2016.

McLaren Honda

14 Fernando Alonso (ESP)/20 Kevin Magnussen (DK)| 22 Jenson Button (GB)

Pirelli Media

Pirelli Media

It was expected that McLaren and Honda would encounter problems during pre-season testing but surely even they would have hoped for a smoother winter. Repeated reliability issues cost the team valuable track time, meaning that the squad heads to Australia with a car which hasn’t run close to its full potential. They were on the back foot, even before Fernando Alonso’s accident, which has ruled him out of Australia. This partnership should be a success; the question is how long it will take.

The battle between two fine World Champions is one of the most tantalising parts of McLaren-Honda’s collaboration, but for now the scrap will be put on ice. Not only because Alonso’s return to McLaren has been put back to Malaysia, but for while the car and engine is in its infancy, how the pair fare against each other is comparatively irrelevant. Getting the car up to speed remains the most pressing concern, after which we’ll start to see a battle between Alonso and Button emerge. Nonetheless, the Spaniard's misfortune has come for the benefit of Kevin Magnussen, who has a chance to make his mark this weekend.

Sahara Force India

27 Nico Hülkenberg (D) | 11 Sergio Pérez (MEX)

Sahara Force India

Sahara Force India

Force India hasn’t had the easiest of pre-season campaigns, with its VJM08 delayed after suppliers – who had been badly affected by Caterham and Marussia’s problems – required advanced payments. This left the team missing the first test and spending a large portion of the second test running Pascal Wehrlein in the old car, at the behest of Mercedes. Nonetheless, the team was able to collect valuable tyre data and when the new car was introduced it ran reliably. It should be a competent car; the issue is Force India will be playing catch-up.

Nico Hülkenberg remains an extremely quick and competent racer, who has been repeatedly overlooked for a top drive. He’ll extract the maximum from Force India’s car though racing for the Silverstone-based team won’t be his only 2015 commitment as he’ll link up with Porsche in the World Endurance Championship to share duties in a third 919 at Spa and Le Mans – could that be the precursor to a full-time switch for 2016?

Sergio Pérez remains with Force India for a second season and the Mexican has truly moulded into a capable midfield racer. There will, inevitably, be those moments of ineptness from Pérez but when tyre wear is marginal, or an alternate strategy possible, expect Pérez to thrive.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

33 Max Verstappen (NED)| 55 Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP)

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Toro Rosso has had an encouraging pre-season, especially considering the inexperience of its two young chargers. There were, inevitably, a couple of mistakes from the pair but this didn’t detract from the squad’s programme. A base car was used at the first two tests before vast upgrades were introduced for the final outing, with the STR10 sporting a new nose, as well as aerodynamic improvements and amendments to the cooling, brakes and suspension. Technical Director James Key spoke of his optimism that the car performed as expected.

In Verstappen, Red Bull has clearly seen something special and the Dutch youngster has a maturity which belies his age. If he performs to his potential, any doubts over whether he’s ready for the sport will be put to bed immediately. In the environment of Toro Rosso and with the continued tutelage of father Jos, he has a healthy future ahead.

The focus on Verstappen means that Sainz Jr. has been able to fly under the radar slightly. He owes his promotion to circumstance, as Red Bull initially overlooked him for a seat in the sport. However, he became the first driver backed by the energy drinks giant to win the Formula Renault 3.5 crown and impressed in past Formula 1 tests. If he beats Verstappen, his stock will rise immeasurably.

Lotus F1 Team

8 Romain Grosjean (F) | 13 Pastor Maldonado (VEN)

Lotus F1 Team

Lotus F1 Team

Lotus endured a troublesome 2014 campaign as they felt the effects of budget-tightening and staff departures of mid-2013. Matters weren’t aided by the aerodynamically unstable and unpredictable E22, while persistent Renault problems exacerbated issues further. Lotus’ E23 Hybrid is a far more stable proposition while a switch to Mercedes power has boosted the squad. Few expect Lotus to suddenly surge into contention at the front but 2015 promises far more than 2014.

Romain Grosjean’s star was on the rise as 2013 progressed but last season’s recalcitrant package dented his upwards trajectory. Matters sometimes got the better of him but he nonetheless kept pushing and reminded himself that he was in Formula 1 - a position that was under threat a few years beforehand. Assuming the E23 is a competent car, Grosjean will be primed to remind the world that he is a very quick racing driver.

Pastor Maldonado’s switch from Williams to Lotus couldn’t have been timed worse and the Venezuelan didn’t help his own cause through a series of mishaps, which only added to his by now borderline parodical reputation. However, on his day he can pull out an extraordinary lap and prove that he has the speed. Unfortunately, he is unable to string a sequence of results together, though he should score more points than in 2014.

Sauber F1 Team

9 Marcus Ericsson (SWE) | 12 Felipe Nasr (BRZ)

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber F1 Team

2014 was an annus horribilis for Sauber as the squad was unable to score a solitary point and placed only 10th in the championship. An overhaul of drivers has been undertaken – leading to some, still unresolved legal issues – while a change of livery to a bright blue and yellow scheme is the most striking tweak. With the team still far from financially sound, it would be obtuse to expect Sauber to propel themselves forwards, but they should have improved the weaknesses from the C33, as well as benefited from the upgrades to Ferrari’s power units to be at least able to contend for points.

Marcus Ericsson has made the switch from the defunct Caterham squad and the Swede will be out to prove that he’s more than just a pay driver. Ericsson was off the pace early in his rookie campaign while a litany of errors compounded matters further. However, much-needed upgrades introduced at Caterham boosted Ericsson’s confidence – especially on the brakes – and towards the end of his Caterham stint he showed progress. It’s up to him to continue that into 2015.

Felipe Nasr spent 2014 splitting his time between GP2 with Carlin and a test role at Williams. Nasr was expected to mount a GP2 title challenge but while he claimed four wins, he was inconsistent, out-raced by Jolyon Palmer and his qualifying efforts were lacklustre. Early testing prang with Susie Wolff did little to aid his reputation. He’ll have to up his game in Formula 1 this year.

Manor Marussia

Will Stevens | TBA

Manor F1 Team

Manor F1 Team

In simply making it to the opening round of the campaign, Manor will have pulled off an extraordinary feat. A couple of months ago the squad came within days of having its 2014 cars auctioned off, until they intervened as they chased investors. Plans eventually came into fruition, with energy boss Stephen Fitzpatrick rescuing the team and former Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King joining as interim chairman. This is a team of racers and they simply want to go racing. Their modified 2014 car has passed the crash tests while the new car remains in build, ahead of its planned introduction later in the season. It’ll be a tough campaign for the team, but that they’ve made it is an achievement in itself.

Will Stevens has fared well in Formula Renault 3.5 across recent campaigns and he barely put a foot wrong during his debut with Caterham in Abu Dhabi last year. It’ll be an uphill challenge for Stevens this year, but Manor has a young and capable driver in the Briton.


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