- Image gallery
It’s been more than three months since Lewis Hamilton was crowned the F1 world driver’s champion for the second time and the teams packed up after the final race of 2014. That is a veritable eternity in the fast-paced world of Formula One and for the millions of fans that live, eat and breathe the sport. Well, in just a few hours the F1 2015 season will commence in Australia and I, for one, cannot wait for the first race.
More reliability, more power, better competition?
At the start of last season there was much uncertainty and speculation regarding the reliability of the cars, as the technical regulations called for a new engine formula, but the 1,6-litre turbocharged hybrid “power units” are no longer big news.
During the off-season, certain teams, especially those that were behind the curve (read: Renault and Ferrari) exploited a loophole to continue development of their underpowered and unreliable engines. The most noteworthy development, some may argue, is the return of Honda, which has succeeded Mercedes-AMG at McLaren.
The Japanese firm is no stranger to F1 and has tasted plenty of success with McLaren in the past, memorably in the late 1980s and early ’90s. While the top technicians from Honda have had one more year than all others to develop the 2015 powerplant, it seems that the MP4-30 is still unreliable, if pre-season testing is anything to go by…
Speaking of which, the open/official tests, also known as the winter championship, had fans of respective brands hyping the times set by drivers on any particular day. Any meaningful comparison is rendered useless as there are too many variables to consider (fuel loads, set-up, tyre choice, aero levels, etc, etc).
More notable was the distances covered by each of the teams. Reigning champions Mercedes topped the list with over 6 000 km logged in the various sessions. Interestingly, it was Ferrari-powered Sauber that was second with 5 700 km.
The rest of the teams’ total mileage ranged between five and half and three thousand kilometres, except for McLaren. Plagued by reliability issues and Alonso’s accident, McLaren couldn’t even chalk up 1 800 km in the lead up to the first race.
Not only did Mercedes-AMG clock up the most laps in testing but it also fired the first warning shots when it set the fastest time in Barcelona, and on the soft tyres – when all the other teams were testing on the speedier supersoft rubber.
“It’s a work in progress but of course, it feels great,” world champion Lewis Hamilton says. “You know, it’s great to see all the work that the team’s put in and throughout testing it (the W06) felt really good. Generally it’s been pretty awesome.”
Those are very positive sentiments from a racing driver, especially before a single wheel has turned during an official free practice or qualifying session. Hamilton must be feeling pretty confident about the car and its inherent pace…
Alonso’s crash in testing was not without controversy. Firstly there was speculation from Vettel, whose Ferrari was following the Spaniard’s McLaren at the time, who claimed the sequence of the crash seemed strange. McLaren claims that the wind was to blame for the car going off line before it crashed (seemingly lightly) into the wall.
However, what seemed like a small incident by F1 standards left the double-world champion in ICU for three days; he subsequently announced his withdrawal from the season-opener in Melbourne. He is adamant that he will be on the grid for the second race in Malaysia; something tells me this story hasn’t quite run its course.
The driver merry-go-round was busy at the end of 2014 as there were several changes. Quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel now shares garage space with Ferrari’s last champ, Kimi Raikkonen. The Finger will be hoping to show his skill level in another car, and not just the dominant Red Bull of a few years ago. The Scuderia has supplied Raikkonen with a Ferrari with a more pointy front end, which suits his driving style more so than last year’s car, meaning that Vettel won’t have the measure of the Finn.
Daniel Ricciardo showed up his more illustrious team-mate in 2014: will Red Bull’s new signing Daniil Kvyat give the Australian a taste of his own medicine this year? If the Russian does, it’ll be a pretty darn remarkable feat. Red Bull jr, ie Toro Rosso, has opted for a very young driving pairing; two rookies with famous fathers. Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr will be duking it out for team honours and, who knows, perhaps a shot at the senior squad in the not to distant future.
There are several new driver/car combinations across the field, which should make inter- and intra-team battles interesting.
Stability and speed
Williams was one of the surprise packages of 2014, and thanks to maintaining that Mercedes engine deal, the team should again deliver regular podium finishes in 2015. Felipe Massa can be quick on his day, but his team mate Valtteri Bottas is favoured to record the team’s first win with Mercedes power. The chaps from Grove squandered a few chances of winning races by taking poor strategic decisions during the season and then they relinquished second in the constructor’s title race to a resurgent Red Bull.
After a tumultuous 2014, when it finished fourth on the log, Ferrari has set a modest target of just two race wins. I don’t think it’ll bother the tifosi which driver claims the victories, they’ll just be happy if their team returns to the top step of the podium.
McLaren Honda have probably already written off 2015 as a testing and development year, such has been the extent of its pre-season woes. If the Woking outfit isn’t careful it could slip further back to face strong opposition from the Mercedes-powered Force Indias. The latter is likely to be the quickest of the mid-field runners, a group that will include Lotus and Toro Rosso. Marussia, now Manor F1, was thrown a last-minute lifeline and will be fighting with Sauber for points, if and when the opportunity arises.
While there has been plenty of development work carried out in the off season, you’d have to be a brave man to bet against Mercedes winning back-to-back titles. As much as fans of other teams would like to believe their squads have found enough pace I think Mercedes will always have something in reserve – just recall Sochi last year.
The only question is: which driver will triumph? Most would like to see a resurgent Nico Rosberg take the fight to Hamilton, but I believe that with a second title under his belt, the Briton is well set to to see off a challenge from the German. If that is the case then we can expect the Brit to take his third title before the 20-race season ends in Abu Dhabi on November 29. Between now and then, let’s hope for some close racing throughout the field.
Be sure to set an early alarm clock on Sunday because, as legendary Formula One commentator Murray Walker used to say, it’s time to “GO! GO! GO!”