With the immense amount of sport currently on the go, one would be forgiven for not noticing that the F1 season is about to commence. Dull Premier League commentators spouting biased rhetoric will soon be replaced by the sounds of the Formula One orchestra in households throughout the country. Damp squibs in the ICC Cricket World Cup will once again be the sole territory of the ardent cricket fan. Sunday will no longer be a day of rest but a day of roaring 1.6 litre turbocharged V6 engines and screeching tyres. Although the days of V8s and V10s are a thing of the past, the new V6 hybrids still manage to assault the ears with a cacophony of noise, as exhibited by last year’s cars. The field will line up in picturesque Melbourne for the season opener on March 15th with the term concluding on November 29th in Abu Dhabi.
The mention of Abu Dhabi gives me a convenient segue into some rule changes which will come into play this season. Firstly, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will no longer carry double points; it wasn’t the brightest concept and I’m glad to see it was short-lived. Other changes to the rules see the introduction of ten second penalties and a virtual safety car, which owes its inception to Jules Bianchi’s unfortunate and nearly fatal crash last season. On to the new regulations for the cars and although not as wholesale as last season, there have been a few tweaks. FRIC (otherwise known as Front and Rear Interconnected suspension) has been outlawed and further adjustments to the rules see the banning of the twin-tusk and anteater (or the phallus, as many have dubbed it) noses, as used by Lotus and Red Bull respectively. There has also been an increase in the minimum weight of the car to 702 kgs without fuel. It will be interesting to see if these rule changes and the shake-ups in driving personal at the top teams will allow anyone to challenge last year’s Constructors’ champions. The Silver Arrows truly dominated in 2014 and their sometimes factious driving duo of Hamilton and Rosberg cantered to first and second place in the Drivers’ Championship. They remain the firm favourites going into the 2015 season.
To Win Outright - Drivers’ Championship
Lewis Hamilton 5/10
Nico Rosberg 9/4
Daniel Ricciardo 16/1
Sebastian Vettel 18/1
Fernando Alonso 25/1
Valtteri Bottas 28/1
To Win Outright - Constructors’ Championship
Mercedes GP 1/16
Red Bull 28/1
Mercedes will be hoping to emulate the form that they produced last season and win back-to-back Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships. Pre-season testing would suggest the double is certainly on the cards. Although somewhat affected by Lewis Hamilton’s fever and the use of slower tyres than most of the field during testing in Barcelona, the cars still managed to set blistering lap times. In a race simulation Hamilton’s car was 0.8 seconds per lap quicker than Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull which equates to more than a minute over a full race distance. It will be interesting to see if there is any drama between the Silver Arrows drivers this season, with Nico Rosberg surely tiring of playing second fiddle to the Brit. Mercedes are hot favourites with the bookmakers for a reason and my money would be on them to take the Constructors’ title again. The short price on offer can be worked into a long-term multiple for patient punters.
With Sebastian Vettel having moved to Ferrari, the Red Bull directors have decided to continue with their youth policy by bringing in impressive young Russian Daniil Kvyat from Toro Rosso to fill the German’s shoes. Last year was a bit of a disappointment with the Mercedes just too quick for them, however Daniel Ricciardo’s three race wins in 2014 will offer encouragement to the well marketed team. Although a bit of a gamble, backing the two young guns to produce the goods may just pay off, particularly in the case of the flying Aussie who is a good outside bet for the championship at 16/1.
After their worst season in 21 years, Ferrari will be looking for a vast improvement come the end of the 2015 calendar. There have been encouraging signs that things may be on the up at the Maranello based team. The signing of four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull was a massive coup and he will partner Kimi Raikkonen, who was kept on despite a poor showing last year. The Ferraris have been looking good during pre-season testing and the SF-15T model is a major improvement on last year’s sluggish F-14 T. Although I can’t see them winning the Constructors’ Championship this year I do think they’ll manage a top three spot. I also foresee Vettel having a much improved season under the prancing horse and coming out of the 2015 season reinvigorated, with a couple of race wins under his belt.
McLaren have made the bold move of ending their partnership with Mercedes and will be using Honda power units for this coming season. Honda’s lack of experience with designing turbo-hybrid engines have seen teething problems arise. A major concern has been the seal on a part of the hybrid engine which has seen testing cut short in Jerez and Barcelona, the McLaren engineers frantically trying to fix the problem to no avail. To make matters worse, Fernando Alonso’s perplexing crash saw the Spaniard airlifted to hospital. Although he is fit and will make the final few days of testing, the more worrying aspect of the incident is the manner in which it occurred, with sole blame being attached to a design fault on the car. I am intrigued to see how the McLarens manage this season. With multiple issues in testing, I expect it to be a slow start. However, with the experienced heads of Alonso and Button in the car seats, they’ll be duking it out with the big boys once the technical gremlins disappear.
The word in F1 circles is that Williams are yet to show their hand when it comes to the speed of their new car for 2015, the FW 37. The last few days of qualifying will be a better indicator of what the team is capable of doing this season. Having retained wily veteran Felipe Massa and aggressive Finn Valtteri Bottas for this season’s campaign, the stage is set for them to carry on the impressive form that they demonstrated last year. Williams could be surprise challengers to the Mercedes throne especially if Valtteri Bottas can live up to his impressive potential.
A very encouraging pre-season test in Barcelona will have all those involved at Lotus smiling from ear to ear. Pastor Maldonado will be a happy man after pipping former Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen to the fastest lap in testing. The change from Renault to Mercedes power coupled with a much more aerodynamically stable car seems to have done the trick for the team and with Maldonado and Grosjean renewing their exciting partnership this season, 2015 looks to be a promising year for the them.
Having lost exciting rookie Daniil Kvyat to the “Senior Squad”, the baby Red Bulls are in for a tough season. They have placed a lot of faith in their new car (the STR-10) which has been decent in pre-season testing. Toro Rosso have once again favoured youth over experience and have dropped Juan Eric Vergne and brought in young guns Verstappen and Sainz Jnr. as the team’s drivers for 2015. With the team’s history of producing talented young drivers I can see one of the new boys catching the eye of the F1 world and undoubtedly impressing this season. A few bets on Top Six Finishes could prove profitable.
After last year’s ownership debacle the Force India team will be hoping for more stability this season. Having taken their regular sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship in 2014 (no mean feat considering the shambles at boardroom level) the team will be looking to kick on and finish in the Top 5 come the end of the season. The team has managed to retain Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez and the duo will be looking to produce a similar start to last season which had them sitting in second place on the Constructors’ board going into round five.
After a catastrophic 2014 season, which saw the team suffer fifteen combined retirements and end the year with no points on the board, Sauber will be hoping for a tremendous improvement in 2015. Although extensive changes have been made in terms of driver personal it won’t make one iota of difference if the team can’t improve the car. The gauntlet has been laid down for the two new Sauber drivers, Felipe Nasr and Marcuss Ericsson, and whether they’ll be left to suffer the same frustrating fate as Sutil and Gutierrez will become clearer as the season progresses.
After sinking into administration last season Caterham have been trying everything to ensure they line up on the starting grid in Australia. The FIA have left a spot open for them to compete this year but the “will they/won’t they” question remains unanswered with only a couple of weeks remaining until the start of the 2015 season.