2015 Formula 1 Season Preview

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The 2015 Formula 1 season is nearly upon us and we’re all hoping this years’ world championship provides the kind of drama and excitement that we got in abundance last year. The first race destination will be Melbourne, Australia, where temperatures will rise on track and markers will be laid down for the rest of the season. After going through another 18 gruelling tests in the Far East, Europe, North America and South America, the 2015 World Champion will be crowned on a cool Abu Dhabi night at the end of November, but who will be drinking Champagne this year and who will be eating dust?


Image at top shared through the Creative Commons License, via Sara Cimino


2014 Round up

In case you were in a bubble last year and missed the gripping 2014 season, here are the headlines:

Lewis Hamilton crowned World Champion for the second time in his illustrious career, battling it out all the way to the final race in Abu Dhabi with team mate Nico Rosberg. The domination of the Silver Arrows secures Mercedes their first ever Constructors Championship, although it isn’t all smiles and roses for the German constructor.

Tensions reach breaking point after Rosberg hits Hamilton and knocks him out of the race at Spa in the Belgain Grand Prix. Adding insult to injury, the German finishes second in the race, further extending his lead in the championship to 29 points with only seven races remaining. Rosberg’s confidence clearly takes a knock though after being publicly blamed for the incident by his team and booed by the fans when he takes his spot on the podium.

Grinning Aussie, Daniel Ricciardo outshines 4x World Champion Sebastian Vettel in one of the seasons’ biggest upsets. The rookie driver in his inaugural year at Red Bull out qualifies and outscores the frustrated German driver, winning three Grand Prix’s along the way- becoming the only driver outside of the Mercedes duo to win a race in 2014. Other strong debut performances come from Daniil Kvyat in the Toro Rosso and Kevin Magnusson in the McLaren, whilst Valtteri Bottas also impresses in his second season with Williams, finishing fourth in the overall driver standings.

Scuderia Ferrari have their first winless season since 1993, only managing two podiums along the way and a disappointing fourth overall in the constructors championship. Fernando Alonso increasingly cuts a disconsolate figure as rumours of his imminent departure snowball and the points dry up. Kimi Raikkonen suffers an even more barren season on his return to Ferrari, finishing 12th overall in the standings, for the manufacturer he won the 2007 World Championship with.

McLaren come fifth in the constructors championship- a monumental 520 points off Mercedes at the top. The Woking-based constructor also go winless throughout the year, never coming close to threatening the front runners and languishing in the middle of the pack for the most part of the season. Their best performance and only podiums come in the opening race weekend, with Button and Magnussen eventually finishing 8th and 11th respectively in the drivers championship.

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Image shared through the Creative Commons License, via World Car Fans


 

Jules Bianchi’s crash highlights the dangers that Formula One drivers are exposed to, all in the name of ‘entertainment’. Bianchi, one of Formula 1’s most promising youngsters crashes into a recovery vehicle in wet conditions during a safety car period in Suzuka, back in October 2014. After suffering life threatening injuries from the impact to his head, he manages to pull through the initial trauma, however, several months later, he still lies in a coma, now breathing unaided in his home in France. Whilst he continues to fight, there is still hope, but his condition is showing no signs of improvement.

#ForzaJules

New to 2015

For the last 18 years, driver numbers have been defined by constructor championship results from the previous campaign. However, 2015 will pioneer a new system in which each driver has chosen a number that they will keep for the rest of their career. This idea was thought up in order for drivers to be able to franchise themselves, rather like NASCAR drivers or footballers do. F1 drivers will now be able to promote themselves through their number, just like the No.43 has become synonymous with Richard Petty aka ‘The King’ or CR7 for Christiano Ronaldo. Check out the driver and constructor infographic below to see which number each driver has chosen.

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Another rule change that only really affects the aesthetics of the sport relates to the drivers helmets. In the FIA’s ‘F1 Sporting Regulations’ passed in January, it was stipulated that the drivers need to be more recognisable from one another whilst on track, so they will not be allowed to change crash helmet designs during the year. Sorry folks, no more helmet designs dedicated to other sporting heroes or their girlfriends!

The only huge change to the 2015 calendar sees the addition of a Mexican Grand Prix. Mexico has previously hosted races from 1963-1970 and 1986-1992, but the FIA have decided that after a 23 year absence, Formula One should return to Latin America. This year, the event will be held at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City and will provide a different type of challenge for the drivers who will not know the circuit well.

Here is a selection of some of the more technical changes that you will see and hear about in the 2015 season:

  • Each car will only be allowed to run four power units throughout the course of the season.
  • 10 second penalties can be awarded by the stewards for minor offences.
  • An unsafe release will automatically be met with a 10 second stop-and-go penalty.
  • A virtual safety car system designed to ensure drivers slow sufficiently has been introduced for 2015. This can be used to neutralise a race without having to introduce the safety car itself in a bid to improve safety.
  • The season finale will not have a double point’s incentive.

Teams

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Image shared through the Creative Commons License, via BBC Sport


 

There have been some pretty big changes within the major players this year, all as a consequence of Fernando Alonso terminating his contract with Ferrari after five years as their premier driver. He has been replaced with Sebastian Vettel who will now be looking to win his 5th world title with the most successful constructer in the sport’s history. Daniil Kvyat has been promoted up to Red Bull from Toro Rosso to replace Vettel and Alonso himself has re-joined McLaren to partner Jenson Button at the expensive of the promising Kevin Magnussen.

Mercedes, Williams, Force India and Lotus are all as you were, whilst Toro Rosso now have a brand new pairing of Carlos Sainz Jnr (son of double WRC driver, Carlos Sainz) and controversially, 17 year old Max Verstappen. Sauber have gone down the same route, replacing Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez with Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.

However, a mid-week court case at the Victoria Supreme Court has ruled that former test driver, Giedo Van der Garde, should be given a drive after he provided evidence to support his claim that he was promised a race seat by Sauber. Sauber lost their appeal, forcing them to re-instate Van der Garde by the letter of the law, but are now claiming that there is not enough time to switch drivers over for the start of Melbourne and the safety of not only their drivers, but the others out on track is paramount. If they stick with their pre-season line-up, they will be in contempt of the ruling and could face further sanctions, but if they let Van de Garde race they will lose vital sponsorship money from one of their other drivers and potentially end up in court again. So it’s anyone’s guess as to which two of Ericsson, Nasr and Van der Garde will line up on the grid on Sunday!

Unfortunately due to financial problems, Caterham will be dropping off the grid this term and although Marussia went out of business in October 2014, they have rebranded under the name of Manor Motorsport and have miraculously scraped onto the grid for Melbourne, albeit with a modified version of their 2014 car. Manor have named British driver Will Stevens and Spanish driver Roberto Merhi in another all rookie lineup.

Testing

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Image shared through the Creative Commons License, via Michael Elleray


 

Testing proved difficult for a number of teams, mainly McLaren-Honda. The British manufacturer is teaming up with new engine partners Honda again this year and their pre-season went from bad to worse. At first, testing was hindered by reliability issues after they struggled to get to grips with their new turbo hybrid engine, then, on 22nd February, Fernando Alonso went into the wall at 133mph at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Alonso has already been ruled out of action for Melbourne and so Kevin Magnussen, the man so unceremoniously dumped by McLaren at the end of last season, will now take his place on the track. The Melbourne circuit is also, coincidently, the place where Magnussen recorded his best ever Grand Prix finish last year- taking the chequered flag in third, before being promoted up to second due to Ricciardo’s post race disqualification.

It appears that Mercedes have extended their advantage over the rest of the field and could be leading the pack by over a second a lap already. Pre-season testing can be notoriously unreliable, with teams running different fuel loads, setups and specs, but even baring this in mind, it was grim watching for anyone not in the silver of Mercedes.

Williams, Red Bull and Ferrari all appeared to be very close in the battle for second place with Valtteri Bottas topping the final practice charts in Barcelona (Mercedes did not run) on the supersoft tyres and Vettel half a second behind him. Red Bull are a little harder to place altogether though as they have done no low-fuel runs, but their simulations appear to be on par with Williams. Ferrari have upped their power by about 80bhp for the season (the weak link of their package last year), but this could cause reliability and driveability issues further down the road.

At the moment, there is still very little data to discern who will come out on top between Toro Rosso, Force India, Lotus and Sauber, but Lotus are expected to be the strongest having switched to Mercedes power this year. It is fair to asume that Manor Motorsport will be right at the back of the pack after no pre-season testing, but could develop as the season goes on.

Predictions

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Images shared through the Creative Commons License, via Paul Williams, Sara Cimino, Bertho RF1, RyanBayona, Sara Cimino


After pre-season testing, it is hard to look past Mercedes for both the constructor’s and driver’s championships. If that is the case then the big question is whether Lewis Hamilton will add a third world championship to his name or will Nico Rosberg come back stronger, rejuvenated from the pain of his loss last year? We have a sneaking suspicion that it will be another close one, but Lewis Hamilton’s outright speed will prevail.

However, there are four other world champions lining up on the grid (Vettel, Alonso, Button and Raikkonen), all gathered at the two most successful constructors in the history of F1 (Ferrari & McLaren) and you can bet that they will not have given up on adding to their tallies this year already. Let’s also not forget the evergreen Brazilian, Felipe Massa who proved last year that he is not a spent force. If his Williams fires on all cylinders, he could surprise a few with his results this term.

There are several young pretenders as well to look out for. Leading that bunch is Daniel Riccardio – expect to see him on the podium this year, lots. He is definitely the driver to watch this year! This boy has some serious talent and it is only a matter of time before he will be crowned world champion. Will it be this year? Unlikely, unless Red Bull have flattered to deceive in pre-season. His partner for the year, Daniil Kvyat could also turn a few heads now he’s in a competitive car, but with inexperience comes inconsistency. Similarly so with Valteri Bottas, he outperformed his teammate in 2014 afterall and could mount an assault on the top two this season if his Williams team give him enough performance.

McLaren are going to have a difficult start to the year, but could finish the season with a race win if everything goes smoothly from now, setting them up for a very exciting 2016. Behind them, Lotus should prove the strongest of the lower order teams as a manufacturer that last got a race win in 2013 and with two talented, young drivers- expect them to sneak into the Top 10 on occassion and gather a fair few points when others around them struggle.

And to predictions for Melbourne? Mass retirements after a first lap pile up, a Sebastien Vettel win on his first drive for Ferrari and a grin as wide as Sydney harbour from Daniel Ricciardo after he comes back through the pack to claim a home podium…


The 2015 World Championship is sure to bring joy and tears in equal measure, with controversy, crashes and blistering speed along the way. We’ve said our piece, now your turn to let us know what you think 2015 has in store for us!

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