The pre-season tests have concluded, and the first practice is upon us, less than 24 hours away at the time of writing. This post will be my predictions of the 2015 F1 season, based on testing times, stuff I have read, and gut feeling. Also, at the end of the article, I give my championship predictions.
I think that this season will prove to be more exciting than last year’s, in the sense that I believe there will be more teams fighting for victories than last year. There were only two teams last season that won races, being Mercedes and Red Bull. However, based on testing times (which of course do not say a lot), I think that Williams, Red Bull and Ferrari have managed to make the gap to Mercedes smaller, which should provide for some exciting races.
Mercedes seem unlikely to have lost all of their advantage of the other teams from last year, and if the results of the last test are any indication, they still hold a significant advantage. Others teams have caught up, but I think that, especially in the first two races, Mercedes will still be the team to beat. Hamilton and Rosberg will be able to go toe to toe again, and it will prove to be interesting who comes out on top this year.
Red Bull have been strong over the past years, and I have no doubts this will continue. Their chassis last year was one of the best, but they were hampered by the Renault engine. Now that the engine has been improved as well, and their chassis is strong again, they are one of the main threats to Mercedes.
The biggest surprise of last year, Williams, have been evolving their design, and the usage of the Mercedes engine will serve them well. Their total package seems to be good again this year, and I think they will be right up there with Mercedes and Red Bull. I really do hope that Valtteri Bottas will get his first race win this year, after being close last year.
Ferrari have a lot to prove this year. Last year was, well, basically a big waste, and a bit team reshuffle has been the result. With Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen as their drivers, they should have a good shot at getting onto the podium, however, isn’t that what we all thought last year? That being said: the package of the Ferrari seems in much better shape than the one from last season. Their engine performance has improved a lot, and their chassis seems a lot better as well. Of course, Vettel’s and Räikönnen’s driving styles match up a lot more than was the case last year. I expect Ferrari to be on the podium a number of times this season.
The big unknown factor, and possible dark horse, this year will be McLaren, as their renewed partnership with Honda has the makings of something to look out for, but their reliability has not been too good so far. Also, the crash that Fernando Alonso suffered, and the aftermath, have people speculating if he might have suffered from a shock, from the ERS, which is, naturally, denied by McLaren. Fact of the matter is though, that Alonso will not be racing in Australia, which is a huge setback for McLaren.
Nevertheless: McLaren and Honda, reportedly, never ran the engine at full capacity during the tests, as they were mostly working to see if everything worked correctly. So their true performance, or lack thereof, is still a big mystery to us.
All eyes will also be on Toro Rosso this season, and particularly on one driver: Max Verstappen, the youngest ever Formula 1 driver. There has been lots of speculation on whether he is not too young, or ready, to be driving in Formula 1, but he is also touted as one of the biggest talents in F1 in recent years, and his maturity also showed during the pre-season tests. All that being said, we will just have to wait and see how he will do, and how he will perform in comparison to his teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr.
Lotus seem to have gotten some of their speed back, after making the switch from Renault engines to Mercedes engines. Last year was terrible for them, so they are pretty keen on making amends, and I think they have the possibility to surprise here and there. I do not think they will be competing for victories, but a podium could very well be a possibility.
Another team that is currently in the limelight, for all the wrong reasons, is Sauber. They had contracts for this season with Giedo van der Garde and Adrian Sutil, but decided to hire Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, as they were able to bring more money to the table. However, van der Garde is now suing Sauber, and winning, to get them to let him drive. Sutil, as a consequence, has now also sued Sauber, but he only wants to be paid. Ericsson and Nasr could also sue Sauber, if one of them is not allowed to drive. So, in conclusion: a whole lot of mess.
Racing wise, it is still my firm belief that Sauber were doing glory runs at the pre-season tests, to be able to attract more sponsors and tell them “look, we are doing great”. Realistically speaking though, I think they will be at the back end of the grid, with the occasional jump into top-10 qualifying, when things go bad for other teams.
Force India are also a bit of a mystery to me. They only tested a couple of days with their 2015 spec car, and did not seem to impressive then. Looking at past seasons and the performance of Force India in them, they hold a pretty good record, but, and this could be a big one, there is a lot of talk of them having money problems, so the question is how much development they can do throughout the season. If they can develop their car a bit, I think they will be in their “regular” spot at the middle of the grid.
Manor F1 never got to test, as they only got the permission to race recently, and their modified 2014 spec car has just passed the crash test. So, unsurprisingly, they will be at the back of the grid, probably the whole season.
Ah, the bit that is most interesting. In case of the constructor championship, I think it is a no-brainer: Mercedes will take this crown, unless they run in a lot of issues, but that is not a realistic prospect.
For the drivers championship though, things are not that clear. Rosberg has learnt a lot from last year, and will be more focussed and dedicated to beat Hamilton to the crown. The latter is very eager to be crowned a third-time champion, which will confirm his status of a true champion even more. With Red Bull and Ferrari in close pursuit, any mistake or bad luck by the Mercedes drivers, could result in either Ricciardo, for Red Bull, or Vettel, for Ferrari, to take up the championship title.
Realistically though, I think the battle will be between Rosberg and Hamilton, and I think that Hamilton will be the champion at the end of the year. It is my belief that, in the end, he is the faster of the two, and will therefor prevail, unless he runs into a string of bad luck.
Driver Championship: Lewis Hamilton
Constructor Championship: Mercedes