The wait is almost over and the engines will be fired up in Melbourne this weekend. Formula 1 circus begins again. As always, there are many questions before the season and endless speculation. I thought to offer some of my thoughts about the upcoming season.
It is probably safe to say that Mercedes will be ahead of the other teams. There is not much to draw from the winter tests, because we don’t know the exact fuel loads or how many revs teams took out of the engines and so on. Despite this, I don’t think Mercedes has lost its lead over the winter. It seems the title fight will be between the Mercedes drivers.
Recent F1 Racing report (March 2015) stated that if Mercedes is way ahead of the rest of the field, it will be tougher for Nico Rosberg to beat Lewis Hamilton. In this case, Rosberg can’t count on other teams to take points away from his team-mate. That is true, but if Nico can keep his edge over Hamilton in qualifying and improve his race performance, he will be a tough challenger. Nico has also shown his … drive (let’s put it that way) to win, as we saw in Monaco and Spa last year. Nevertheless, my money is on Hamilton. If he can get his qualifying together (he admitted in F1 Racing’s interview getting his set-up wrong many times last year before qualifying and promised to work on it) and start races on pole, it will mean Rosberg has a mountain to climb on Sundays. The German might have the mental edge (based on 2014), but if Lewis stays focused and is not distracted either on- or off-track issues, I would bet my money on Hamilton.
Williams returned to the top of the grid in 2014 and Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa scored podiums. It is probably safe to assume the new Williams will be at least as competitive as its predecessor. According to Hamilton, seems that Williams copied Mercedes’ suspension from 2014 – but Mercedes has changed that for this year. Mercedes engine was miles ahead of the rest in 2014 and it is very likely it still is the best engine out there. But having a Mercedes engine doesn’t guarantee anything – just think about McLaren in 2014. My own prediction is Williams will win a race or two this year, either Bottas or Massa, maybe both.
Massa is on a high after a successful end to 2014 and that momentum will help in Australia. But if he gets disappointing results in first races, then he might get lost again. Massa has always been a driver by the mood: if he has the feeling (with the car and otherwise), he is as fast as anyone out there (at least prior to Hungary 2009; although personally I don’t think he lost any speed because of the accident, the problems in Ferrari were due being a team-mate of Fernando Alonso). Bottas has the attitude and talent to be a world champion. He will probably have a slight edge on Massa, but if the 2015 car is to Massa’s liking, Valtteri must stay alert.
After disastrous 2014, the only way is a way up for Ferrari. The arrival of Sebastien Vettel is a big boost for the team and the changes in the team will – hopefully – lead Ferrari closer to its normal form. F1 Racing (March 2015) reported that sources inside Ferrari claim that the team had improved the engine to the tune of 50 bhp in the winter and it might have been increased to 80 bph before the start of season. Last year Ferrari was behind Mercedes by about 40bhp.
If this is true, it would mean Ferrari are on the same level as Mercedes, even if Mercedes would be able to find new 40-60bhp. When will Ferrari take all out of the engine then? That is the question, as we are now informed that Ferrari will take more "conservative engine" to Melborne. Kimi Räikkönen is on a positive note when it comes to the new Ferrari. The car responds to his driving, so we can expect to see old Kimi back this year. Vettel is clearly a fast driver – when the car fits his style. But he was unable to match Daniel Ricciardo last year, because the rear part was not as responsive (because the rule changes) as in earlier Red Bulls. When the car doesn’t fit his style, Vettel is not as brilliant. Early 2012 Mark Webber was able to match and beat Vettel – until the updates fixed the car to Vettel’s liking. Kimi Räikkönen might not have the edge he had in his McLaren days, but I am sure he will offer a good challenge to Vettel – and will outpace the four times champion multiple times this year.
I became a Daniel Ricciardo-fan in 2014. The way he outpaced Vettel and took three wins compared to Vettel’s zero was amazing and – let’s be honest about this – put Vettel’s performance into question. Yes, Vettel dominated Webber (except 2010) and won four titles in a row, you don’t do that without a remarkable talent. But how good is Vettel? His championship winning cars were designed by Adrian Newey and were clearly the best of the field. In 2014, when the car did not suit Vettel’s style, the new boy from Australia came and took the team by storm – and Vettel left for Ferrari. Sure, Vettel might have had motivation problems and there may be many other things we outsiders don’t know. But now Daniel is the king of Red Bull. He has shown his racing skills both in strategically smart driving against Mercedes and in wheel-to-wheel racing (against Alonso in Austin, turn 1, 2014). If Red Bull-Renault is even close to Mercedes, expect Daniel to take more than three wins this year.
From the beginning I thought Alonso & Jenson Button pairing would be perfect for McLaren Honda: two experienced drivers who will score points and give important feedback to engineers. All credit to Kevin Magnussen, but his day will come later. Now I should confess my bias: I think Fernando Alonso is the best driver out there.
Maybe in raw speed Hamilton is ahead of him, but in terms of race craft and else: Alonso is the most complete driver out there. He should have won the title in 2012 and I personally think it will be a great injustice if he doesn’t get his third title befoere he calls a day on his career. Yes, he failed in his attempt to bring world championship to Maranello and it is argued he did not develop the car to the right direction in Ferrari. And, for sure, the atmosphere in Ferrari wasn’t the best possible as Alonso was eying more competitive drives and finally left the team. But all that is past now as he is back at McLaren.
The winter tests indicate a difficult start for the season, especially as Alonso will not be in Melbourne due his testing accident (it is pointless to speculate what happened and why, let’s just hope Alonso is fine and will be behind the wheel as soon as it is safely possible). But, the situation is not as dark as it might appear: according to F1 Racing, Alonso set a purple sector time in Jerez, when he was lapping on intermediates at the same time as Rosberg in a Mercedes – and the Spaniard did not lose much ground to Nico. Furthermore, Newey’s right-hand man Peter Prodromou (he knows the secrets of Red Bull) is at McLaren and F1 Racing spotted similarities between the new McLaren MP4-30 and old Red Bull cars: the start of the front wing has multi-element design, aimed at consistent stable downforce.
The nose is also similar to Red Bull designs. So, I make my prediction: McLaren is not as bad as it looks in the tests. It will take time, but by the end of the season, they are fighting for the podiums. Jenson Button is also positive about the chances, as ESPN F1 reported: he thinks McLaren MP4-30 has the ingredients to be the best McLaren he has driven since joining the team in 2010, but admits there is lots of work to be done.
It is time to turn eyes to Melbourne!
“Le cirque est plein, c'est jour de fête !”