Formula 1: 2015 Season Preview Photo:
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Peter Anderson | Mar, 12 2015 | 0 Comments

The 2015 Formual 1 Season is about to kick off, with the opening round of the series to be contested in Melbourne this weekend.

After last year's complicated rule change extravaganza, this year's F1 is relatively stable, with just a few detail changes to the sporting regulations.

There's been plenty of change on the driver front, though, 'the situation' evolving as these words are typed.

So, as the teams bolt-in the first of their four allowed engines, strap on the new nosecones and drivers choose their one allowed helmet design, it's time to have a look at what's in store for Season 2015.

Mercedes already look massively impressive.

The team had an amazing year in 2014, with their only nemesis coming in the form of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.

Despite the team's overall crushing superiority, in-fighting amongst the outfit's drivers meant a thrilling title chase as DNFs, crashes, mistakes and questionable "incidents" saw the championship lead change hands a few times.

Hamilton ultimately prevailed, thanks, in part, to his experience in a title fight and Rosberg's lack thereof.

The German crumbled towards the end of the year, with a terrible performance in Monza and the final insult, a failing car in Abu Dhabi. To Rosberg's credit, despite being told to park the ailing W05, he soldiered on to the finish line and was gracious in defeat.

The team began this season as they finished the last - at the front, running very fast indeed around the Circuit de Catalunya in the final week. The drivers swapped ailments during the pre-season hit-out, with Hamilton suffering a mysterious fever and Rosberg a trapped nerve.

Neither driver was completely happy with the way the car felt in the closing days of testing, so the only thing stopping the Mercedes team from winning everything could be confidence. Jenson Button wryly observed that Hamilton and Rosberg sounded a bit spoilt.

At Red Bull, however, confidence isn't in short supply, although the pre-season hasn't all been plain sailing.

The new Red Bull car, which was partly overseen by star designer Adrian Newey, still uses Renault power and still suffers a little from that. Despite running reasonably reliably in both the RB11 and the Toro Rosso, software upgrades to the power unit have brought new problems with the drivers complaining about driveability.

So good was Ricciardo last year that he saw off Vettel, who in turn saw himself out to join Ferrari.

That set off a chain reaction in the driver market. Daniil Kvyat was promoted from Toro Rosso to the second Red Bull seat, the young Russian impressing in his debut year.

In turn, Kvyat was replaced by the very young (17!) Max Verstappen, son of Dutch Benetton driver Jos.

Max is the youngest F1 driver to take the grid and will hope that is the worst thing anyone will say about him - his father's year alongside Michael Schumacher in 1994 saw him involved in a huge accident at the season opener and later almost incinerated in the infamous pitlane fire at Hockenheim.

Young Max did a good job in winter testing and appears to have a good car beneath him, with a series of upgrades in the final Barcelona test showing how hard the team is working.

Alongside Verstappen will be another name famous in motorsport, Carlos Sainz, but the junior edition. He's done well in the lower formulae and is eager to make his own name despite carrying his rally legend father's.

McLaren had a horrendous time in all three testing sessions. Not only was the car slow, they have temporarily lost star recruit, Fernando Alonso.

The double world champion had a strange accident on the inside of the long turn three at Barcelona, knocking him out.

He woke up in hospital thinking it was 1995, which would be doubly horrible if he was a McLaren driver that year as he would have been in that terribly ugly Ilmor-powered car that didn't perform very well.

As it turns out, 2015 may be a repeat of that year - a new engine supplier, in the form of the returning Honda, has meant an enormous amount of change at Woking, with Jenson Button and the bloke who drives the truck seemingly the only people doing the same job as last year.

The new car could barely complete a lap in the first test and things didn't really improve at the second and third. Button was gloomy, Alonso sounded despondent and then he had his accident, which has ruled him out of at least the first race of the season in Melbourne.

He'll be replaced by last year's McLaren cast-off, Kevin Magnussen. It probably won't matter who's in the seat, the McLarens are unlikely to finish the race, and if they do, they're likely to be a long way back.

While it might be all change at McLaren, near-neighbour Williams is hoping to build on last year's stellar Mercedes-powered performances. Finn Valtteri Bottas and evergreen Brazilian Felipe Massa returned for 2015 and if the team's steady progress in winter testing is anything to go by, they'll be scoring podiums no problem.

Bottas is anxious for a win, however, particularly after last year's all-too-familiar strategy calls robbing him of a couple of excellent chances. Massa was very fast and, if anything, seems to be improving with age.

Lotus appear to have bounced back from a chaotic 2014, somehow retaining Romain Grosjean and for some reason retaining Pastor Maldonado (actually, there are several million reasons they've kept him).

The team has jettisoned the troublesome Renault power unit and taken on the brilliant Mercedes hybrid V6 turbo, courtesy of McLaren's defection to Honda.

The team has suffered a lot over the past couple of seasons, losing Raikkonen to Ferrari and team principal Eric Boullier to McLaren, both of them at least partly due to an appalling financial state.

Which led to the hiring of Pastor Maldonado who, to be fair, wasn't all that bad despite how awful the car was.

The worst-kept secret in motorsport in 2014 saw multiple world champion Sebastian Vettel slide into Fernando Alonso's Ferrari seat.

Like McLaren, Ferrari has had a thorough going-over during the winter, with its third team boss in a year, Maurizio Arrivabene. He brought with him a broom, with a number of promotions and ejections from the team structure the result.

After a fairly indifferent time of it last year, Raikkonen has been promised a better car and it certainly seems as though he's got it, with a happier Finn surprising team boss Arrivabene ("He must be sick. He's smiling! And talking!"). Vettel's arrival at the team doesn't seem to have bothered Kimi, but it's hard to tell.

Vettel settled in reasonably quickly despite beaching the car in his first test. Fresh from being soundly beaten by the endlessly affable Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel will have a job on his hands with the newly-popular Raikkonen at Ferrari.

The new Ferrari performed admirably in testing, regularly spending a good chunnk of time at the top of the times before being deposed by Mercedes.

Force India also had a pretty good run in Spain, with Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg at the wheel. Hulkenberg is at the point where he must start delivering as the car seems fast and Sergio Perez might end up looking better and that will see the fast German off to other pastures - or formulae.

Sauber has got themselves into a legal pickle, hardly an ideal start. Ex-Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde is convinced he has a valid contract with the Swiss team and a Melbourne court agreed, telling the team he has the drive.

The team disagrees and thinks it can choose drivers who bring in more money, and have done so with another ex-Caterham driver, Marcus Ericsson and former Williams tester Felipe Nasr.

The legal battle is a distraction because the Saubers looked good in testing, which given the strength of Lotus, Toro Rosso, Force India and the weakness of McLaren should make for a cracking mid-field battle.

Van der Garde's legal win won't win him any friends in the team, but they're a professional outfit and will do their best. The next few days will be spent with the Dutchman trying to fit the car and work out what all the buttons do.

The team that won't be battling in the mid-field is Manor. The northern England based team rose from the ashes of administration caused by the loss of Russian backing at the last possible moment.

Unlike Caterham, Marussia scored points last year courtesy of the much-missed Jules Bianchi. Those points, scored at Monaco (of all places), gave the team access to a £30m (A$60m) TV money lifeline that its creditors thought worth holding on for.

Despite opposition from Force India, with deputy team principal claiming that their vote against Manor's return was based on safety concerns rather than their share of that cash, the updated 2014 car passed the 2015 crash tests and will at least be in a garage in Melbourne with Ferrari engines (again, last year's) and two new drivers.

The first announced was Formula Renault 3.5 frontrunner Will Stevens and he will be joined by another FR3.5 racer, Roberto Merhi, at least for the first few races.

There are doubtless many surprises in store this year. Mercedes will definitely be fast, that's been proven, but there are two hungry drivers there who didn't hold back when things got tough, so that should be genuinely thrilling.

A stronger midfield should also see some cracking racing which will hopefully put the sport's troubles into perspective as Bernie Ecclestone, the teams and the FIA wrestle with the future of the world's premier motorsport category.

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