Mercedes – “So, are you guys re-signing Hamilton, or nah?”
Seriously, this is the biggest question mark I could come up with for this team. They’re probably still in Brackley on a 35 day tequila binge after surprising everyone with 16 wins out of 19 last year. There really isn’t much to worry about for the Anglo-German unit, their car is so far ahead of everyone else, I think they can phone in 2015 (With its practically identical regulations), and if the reliability is just a little bit better, they’ll run the table.
The only, even small concern is that Lewis Hamilton is in the final year of his contract, and needs to be re-signed. He’s now 30, and I’m curious to see if Mercs try to lock him down for the rest of his career given his age, and the fact that they have the best car in F1 by a mile, not to mention, the sport’s most marketable driver. If not, Fernando Alonso could always end the McLaren experiment early, like Toto Wolff suggested. When you have the best team in F1, you’re essentially drunk with power, so who cares? Seriously, it wouldn’t surprise me if they win all 20 races next year. You heard it here first.
Red Bull – “What have you got to challenge Mercedes?”
Red Bull Racing is that meme with the dog in the house, everything’s on fire, and the speech bubble of “This is fine!”. Red Bull are probably in hotter water than they realize.
They just lost the crown jewel in Sebastian Vettel, despite his mediocre 2014 season. This is going to be Adrian Newey’s last year with the team before heading back to Milton Keynes to have a big box of toys to play with like the genius he is, and you have a 21 year old driver in his 2nd season, who only 18 months ago, was in GP3. Oh yeah, not to mention, an engine that’s half a second behind Mercedes.
This is the problem with Red Bull. They’re on par with Mercedes in terms of aero and chassis development, but as long as Renault continue to lag behind in terms of engine power, they’re always going to be 2nd best. And it doesn’t matter how many heroics Daniel Ricciardo can come up with in that department. As awesome as his season was in 2014, it’s easy to forget that his 3 wins all came as a direct result of Mercedes issues. So I don’t expect Ricciardo to repeat his monster season, and I’m still not fully convinced on Kyvat either, who had some decent qualifying results last year, but was lacklustre in races.
I seriously suspect that a more realistic aim for Red Bull would be to stay ahead of Williams, instead of challenging Mercedes, because right now, the Milton Keynes camp haven’t looked this vulnerable since 2008.
Williams – “Can you out-develop Mercedes?”
Williams had their best season in a decade, through 2014. They scored 320 points, Valtteri Bottas had a breakout year, and Felipe Massa had a great recovery from an awful 1st half of the year. Right now, I think on paper, they have the best chance (albeit slim), of challenging the factory Mercedes department. The big question is, do they have the firepower, to out develop them over the course of a year?
Short answer? Probably not. Long answer: They’re gonna have to be clever. It’s like being at a Poker table, having a full house, and then Mercedes have four aces and they just made you go all-in. Mercs know their engines better, they can build around that, and their aero and chassis is equal to Red Bull, and to be fair to Williams, their improvement in that department is part of the reason they were so good this past season.
If they can continue to build on what’s already a solid package, there’s no reason why they can’t break 400 points and challenge Red Bull at the minimum. If they can’t get to Mercs, that’s not a bad consolation prize. The extra constructors money can only help, right? (PS: Fix those strategic calls!)
Ferrari – “So, how big a rebuild job are we talking here?”
Already spoken a lot about about Ferrari already, but it’s the most intriguing team in the paddock right now. Sebastian Vettel is the new centrepiece after 5 years of Nando, and he has something to prove with a new challenge, a teammate he likes, and a completely restructured Ferrari team underneath him.
The biggest issue for me, is getting production out of Kimi Raikkonen, who came off 55 points and a truly miserable 2014 campaign. The team building around Sebastian can’t be helping that, but I fear this could be the retirement tour for The Iceman, who was probably the worst driver in the field in terms of trying to adapt to the 2014 cars and the brake-by-wire system.
They’re aiming for 2 wins. That might be lofty unless lady luck smiles kindly on them. For me, if they can get on the podium semi-regularly again next year, they should be happy with that. The biggest factor for me, is just how big a job is it going to be, in terms of re-building a Ferrari team that’s the weakest in over 20 years. They have the tools to do it though, James Allison is no slouch.
McLaren-Honda: “Are you SURE dumping Mercedes was a good idea?”
No, seriously, are you really sure? Because leaving the known best engine in the field, is one almighty gamble for the Woking factory. I’m not sure if the decision to get back into bed with Honda after a 20-year hiatus was for performance reasons, and putting faith in the Japanese car giant, or whether they were short of money and needed a top-tier sponsor again.
Honda has only just given free-reign to develop through the season, depending on how much the others develop too, and while that may be slightly reassuring for them, you’d think on paper, that they have a herculean task ahead of them to play catch-up. What does help though, is the arrival of Peter Prodromou from Red Bull’s aerodynamics wing, a department of which doesn’t get talked about much, but for me, is the big reason why McLaren have been demoted to mid-card fodder the last two years.
This is a team that’s had talented drivers come and go, and that’s never been a problem for McLaren, who can still attract top names. The problems have always been the damn car. Maybe now, they can finally come towards fixing that. This could be another re-build job, although with slightly better foundations than their Maranello counterparts.
Force India: “Okay, what’s your excuse this year?”
I know Force India are popular, but I’ve kind of run out of patience with them at this point. Vijay Mallya says all the right things, but this team has had the same old pattern of issues for the last 3 seasons now. They start with a strong opening package, challenge for podiums at the start of the season, then as time goes by and other teams start developing stronger parts, Force India fall behind because they haven’t got the financial muscle to keep up. It even happened last year after their strongest line-up to date in Hulkenberg and Perez, a team that most on the paddock would gladly take if given the chance.
Force India need to roll the dice, be aggressive and REALLY go for a Top 5 spot this season. Last year, they had a real chance due to McLaren’s struggles. This year, Ferrari and McLaren are really in up in the air with big restructuring and change in the air, so this may very well be an even bigger chance for Force India to crack into the upper-echelon of the field. Because seriously, how long in F1 can you take being mediocre?
Go for the throat Vijay, as much as F1 is corrupt in terms of dishing out the cash, the only way to make money in F1, is to spend it.
Toro Rosso: “Who’s taking the fall for the Verstappen experiment?”
Welcome to the youngest team in F1 history, and with two 2nd generation drivers in both its seats. Carlos Sainz Jr and Max Verstappen combine for a grand total of 37 years…the same age when Mark Webber retired at the end of the 2013 season. It’s one of more intriguing teams going into the year. Mainly because we focus on the drivers, because, being a B-team, no-one gives a shit about how well the team does in relation to everything else.
And the interesting thing we will all be looking at, is how will 17-year old Max Verstappen fare, in actual races? Being in a practise session is one thing, but is his actual race-craft going to be like? That’s what worries me for him, more than anything else, a guy who’s only spent a year in single seat cars. How he stacks up with the reigning Formula Renault 3.5 champion will be intriguing as well. But yeah, not much to see here to be honest, besides our own curiosity in the 4th generation of the Red Bull driver programme.
Lotus – “So, when’s your new technical director coming in?”
…Because goddamn, they need one. Lotus’ 2014 car was flawed in every, conceivable way. Their front wing was terrible, their engine was dreadful, the car looked undriveable, and Pastor Maldonado’s repair bill was still kinda expensive. 10 points for a team that had 300 last year is a truly miserable season, and with Mercedes power, and their front tusk design now being illegal, it can only be up for the Enstone team now, surely?
They have a stronger than average driver pairing, we know what Grosjean can do with a decent car underneath him, and Maldonado has actually improved over the last couple of years in terms of racecraft. What they need, is someone with some technological know how to start rebuilding what was a terrible Lotus E22. I don’t think the team’s ever recovered from losing James Allison, and with even less constructors money on their side for 2015, it could get worse, before it gets better for Lotus.
Sauber – “Got any factories left to buddy up with?”
This could be the beginning of the end for Sauber. 2014 was their worst season ever, 10th in the Constructors behind minnows Marussia, and with zero points scored on the season. I always thought Sauber would struggle without a bigger factory to partner with, but I never thought it was going to get this bad, to the point where a lot of the teams income is coming down to drivers and their sponsors. Nothing against Felipe Nasr’s ability, being 2nd in GP2 last year is no easy feat, but do you really think he’d have gotten a job if it weren’t for his sponsorship with the Brazilian National Bank, ala Felipe Massa? Marcus Ericsson, same thing.
It’s sad, Sauber have always been at their best when they’re in association with someone big, like BMW or Mercedes in the past, but with the poor Ferrari engine in the car, a driver line-up that’s arguably worse than last year, and a reputation for being one of the more unreliable cars in the field, this could really be a dark season for Sauber, and I really hope Monisha Kaltenborn can pull something out of the hat here.
Marussia – “Are you SURE you guys want to come back?”
Listen people, Caterham is dead. Marussia still have a very slim hoping of being on the grid for 2015, but it’s going to be a mountain to climb. They have no factory after selling it to Gene Haas, they have no drivers, a lot of their assets were sold off, they have no 2015 car, and there’s a possibility some former staff has moved on to other jobs by now. And you have to remember, this wasn’t a good team in the first place. This was a team that was already 4 seconds a lap off the top guys. And now, Caterham is gone, so their lack of pace will be even more exposed if they come back.
Trust me, Marussia would do well to make the 107% margin if they were to return. And that kind of begs the question: “Is it worth it?”, really? The £40m you’d get from last year would only just cancel your debt, and if you’re going to be at the back, where are you going to make your money? With Sauber, Lotus and Force India struggling to develop, there’s NO hope for Marussia. For me, it would just be a matter of time before they would collapse again. Marussia, for me, are a black hole when it comes to investing, and maybe they should just bow out with good grace and dignity. No-one likes seeing a team on life support. Blame the fundamentally flawed revenue sharing.