F1 2015 Preview: Five storylines that could define the new season


The 2015 Formula 1 season bursts into life this weekend with the Australian Grand Prix, bringing to an end to the winter solstice that has lasted since Lewis Hamilton’s title victory in Abu Dhabi last November.

Once again, Mercedes appears to be leading the way heading into the new season, with Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg poised to vie for the drivers’ title this year, just as they did in 2014.

However, behind the Silver Arrows, an almighty scrap for second place is on the cards, with Williams, Red Bull, Ferrari and even Lotus all looking capable of a podium finish, judging by their winter testing pace.

So ahead of the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday – live on NBCSN from 12:30a ET – here’s our look at five storylines that are set to define the 2015 Formula 1 season.

Lewis versus Nico, round two

Last year’s battle for the championship was one of the most entertaining in years, even if double points did give the final race of the year a little more hype. Even without this gimmick in 2015, the tussle for the title could go all the way once again as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg duke it out at Mercedes.

One year on from the start of its dominant spell, Mercedes appears to have lost none of its advantage. In testing, both drivers laid down an impressive marker at the top of the timesheets without really pushing the W06 Hybrid car too hard, suggesting that it is still a full second clear of the rest of the field. If the reliability issues of 2014 can be ironed out, then the chase for the perfect season could be on once again for the German team.

Amid friendly fire at Mercedes last year, Nico and Lewis came out of the season war-weary but as noble rivals. They’ll enter the new year with far more fire than they started the 2014 season with though, knowing just how fierce the intra-team battle will be. It makes for a thrilling dynamic to start the season with.

Vettel and his arrival at “New Maranello”

Over the last year, a revolution has taken place at Ferrari. The top personnel that were failing to get the results required were slowly edged out: Luca di Montezemolo, Stefano Domenicali, Marco Mattiacci, Pat Fry and – most notably – Fernando Alonso. None of the lynchpins that took the team to Melbourne last year remain, and instead, a new regime under Sergio Marchionne and Maurizio Arrivabene is in place.

The biggest change on the driver front is the arrival of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. After 15 years under the Red Bull umbrella, Vettel has flown the nest, and is now looking to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Michael Schumacher, by reviving Ferrari and building a team around him. It will be fascinating to see how this new chapter goes for both the team and the driver. Neither expects immediate success, but both will be giving everything to lay the foundations for a brighter future at Maranello.

Echoes of the past at McLaren

Just as Ferrari is looking to break with the past and exit the doldrums, McLaren will be kicking off a brand new era on Sunday. After 20 seasons together, Mercedes will no longer power the British team this year, with Honda returning as an engine supplier. This reforges the famed partnership of the late eighties and early nineties that saw Ayrton Senn and Alain Prost go wheel-to-wheel, producing not only one of the greatest rivalries in F1 history, but also one of the most dominant streaks for any one team.

The return of Fernando Alonso to Woking came as a surprise, but he knows that a Honda-powered car is most probably his best chance of clinching that elusive third world title. The Spaniard will not be in Australia by virtue of his testing accident, with reserve driver Kevin Magnussen deputizing. There will be teething problems, but once the Honda power unit gets up to speed, we could be set for an almighty resurgence from McLaren.

The fight to survive

2014 was a brutal year for F1 politically, with the collapse of Caterham and Marussia proving just how deep the financial crisis was. Although Marussia has remarkably recovered and is now back on the grid as Manor, question marks still hang over Sauber, Lotus and Force India, with all four teams knowing that this season is by no means a sure-fire thing.

So 2015 will once again be about the political struggles that F1 is facing (or, as it would seem, refusing to face). The constant fight between the haves and have-nots will continue, and change is unlikely – but we could yet be surprised.

And if things do crumble? The big teams will likely carry on as normal. To them, a sport with Manor is little different to a sport without it. One can only hope that Gene Haas knows just what he is getting into upon the arrival of his team in 2016.

The future of F1

Amid the questions about the very existence of these teams, a great debate is raging on about the direction that F1 should take in the future. More powerful and louder engines? Wider tires? Fiercer looking cars? Sure, why not? It will cost though – something that seems to have been forgotten amid all of this.

Ferrari is leading the call for a revolution in F1, but the sport really needs to focus on the problems at hand instead of considering solutions to ones that don’t actually exist. TV figures aren’t falling because people don’t like F1 anymore; it’s because of the financial structure that is in place, where profit and revenue is king. If it’s a choice between 500k viewers on a subscription service or 3m watching for free, the 2.5m missing viewers won’t be missed.

The F1 product can, like anything, always be improved. However, it would be better to have a healthy grid of ten teams competing instead of there being cool-looking cars with fire-breathing engines that only five operations can afford to produce. The system requires fixing, and it will be fascinating to see how the approach of F1’s future changes across the course of the season.


These are just some of the storylines that you can expect to define the 2015 season. However, don’t forget:

  • The fight for P2 between Red Bull, Williams and Ferrari.
  • Red Bull adjusting to life post-Vettel and post-Newey.
  • Lotus’ new era with Mercedes engines.
  • The return of the Mexican Grand Prix in November.
  • The build-up to the arrival of Haas F1 Team in 2016.
  • Max Verstappen’s debut season at just 17 years old.
  • Sauber’s legal quandary with Giedo van der Garde.
  • The future of the German Grand Prix.
  • Our continued support for Jules Bianchi and Michael Schumacher.

2015 has the makings of a fantastic season, so be sure to start it in the right way by joining us on NBCSN this weekend for comprehensive coverage of the Australian Grand Prix. Click here to see all of the TV times.

After 19th Indianapolis 500 win, Roger Penske never stops; focusing on Detroit, Le Mans

Roger Penske stops
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images

DETROIT – Roger Penske never stops.

Just consider what the 86-year-old billionaire has accomplished last Sunday.

At 12:40 p.m. last Sunday, Penske greeted the massive crowd of 330,000 spectators at the 107th Indianapolis 500 and gave the command, “Drivers, Start Your Engines” to begin the big race. Since 2019, Penske has been the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar.

Over three hours later, Penske was standing on top of the Pagoda, the massive suite and command post of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, watching the dramatic conclusion of the Indy 500 with his wife, Kathy, son Greg, Penske Corp. marketing director Jonathan Gibson, and Penske Corp. president Bud Denker.

When Penske saw his driver, Josef Newgarden, cross the start/finish line as the winner, he thrust his left fist in the air in an enthusiastic fashion and celebrated with his closest associates.

“I’m up on the very top of the Pagoda and I have a screen up there with all the times of every (Team Penske) car, each lap and I have a TV and a radio that I can’t talk (to the teams) on,” Penske said. “I can go from the channels of 2 (Newgaren), 3 (Scott McLaughlin) or 12 (Will Power) just listening to where we are.

“I have my own idea to what I might have done, but when I heard (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric say we had to take our time, when he said we were on plan at 100 laps, we were actually ahead of where we wanted to be. They were saving fuel, to be in the right window, which was right on.

“It was amazing when you think about all of the things that happened. If we didn’t have that wreck on the front straightaway, it would have been different.

“It’s a crazy place. It’s rewarding. That’s why we are here to race.”

In addition to owning the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Penske is also the winningest car owner in Indy 500 history and Sunday’s win was a record-extending 19th win in the 500-Mile Race.

It was the first time Penske, the car owner, won the Indy 500 since Penske, the track owner, officially took over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Jan. 6, 2020.

Roger Penske (Bruce Martin Photo)

With the purchase, he also put some professional distance between himself and Team Penske after calling strategy in the race for many years.

“After you have been on your face for three of four years qualifying here, it’s nice to be up again,” Penske said. “We won nine races last year, won the championship and qualified in the back half of the field. Then we came back here this year, and we worked so hard.

“Guys have better ideas than we do. You have to hand it to them. The cars are legal, I’m sure. Rocket (IndyCar technical director Kevin Blanch) and those guys aren’t going to let that happen and we don’t want it to happen.

“We have to figure out what the magic is so we can be up front at the beginning (of the Indy 500).

“You have to take the good with the bad. You have to eat crow when you have to eat crow. I’ve had good days and bad days, but the good news is we are the same team whether we win or whether we lose and that is the most important thing.

“We are committed.”

Penske was still celebrating in Victory Lane when the placard that designates his parking spot (between the Pagoda and IMS media center) was changed from “18” to “19” to signify the number of times he has won the Indianapolis 500.

“He was hoping to get to 19, and it happened,” Penske’s son, Greg, who is the Vice Chairman of the Penske Corporation told NBC Sports. “It was special for our whole team, our family, and our 70,000-plus team members around the world. And our partners. Shell, in its first race to win with renewable fuel and it happened to be their car. They have been such a great partner over the years.

“That was so exciting to see that all come together as one team.

“It’s always a great feeling to wake up and say, ‘Man, we did this as a team, and we did this together.’

“Now, we move on to Detroit and move forward. Bud Denker and the team, it will be exciting over there, too.”

On Monday night, Penske attended the Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis. About 565 miles away, Penske’s NASCAR Cup Series team was competing in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I watched it until I had to go to the banquet,” Penske said Thursday morning in Detroit. “Then I had my iPhone sitting on the table there.

“With 50 laps to go, I didn’t know who to watch or what to watch while I was at the (Indianapolis 500) banquet.”

One of Penske’s NASCAR drivers, Ryan Blaney, went on to win the Coca-Cola 600.

It was yet another first for Penske – the first time he won the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same year. The only reason it wasn’t in the same day is because the NASCAR race had been rained out and rescheduled for the following day.

The accomplishment, however, remains impressive.

“That’s what we are here for, to set goals for other people to try to achieve,” Penske said. “The 19th win at Indianapolis was long overdue when you think about the past. It was a great race. It could have been anybody’s race.

“We were able to execute at the right time.”

Penske enjoyed more success in 24 hours than most team owners or businessmen would experience in a season, or even in a career.

But Penske immediately switched his focus to this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. The NTT IndyCar Series race is the first time this event has been contested on the streets of downtown Detroit since 1991 and is a massive undertaking.

There isn’t anything too big that Roger Penske and his team can’t accomplish, however.

“The good news is we have great weather, and we will be able to showcase the people in the city that don’t normally get a chance to go to the race at Belle Isle in the past can get a chance to come here and see what is going on,” Penske said Thursday. “The economic benefit for the city is going to be terrific.

“Mike Montri, Bud Denker and Chevrolet and the whole team, what they have put together here is an amazing job. Knowing what it takes to start fresh in a city on the city streets is amazing.”

Moving the race from Belle Isle, its home since 1992, back to the streets of Detroit is a massive undertaking, but Penske said it was time to leave the Island.

“We had a lot of noise from people because we were taking Belle Isle, a place where a lot of constituents in Detroit have weddings and things like that,” Penske said. “We cleaned up the island.

“We are going to make this a big event by coming to downtown Detroit. With the support of GM and ourselves, it was a home run.

“Last week, when the mayor of Detroit and the city council took down the 25 mph street signs and put up 200 mph, that was the day when I knew that we had made it.”

Win the Indianapolis 500 win on Sunday, the Coca-Cola 600 victory on Monday and then turning downtown Detroit into a street course and stage the race this weekend, it would be easy to expect Penske to take a break afterward.

Not so.

He will be off to Le Mans for the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans Sports Car race June 10-11 with Porsche Penske Motorsport aiming for an overall victory with its 963 hybrid prototype.

“We want to win Le Mans, that is what we would like to do,” Penske said. “We have three good cars. It’s going to be competitive. The Balance of Performance, we’ll see how that works. They made some changes, but right now, I’m sure the Toyotas have the edge.

“Just to go there and compete this first year with Porsche is something we have wanted to do for a long time. It’s a quality brand, a long-term contract so we can build on it this year.”

Penske and his son Greg are constantly looking forward, instead of taking too much time to celebrate their successes.

Greg Penske with Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

But both men realize what a huge success last week’s Indianapolis 500 was from both a competitive and business standpoint.

“After being stewards of the place here and all the hard work that everyone has put in and the team, what they have done to get back to winning, it was exciting,” Greg Penske told NBC Sports. “We had a lot of competition. Probably the best competition we’ve ever had to race against.

“It was exciting. To be up there and see the move Josef made and how they raced. It was quite a finish for the fans and for everybody.

“Great news. No one left. It was nice to see everyone staying and they wanted to see a great finish. That was exciting.

“It was exciting for everybody.”

The massive crowd of 330,000 fans was the largest to watch the Indianapolis 500 since 350,000 fans attended the sold-out 100th running in 2016.

It serves as proof of what can be done when people such as Penske and his staff get out and promote the event.

“The Indy 500 has always been a spectacular event,” Greg Penske said. “People want to come. It’s Americana. It’s amazing when you take a look at it. The people that came here from 50 different countries and all around the world.

“There is nothing like it. To get this many people to come in, but it’s still one guest at a time. That is something that is really important to us. Every experience is a good one. We have to keep working on that. I’m sure there will be opportunities for us to execute and get even better.”

The day after the Indianapolis 500, Roger Penske spoke to a small group of reporters during the annual Indianapolis 500 victory photo shoot at the Yard of Bricks.

He emphasized it wasn’t just the size of the crowd, it was also the changing face of those in attendance.

“That was some crowd,” he said. “And it was real.

“Owning the track is something we have done over the years. When (former IMS owner) Tony George came, I didn’t realize when I said yes, what I was really signing up for.

“What we signed up for was to make it better and make it a place where everybody wants to come and have fun. The demographics, so many kids coming out here with their families.

“I stood out at Turn 3 here earlier in the week and watched those cars go into Turn 3 at 240 miles an hour and to think you can go out there for $45 with your kids and watch it. It costs me more than that to go to a movie in Detroit than to sit out there.

“This is what we have to do. It’s generational. People come here. They want to keep their tickets. If we can make it fun and exciting as it was yesterday at the end, not many people left. It was amazing that not many people left.”

Roger Penske with his wife, Kathy, at the Indy 500 awards ceremony (Bruce Martin Photo)

Penske is involved in all aspects of his business. He revealed that he used helicopters to take overhead shots of the crowd before and after the race to help improve crowd control in future Indianapolis 500s.

“We had a helicopter every half hour from 7:30 a.m. on taking pictures so we could sit down as a team and look exactly how the place filled up and how it was at closing,” Penske explained. “We can look at where we had pinch points. That’s the most important thing, to make it easier to get in and easier to get out.

“Over in the Snake Pit, there are some things we can do where people can sit on the mounds.

“We had two screens on the back straightaway that were temporary. I want to put a big screen on the back of the grandstands coming off Turn 4 – a big one – so that when you are on the viewing mounds, you can see. Those are the things we have to do and that will only make it a better experience and to grow it.

“I don’t want to take any credit for filling it up. What we are doing is trying to take a product that took 106 years to build into what it is. All we are trying to do is sustain it and bring it up to the current standards from the standpoint of expectations. Whether it’s you as a family or kid, it’s whatever you have.

“That’s how we run our business.

“No risk, no reward. It was great.”

Penske has taken plenty of risks during his career, but he is calculated with every move that he takes when guiding his race team, or his business empire.

That is why he is able to enjoy the tremendous rewards that come with his success.

“Every victory for us and for the team and for my father, what he has been able to build over the years, it is exciting for all of us,” Greg Penske admitted. “He feels the same way.

“Being on top of the podium, as we all know, never gets old. But it takes execution, and it takes hard work.

“The teams here and how they commit to be here and make sure we are successful; I’ve never seen it so competition. Think about qualifying being 14 inches over 10 miles. That’s a pretty close margin.

“It’s always exciting. For him to continue to drive and to work the way he does is pretty amazing.

“I’ve had a front row seat for that and I’m very excited to be a part of it.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500