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.