NBCSN’s Diffey, Hobbs preview F1’s 2015 season

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NBC Sports Group’s coverage of the 2015 Formula One season begins with streaming coverage Practice 1 of the Australian Grand Prix tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra. Coverage of practice on NBCSN begins tonight (Friday morning) at 12:30 a.m. ET, and NBCSN will provide live coverage of the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday morning at 12:30 a.m. ET.

Full times from the weekend schedule are linked here.

Following are quotes from NBC Sports Group lead F1 play-by-play voice Leigh Diffey and veteran analyst and former racecar driver David Hobbs, previewing the upcoming F1 campaign.

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Diffey on expectations in 2015: “It would be a massive surprise if anything changed as far as Mercedes’ dominance is concerned. What they put together last year, in one of the most revolutionary years in Formula One, was incredible. They’re going to be the hare everyone else is chasing. We’ll see who will be the best of the rest, between Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams.”

ON LEWIS HAMILTON AND NICO ROSBERG

Hobbs: “I favor Hamilton over Rosberg because I think he’s better. Hamilton is one of the absolute top drivers that we’ve seen in the last decade. In his very first race in Melbourne (in 2007), he qualified fourth, and leapt into second place in the first turn. I really think he has the edge, especially when it comes to racing, over Nico. Not necessarily in qualifying, because Rosberg can turn in some blindingly fast laps. Rosberg doesn’t seem to have that same dominance and determination that Hamilton has in the races.”

Diffey: “There is no doubt that Lewis Hamilton clearly has the psychological advantage over Nico Rosberg, knowing that battle reached its most intense point, and, in the end, he has prevailed. With that said, just simmering away inside Rosberg is this unbelievable determination to prove us all wrong, that he is better than Lewis Hamilton. This is a rematch for Rosberg. I don’t see why we can’t have that amazing rivalry again this year.”

ON FERRARI AND DRIVERS SEBASTIAN VETTEL AND KIMI RAIKKONEN

Hobbs: “Sergio Marchionne has changed that team so dynamically. He’s a man who is absolutely determined to succeed, and I think Ferrari will step up the pace enormously. Vettel is a driver not to be messed with. He had a dismal season last year, and I’m not quite sure why. Testing showed he and Raikkonen were a force to be reckoned with. Raikkonen and Vettel should have some wins this year in that Ferrari.”

Diffey: “We’ll see an improved Ferrari team. The way that Ferrari cleaned house makes them feel they have a healthier, restructured team. Vettel’s in a really happy place mentally, following in the footsteps of his hero, Michael Schumacher. Last year, the word you would have used to describe Ferrari was ‘turmoil.’ This year, you get a sense of calm. If it’s calm, then they can get good results.”

ON RED BULL AND WILLIAMS

Hobbs: “Daniel Ricciardo was an absolute inspiration last year, to all of us. He won all of his races in the last few laps, and made Sebastian Vettel look pretty second-rate. He certainly shows tenacity, but whether Red Bull will have the speed this year is something we just don’t know. (Williams drivers) Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa showed a lot of speed last year. I fully expect Bottas to get his first win this season.”

Diffey: “The future faces of Formula One are Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas. They finished third and fourth last year, and although Bottas hasn’t won a Grand Prix yet, you get the feeling that’s not far away. He and Ricciardo were the standouts last year.”

ON FERNANDO ALONSO AND MCLAREN-HONDA

Hobbs: “Again – Alonso seems to have zigged when he should have zagged. The McLaren-Honda does not look like a terribly good duo at the moment. Things can change, and they will because Honda has made their name through engineering. If anyone can pull themselves out of the morass, they can. It seems amazing to me that they performed so badly at winter testing.”

Diffey: “McLaren is out on an island. It’s so unknown. They had a real troublesome testing period with their Honda power unit. They have not even put together a race simulation yet, and they’re going into the first race of 20 for the year. If they get through Melbourne with two cars finishing, it’ll be a miracle.”