Title not the only target for Formula One teams this season
Barring an incredible and unlikely collapse between now and the final race of the Formula One season in Abu Dhabi, Mercedes are going to retain the Drivers’ and Constructors championships this year. With Lewis Hamilton already ahead of Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ standings, and even further ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, even if the Englishman endured a disastrous remainder of 2015, it would take a peculiar turn of events for his team-mate not to ensure Mercedes held onto both titles. But for those already writing off this season as a done deal, there are still some fascinating storylines to play out over the rest of the year. Can Vettel get Ferrari back competing at the front of the grid? How will the battle between Hamilton and Rosberg play out at Mercedes? Will Fernando Alonso have any success back with McLaren before he retires?
Perhaps the most important for Formula One fans will be just how well the teams are adapting to the new engine rules in the sport. Mercedes might have raced ahead of their rivals since the start of the new rules last year, most notably the introduction of the 1.6 litre V6 turbo, but there is no doubt the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull are slowly catching up. And while the other teams on the grid still have some work to do, just how far behind Mercedes are those teams who have taken time to adapt to the new regulations? So, let’s take a closer look at how each of the 10 teams on the grid have handled the opening stages of the 2015 Formula One season.
by Joe Mac1
Aside from Sebastian Vettel’s impressive victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Mercedes have tasted victory in every other race this season. Not only that, both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have finished on the podium in every race so far in 2015, proving again that Mercedes are the team to beat this year. Already and at the time of writing Mercedes are 1/100 with Betfair to dominate this season and cruise to back-to-back Constructors’ Championship titles, it looks as though the real battle this year is going to be between Hamilton and Rosberg. While the two drivers have been friends since they were kids, they’ve also been bitter rivals during the entire time – and the same competitiveness between the two has been on display a number of times during their three years as team-mates at Mercedes. Lewis has had the slight edge during the opening stages of the season, but that edge really has been slight. Currently leading his team-mate by less than 30 points, Hamilton knows Rosberg could replace him at the top of the standings within the blink of an eye. We’ve all seen what happens when the two team-mates really take it to the limit in terms of their rivalry, and Mercedes will know there is a chance that there could be fireworks at least once this season.
On the back of last year’s disappointing fourth place finish in the Constructors’ Championship, Ferrari really put in the work during the winter break and the results have been evident on the track. The departure of Fernando Alonso was soon forgotten about when Sebastian Vettel was announced as the man to replace him, and the four-time world champion has wasted little time in showing Ferrari his success with Red Bull wasn’t merely down to being in the superior car. While the Italian team might not have much chance of challenging Mercedes for the title in 2015, Ferrari are by far the best of the rest this season, achieving podium finishes in every race so far this year. While the highlight was undoubtedly Vettel’s impressive victory from second on the grid in the Malaysian Grand Prix, there have been a number of positives for Ferrari to take from the opening stages of the year. The consistency of both cars has possibly been Ferrari’s greatest achievement this season, but Kimi Raikkonen’s solid start to the campaign, especially his second place finish in Bahrain, has shown that even the last man to win the Drivers’ Championship in a Ferrari car is back firing on all cylinders and buying into what the team are doing.
The one-time dominant team in Formula One bounced back from a decade of relative obscurity last season with a deserved third-place finish in the Constructors’ Championship. With the experience of Felipe Massa and the carefree youth of Valtteri Bottas, Williams appear to have found an ideal blend in their two drivers and it was no surprise to see the Grove-based outfit stick with their 2014 line-up this year. While Pastor Maldonado’s victory in the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix remains Williams’ sole race win since Juan Pablo Montoya took the chequered flag in Germany in 2003, their nine podium finishes in 2014 will have given the team a huge amount of confidence heading into this season. As was the case last year, it’s been a solid if unspectacular start to the season for Williams. It was around this time in 2014 when things really began clicking for the team, and the signs are there suggesting the same could be happening again this year. Back-to-back fourth-place finishes for Bottas might have been frustrating for the Finn but it showed that Williams are definitely going in the right direction. Massa, meanwhile, is quietly going about his business, but the Brazilian will be hoping to find some extra pace from somewhere in order for him to try and add another couple of podium finishes to his collection should this be his final season.
If Mercedes have been the biggest winners since the regulation changes last year, Red Bull Racing have been the biggest losers. After dominating the sport between 2010 and 2014, winning both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship for four straight years, Red Bull were brought back to earth with a bang last year, finishing a full 296 points behind Mercedes in the team standings, winning just three races all season, all of them by young Aussie Daniel Ricciardo while four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel ended his Red Bull career with a whimper rather than a roar. After playing the role of the new guy last season, Ricciardo is now the senior driver following the promotion of 21-year-old Russian driver Daniil Kvyat from Toro Rosso, but the two Red Bull drivers are really up against it this year. Following a host of pre-season testing problems and a poor start to the season, Red Bull boss Christian Horner has already admitted the focus for 2015 is going to be on trying to get back into contention in time for next season. Boasting two of the best young drivers in the sport, Red Bull know it’s all about giving the duo a car capable of competing with the Mercedes’ in 2016.? Despite their claims that they could be considering their future in Formula One, a productive 2015 would be enough to keep the Austrian drinks giants interested in a sport that has brought them so much success and publicity over the past decade.
by Joe Mac1
It was always going to be easy for Sauber to improve on their horrendous 2014. That was a season in which the Swiss team failed to record a single point on their way to a 10th-place finish in the Constructors’ Championship. After controversially deciding to select Marcus Ericsson from Caterham and Brazilian 22-year-old Felipe Nasr as their drivers this year, Sauber burst out of the tracks at the start of the year, claiming extremely encouraging eighth and fifth-place finishes in Melbourne to ensure they surpassed their entire points tally from 2014. While the season has slipped a little off track since the Australian Grand Prix, Sauber has shown this year that they aren’t too far away from the top third of the grid, although the past few races have been tough for both Ericsson and Nasr. The impressive start to the season of the young Brazilian has been a real highlight for Sauber, especially considering what it took to get him in the seat ahead of Giedo van der Garde, and the team will know they have a driver capable of challenging for podium finishes if he’s given the right car.
Considering Pastor Maldonado has recorded just one finish this season, 15th in the Bahrain Grand Prix, it says a lot about the consistency of Romain Grosjean that Lotus have been able to rack up a relatively decent amount of points at this stage of the season. The Frenchman has come in for some real criticism during his time in Formula One, but Grosjean has shown in recent races just why Lotus were so keen to stick with him when it seemed as though he would be let go after a number of mistakes. Maldonado is no stranger to criticism, himself, but the Venezuelan driver has done little to silence those who claim he is only in his seat because of the sponsorship money he brings with him. But the millions of dollars Maldonado brings to Lotus might not be enough for the 30-year-old to keep his job if he can’t start finishing some races. Lotus have had their part to play in the South American’s disappointing form so far in 2015, but Maldonado hasn’t helped his reputation for crashing out of races after a number of costly mistakes over the past couple of years and he’ll need to improve right away if he’s going to be able to mount a case for a drive in 2016. Although it remains to be seen whether or not that will be with Lotus, that is if Lotus are still around next season.
The Red Bull feeder team have again started the year with two young talented drivers, really young drivers. At just 20-years old, Carlos Sainz Jr. has impressed during the opening stages of the season, recording three top-10 finishes and proving Toro Rosso could have discovered another potential superstar. But at 20, Sainz Jr. is the elder statesman of the team considering his team-mate can’t legally drink, hire a car or play Call of Duty on the Playstation 4. After growing up with Formula One driver dad Jos, it was somewhat inevitable that Max Verstappen would end up in the career he has done. What wasn’t expected, however, was that he would do it at the fresh-faced age of 17. Despite the scrutiny that comes with being the youngest driver in Formula One history, Verstappen hasn’t looked out of place in the Toro Rosso this season, finishing seventh in the second race of the year. A couple of unlucky results since then have shown the youngster just how tough F1 is, but the Verstappen has handled the adversity well and proven he has a mature head on his teenage shoulders.
Force India might have two proven drivers at their disposal in the shape of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg but it hasn’t helped them this year. The Mercedes engine might have been reliable, with Hulkenberg’s retirement in China the only time a Force India has failed to finish a race this season. But despite an encouraging start to 2015, the Silverstone-based outfit are still a long way away from the middle of the pack never mind the front. After a string of top-ten finishes in 2014, Force India finished sixth in the Constructors’ Championship for a third time in four years. Unless the team manage to dig an extra couple of seconds out of somewhere, though, this could well be Force India’s worst season since 2009.
Even by McLaren’s modest recent standards, 2015 has been a complete disaster for the eight-time Constructors’ Championship winners. The return of Fernando Alonso from Ferrari and the decision to choose Jenson Button over Kevin Magnussen ensured McLaren fans started the year feeling pretty good about things. It didn’t take long for 2015 to turn sour, with Alonso suffering a concussion in testing that kept him out of the Australian Open. While the Spaniard made his second debut for the team in Malaysia at the next race, an 11th place finish in Bahrain remains Alonso’s best finish of the year so far. It hasn’t been much better for Button, either, and the Englishman has failed to record a single point so far this season, in what could be the 2009 world champion’s final year in Formula One.
Another turbulent winter ended with the closure of Marussia and the birth of Manor Motorsport. The problems away from the track resulted in the Dinnington-based team missing the first Grand Prix of the year. Since then, drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi have done the best with what they have at their disposal, but the future is still far from clear for the Manor team.