Formula One is one of the most dramatic sports on the planet. Not just because of the action at speeds over 200mph. The drama off the track can be just as thrilling as the race action. Here are 18 things to keep an eye on during the F1 season ahead.
There was no doubt who the best driver was last season. Hamilton’s 11 wins, not always from pole position, proved just how good Lewis is. Can he repeat the heroics this season? There doesn’t seem to be much doubt amongst commentators. Give Hamilton a reliable and competitive car and he will win races. Title number three is surely just twenty races away.
11 pole positions last season only translated into 5 wins for Rosberg. Qualifying has not been Rosberg’s problem. It’s race day that allowed Hamilton to take the title. Battles across the season were consistently won by Hamilton, with Rosberg forced to follow his team mate across the finish line in second place a total of ten times across the season. There’s no denying that Rosberg is quick. Can he translate that qualifying speed across to the Sunday race? If he can, Hamilton will be facing some stiff competition.
One of the biggest flashpoints last season was when Rosberg intentionally took Hamilton out of the race at the Belgian Grand Prix. It is no secret that both driver’s are desperate to win, seemingly no matter what the cost is to their teammate. The balance shifted back and forth with whoever was leading the championship. Hamilton has a history of bad attitude when things aren’t going his way. If Rosberg takes the lead in the championship, we should see the roles reverse from last season and the rivalry between the two drivers become even more sour.
Red Bull’s disappointing season in 2014 was given an added twist with the news that golden boy Vettel would be departing for the famous prancing horse. Following in the footsteps of his hero Schumacher, Vettel will be hoping to do much better than last season, where he barely troubled the top of the podium after such a fantastic 2015. Ferrari are showing signs of improvement and there is no doubt that Vettel can perform well if his car is competitive. Will 2015 come too soon for the four time champion?
The signing of 17 year old Max Verstappen by Toro Rosso certainly raised eyebrows. Smashing the records for youngest ever F1 driver, Verstappen will be feeling the pressure when he takes to the grid at Melbourne. Whether he succeeds or not, questions have been asked over if he is too young for the sport. Some have even argued that his age diminishes the sport’s difficulty. If a 17 year old can do it, couldn’t anybody?
Before Alonso signed to McLaren, many speculated he would hold out for a seat at Mercedes. There’s no doubting Alonso’s skill as a driver. The double champion has always shown signs of his quality, no matter what car he has been behind the wheel of. At 33 years old, time seems to be running out for the Spaniard to reclaim his past glories. McLaren-Honda’s trouble start will not help, neither has the crash that means Alonso will miss out at Melbourne. Can McLaren provide the car that Alonso deserves?
The post season mess that was McLaren’s 2015 team selection finally resulted in Button being chosen as the main driver, with Magnussen relegated to reserve. Alonso’s crash in testing means that Magnussen will take his place at Melbourne, making for an intriguing prospect. Will Magnussen outperform the driver considered better by McLaren? Button will certainly be feeling some pressure, even if he has displayed class and professionalism at every stage of the selection process. A little extra spice to the Australian Grand Prix is certainly welcome.
That is of course if McLaren Honda can get their car right for Melbourne. Testing has been a disaster by any metric, and there will certainly be a lot of questions asked should Mclaren fail to perform in Melbourne. With Mercedes engine looking strong, and team Lotus selecting it as their engine choice, McLaren could see themselves falling further away from competing at the top of the table.
There’s no denying that Formula One is a male dominated sport. Whether that is through skill, participation or sexism is a debate for another time. This season sees British driver Susie Wolff continue her role at Williams as test driver, with Spanish driver Carmen Jorda also signing on for Lotus. Wolff was involved with two grand prix weekends last season, engine problems cutting short her time at Silverstone. At the German grand prix, Wolff managed to overcome the engine troubles to put in a strong performance, finishing a few hundredths of a second behind Felipe Massa during a free practice session. Here’s hoping Wolff will have more opportunities this season. Breaking the gender gap can only help the sport.
The only driver to break the Mercedes domination last season was Ricciardo. His two victories were the only times a non-Mercedes driver won all season. It could even have been three wins if it wasn’t for his disqualification at Melbourne last year. There are high hopes for the smiling Aussie driver. What better way to stake a claim as a title contender than in his home race in Melbourne?
Outside of Ricciardo, the other one to watch seems to be Bottas. All the commentators agree that he has potential. The question is can he improve on last season’s strong showing? The Mercedes engine in his Williams will certainly help. Some pundits think it is only the car that’s holding him back. Can Bottas prove his skills this season and earn himself a place in a championship competitive car? Or has he already reached his peak?
Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr have both paid for their seats at Sauber this season, much to the dismay of F1 fans who want driver’s to earn their place. Financial troubles continue to squeeze those at the back end of the grid. Is it any surprise that Sauber turn to other sources for funding? With the ongoing legal battle from Gierdo van der Garde over his place in the team, more financial problems are on the horizon.
The announcement that Manor F1 will have a driver on the grid in Melbourne has been welcomed by fans of the sport. Under no illusions that they can compete at the top of the grid, having a full grid of cars certainly adds to the magnificent spectacle that is Formula One. But will it last? Ecclestone has shown some signs of relaxing the financial rules to give smaller teams a chance, despite opposition from the top teams. With Caterham still uncertain of entering a car this season, Sauber resorting to pay drivers, and Manor F1 barely making the cut, it could go one way or another this year.
It’s no secret that viewing figures have been declining in recent years. One reason given is the market in China having competition with other big sporting events during the F1 timeslots. The other is the increased presence of pay tv, with rules that F1 should be broadcast on public or free channels being reduced or rescinded. No matter how flashy Sky F1 may be with their coverage, the rights being sold to the satellite company has had a negative impact on viewing figures in the UK. Money will always have a louder voice than public demand. Even if it’s a negative for the sport.
Attendance at the German grand prix has been declining in recent years, even with Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg dominating the sport. There is still no official announcement on where this year’s grand prix will take place. Could it be the last? Falling attendances will certainly play a part in the decision. Putting our tinfoil hat on, could the legal troubles that a certain Mr Ecclestone had in Germany also have caused the disruption?
Formula One has shown a willful ignorance to local politics in the past. Whether it was the oppression of protesters in Bahrain, or the stark poverty gap exemplified by the Indian grand prix, there seems to be very little to stop Formula One from choosing whatever country they want to host their races. Will things change this year with Russia? Last year’s grand prix went off with little disruption, despite the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Financial sanctions against Russia are starting to take hold, with some major sporting events already cancelled or postponed. With no end to the sanctions or conflict in sight, things could come to a head in the country this year. How will this affect relations with Russia? As far as Formula One is concerned, the answer will most likely be none at all.
Replacing Kamui Kobayashi as the king of carnage on the F1 track, Maldonado will be hoping for some consistency this season. Undoubtedly a talented driver, reliability is his biggest problem. Lotus have a Mercedes engine this season and could take McLaren’s troubles as an opportunity to push themselves further up the constructor’s championship. To do this they will need Maldonado to start disproving his cruel yet fair nickname.
Rosberg’s mechanical issues made the last race of 2014 a bit of an anti-climax. The double points on offer meant that Rosberg was still in with a chance of claiming the title. Now that the double points are no longer in play, this season’s final race could be a formality. Critics said that the double points was unnecessary, but it certainly added to excitement last time round. Will it be a missed opportunity this year?