The winter testing season is done. With the data gathered, the cars will undergo their final metamorphoses and the drivers will hopefully enjoy a few moments of calm before the storm. The first race in Melbourne on March 15 is just a date on the calendar and, with about two weeks to go, the old sports cliché is as true as ever: on day one, everyone is in first place. A good time, then for us to examine where things stand. Here, in order of last year’s finishing order, is our outlook for each team:
Outlook: Positive. Though Mercedes manufactured some drama of their own, internally, there was never really any significant outside challenger on their way to the title. Bad news, then, for the rest of the field that very little has changed between 2014 and 2015. They have to be considered the front-runners again, simply based on momentum, and winter testing indicated just that. Until another team is able to make a major leap forward, expect to see Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at the front of the field.
Red Bull Racing
Outlook: Cautiously Optimistic. The loss of Sebastian Vettel cannot be understated here, and any optimism must be tempered until we see just how well Red Bull weathers the loss of a four-time world champion. If Daniel Ricciardo continues his 2014 pace and Daniil Kvyat builds on his strong season with STR, though, concerns about the drivers should dissipate quickly. The big variable is the Renault powerplant. Winter testing numbers were positive, as both Red Bull and its sister team logged significant lap counts without major failure. Melbourne will be the first true reliability test, though, so expect a lot of sour faces if either car struggles with technical issues.
Outlook: Positive. Last year was a huge leap forward for Sir Frank Williams’ team, and there is little reason to assume they won’t pick up right where they left off. Consistency will be the big reason why. The pairing of Filipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas proved a good one last year and the Mercedes powerplant is the class of the field. Both carry through to 2015. Last year’s FW36 was really the only car to push Mercedes, so as long as they are consistent with chassis development on the FW37, the future is bright.
Outlook: Optimistic. For those of us who got in to F1 when Ferrari was dominant, the kind of struggles we saw in 2014 were startling, especially the top-to-bottom organizational chaos. With fresh stability in the infrastructure, it seems they are back on the path to technical excellence as well. Fernando Alonso always seemed to have an underachieving car driving above its head, though, and the significance of his loss will be evident if Sebastian Vettel struggles to find pace. Both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had positive practice sessions over the winter, though, and the SF15-T experienced no major technical failures. Ferrari’s quiet confidence and consistent performance in testing bodes well for 2015, but they have a lot to prove.
Outlook: Worrying. As historic a pairing as McLaren and Honda is, as I noted in my last missive, for practical purposes this is an entirely new relationship. That there are technical teething issues is not as concerning as their repetitive nature. The hybrid Honda power unit was anything but reliable in Jerez and Barcelona, meaning McLaren logged the fewest total miles of any participating team. I have no doubt they will get everything figured out, but we have literally no idea how fast the car can be, even with two of the most talented drivers in the field in Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. If everything goes well, I expect the MP4-30 to find its legs after struggling for the first few races. If that happens, it will all be on the drivers’ shoulders to make the season worthwhile. If not, well, don’t expect to see Alonso smile much in 2015.
Outlook: Optimistic. This is a team that gets a little better each season but always seems to be waiting for that breakout year. This year they have the benefit of Mercedes power, a consistent driver lineup, and the positive momentum from a close sixth place finish in 2014. All the pieces appear to be there; they just have to make it happen. The 2015 car was a bit late to the party in testing (it didn’t make the track until day 2 of the final session in Barcelona), but showed promise. If the competition at the top starts to get boring, Force India and the next team down could be much more interesting to watch.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Outlook: Cautiously Optimistic. The junior Red Bull team shares most of the struggles and concerns faced by its big brother. Despite dealing with some some big technical and reliability challenges, STR was easily the leader of the backmarker teams. That may sound like damning praise, but this is a team built more for development than to challenge for race wins. When the Renault powerplant proved unreliable they could easily have mailed in the rest of the season, but they pushed hard. The result was a strong enough showing to earn Daniil Kvyat the chance to replace Vettel. Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. bring an energetic, youthful presence to a car that showed improvement in testing. But they are young and, especially Verstappen, unproven. This could be a fun team to watch if the positive vibes prove to be reality, and not a mirage.
Outlook: Cautiously Optimistic. Lotus shared the struggles encountered by all the Renault-powered cars in 2014, although the effect of Kimi Raikkonen’s departure shouldn’t be overlooked as a factor in their precipitous drop in the standings. The switch to Mercedes power should mean an immediate improvement in both performance and reliability. Consistency in the driver lineup should also benefit both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado’s comfort level with the car. That is a lot of “should, ” but they had a largely positive testing season, so there is reason to be at least cautiously optimistic going in to Melbourne.
Outlook: Who knows, really? The FIA confirmed that Marussia is eligible to compete in the 2015 season, pending the addition of a second driver, and on Will Stevens’ super license. In reality, though, nobody but those holding the purse(s) knows whether we are likely to see a car on course this season. In the short term, at least, that they had no presence in any of the winter testing sessions certainly doesn’t bode well for Melbourne. And that’s really about all I can say at this point.
Outlook: Cautiously Optimistic. Last season was, to put it mildly, really bad for the Swiss team. The chassis was a mess and the Ferrari powerplant was not competitive. Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez struggled mightily with the car, but neither could manage a single top-10 finish. A new driver lineup (Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr) for 2015 will be pointless if they don’t fix the car, and they certainly put in the work in winter testing. At 1,245 laps, they were second only to Mercedes in total time spent on track, and Ericsson had the C34 solidly in the middle of the pack during last weekend’s final round at Barcelona. Assuming they can apply what they learned, and assuming Ferrari’s 2015 power unit is much improved, there is nowhere to go but up.