2015 Formula 1 season preview

Formula One has had no trouble in producing the headlines over the winter break, with many of them negative.

Among them is the continued ill-health of Jules Bianchi, with details of his recovery scarce.

Then there is the ongoing scenario at Sauber, where the Swiss team have somehow managed to hand contracts to three drivers with only two seats available.

It is greatly ironic that “sauber” is the German word for “clean”. This is a situation that could be called anything but clean.

With pay-drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr announced as their two drivers and having appeared in all three winter tests, there seemed to be no issue.

However, along came Dutch test driver Giedo van der Garde to haunt the Sauber team.

Van der Garde had been offered a contract with the team for a 2015 race seat, for which he would pay several million pounds.

Then, Nasr and Ericsson came into the fray and offered more money than van der Garde and Sauber quickly snapped them up, abandoning the Dutchman and employing the newcomers.

Van der Garde took his case to a Melbourne court ahead of the first race and he won the right to drive for the team in Australia, with Sauber also failing in an appeal against the initial ruling.

To cut the legal jargon short, if Sauber do race with Nasr and Ericsson they will risk contempt of court – which would lead to several larger ramifications.

Of course, this is all rather embarrassing for a team run by Monisha Kaltenborn, who has a masters’ degree in International Business Law.

It is thought that van der Garde will replace Ericsson, if Sauber comply with the ruling, as Nasr’s sponsors are splashed on the entirety of the new car.

So, while the situation at Sauber is unwelcome, messy and off-putting there has also been a serious success story.

The saving of the Marussia team by Steven Fitzpatrick, boss of energy firm Ovo, has captured the attention of F1 purists.

To see a small team pull itself free from the quagmire of administration is the kind of positive story F1 needs.

The Fitzpatrick-led rescue of Marussia has seen the team renamed ‘Manor Marussia’ and they have quickly appointed British driver Will Stevens and Spanish youngster Roberto Merhi to race for them in 2015.

Fans should not expect too much from them, though. Although they have modified their 2014 car to comply with the 2015 regulations, they have had no time to test and develop the car.

That means the first four races will effectively be test sessions before the Spanish GP in May allows the team to fully unleash the 2015-spec car.

Moving on to the title battle for this year, there is only one team in with a chance of winning.

Mercedes have again crafted what looks to be the quickest car on the grid, with the only question surrounding which driver will win the world title.

Last season Lewis Hamilton romped to 11 wins in 19 races and it is in race trim where his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, must seek to improve if he is to turn his superior qualifying pace into victories.

Behind Mercedes the trio of Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams look evenly matched.

Red Bull had an inconsistent pre-season but they still look fast and in Daniel Ricciardo they have arguably the most aggressive racer on the grid.

Williams have looked very good on low-fuel runs and will need to cash in and score podiums to avoid a repeat of 2014 where it took them until round eight in Austria to clinch their first podium despite having the second-quickest car.

But it is Ferrari who appear to have made the biggest stride forward in performance.

The Italians have worked hard on increasing their engine power and newcomer Sebastian Vettel has indicated that the car is good to drive, with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen echoing his observations.

Behind that cluster of three, Force India and Lotus look like top ten regulars with the latter benefitting from a switch from Renault to Mercedes power in 2015.

Lower down the order, Toro Rosso, who are running with 17-year-old Max Verstappen and Formula Renault 3.5 champion Carlos Sainz Jr, will be gunning for points ahead of the troubled Sauber and reincarnated Manor Marussia.

Finally, we have McLaren.

Great hope spread throughout F1 that the team would be back to winning ways after signing a deal with Honda to rekindle their successful partnership of the late 80s and 90s.

Yet, the reunion has been an unhappy one with continued, niggling power-unit problems seriously restricting the running of the car during pre-season testing.

We know that Honda will get themselves sorted, it just remains to be seen if they can do so quickly enough to challenge the front four teams.

Added to the disappointing problems was the head injury to Fernando Alonso after a 134mph crash at Barcelona in the second test.

Alonso lost consciousness, sustaining concussion and amnesia, and later took the mature decision to miss the season-opening Australian GP. Kevin Magnussen, dropped for 2015 in favour of Jenson Button, will ironically deputise for Alonso.

Negative stories aside, we should be treated to another compelling year of racing between the Mercedes drivers and a tight battle behind them between three pretenders to their crown as world champions.

It’s Mercedes vs. Mercedes.

It’s Lewis vs. Nico: The second chapter.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

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