As always, there have been some driver and team changes since the 2014 season ended, including two high profile driver moves: Sebastian Vettel has left my favorite team, Red Bull Racing, for my second favorite team, Scuderia Ferrari. Vettel’s Red Bull exit comes after fifteen years with the team and its wider junior development program. The guy is only 27 years old, so it’s safe to credit Red Bull for Vettel’s success as a Formula 1 driver. Russian Daniil Kvyat has been promoted to Red Bull Racing from Toro Rosso to fill the seat vacated by Vettel.
What made room for Vettel at Ferrari, was Fernando Alonso‘s move to McLaren, where he – unfortunately – replaced talented Danish driver Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen is now demoted to test and reserve driver for McLaren. In my honest, but most likely unpopular, opinion, McLaren would have been better off replacing their other driver, Jenson Button. Button is getting close to the end of his career in Formula 1, he is really not a top tier driver and Magnussen is a huge talent that McLaren should nourish. Keeping him on the team as test and reserve driver is the second best option, but unless he is given a permanent racing seat next seasons, my prediction is that he will go to another team, which will be a great loss for McLaren.
When it comes to team changes, last season’s two bottom teams, Marussia and Catherham, faced serious economical towards the end of the 2014 season. Marussia went into administration before the Russian Grand Prix in 2014, missing the last three races of the season, while Caterham had to crowdfund their way to the last races. Marussia has gotten their affairs in order, and will most likely return to the 2015 season as Manor F1, while Caterham is effectively bankrupt, their assets being auctioned off. So if you’ve ever wanted to own a Formula 1 car, albeit a slow one (at least relative to the most other cars than ran in 2014), now is your chance.
Honda has finally returned to Formula 1 for the 2015 season, this time as an engine supplier for McLaren. It will be interesting to see if they are competitive, the other teams have, after all, had a years head start on the V6 engines that were introduced last season. McLaren is taking a great risk with Honda, and Fernando Alonso is perhaps taking an even greater risk with his move from Ferrari to McLaren. Alonso drove a underperforming car in 2014, I very much doubt that he will drive a better can this year. Perhaps in 2016, but I’m afraid 2015 will be a total write-off for both McLaren and Alonso in terms of points and podiums. What might save McLaren, though, is that Alonso is, in my opinion, the greatest driver on the grid. At least it saved Ferrari some honor in the previous season.
As always there are some changes to the sporting and technical regulations as well, but there is no major changes. The most important change is perhaps that double points no longer will be awarded at the final event of the championship. Also, the partial ban on pit-to-car communication introduced at the 2014 Singapore Grand Prix will be extended to include a blanket ban on sharing technical data between team and driver, such as specific fuel consumption settings. This is an interesting regulation change as it leaves more up to the driver in the car during the race.
In terms of drama, we’ve seen some during the pre-season phase, both on the track and outside of the track. During testing in Barcelona, Fernando Alonso crashed his McLaren, suffered what might or might not have been a concussion, and has been advised by the doctors to sit out the opening race in Australia. He will be replaced by Kevin Magnussen. I wonder what McLaren will think if when Magnussen finishes in front of Button? Alonso will most likely return to his racing seat for the second race of the season, which is the Malaysian Grand Prix on March 29.
Outside of the track, Sauber is desperately trying to crawl their way out of a hole they dug last year: For some moronic reason that I, and many others, have yet to understand, they signed four drivers to race their two cars. Naturally, this has turned into quite a pickle for Sauber. They managed to buy out one of the drivers, but there are still three left. Right now, the team is in an Australian court facing Gideo van der Garde, who claims that the team have reneged on a contract to race that was signed in June 2014. At the moment, it looks like the Australian court will be ordering Sauber to allow van der Garde to drive for the team during the Australian Grand Prix. A challenge for Sauber, since they’ve already listed two other drivers for the Grand Prix and they only have two cars.
Desperate to deny van der Garde a seat, Sauber’s come up with arguments like this:
“What we cannot do is jeopardise the safety of our team, or any other driver on the track, by having an unprepared driver in a car that has now been tailored to two other assigned drivers.” — Monisha Kaltenborn, Sauber team principal
Interesting then, that van der Garde raced for Caterham during the 2013 season and was Sauber’s own test drive last year. Not sure how they could have risked having him test the car back then – he drove FP1 seven times for Sauber in 2014, in cars tailored for other drivers – if he is such a massive danger now. If you want to get the latest on the Sauber v Gideo van der Garde debacle, I recommend that you follow Adam Cooper on Twitter. He is reporting directly from the court room and writing some good summaries on his blog.
So, there you have it. The 2015 Formula 1 season has great potential. I hope 2015 won’t be as boring and predictable as 2014, and that at least one team is able to give Mercedes some competition. Judging by what we’ve seen during pre-season testing, Mercedes might dominate this season as well, but there is always hope. As long as Lewis Hamilton doesn’t successfully defend his 2014 championship title, I honestly don’t care who wins it.
So remember to tune in to your favorite motor sports channel this Sunday for the 2015 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix!