F1 2015 Preview: Sauber

2014 Statistics

Constructors Championship: 10th
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Pole positions: 0
Points finishes: 0

Last year, for the first time in their 22 year Formula One history, Sauber had a point-less season. From 38 race starts they retired from 13 with the rest of their finishes outside the points. Adrian Sutil came closest to scoring points, finishing 11th on two occasions. His best starting position of ninth in the US Grand Prix did not yield any results after he got caught up in an incident with Sergio Perez. Esteban Gutierrez’s best result was 12th at the season opening Australian Grand Prix.

For 2015 Sauber has an all new driver line-up in the form of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr – well at least for now. Just two days ahead of the start of the new season the team has been taken to court by former test driver Giedo van der Garde. His testing contract included a clause which meant he would be a race driver in 2015 but the team failed to honour this. The case was held in the Supreme Court of Victoria and it ruled that van der Garde should race this weekend at the Australian Grand Prix. Sauber has appealed the decision with their case set to be heard tomorrow, just one day ahead of free practice. Both Ericsson and Nasr brought significant backing to the team – in particular Banco do Brasil whose colours make up the team’s new colour scheme.

Nasr makes the step up to Formula One from GP2. He finished third in 2014 while acting as test and reserve driver for Williams. He has also enjoyed success in British Formula 3 and Formula BMW. Ericsson is another GP2 graduate although he made the step last year when he raced for Caterham. He also took part in the 2009 Young Driver Test for champions Brawn GP.

Sauber are a team who are in a dire financial situation and if the court throws out their appeal it could prove disastrous for their survival. Their defence is that putting van der Garde in the car would prove dangerous, however, he has raced in Formula One in the past and was the team’s test driver in 2014. He is also a proven race winner in other series – including GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 – so does not lack the skill it takes to drive an F1 car.

The team can not afford – literally – another point-less season. At the first test in Jerez, Nasr topped the times on day three. They completed the second highest amount of laps of any team over the course of all three tests, just behind Mercedes’ final tally. Their car has proven to be reliable and at the second Barcelona test – where cars run the closest to their race specification – the team’s fastest time was a solid midfield. In the mid to late 00s the team enjoyed their biggest successes, finishing second in the championship in 2007 and third in 2008. This was in their BMW days and they made the switch to Ferrari engines in 2008. They have not quite reached their highest heights again but in the past few years have been consistent point scorers including the odd podium. They will no doubt be hoping to return to those ways in 2015, regardless of who is driving the car.

F1 2015 Preview: Manor

2014 Statistics

Constructors Championship: 9th
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Pole positions: 0
Points finishes: 1

The Manor Marussia F1 Team has faced a whirlwind in the last six months. Entering administration in October, it looked like the team had taken part in their last Formula One race at the Russian Grand Prix. However in the last few weeks the unlikely has happened and the team have arrived in Melbourne for the first race of the season.

Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi will race for the team. Manor have also introduced Jordan King as development driver. Stevens took part in the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for Caterham last year and finished in 17th position. So, while he has one bit of Formula One race experience both drivers are essentially rookies as Manor enter the new chapter of their existence. They entered the sport as Virgin Racing in 2010 – along with the now defunct HRT and Caterham teams – before becoming Marussia Virgin in 2011 and dropping Virgin altogether for 2012 onwards. Last season saw them achieve their best championship position as they ended the year ninth despite missing the last three races.

The ninth place finish was all thanks to Jules Bianchi’s jubilant ninth place finish in the Monaco Grand Prix which resulted in two points for the team. He actually finished eighth in the race but a five second penalty was applied post race due to a safety car infringement dropping him down a position. The team must enter the season without their star driver due to his devastating crash at the Japanese Grand Prix. Thoughts of all involved in Formula One remain with him with the hashtag #ForzaJules still being used.

Both Stevens and Merhi will make the step up to Formula One from Formula Renault 3.5 Stevens finished sixth in the 2014 season with two wins and two further podiums to his name. Merhi ended the year in third place with three wins and three further podiums. Both drivers face a big task in 2015 as they will be driving a car which has not been tested.  Manor revealed just last week that the car has passed its crash tests. They have also explained that while the car is to 2015 specifications, they intend to introduce a new car later in the season using designs initiated last year. Making the grid will give the team huge financial benefits as they will receive the prize money for finishing ninth in the championship, which they would not have got had they not been racing.

All at Manor have shown that they are fighters, making sure they could make the first race of the season at such short notice. There will be no doubt that the team will continue to fight throughout the season. With no testing there is no marker at all where they will lie pace wise in relation to everyone else, so it really is just a case of wait and see.

F1 2015 Preview: Lotus

2014 Statistics

Constructors Championship: 8th
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Pole positions: 0
Points finishes: 3

For a team who finished fourth in the championship with 315 points, it was a surprise to see Lotus languish at the lower end of the table with just 10 points to their name in 2014. Hampered by the troublesome Renault engine, the team – who were accustomed to podium finishes and even the occasional win in 2012 and 2013 – suffered a season to forget as well as having to deal with losing the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and James Allison who moved to Ferrari.

A double ERS failure in Australia was a sign of what was to come in the season. Various mechanical problems put paid to a number of their races including power unit failures, rear wing problems and exhaust issues. New recruit Pastor Maldonado didn’t even make the start of the Monaco Grand Prix due to a fuel pump problem. Their best result over the course of the year was 8th, which Romain Grosjean achieved on two occasions. The Frenchman was vocally at odds with the cumbersome E22, expressing his frustration on more than one occasion over team radio. The team’s season came to an end in a cloud of smoke when Maldonado’s power unit failed on lap 26 of the Abu Dhabi GP while Grosjean finished outside the points.

The former ‘first lap nutcase’ has mellowed in recent years but Grosjean is no doubt hoping that Lotus will provide him a car more like the one he enjoyed in 2012 and 2013. He has shown he has the speed – he dragged the car up to fifth in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix – but he was not able to put it to full use last season. Lotus have made the switch to Mercedes engines and signs in testing have so far been positive. He has challenged for race wins before so is more than capable he just needs the car beneath him to do it.

Proven race winner Maldonado has picked up a bit of a reputation over his time in Formula One for crashing but realistically it has not been a regular occurrence in recent times, with most of his incidents and retirements due to car failures. The Venezuelan’s biggest high in Formula One came at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. Promoted to pole position following Lewis Hamilton being disqualified, he held his own and kept Fernando Alonso behind him to take his maiden GP win. He has never quite reached those heights again but if the Lotus can take a step forward this year then no doubt he will be challenging for points.

The team have also added GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer to their driver line-up as reserve driver. He made his testing debut for the team at the first test in Barcelona where they topped three of four days of running. Lotus certainly appear to have made positive steps forward but as always it won’t be until they are on track with everyone else in race trim to see where they really stand.

F1 2015 Preview: Toro Rosso

2014 Statistics

Constructors Championship: 7th
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Pole positions: 0
Points finishes: 12

The cycle has re-started at Toro Rosso following the promotion of Daniil Kvyat to Red Bull Racing. Red Bull’s junior team have a history of running young drivers for a couple of seasons and then either promoting them to the ‘big’ team or letting them go. The likes of Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari and Jean-Eric Vergne are examples of promising young drivers who failed to make the cut and as a result are no longer on the grid.

For 2015 Toro Rosso enter the season with the youngest driver line-up. 17 year old Max Verstappen was the first driver to be announced and Sebastian Vettel’s departure for Ferrari kicked off the chain of events which resulted in Carlos Sainz getting the second Toro Rosso seat. Sainz was in the running for the vacant Toro Rosso seat last year but at the time Team Principal Franz Tost suggested he was too young at 19 years old. It appears Toro Rosso have turned their back on this philosophy, however, in the signing of Verstappen.

Last year Toro Rosso picked up 12 points finishes on the way to a distant seventh in the championship. Their 30 points were enough to put them 20 clear of Lotus. Their best finish of the year was sixth place at the Singapore Grand Prix thanks to Jean-Eric Vergne. For this season the team have taken a side step for Ferrari engines to Renault engines to match ‘senior’ team Red Bull. They had a solid pre-season testing, completing 1206 laps over three tests – the third highest number across all the teams. They have put the Renault engine through its paces, with both Verstappen and Sainz completing a race weekend’s worth of running in the first test with an engine specification which was very close to the one they will run in Melbourne.

All eyes will be on Verstappen in Australia as the youngest ever driver to make his F1 debut. He is just 17 years old and the debate over his age has lead to new regulations being introduced for 2016. The son of former Formula One driver Jos Verstappen, Max is no stranger to winning. He took ten wins on his way to third in the 2014 FIA Formula 3 European Championship. He also had a highly successful career in karts before making the switch to single seaters. He made his Toro Rosso debut in Free Practice at the Japanese Grand Prix and instantly impressed by going 12th fastest.

He will be joined by Carlos Sainz – another son of a race car driver. Having missed out on the opportunity to race for the team last year, Sainz was soon rewarded with the opportunity following Kvyat’s promotion to Red Bull. He won Formula Renault 3.5 last year driving for DAMS, winning seven races on his way to the title. He also won the 2011 Formula Renault 2.0 title and finished tenth in the 2013 GP3 championship. His single seater career has been much more extensive than his new team-mate’s so he will have to perform to impress.

Both drivers have a lot to prove and Toro Rosso will be hoping to move up the order or at least secure more points finishes. The team – who will this year celebrate their tenth season in the sport – have lofty ambitions for 2015, aiming for fifth in the championship. They believe they have a car capable of taking them there but it remains to be seen where it will feature.

F1 2015 Preview: Force India

2014 Statistics

Constructors Championship: 6th
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Pole positions: 0
Points finishes: 26

2014 saw Force India enter the season with a new(ish) line-up. After a year away at Sauber, Nico Hulkenberg returned and was partnered by Sergio Perez who was axed by McLaren after just one year. The pairing helped Force India go head-to-head with McLaren for fifth in the championship and they stayed ahead until the latter stages of the season. The team have chosen to go with continuity into 2015, keeping the same driver line-up.

The team’s best race finish in 2014 was Perez’s third place in Bahrain. The Mexican battled for the lead in Canada as Nico Rosberg fought with a brake problem, but a last lap collision with Williams’ Felipe Massa put him out of the running. Hulkenberg’s best finish was fifth, a result which he achieved four times. It was his consistent finishing in the points which gave him the championship edge over his team-mate.

Force India pose a huge question mark for the 2015 season. Amid rumours of money issues the team sat out the first pre-season test in Jerez. They then appeared in Barcelona but running the 2014 car. It wasn’t until the third and final test that the VJM08 finally broke cover and on the second day. So after three days of running it is not clear to see where Force India will feature in the order. One thing that can be said, however, is that the car is reliable. Over three days of running the team completed 345 laps – two days for Hulkenberg and one for Perez.

Hulkenberg is considered by many as a underrated talent and he is still looking for the elusive first podium. His consistency in races sees him pick up a number of points giving him solid positions in the championships. The transition from 2014 to 2015 is also the first time in his F1 career that Hulkenberg has remained at the same team for two years in a row. He has been at Force India before but he also had a year at Sauber in between his two stints with the team.

Team-mate Perez has proven his speed in Formula One, and he has scored four podiums in his career so far. At times his aggressive driving style has caused incidents but at the same time it is also the reason he got on the podium so early in his F1 career. If he can work on becoming more consistent – like team-mate Hulkenberg – but find a way to balance his natural aggression he could feature well in the championship.

One of Force India’s advantage in 2014 was the Mercedes engine – clearly the dominant force last season. However, Renault and Ferrari have had time to try and catch up so the team will not be able to rely on that to give them an edge. The delay to its testing programme will leave the team playing catch-up in the opening stages of the championship, however, in the past the Australian Grand Prix has proven to be one of high attrition so it could be an opportunity for them to sneak into the points with their reliable car.

F1 2015 Preview: McLaren

2014 Statistics

Constructors Championship: 5th
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Pole positions: 0
Points finishes: 26

Like 2013, 2014 was a season to forget for McLaren. The only shining light was that the team actually managed to get on the podium last season, although it was right at the start of the year. Kevin Magnussen had a dream start to his Formula One career and finished third in Australia. This was later promoted to second following Daniel Ricciardo’s exclusion due to a fuel flow rate infringement. This also meant that Jenson Button – who finished fourth – was promoted to third, giving he team two podiums. It was all downhill from there, however.

The team battled with Force India for fifth in the championship and eventually won through in the closing stages. Button finished fourth a few times but fighting for the podium was unrealistic and the team had to settle for mid to low points finishes. There was a turnaround towards the end of the season, however, and from Japan onwards the drivers reported much more confidence in the car and its driveability – a positive for the team to take into the new season.

Ahead of 2015 McLaren have acquired the talents of Adrian Newey’s former right hand man Peter Prodromou who previously worked with the team until 2006. They’ve also joined forces with Honda again and have signed up former driver Fernando Alonso.

2015 so far hasn’t seen McLaren get the best of starts. The team have suffered with reliability problems all through testing. At the third and final test in Barcelona they completed 101 laps on day two but the next day’s running was back to around 30 laps. On top of that they won’t have Alonso for the first race as he suffered a concussion following his crash at the second Barcelona test. After all the ‘um-ing and ah-ing’ at the end of last season over their driver line-up, McLaren have ended but running Button and Magnussen once again, with the latter stepping up in his role as reserve driver to sub for Alonso.

While reliability has been an issue for the team, they have revealed that they have met all their testing targets. Like at the Ferrari camp, initial views on the car from the drivers who drove for the team last year are good. Button has revealed the MP4-30 is much nicer to drive than its predecessor. Honda are still going through the phases that Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari (as engine manufacturers) experienced last year with a brand new engine. It is these reliability issues with the new engine that has hampered them so far however once they get on top of that, they are leaving big question marks about where they will feature in the championship.

Button is about to embark on his sixth season with the team. He faced an uncertain future at the end of last year when the team deliberated over who would partner Alonso. He performed well for the team last year in an under-performing car and finished eighth in the championship, just eight points behind Felipe Massa in the Williams. He will no doubt be pushed onwards by the return of Alonso.

Alonso is back at the team where he nearly won his third championship in 2007. Having become disillusioned with Ferrari, the Spaniard could not resist returning to McLaren when they reunited with Honda. He has not been shy about revealing that it has been his dream to drive for McLaren Honda and emulate his hero Ayrton Senna. It hasn’t been the best start to his return, however, with a testing crash putting him on the sidelines for Australia. He has returned to training and intends to be back for Malaysia.

McLaren have the most experienced line-up on the grid and with an impressive driver like Magnussen in the wings, they certainly have an exciting set-up. The right people are in the right places but it remains to be seen what they can achieve.

F1 2015 Preview: Ferrari

2014 Statistics

Constructors Championship: 4th
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Pole positions: 0
Points finishes: 30

It was a difficult year for Ferrari in 2014 as they struggled to get to grips with their car. Having finished third in the constructors championship in 2013 just six points behind Mercedes, they dropped to fourth last year behind a resurgent Williams, Red Bull, and the dominant Mercedes.

What was billed as an explosive line-up failed to sizzle with Kimi Raikkonen not enjoying the handling of the car. He finished an uncharacteristic average 8.6 throughout the course of the year with his best finishing position being fourth place at a track where he as always gone well – Spa-Francorchamps. Fernando Alonso managed to finish a bit better with the car suiting his driving style more but he could only manage two podiums – in China and Hungary – and finished sixth in the championship while Raikkonen finished 12th.

The Scuderia Ferrari team which will line up on the grid next weekend in Australia is vastly different to the Ferrari of last year. Gone are President Luca di Montezemolo, Team Principal Stefano Domenicali, interim Team Principal Marco Mattiacci, and driver Fernando Alonso. The team also announced at the end of last year that Pat Fry and Nikolas Tombazis would also be departing.

In their place are Sergio Marchionne as Chairman, Maurizio Arrivabene as Team Principal, and four time world champion Sebastian Vettel. It is a highly revitalised team lead by a charismatic leader. Arrivabene has vocally challenged Bernie Ecclestone in relation to making Formula One more open to fans. He even took members of his team to sit in the stands in Barcelona with the fans. As well as experienced drivers, Ferrari have added two young guns to their testing line-up – Esteban Gutierrez and Jean-Eric Vergne. Both drivers lost their seats in F1 but testing roles will keep their foot in the door. Vergne has also been racing in Formula E.

The early signs of the new Ferrari have been positive with Kimi Raikkonen saying that it is definitely an improvement on last year’s machine. They came out of the box fastest in Jerez although testing times mean very little, particularly in the first test, but the signs have been good. Engine customers Sauber completed most laps in the second Barcelona test while Ferrari recorded the second amount, showing that their engines have proved to be reliable so far.

For Raikkonen it is a chance to redeem himself from last year. The car was not to his liking and he struggled with the front end, particularly when Pirelli changed the tyre construction. The Finnish driver has been positive about pre-season testing so this year could see him back fighting for bigger points as he certainly does not lack the speed or driving flair.

It was a similarly difficult year for new team-mate Vettel who had won the previous four world championships and then found the new car was not to his liking last season. He was comfortably beaten by Red Bull’s new recruit Daniel Ricciardo and only got four podiums – vastly different to the 16 podiums – 13 of which were wins – the year before. In pre-season testing Vettel wasted no time in going fastest in Jerez and generally seems to have been performing well. Like Raikkonen, it isn’t the speed or driving flair he lacks but he needs the car beneath him to be able to demonstrate it.

As both drivers have a point to prove, this could prove to be the fireworks that many expected last year. While the drivers are good friends away from the track both will want to beat each other after finishing behind their team-mates last year. With a much improved car Ferrari could enter the battle for second in the championship along with Williams and Red Bull, but can they win races in 2015?