What will the F1 world championship battle of 2015 look like?
The championship outcome this year was pretty much as many predicted after winter testing, with Mercedes closing out the Constructors' Championship...
The championship outcome this year was pretty much as many predicted after winter testing, with Mercedes closing out the Constructors' Championship and Lewis Hamilton the Drivers' title.
So, looking into the crystal ball, what does 2015 look like? Here's our analysis, based on what we've seen and heard in the final weeks of this season.
The Teams Aspect
The top line is that Mercedes will again have the advantage going into next season, with a rumoured 40hp to come from their 2015 power unit development and their main rivals all in some form of transition.
Ferrari is going through a very turbulent period, with another change of team leadership looking imminent. This will destabilise the team further in the short term.
Although the new man Maurizio Arrivabene has worked closely with Ferrari for many years as VP marketing Philip Morris, he doesn't know anything about running an F1 team and is he likely to follow the plans set in place by Marco Mattiacci or make his own moves? Politically he's close to many of the right people, but he is not the boss Vettel signed to race for.
They are also behind on power unit development, even if there is some optimism for the 2015 chassis of James Allison's team.
Red Bull has to deal once again with Renault being behind on Power unit development. The furious battle going on behind the scenes over engine unfreeze for 2015 shows the reality of the situation. Mercedes will not yield and that will mean superiority continues through 2015, but at a price as 2016 could see things open up.
A change of technical leadership at Red Bull is underway, with Adrian Newey stepping back from day to day involvement.
And McLaren have a new relationship with Honda to bed down. Honda has a proud history in F1, from the 1980s and early 1990s and a less proud one from the late 2000s. Which Honda will turn up next year? There are rumours on both sides about their power unit, with slightly more on the negative side than the positive, but we will get an indication at this week's test in Abu Dhabi.
There is an advantage to building an engine knowing what the targets are, but of course they are a few years behind the current manufacturers in development history.
So Williams look like the team most likely to kick on from where they finished this season. They have a windfall of money from third place in the championship and from new sponsors coming on board, which will be announced in the coming weeks and months. They have the Mercedes power unit, but can they build a faster car for 2015, one which can challenge the works team for wins? They have finished this season strongly. The Williams was only lacking in the final sector in Abu Dhabi which is all about rear end downforce.
The Drivers Aspect
Given these considerations, it is likely that the Drivers' Championship will again be fought out by the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with Daniel Ricciardo an outsider once again. This season has seen Rosberg surpass expectations, particularly in qualifying, but his race performances have not matched Hamilton's. So can he raise his game next year?
"There are a lot of strong points I can build on for next year," Rosberg said. "I've been the better qualifier over the last two years, but I need to find a little bit in the racing and I am going to find that.
"It's not going to be easy to improve and find that little bit extra, but I know what the areas are so I'm going to push for them."
The sense we have is that Rosberg pulled out his very best this season and he may struggle to find a big enough extra gear he will need to overwhelm Hamilton. You underestimate him at your peril, as we learned this season, but history suggests that Rosberg has punched above his weight in his contest with Hamilton this year, but came up short in races.
In contrast one senses that Hamilton does have another gear, which could be unlocked by the calmness and confidence brought by this second title; the new world champion has always had peaks that are ahead of Rosberg's but he has struggled to pull it all together across race weekends on a consistent basis this season. He has been nervous at ties, emotional at others and made mistakes as a consequence. If Hamilton delivers to his maximum in car control and pace then he will be hard to beat.
With the second world title may well come a new calmness and focus which would ensure a more consistent level of control over a race weekend. We have seen it before with other champions and it may well turn out to be the story of 2015.
At Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo has impressed everyone this season and he still has a lot of growth to come, while youngster Daniil Kvyat comes in for the experienced Sebastian Vettel. Kvyat looks very promising, but he hasn't mastered looking after the rear tyres in races as well as one would have expected after 19 races. That will be his number one priority, as his qualifying pace is very good.
At McLaren Fernando Alonso will inevitably have the uneasy relationship with Ron Dennis to deal with, but this is is last roll of the dice, so he will be working hard to build the team into a force that can challenge in 2016. But one has to look at his record at Renault and Ferrari in the last five years and ask why he wasn't able to lead that team into a winning force? What was missing there?Vettel needed a fresh challenge after four straight title wins and he will get it at Ferrari. Even if the political climate looks fraught, expect a harmonious and humorous driving partnership with Kimi Raikkonen, but the team has finished well over a minute behind the Mercedes in the last few races of this season and they won't make that gap up over a winter.
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What will the F1 world championship battle of 2015 look like?
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- Formula 1