The 2015 F1 Drivers

Last time out I previewed the teams that would be competing in the 2015 Formula 1 season. This time around I’m taking a look at the drivers.

Lewis Hamilton

Team – Mercedes

Last year’s position – 1st

As reigning champion Lewis Hamilton will head in 2015 no doubt confident – something buoyed by once again having what appears to be the best car by a country mile – and he demonstrated on several occasions last year that he could out-race teammate and closest challenger Nico Rosberg on the track. The question is whether he will remain as focused and driven this year – a recent split from his long-term partner Nicole Scherzinger might play on his mind – and Lewis does have previous form for letting off-track matters interfere with his racing (see his diasterous 2011 season). Rosberg will be his closest challenger on the track once again – but perhaps the only person who can stop Hamilton is Hamilton himself.

I have a feeling that he will not let that happen though. He is in sight of replicating the achievement of his idol, Ayrton Senna, and he won’t let that slip.

Prediction: 1st

Nico Rosberg

Team: Mercedes

Last year’s position – 2nd

Despite winning only five races to Hamilton’s 11 last year, Nico Rosberg kept himself firmly in title contention right throughout the year with consistent performances and good management of his car, finishing on the podium in every race he finished bar one. He is arguably the Prost to Hamilton’s Senna – a thinker, a strategist, and if he can add some punch to that, he will mount a supreme challenge to Hamilton. However, he needs to beat Hamilton on the track, in a straight fight, more often than he did last year, to gain any sort of psychological edge. I suspect it will be close, but I think Hamilton will want it more.

Prediction: 2nd

Daniel Ricciardo

Team: Red Bull

Last year’s position: 3rd

2014 was a landmark year for the young Australian Ricciardo. Paired with then-reignng world champion and team favourite Sebastian Vettel, no one would have believed that he would finish ahead of Vettel in 11 of the races they both completed (14 races in total). Ricciardo was the only non-Mercedes man to win any races (three) and his aggressive, bold overtakes were both crowd-pleasing and a sign that he was prepared to fight for points. It’s unclear as to how good the new Red Bull is and whether it is competitive, but if it is remotely as strong as last year, Ricciardo could get more podiums and even the odd win.

Prediction: 4th

Daniil Kyvat

Team: Red Bull

Last year’s position: 15th

Promoted quite suddenly from junior team Toro Rosso, Kyvat will have a chance to make a serious statement on his future if he can put in good performances in a car that will be looking for podiums and even the odd win. His main aim though, and biggest chance to make a point, will be to beat Ricciardo consistently. Ricciardo has the extra year at Red Bull and therefore experience of fighting for serious points, and Kyvat was beaten in the standings by his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne last season, so his promotion is something of a surprise, and I expect Ricciardo to beat him.

Prediction: 6th

Felipe Massa

Team: Williams

Last year’s position: 7th

Experienced hand Massa is entering his 13th season in Formula 1 and after a miserable time at Ferrari as Alonso’s teammate, he underwent something of a transformation in 2014 at Williams, scoring three podium finishes and helping Williams to third in the constructor’s championship. He could yet add to his career win tally if the conditions are right – Williams are seen as the best of the rest behind Mercedes and if there’s a mistake from Hamilton or Rosberg, he could put himself in a winning position. It won’t be easy, as Mercedes look reliable, but so do Williams, and Massa has regained some of his old spark.

Prediction: 5th

Valtteri Bottas

Team: Williams

Last year’s position: 4th

With six podiums to his name in 2014, Bottas scored points in every race he finished except one, and has laid down a serious marker as a future champion. A series of strong performances have helped to paint him as a good driver and hard competitor – and I suspect he will finish ahead of Massa again in the standings. The Williams is shaping up to be a good car and I also suspect Bottas will beat the Red Bulls more often than he doesn’t.

Prediction: 3rd

Sebastian Vettel

Team: Ferrari

Last year’s position: 5th

Vettel’s move to Ferrari was, if he is to be believed, motivated by a desire for a fresh start and a new challenge – well, he will certainly have that, with Ferrari not expected to make significant waves in 2015. The team is recovering from a poor 2014, that saw them fail to record a single win, with Fernando Alonso getting the only two podium finishes the team could manage.

Vettel is also looking to bounce back after a 2014 in which he was overshadowed by his new teammate Ricciardo – beaten far more often than not, Vettel did not get to grips with new regulations that altered the handling of the cars, and came unstuck. He already has doubters as to his true ability, despite winning four consecutive world championships, and last year did nothing to dispel those doubters. 2015 must therefore be the year he proves himself, outside of his comfort zone, with a car that, whilst much improved over last year, is not regarded as a serious contender.

I dare say we will see Vettel’s true colours and I think he will do reasonably well, but I can’t see him winning.

Prediction: 7th

Kimi Raikkonen

Team: Ferrari

Last year’s position: 12th

Although the iceman finished every race bar one in 2014, Raikkonen was never particularly happy with the car and finished no higher than 4th all season. The 2007 champion was comfortably outperformed by Alonso and he is once again partnered by a multiple world champion. Easily quick in the right circumstances, Raikkonen will nevertheless need the car to be adjusted to suit his style, rather than the other way around, if he is to be remotely successful in 2015. He has already spoken favourably of the new car, so perhaps he will enjoy a better season.

Prediction: 10th

Fernando Alonso

Team: McLaren

Last year’s position: 6th

There is an old saying about never going back. Well, Alonso, who raced for McLaren in 2007 (not exactly a happy experience for him) has done exactly that, returning to take part in the new partnership between McLaren and Honda.

Testing has not gone well for both team and driver – Alonso was injured in somewhat mysterious circumstances during the final test, resulting in a three-day hospital stay despite what were apparently only minor concerns about concussion, and he will miss the first race of the season as well. He might be glad that he did – it seems unlikely McLaren will even complete the race, given their issues in testing!

Given Alonso’s status as arguably the most talented driver on the grid, it seems unfortunate that he has not had a good car for a number of years, and with what is shaping up to be an unreliable one this year, I do not predict much joy for him.

Prediction: 8th

Jenson Button

Team: McLaren

Last year’s position: 8th

Toward the end of 2014 there was much debate around who would be Alonso’s teammate for 2015 – newcomer Kevin Magussen, or experienced 2009 champion Button. For a time it seemed that Magussen would get the nod, despite being comfortably outperformed by Button throughout the season, but in the end McLaren resigned Button (requiring him to take a pay cut mind) for 2015, giving the team one of the most experienced line-ups on the grid.

As mentioned above, the car is proving to be unreliable and this will sadly hamper Button’s hopes. The eternally optimistic Button has expressed some positive thoughts about the new car, but he will lose too much ground at the start of the year.

Prediction: 9th

Romain Grosjean

Team: Lotus

Last year’s position: 14th

Grosjean’s F1 career has been peculiar so far. 2012 brought glimpses of pace but also a lot of erratic performances (including a ban-earning collision at Spa that wiped out Hamilton, Alonso and Perez at the first corner). 2013 was better but 2014 was a backwards step for Grosjean – down to the car this time though – and he endured a miserable season, finishing no higher than 8th and not scoring any points after the Monaco Grand Prix.

With the new car apparently full of promise (and with a much better engine) it seems that things might be better for him this year.

Prediction: 11th

Pastor Maldonado

Team: Lotus

Last year’s position: 16th

Maldonado’s critics would argue he is only in F1 because he brings good sponsorship money, and after three years spent having contributed to a number of incidents/accidents, it’s a label he is finding hard to shake. He was not helped last year by a poorly designed car, but this year he needs to recapture the ability that saw him actually take a win in 2012 – and lose the crash-happy performances. The car is better, so he will have no excuses. Ideally, another year of crashing off every other race would kill his career – but the income he brings might just save him, if he can provide a few good, points-scoring finishes.

Prediction: 15th

Nico Hulkenberg

Team: Force India

Last year’s position: 9th

Having given a good account of himself throughout his career so far, Hulkenberg was pretty consistent last year, finishing 5th several times, and he helped Force India push McLaren quite hard. Arriving late to testing has seemingly hurt his team’s chances of repeating the strong performances of last year, but he might just do well in the second half of the year.

Prediction: 12th

Sergio Perez

Team: Force India

Last year’s position: 10th

Perez has had a decidedly up-and-down experience in F1 so far. Some fine performances and some bold overtaking have been tempered by what some would argue is overly aggressive racing, leading to crashes and retirements on several occasions. He has gained some unlikely podiums and also failed to score any points from positions where he might be expected to get a few.

This will be his fifth year in F1 and it is time for Perez to deliver. He was beaten by his teammate Hulkenberg last season, and now Perez needs to pick his game up and push on. He has the ability, and now he has some experience under his belt, hopefully he will put in a good shift. Lack of testing for the Force India will potentially hamper him, but at the very least he should be scrapping for the low-points scoring places.

Prediction: 14th

Max Verstappen

Team: Toro Rosso

Last year’s position: N/A

The first of our newcomers to Formula 1, Verstappen (the son of former Benetton driver Jos Verstappen) will become the youngest ever F1 driver when he makes his proper debut in Australia. At just 17, some have questioned the wisdom of giving such a young man a drive (indeed, the FIA have since amended the terms and conditions needed to get a superlicence), but the view of his team is that he has bags of ability and will surprise people. It’s entirely possible, but I can’t help but feel a lack of experience with the cars and opponents will not help him reach that potential in his first year, despite having a reasonable car.

Prediction: 16th

Carlos Sainz Jr

Team: Toro Rosso

Last year’s position: N/A

Another debutant, Sainz Jr is another youngster at just twenty years of age. He has a little more experience in other forms of racing, which I feel will serve him in good stead versus Verstappen, but as before, a lack of experience will see 2015 be a learning year, rather than a revolutionary one, for the Spaniard.

Prediction: 15th

Marcus Ericsson

Team: Sauber

Last year’s position: 19th

Driving for the now defunct Caterham team last year, Ericsson was never going to challenge seriously for points – his best finish was a pretty good 11th at Monaco – but he has done enough – either through performances or sponsorship, or both – to get himself a drive for Sauber in 2015. I don’t think we should expect too much from Sauber and therefore not too much from Ericsson.

Prediction: 18th

Felipe Nasr

Team: Sauber

Last year’s position: N/A

Another new driver for 2015, Nasr is someone who has grown increasingly competitive in GP2, making a name for himself, enough so as (along with bringing good sponsor money) to earn an F1 drive, albeit not with an especially great team. Whilst his teammate Ericsson has the edge in F1 experience, it’s only by one season, and I have a sneaky suspicion that Nasr will be quicker than Ericsson.

Prediction: 17th

Giedo van der Garde

Team: Sauber

Last year’s position: N/A

Yes, I listed three drivers for a two-racer team. At the time of writing this, Garde has just successfully won a court fight with Sauber forcing them to honour a contract he has with them to drive for them in 2015. It remains to be seen which of the other two drivers will lose their seat, assuming that Sauber don’t simply choose to ignore the ruling and stick to their guns. I would honestly be surprised if Garde does start in Australia, but the whole affair has been damaging for the Sauber team, who are not in the best position financially and certainly don’t need court proceedings being dragged out against them. If Garde does race, I imagine he will not beat Nasr (despite having raced for Caterham in 2013).

Prediction (if he races): 18th

Will Stevens

Team: Manor-Marussia

Last year’s position: N/A

I have to be upfront and say I know nothing of Stevens, save for him making one appearance last year, at the final race, for Caterham. He is in what will almost certainly be the slowest car on the grid and I don’t think we should expect anything sensational from him.

Prediction: 19th

Roberto Merhi

Team: Manor-Marussia

Last year’s position: N/A

Another guy I know nothing about, and I have to echo my comments above – I don’t think we can expect to see anything special from Merhi, given the car.

Prediction: 20th

 

So there you have it! My lowdown on the 2015 season. I’ve made my predictions, I’ll stick to them, and it will be fascinating to see if I get any of this right, come the final race!

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