F1 season preview 2015: what we’re all talking about

Published: 09 March 2015

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen on test in Barcelona in February 2015

► A look ahead to the 2015 F1 season
► Five hot talking points for year ahead
► New personnel, rule changes and more intrigue

‘Lewis [Hamilton] and I will be fighting it out again next year,’ says Mercedes F1 star Nico Rosberg. And you’d be a brave man to bet against Nico and Lewis. Merc were an astonishing 0.5sec per lap clear of the field at the 2014 season finale in Abu Dhabi, and they’ve worked tirelessly over the winter to maintain that gap.

But there are reasons to believe that F1 in 2015 won’t be a one-team affair. Red Bull Racing called in staff on Christmas Day to work on their RB11, so determined is the team to get level with Mercedes this year, and McLaren is talking about a Honda/Alonso-powered revival in 2015 as well. 

While we await the start of the F1 season at the Austrialian grand prix this weekend, here are five intriguing factors that may have a say in the season’s outcome…

1: The FIA has moved the goalposts on engine development

Jenson Button and the McLaren Honda

The FIA has decided not to specify a date by when Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault have to homologate their 2015 power units. So those in need of more power and efficiency – namely Ferrari and Renault – can develop up to 48% of their power units beyond the start of the season.

Typically, the Spanish Grand Prix in May is when teams introduce major upgrades, which would give the manufacturers an extra two months of development time. Until that time, they will have to use their 2014 engines, which had to be homologated on 28 February last year.

Honda, who are returning to F1 with McLaren, look set to lose out because they don’t have a 2014 engine to fall back on, and will therefore have to homologate their 2015 power unit before the first race. Unless, of course, they can persuade the FIA that they should be allowed to develop their engine during the season as well. 

A rule change that helps Ferrari? Who would credit it…

2: McLaren have nabbed Red Bull’s aerodynamics genius

Peter Prodromou: ace aerodynamicist nabbed from Red Bull to McLaren-Honda

His name’s Peter Prodromou: he was Adrian Newey’s first hiring at Red Bull back in 2005 and he’s now back at McLaren, overseeing the team’s intended resurgence as McLaren-Honda. A brilliant aerodynamicist, the 46-year-old has an intimate understanding about why Red Bull have been so dominant for the last five years. According to McLaren boss Ron Dennis, this year’s MP4-30 is demonstrating impressive numbers in the wind tunnel, and there’s nothing wrong with the Honda power unit in terms of power and efficiency. Add arguably the best driver in the world in Fernando Alonso and you have the potential for a quick racing car.

3: Adrian Newey hasn’t left Red Bull

Rivals partied when Newey left Red Bull. Now he's back... D'oh!

Last year’s Belgian Grand Prix was meant to be the swansong for Adrian Newey – the greatest F1 car designer of the modern era (and arguably of all time). He was then supposed to stand down as chief technical officer of Red Bull Racing and focus on other projects, such as Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup challenger.

But it turns out that F1’s preeminent designer couldn’t stay away. He was back on the pitwall at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, overseeing the engineering of both cars, and, according to team boss Christian Horner: ‘Adrian’s been heavily involved in the design of the RB11 and he’s still very much a part of the team.’

Mercedes, you have been warned…

4: Resurgent Williams have made two big signings

Valtteri Bottas on his way to third in Russia 2014. This year, he wants the podium's top spot

Williams have reasons to believe that they can improve on their third place in last year’s constructors’ championship. They’ve retained the services of Valtteri Bottas, one of the most exciting prospects on the grid, and the team has further strengthened its engineering team. Dave Robson, formerly Jenson Button’s race engineer at McLaren, will be working with Felipe Massa this year and Steve Nielsen – formerly of Benetton/Renault – has joined as sporting director to provide more experience on the pitwall.

‘These are exciting times for Williams,’ says deputy team principal Claire Williams. ‘We want to win a race in 2015.’

5: Pirelli have sorted out the rear tyres

Pirelli rubber: updated for 2015

Pirelli have modified their rear tyres for this year. Changes to the belt will distribute heat more evenly across the rubber, thus improving traction and durability. This will help lap times, particularly around street circuits, where traction is key, but it might harm drivers who dislike understeer. Oh dear Kimi… understeer killed the Ferrari driver’s turn-in last year; is this another portent of an underachieving season to come? Or will the presence of team-mate Sebastian Vettel be enough to get the Iceman hot again?

Who’s going to win the 2015 F1 championship? Sound off in the comments below!

By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller