Happy New Year! And, of course, Happy New (F1) Season! Yes, we are a few months away from on-track action – but, if you’re a hard-core fan, you’ll know that it’s towards the end of January that the teams reveal their challengers for the season.
Not so long ago, a car launch was one of the biggest pre-season events that teams would gear up for. International media, sponsors (old and new), shareholders, drivers, etc., would be present to ensure that ‘coverage’ was maximized. But, in recent seasons, car launches have been modest affairs at best. Most teams use their factory, or the nearest racing track, to unveil the contenders. Many even use the first day of the first pre-season test. Given the financial climate of the sport, the pompousness of launches may have all but gone but the enthusiasm hasn’t dropped one bit. And I say this for all interested parties – media, fans, sponsors, shareholders, and, of course, the drivers, who are expected to rattle off to the media how ‘different’ the new car is in terms of form and function, without having driven a single mile or even spending any time at all in the design room.
But that’s the world of Formula 1 – a world that is make-believe for a lot of people. But it’s a world that never sleeps – one that’s constantly on the move. December is the only month when the teams get a break, if at all. And, finally, this December McLaren broke the news of a much-expected Alonso-Button pairing for 2015 – one that they hope will change their fortunes, along with their historic reunification with Honda. The delay in announcing their line-up actually took away from the excitement of Alonso leaving Ferrari and joining McLaren.
But that seems to be the story of Fernando Alonso – a double World Champion who beat Michael Schumacher and Ferrari in their prime, but has struggled over the past eight seasons to find a car that would allow him to launch a proper attack for the title. For ‘the’ most complete driver on the grid, as he’s widely referred to, it’s ironic that he’s struggled to find the cockpit to match his talent. It just goes to show that finding a quick car in F1 is as much about luck as it is about talent. Just ask Hulkenberg?
The McLaren-Honda-Alonso-Button combination has created enough hype to lead us to believe that they will achieve success in 2015. For Dennis and Alonso’s sake, I hope they do. Because if they don’t, Alonso has pretty much nowhere else to go and Dennis has no other ‘top’ drivers available who are not only quick, but also attractive to sponsors. K-Mag who? And this is possibly the first time that the McLaren board has had more influence than Dennis in choosing their driver line-up. Another sign of changing times I suppose!
2015 will be interesting because there are major shake-ups in the driver line-ups – especially with the top drivers. The Raikkonen-Vettel, Alonso-Button pairings seem unconventional, but both have been entrusted with steering their respective teams back to winning ways. And while the world awaits an inter-team battle, I’m curious to see how these former World Champions are able to cope with the challenges that lie within.
There’s little doubt that experience won’t be lacking with these pairings, but would McLaren and Ferrari – who have instituted a radical management shake-up – be able to deliver the quality engineering to take the fight to Mercedes? I doubt if they can in 2015, and 2016 is a long way away – and Formula 1 isn’t known for its patience. Something tells me that these changes are just the start.
The one (top) team that’s going unchanged in 2015 is Mercedes. And why not? In fact, they’re even resisting changes to the powertrains that the other teams are demanding – and rightfully so. I expect the Hamilton-Rosberg fight to continue in 2015, but can’t say who’ll have the upper hand. Will Hamilton emerge even stronger after being crowned World Champion for the second time, or will Rosberg be hungrier still after having come so close? Well, at least we won’t have the double points system to settle scores between old friends (or rivals). I do hope, though, that Mercedes is able to back Rosberg more, especially in public.
And, lastly, kudos to Red Bull Racing for not resisting Vettel’s move to Ferrari. And even more kudos to them for believing in their junior driver programme and promoting Kvyat to Vettel’s seat – rather than scouting for a ‘more experienced’ driver. Although a Hulkenberg, Perez or Alonso could’ve benefited, it wouldn’t have been in keeping with Red Bull Racing’s philosophy (‘gives you wings’).
While a Ricciardo-Kvyat pairing brings fresh energy and enthusiasm to the Milton Keynes based squad, one does wonder if experience would be lacking – especially since Adrian Newey has decided to switch his energies to an even more interesting (and complex) sport, sailing. But then again, Red Bull Racing are known for their radical ways, and that’s precisely why they could be Mercedes’ strongest competition in 2015.
At any rate, fingers crossed for a multi-team battle for championship honours in 2015…
Read Kunal’s views at his F1 blog.