Hello folks! Welcome to the FF1M 2015: Silly Season Review or whatever you’d like to call this! Recently, a lot of activity has taken place in terms of the foundations of next year’s FF1M entry list being established. Whether that is sponsorship deals, engine budgets or driver signings being unveiled. I am here to review each team’s signings and prospects for the year ahead before 2014 has even finished because, why not?
Exolite had an excellent driver market window. Signing in what many peoples eyes as the ‘British dream team’ of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. A powerhouse of a line-up. Both of whom are FF1M Champions, unlike the team. They have stayed loyal towards their engine suppliers Ilmor despite what has proven to be a much tougher 2014 season compared to what seemed like a breakthrough the year before. Team principal James Whiteley will be hoping for better fortunes next year fielding arguably the strongest driver line-up on the 2015 grid. Expect Exolite to be strong out of the gates in Melbourne thanks to their incredibly strong driver duo alone. However, their direction of momentum is all dependant on whether Whiteley is more alert with strategy as the season develops and making the necessary changes to bolster their team going forward after recently being criticised by members of the paddock for not placing ‘the attention to detail’ required for success in FF1M. Never the less though, Exolite are odds on to have a size-ably stronger 2015 compared to the present.
Current championship holders Gojira have yet another all new driver line-up that is very solid and balanced. It features the return of their former race winner, Robert Kubica. The Brazilian-Japanese outfit also managed to persuade current Tornado number 1 driver, Jean-Eric Vergne in joining the team. The Frenchman will be hungry to show his current team what a mistake it was letting him leave to sign with a bitter rival. The ever-charismatic Gui Cramer will be aiming to pull out all the stops to solidifying their Mugen engine status as being the strongest. However, they will face stern competition from Tornado’s Climax, of whom managed to spend slightly more on their own engine as well as Gojira supplying a customer deal to only one other team compared to the three in 2014. As a result, Gojira weren’t quite able to spend as much as they’d like to have done on their aerodynamic package compared to the last two years. One would have to be foolish to completely rule out Gojira from featuring in a title race. However, they will have a tougher task in 2015 to maintain their impressive championship contending form. Especially with current number one driver Hamilton pursuing other opportunities at Exolite after rumoured disagreements with Cramer over salary demands.
Tornado features a driver line-up of polar opposites in terms of experience and youth. They managed to acquire the services of their former driver’s champion Fernando Alonso who will prove to be a major asset in helping the team return to championship contention after a hugely frustrating 2014 season. Then there is the youth side of the line-up, Tomas Gonzalez, the FF2M championship favourite who will be looking to learn from his experienced teammate in his quest to become a future world champion. Tornado will continue to develop the Climax engine that has so far shown good potential with two pole positions to boot but ultimately, has also proven to be the only engine not to win a race. Tornado will be very much looking to change that fact in due course after spending the most amount on their engine between the five manufacturers. They will also be supplying the most number of engines on the grid. Mitchell, Andrew Racing and newbies Meister will all be powered by Climax in 2015. After coming so agonisingly close in 2013, the Somerset-based team will be looking at reclaiming championship glory next year fielding a top class double world champion and a very exciting young rookie both at the wheel.
Shake n’ Bake
Cash-strapped Shake n’ Bake find themselves in a precarious position in 2015. They retained their long-term services with 2007 champion Sebastian Vettel (albeit for a hefty sum) and current championship leader, whilst opting to sign a rookie in the other car. Itsuki Yoshida, a Japanese two-time FF2M race winner that will undoubtedly please their new title sponsor, Samantha Kingz. Overall, the driver line-up is a markedly similar driver line-up to that of Tornado with a combination of an established world champion and a young rookie. What will have undoubtedly hurt them financially was not securing any customer teams on board their Megatron engine program combined with what many believe to be a ‘hefty’ salary for their number one man Vettel. These two factors combined meant that after establishing their engine budget, found themselves with no money left to spend on any aerodynamic development. Something of which will prove to be an Achilles heel next year when in Vettel’s case during 2014, are still embroiled in a championship fight. However, do continue to expect Sebastian to work more miracles in an inferior machine.
Bottom of the championship Andrew Racing will be looking for a Pedersen-esque turnaround next year. After what has been a disastrous 2014 season, the team will be switching engine suppliers from Megatron to Climax power in 2015. Daniel Ricciardo is a driver that has no doubt a lot of potential to be successful. However, since bursting onto the scene with Tornado in 2012 winning two races, the Australian has found himself out of his depth compared to his most recent teammates and after what seemed like a turbulent season in 2013, this year has become even more turbulent after clearly being overshadowed by Sebastian Vettel in the SnB. His new teammate and rookie, Antonio Felix da Costa, will give Ricciardo a much stronger chance to be team leader rather than playing second fiddle as he’s become accustomed to in his short FF1M career so far. Similarly to Exolite, the team has come under fire from members of the paddock over team boss Andrew Pryor’s ‘complacent’ approach. Something of which will dictate whether the team makes forward strides next year or will still be rooted to the bottom of the constructors table.
Despite the most recent fortuitous and unlikely victory at the crash happy Belgian Grand Prix, Mitchell have had a tough season in terms of performance. Out of all the four teams to currently use the Mugen power plant, Mitchell have comfortably found themselves to be the least competitive out of that quartet. Leading to speculation about whether their aerodynamics is as adequate as the engine it currently possesses. Speaking of the engine, they will be switching to Climax power in 2015. Mitchell will also be fielding a rookie in their line-up after promoting the young Australian Cooper Lee from their FF2M team, OLM Racing. They will in the meanwhile be continuing their long relationship with the Belgian GP race winner, Nico Hulkenberg. The German being ever-more hungry to outperform the car provided on a given day when such opportunities arise. After team boss Joey Mitchell’s illness earlier on in 2014, they will be looking to get back up to scratch with development in time for 2015 after largely being absent in the first half of this year.
Constructors championship leaders Willows Racing are yet another team to field a rookie in their driver-lineup. FF2M championship contender Stoffel Vandoorne makes the step-up to Willows’ senior team after an impressive 2014 campaign in the junior category. He will be joined by Malaysian GP winner, Nico Rosberg who goes into his third consecutive season with the team. The 2006 FF1M champion will be hoping his team can find the consistency needed to challenge once again for both titles after suffering from poor reliability in the earlier races which although now seems to have improved, the performance has certainly not been as competitive in the second half of 2014. Willows also invested the least amount of credits into their engine. Their 60 compared to Climax’s 98 will ensure they have ground to make up in that department although unlike previous seasons, they did invest more of their budget into their chassis.
FJR have had a more promising 2014 season compared to what seemed like a disastrous 2013. Their sole Judd power unit is a solid one that has proved to be good enough for a race win at Hockenheim and so very nearly, Montreal in the hands of Jenson Button. However, their number one man has now joined fellow Yorkshire-based team Exolite and will have left a huge void within the team. They did manage to retain their other driver Kevin Magnussen who has had a solid debut season to date. He will be partnered by former Spaniel teammate Charles Pic in the other car who will no doubt have big shoes to fill after JB’s 2014 heroics. A tall order to expect from an inexperienced driver duo to maintain FJR’s forward momentum going into 2015.
GRM are a team that have massively over-performed in 2014 with a win next to their name thanks to an opportunistic drive by Valtteri Bottas at Canada. They are the only team on the 2015 grid to retain an identical driver duo to this year. So maintaining that continuity of Bottas and Sainz will ensure they hit the ground running knowing what to expect. They have also stuck with the Mugen customer engine that has no doubt played a hand in their best season so far. The only real change with this team is it’s title sponsor. Swapping with Andrew Racing’s Petronas as their current Panasonic sponsor moves in the other direction. It’ll be intriguing to see whether this consistent line-up will take them to that next step or stagnate and finding themselves caught and surpassed by their closest rivals.
The new team on the block, Meister GP, have taken over the reigns of the outgoing Horizon ownership. This includes all their aerodynamic and tyre development carrying over that will undoubtedly be a very helpful kickstart to their first FF1M campaign. They will also not be short of experience either and in fact, far from it. Signing the reigning champion Kimi Raikkonen and another veteran in Felipe Massa. Both of whom have suffered a frustrating year driving for Exolite and Andrew Racing respectively. This hugely experienced driver duo will both see this as a new fresh environment with ambition from new team owner, Laura Chung. Expect the continued chassis/ engine relationship to be a helping hand too combined as well as their drivers feedback on developing the car. With all these factors considered, it’s very hard to envisage Meister not finishing higher than tenth. Horizon’s best and current 2014 championship position that’ll highly likely be surpassed with new German ownership.
Lastly but by certainly no means least, we have the Danish team, Pedersen. From what has certainly been the case of being touted as ‘a one man band’ in 2014, this will certainly not be the case in 2015. The signing of one-time grand prix winner and former Gojira driver Sergio Perez will surely bolster the team’s driver line-up in addition to keeping their new talisman and championship contender, Romain Grosjean. The biggest change for Pedersen though in 2015 is by far the engine. It seemed virtually certain that Pedersen would stick by their Mugen power plant after publicly praising their manufacturers Gojira for gifting them a ‘great engine’ to win the races Grosjean was able to achieve. However, after a huge miscommunication, they ended up switching to Ilmor power in what seemed like an unforeseen and shock move. One of the most established members of the FF1M paddock and team owner Michael Pedersen will be hoping the Ilmor engine can live up to the expectations that have grown within the team after the hugely impressive turnaround Pedersen have achieved after the dogged 2013 season the team had endured.