Unlike the pre-season before which saw a near maelstrom from Lewis Hamilton, six drivers from four different teams topped the timesheets during the eight days of pre-season testing, or six for the customer teams. As usual, the field will undergo the usual unmethodical sifting that is the commentator’s predictions. The whole field has been exceptionally tight with all 11 teams often separated by just a single second, so the following predictions are almost definitely going to be wrong, but let’s give it a go anyway.
11th – Andrew Racing-Climax
Any team that appears in the lower half of the draw could well be considered harsh considering the closeness of the entire field, but Andrew Racing are one of two teams on the back foot. They ran on hard tyres for the majority of 2014, which are now unavailable for 2015, so their unfamiliarity on the new tyres could see Daniel Ricciardo and rookie Antonio Felix da Costa experience a bit of a slow start the season despite a switch to the Climax engine, which appear to have one of the best ERS systems on the grid.
10th – FJR-Judd (M)
FJR’s 2014 season was about catching up to the field with a very inconsistent car. In some races, the car was nowhere on hard tyres, but it was spot on at Hockenheim where Jenson Button on the softs won by more than half a minute. The good news for the Yorkshire team is that they enjoyed a routine pre-season with bulletproof reliability from both car and the Judd engine. The bad news is that the car wasn’t really that quick on any of the three circuits visited, and with the most inexperienced driver line-up in charge of a new sunburst-liveried car with new music-based sponsorship, 2015 may well produce a very flat note for team boss James Brickles.
9th – Meister-Climax
Replacing Horizon for the 2015 season is the German-based Meister team, who made a very successful debut in the 1989 FF1M season. 26 fictional years later, Meister will make their debut in the main series with the very experienced Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa at Laura Chung’s disposal. Meister have effectively inherited Horizon’s car, which proved to be aerodynamically slippery in 2014 with Sutil taking poles at Hockenheim and Spa. This could well have been the inspiration for the 2015 livery, which appears to be an homage to the Silk Cut Jaguar XJ220, another low drag beast. This could hurt Raikkonen and Massa on the high downforce circuits, but could pay off where drag is minimised.
8th – Exolite-Ilmor
In the nicest possible way, 2014 was a terrible season for Exolite as they plummeted from 3rd to 9th in the championship. This was down to a combination of exclusive use of the hard tyres and Raikkonen suffering more retirements than a care home full of pensioners. The nadir was Singapore when both cars were taken out by a sloppy Sebastian Vettel. James Whiteley is therefore looking to rejuvenate his team with a championship winning line-up of the returning Button and Lewis Hamilton, but it may be a struggle with underdeveloped tyres and a possibly underpowered engine.
7th – GRM-Mugen
Although Valtteri Bottas had already won a race in 2013, that came in rather extraordinary circumstances, whereas his win at Montreal in 2014, although slightly fortunate, was part of a genuine performance breakthrough for GRM having already taken two podium finishes earlier in the season. The team have taken a rather alternative route in preparation for the 2015 season by running their race drivers and hard tyres (last season’s mediums) exclusively. This could result in a strong start to the season but with the caveat of underdeveloped softer tyres, which could see the team tail off towards the end of the season.
6th – Willows-Ilmor (M)
In only their third season, Willows have a championship to their name thanks to Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg’s combined efforts resulting in a well-deserved constructors championship, but it wasn’t a comfortable win as other teams had caught up and overtook them in terms of pure speed. Pre-season hasn’t been kind to Willows with a seemingly underpowered engine at Monza and a pitlane incident during Day 2 at Kyalami afflicting both drivers and limiting mileage, although they did show glimpses of speed at Kyalami. Willows could be starting the season on the back foot, but having one extra engine customer could play into their hands and help with development.
5th – Pedersen-Ilmor
The big story for Pedersen occurred before pre-season even began when they switched from Mugen to Ilmor for 2015, a move which team boss Michael Pedersen claimed was as a result of “Amnesia, Covid, and Germans.” Early pre-season form suggested that the Ilmor was down on power compared to the likes of Mugen and Megatron, but both Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez showed some very good speed on the softer compounds of tyre at Kyalami. This was in spite of Grosjean crashing during Day 2 and left his car unrecoverable. Both drivers could still pinch a win or two, but it won’t be easy.
4th – Mitchell-Climax
It might be surprising to see Mitchell so high up the list considering they had a difficult 2014 with an unreliable car and a mid-season driver swap, but there were still highlights. Nico Hulkenberg provided a surprise win at Spa thanks to a demon first lap and the correct strategy, and Sebastien Buemi was four laps from winning at Singapore before suffering an engine failure. In theory, 2015 looks much more promising than 2014 with Hulkenberg staying for a sixth consecutive season and the boisterous Cooper Lee making his debut. A switch to Climax may help Mitchell further, particularly in qualifying, and with the team reuniting with Flymo, Mitchell could be cutting it close with the frontrunners.
3rd – Shake ‘n’ Bake-Megatron (M)
Having a reliable car at the right moments was what arguably won Vettel the 2014 drivers championship for Shake ‘n’ Bake, the team’s third of their career, but the car was competitive throughout the season despite a lean patch in the middle. Team boss Courtney Cass may be chronically hungover from the after party, but they once again appear to have a decent car and a very powerful engine for the start of 2015 despite Vettel’s salary demands hampering aerodynamic development and a slight lack of mileage in testing. The German is partnered by Japanese newcomer Itsuki Yoshida, but a rumour has been floating around that his drive may already be under threat from fellow countryman and test driver, Kamui Kobayashi. This early uncertainty could well hinder Shake ‘n’ Bake’s challenge for the constructors championship.
2nd – Gojira-Mugen (M)
The two teams that battled for championship glory during the 2012 and 2013 seasons are likely to be at it again for 2015. Gojira were somewhat unlucky to miss out on the drivers championship with Hamilton suffering unreliability in crucial races, such as Spa when a puncture cost a probable win. Despite a couple of podiums for Kobayashi, a lack of points prevented the team from winning the constructors championship. With two very solid drivers in Robert Kubica and Jean-Eric Vergne, and one of the more powerful engines on the grid, Gojira can look forward to another season of challenging for championship glory once again.
1st – Tornado-Climax (M)
2014 was a wake-up call for the rigorous Tornado team as they went from championship contenders to a team struggling to score points in the opening races. Although their speed improved throughout the season, this was at the expense of reliability. 2014 FF2M champion Tomas Gonzalez experienced the worst of this as he failed to finish in the three races he took part in. The young Argentine more than has the potential for strong results alongside an equally hungry Alonso, and with the car showing strongly in the hands of the two test drivers, team boss Tobias could see his team back on top for 2015. Gojira reckons it will be a walkover, Tornado thinks it’s too close to call. The first race in Australia will give some clues as to who of the two has the quickest and most reliable set-up, or maybe one of the other nine teams could interrupt the big battle… well, eight if FJR are expected to toil…