This season is sure to surprise us all
The double world champion writes exclusively for F1 Racing
“Here we are again, with new faces, new stories and new challenges ahead”
One of the many joys of Formula 1 is its ability to take you by surprise, and this is bound to hold true in 2015 even though we have an element of technical continuity. In F1 there’s always something new to grab your attention; this is a sport that never stands still.
At this time of year, everybody in F1 is eagerly looking forward to their rst glimpse of the new cars. That’s why I was very excited to learn about the behind-the-scenes story at Williams in this month’s F1 Racing (p32). During my F1 career I always looked forward to visiting the factory, or arriving at the circuit, and seeing for the rst time what my engineers had been working on. I’m sure the current generation of drivers are just as excited.
With Williams it is even more interesting to see what they’ve been working on, because they ended last season in the top three, behind Mercedes and Red Bull. They might not have won any races, but in terms of speed over the nal races they were denitely in that position – even though they were 0.4secs off the Mercedes. That’s a lot of lap time to nd, but if they can create more downforce without adding drag, they will make a big step. Will it be enough? That depends on what Mercedes and all their other rivals have been doing…
I like to see Sir Frank Williams and his team succeed because he is one of the major gures of the Bernie Ecclestone era of F1. I remember well when he entered his own car, under his own name for the rst time in 1977. He had been ghting for years just to get there and you see the same combative spirit running through the team’s history, whether they’ve been at the front of the grid or not. The combination of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas has really helped to push the team on. Felipe is still quick and competitive, and was ready for a change after many years with Ferrari – and he brought a great deal of experience with him that has helped improve the car. Bottas is a young and exciting talent, very fast, and a potential winner. This is one of the best driver combinations in F1. McLaren are another team with a lot of talent on their hands. You could almost say they have too much. The partnership of Fernando Alonso with Jenson Button will be fascinating, because Fernando is very demanding and comes with an incredible ability to outperform the car. Jenson is fast and motivated, a stabilising gure within the team, good with sponsors and popular with the fans. I wasn’t surprised by the supportive reaction on social media to the December cover of F1 Racing that stated: ‘Jenson, don’t go!’
It’s disappointing to see a young driver of Kevin Magnussen’s ability sidelined, but he has proved himself and will be ready for any vacancy that arises. McLaren also have Stoffel Vandoorne on their young driver programme, and after another year learning the Pirelli tyre characteristics in GP2, he will be ready for F1. Ron Dennis will have some tough choices to make at the end of the year, more so if Nyck de Vries goes well in Formula Renault 3.5.
He shouldn’t worry about the performance of Honda. Sure, they had a few problems in their rst test run, but Honda have vast engineering resources and are driven to succeed. Their main challenge is to learn fast, because their rivals have had a year to develop their software and gain experience of running the hybrid power units in race conditions.
All great F1 engineers thrive on a challenge, though. Fortunes can change, as Williams proved in 2014 when they stepped up after several years in the doldrums. I hope Sauber can achieve something similar because Felipe Nasr is set to make his F1 debut with them, backed by sponsorship from Banco do Brasil. This venerable institution has sponsored other sports, such as volleyball, in the past, and has recently taken an interest in F1.
It’s good to see a big company with a long history put its weight behind young talent – and it’s another positive story that got a bit lost in all the negative headlines of late. Some teams might be struggling, but F1 is a business as well as a sport, and if we put on a good show and give sponsors value for their investment, they will stay on board. Everybody wins.
So, yes, while Mercedes dominated in 2014, we saw great racing between Lewis and Nico and all through the eld. And now here we are again, with new faces, new stories and new challenges ahead. This is going to be a season to remember.
With Felipe Massa’s experience and Valtteri Bottas’s speed, Williams have one of the best driver pairings in Formula 1