JAN 26th 2015

Will F1's winter shake‑up make 2015 a classic season?

It’s late January and those first ripples of anticipation and excitement synonymous with this time of year can surely be felt by motorsport fans everywhere. In fact, following last week’s opening World Rally Championship event, the Monte Carlo Rally, in which returning legend Sebastien Loeb immediately put one over the new pretenders, before spoiling the headline-grabbing comeback by going off, and a Daytona 24-Hour classic in which the battle for outright honours was decided by just 1.3 seconds after the twice-round-the-clock enduro in Florida, I’d say those ripples have already turned to rumbles.

And this week, those last remnants of winter woes will be banished for good as we build up to the appearance of the first few Formula 1 cars that will do battle in this season’s 20 grands prix. First to show its new challenger will be McLaren, the Woking squad giving the MP4-30 an online airing on Thursday (29th), one day ahead of long-time nemesis Ferrari, which also pulls the wraps off its car online.

“Between them the ‘big two’, McLaren and Ferrari, have won 44 per cent of the races in the past 65 seasons”

This is a hugely important season for the two teams that sit comfortably in the top two positions in just about all the F1 record tables (28 drivers’ titles, 23 constructors’ crowns, 403 wins, 362 pole positions and 382 fastest laps). To put some sort of perspective on those big numbers, there have been 916 world-championship-qualifying events since 1950, so between them the ‘big two’ have won 44 per cent of the races in the past 65 seasons.

And yet, both McLaren and Ferrari are coming off troubled seasons, from which both emerged winless. In Ferrari’s case, it was the Scuderia’s first season without at least one victory for 21 years. As a result, heads have metaphorically rolled at Maranello. Scalps included the president, two team bosses and star driver Fernando Alonso. There to pick up the pieces are new management and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who’s thrown his lot in with the sport’s most famous team after six years at Red Bull. There’s a lot to fit into place there.

sebastian-buemi-festival-of-speed-2014F1 at FoS: Watch Sebastian Buemi tackle the hill in his Red Bull RB7

 

 

 

 

Closer to home, McLaren, which hasn’t racked up a win since the end of 2012, enters a vital new era as it welcomes Honda back into the fold as engine partner after 20 seasons with Mercedes. The Japanese giant enjoyed huge success with McLaren in the late-’80s and early-’90s with four world championship doubles in five years and the team’s fans recall fondly the glory days of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost falling out with each other while thrashing the opposition.

“Talking of falling out, Fernando Alonso heads back to McLaren after walking out in a strop in 2007. All is forgiven eight years on, apparently”

Talking of falling out, Fernando Alonso heads back to McLaren after walking out in a strop after one season in 2007 when he couldn’t shake off rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton. All is forgiven eight years on, apparently, and Fernando will find himself up against Jenson Button, a man who spent many years powered by Honda, famously taking its most recent win, in the Hungarian GP in 2006. That’s the same Jenson Button who scored more points than Lewis Hamilton during their three seasons as team-mates at McLaren…

I can’t wait to see what these racing giants pull out of the bag at the end of this week. It’d be great to see them both giving the dominant Mercedes team a hard time. The Silver Arrows of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg won 16 of the 19 races in 2014 and the smart money is on the British-built machines carrying on where they left off, so it’ll take some doing.

A picture of the competitive order will start to take shape when the first pre-season test gets underway at Jerez in southern Spain at the weekend, just before which the majority of other teams will launch their all-new machines. And that includes Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams – the top three from last season.

F1 2015 could just be a classic. Bring it on.

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