F1 2015 team-by-team preview

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The men expected to shine this season: Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo.

This weekend will see the first race of the 2015 Formula One season take place at Albert Park in Melbourne. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are looking to defend the drivers’ and constructors’ championships respectively, so here’s a look at how each team is shaping up following the three pre-season tests in Europe.

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MERCEDES

Nico Rosberg (L) and Lewis Hamilton (R).

Drivers: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg
2014 Constructors' position: 1st

Ominously quick, Mercedes will start the season as hot favourites once again. Nico Rosberg was able to complete over 150 laps on the opening day of testing – a hugely impressive achievement – and the both Rosberg and Hamilton displayed the car’s raw pace by setting the fastest times of the final two tests in Barcelona despite only using the soft compound tyre, while its rivals tried the faster supersoft compound. The one chink in the armour appears to be a car that is a little unpredictable at times, with both drivers complaining of set-up issues during the final test.

RED BULL

Daniel Ricciardo (L) and Daniil Kvyat (R).

Drivers: Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat
2014 Constructors' position: 2nd 

After a dismal pre-season in 2014, Red Bull will be much happier with the way this year has gone so far. However, that’s not to say it was a smooth winter for the team, with mileage still hard to come by due to reliability issues. The car looked strong over longer runs but never ran on low fuel to display its true pace, meaning its overall competitiveness remains an unknown. With Renault only focusing on Red Bull and Toro Rosso, any lingering issues should be quickly overcome once the season gets underway.

WILLIAMS

Valtteri Bottas (L) and Felipe Massa (R).

Drivers: Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa
2014 Constructors' position: 3rd

Fresh from a resurgence last season, Williams looks to have cemented its position near the front of the field this year. Last year’s car was often the closest challenger to the Mercedes – notably in Austria and the final race in Abu Dhabi – but it may struggle to close that gap further as it shares the same power unit. Despite that, the long run pace looked encouraging during testing and Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were best of the rest in terms of headline lap times behind the two Mercedes drivers.

FERRARI

Kimi Raikkonen (L) and Sebastian Vettel (R).

Drivers: Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen
2014 Constructors' position: 4th 

Fourth overall last season masked how uncompetitive the car was, with just two podiums scored all year. While Ferrari has been keen to play down expectations ahead of 2015 – saying it is a transitional season for the team having made a number of high-profile changes to personnel and replaced Fernando Alonso with Sebastian Vettel – the SF15-T was quick out of the box at Jerez and proved to be reliable. Last year’s car was a handful but both drivers seem happy that there is a solid base to progress from. Looks to have joined Red Bull and Williams in the fight for the podium.

McLAREN

 Jenson Button (L) and Fernando Alonso (R).

Drivers: Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button
2014 Constructors' position: 5th 

The dark horse heading in to the start of testing, McLaren looks more like a lame horse following the three tests. Problems with the Honda power unit has seen the team struggle massively for mileage, with one day of more than 100 laps for Jenson Button at the final test hugely inflating its total. The car may be quick but the power unit still needs a lot of time to run anywhere near 100% over a race distance and a strange crash for Fernando Alonso has left the team without one of its two world champions for the opening race. Kevin Magnussen will step in, but the first four races could be a write-off.

FORCE INDIA
Nico Hulkenberg (L) and Sergio Perez (R).

Drivers: Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez
2014 Constructors' position: 6th 

In start contrast to McLaren, Force India began testing with low expectations having skipped the first test at Jerez and run its old car during the second test at Barcelona. The 2015 car finally emerged just before lunchtime on day two of the final week, but it immediately proved reliable and almost matched McLaren’s complete pre-season total. With Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez driving, the team has a settled partnership which knows what needs improving from 2014, and while the car is not a huge step forward it seems a solid baseline to build from after setting times comparable with other midfield teams during race runs this winter.

TORO ROSSO

Max Verstappen (L) and Carlos Sainz Jr (R).

Drivers: Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr
2014 Constructors' position: 7th

Most of the focus at Toro Rosso has been on its rookie driver line-up with includes 17-year-old Max Verstappen. Paired with Carlos Sainz Jr, Verstappen will become the youngest F1 driver in history in Melbourne, but he’ll be looking to break more than just that record after an impressive pre-season for the team. The new car was heavily updated for the final test having already proved itself to be reliable, with both drivers getting plenty of mileage in preparation for their race debuts. Could cause a surprise or two early in the season.

LOTUS

Romain Grosjean (L) and Pastor Maldonado (R).

Drivers: Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean
2014 Constructors' position: 8th 

2015 could not come quickly enough for Lotus, with the team having floundered last season as a result of an uncompetitive car and unreliable Renault power unit. A switch to Mercedes power for this year was always going to provide a major step forward on its own, but the team has also produced a more stable car which has shown impressive reliability when the power unit change is taken in to account. In Romain Grosjean Lotus has stability and very talented team leader, while Pastor Maldonado has shown flashes of strong pace throughout his career, so if the car development is strong podiums should be the aim.

MANOR

Drivers: Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens 
2014 Constructors' position: 9th (as Marussia)

The tallest of tall orders faces Manor, but it has overcome its biggest challenge just by making it on to the plane to Australia. The former Marussia team has not run at all in pre-season as it worked on exiting administration, and currently has only one driver confirmed in the form of Will Stevens. Using a modified 2014 car – to conform to 2015 regulations – and last year’s uncompetitive Ferrari power unit means it may struggle to qualify at the first few races, but just taking part in qualifying is a success and a new car should be introduced later in the season.

SAUBER

Marcus Ericsson (L) and Felipe Nasr (R).

Drivers: Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr
2014 Constructors' position: 10th 

A tough team to read during the winter, Sauber was very quick from the first lap in Jerez and ensured Ferrari power locked out the top two positions on the timing screens on each of the opening four days. Since then, the raw pace has dropped off somewhat and the race pace has been consistent but unspectacular. The team has chased headline lap times in the past as it seeks to impress sponsors before the season starts, but the two Barcelona tests saw methodical work towards being race-ready with a new driver line-up of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr. Should score points this year after failing to in 2014.

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