F1 2015 - 5 Key battles to shape season

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This season is shaping up to be another eventful one for F1.

As a new season approaches, it will inevitably take time for rivalries and battles to emerge. However, 2014 is now part of the history of the current Formula One regulations and can be used as a pointer to highlight where the key fights will take place.

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This weekend’s Australian Grand Prix will see racing resume with Lewis Hamilton looking to defend his drivers’ title and Mercedes the heavy favourite to win the constructors’. Last year delivered some thrilling racing as well as exciting storylines up and down the grid and here are five areas where there could be fireworks this time round.

Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg

This one isn’t going away. One of the clear lessons from pre-season has been that Mercedes is still likely to be a dominant force, which will lead to the early races being fought for by Hamilton and Rosberg. Last year’s title fight was intense and it won’t take much for old wounds to be reopened in the battle for this year’s championship, with Rosberg even saying after pre-season testing that he has an early edge.

“I’m happy to be quickest, it’s better than not being quickest for sure,” Rosberg said. “Of course it’s not worth much in winter testing but it just gives that little bit extra so it’s always useful.”

Sebastian Vettel v Fernando Alonso

Last winter saw numerous high-profile changes at Ferrari, with a new team principal joining in the form of Maurizio Arrivabene and the likes of Pat Fry moved on. However, the most obvious change of all came in one of the cars, with Alonso replaced by four-time world champion Vettel taking his seat next to Kimi Raikkonen.

While Raikkonen is likely to be more competitive this season than last – with a car much more to his liking – Vettel’s performance relative to Alonso will be a fascinating aspect of the 2015 season. Alonso has earned a reputation for making the wrong move at the wrong time, failing to add to his two world championships with Renault so far. It would be a test of his patience if Vettel has a car capable of challenging for victories this season and McLaren-Honda struggles.

Mercedes vs Renault

Unlike last year, the battle between power unit manufacturers will ebb and flow during the season in 2015. A loophole in the technical regulations means power units can be upgraded throughout the year, with each power unit manufacturer having a set number of tokens it can use to improve its engine. With Red Bull the only other team than Mercedes to win in 2014, they are best placed to try and reduce last year’s deficit.

Renault set itself a hypothetical target at the end of last season, working out the gap to Mercedes and the likely improvements it would make, resulting in a target performance which would see the deficit roughly cut by 50% this year. While Renault is confident it has managed to hit those targets during pre-season, the pace shown by Mercedes could hint at it achieving even more progress than expected, and Renault will need to use its tokens to try and rein it back in.

Honda vs time

Honda returns to Formula One this season amid great fanfare, with the confident statement coming out of McLaren being “we will win again”. On first viewing, that looks a tall order as reliability issues have left the team and engine manufacturer on the back foot heading to Melbourne.

However, one thing is clear: With McLaren being Honda’s sole focus, the whole car and power unit package has been developed in tandem, resulting in the self-titled “size zero” MP4-30. It is clearly an impressive piece of design, with the new McLaren boasting a tightly packaged rear end as the team takes on a different aerodynamic philosophy. Pat Symonds believes Williams will soon have McLaren snapping at its heels, but it all comes down to how quickly Honda can get the power unit performing to allow the team to get the most out of the car.

Manor vs 107%

Manor’s return is one of the great success stories of the winter. Written off after the team – then under the Marussia name – failed to make it to the final three races, administration was followed by the company ceasing trading. However, John Booth and Graeme Lowdon – along with the administrators – were hard at work behind the scenes to try and give Manor a chance of starting the 2015 season.

All that work has paid off, with fresh investment from Stephen Fitzpatrick and the business expertise of Justin King ensuring Manor will be present in Melbourne. I’m reluctant to use the term ‘on the grid’, because the signs are that the team will struggle to qualify in the early races. With no pre-season testing behind it and an all-new driver line-up still yet to be finalised, the first race will be like a testing session for the updated 2014 car. Add in the fact that the team is only using the 2014 Ferrari power unit and pre-season seeing lap times at least 2.5s quicker than a year ago means the team is facing a struggle to start a race until it either gets an engine upgrade or delivers its 2015 car mid-season.

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