With 182 grand prix starts and extensive TV coverage experience between them, Sky Sports F1 pundits Martin Brundle and Anthony Davidson are perfectly placed to predict what will happen in the new season – so that’s what Auto Express asked them to do when we met for a chat.
Hamilton vs Rosberg is the obvious place to start – so will anything have changed over the winter and does either Mercedes driver hold the upper hand ahead of this weekend’s Australian GP?
“Nico isn’t going to be able to reinvent himself,” reckons Brundle. “He has to figure out those tiny areas where Lewis is finding speed over him. He outqualified Lewis comprehensively last year, but he never passed Lewis and made it stick.
“He has to psychologically destabilise him, play on the fact that Lewis has been busy just being world champion and now has to defend his title. Still, I wouldn’t want the job of trying to beat Hamilton in the same car this year!” Former Minardi and Super Aguri driver – and current World Endurance Champion with Toyota – Davidson agrees Rosberg has his work cut out, adding: “Lewis is riding high and in many ways there’s even more pressure on Nico this year.
“Lewis knows what he has to do to beat Nico, and he still won the title despite [having] more bad luck. We should expect the same situations as last year, with Nico outqualifying Lewis but things coming to a head in the race.”
All things being equal, Fernando Alonso should be challenging Hamilton and Rosberg for the title – but even after his expected comeback at the Malaysian GP, he and team-mate Jenson Button must be patient as McLaren’s new engine partner Honda struggles with reliability. “Whatever he says about how happy he is, you can’t be happy seeing the Ferrari suddenly find pace, having walked away after so many years,” says Brundle. “Only Alonso could try to make that a positive.”
Yet Davidson believes the scale of the challenge at McLaren could be motivating, saying: “Button has been in this situation before and Fernando had a few miserable years at Renault. It’s more frustrating when you’re almost good enough (like Fernando was at Ferrari) but never quite get that podium or victory, so to start from scratch with a new situation and a new challenge can be better, even if you’ve a long way to go.”
Someone who looks a lot happier with their winter move is Sebastian Vettel, settling in nicely in what looks like a competitive Ferrari. But as Brundle notes, the man who brought the four-time champ to Maranello, ex-team boss Marco Mattiaci has been replaced by Maurizio Arrivabene. “The stopwatch means more than personal relationships,” he adds, “and the car’s been fast.
“Ferrari seems like it’ll give Vettel the space and support he needs to grow to be team leader. He needed to go. He could see the train of young Red Bull drivers coming, he’d won his titles, and he couldn’t afford another year of being beaten by Daniel Ricciardo.”
Davidson agrees, saying: “This could be the making of Vettel – if he could pull Ferrari up to become world champion again, he’ll get legendary status. That’s what a lot of the greats did. A mark of a true talent is to be able to win titles in different teams, as Lewis has done.”
Further down the grid, a lot of focus will be on Toro Rosso’s two rookies: Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. Verstappen, 17, has grabbed headlines as F1’s youngest-ever driver, but the consensus is that if he’s good enough, he’s old enough. Brundle says: “I don’t blame him for grabbing his chance; you don’t know when it’ll come again. He’ll make mistakes, but if he can ignore the pressure and deliver, he’s championship material. The early signs are he’s got it.”
Davidson is “genuinely excited” to see Verstappen and Sainz go head-to-head, but adds: “It’s frustrating not to have a known quantity like Jean-Eric Vergne or Daniil Kvyat in the other car to measure either of them against. But their pedigrees speak for themselves.
“There were doubts over Kimi Raikkonen and he turned out fine! We’re looking at at least one exceptional talent – maybe two.” Yet when all’s said and done, the key question is who’ll be celebrating at the end of 2015, and our experts agree that Hamilton’s in pole position as we enter the season. Now it’s all eyes on Australia for an early idea if they’ve called it right.
When the new F1 season starts on Sunday, you’ll need a Sky subscription to watch everything live. As usual, it’s covering all 20 races in the provisional calendar – a venue for July’s German GP is to be confirmed – with the BBC screening 10 rounds live, plus highlights of every other race.