Previewing 2015 F1 Team-Mate Battles

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2014

Previewing 2015 F1 Team-Mate Battles

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    Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collide at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix.
    Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collide at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix.Clive Mason/Getty Images

    The 2014 Formula One season had several fascinating battles between team-mates.

    From Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg's psychological warfare to Daniel Ricciardo's usurpation of Sebastian Vettel's throne at Red Bull, to the cold war that never heated up between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, there was no shortage of intrateam drama.

    Now that all nine teams confirmed for the 2015 grid have announced their driver line-ups, it's time to preview next season's team-mate battles. Once again, there is no shortage of engaging storylines.

Sauber

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    Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez raced for Sauber in 2014, with Giedo van der Garde, Sergey Sirotkin and Simona de Silvestro lurking in the background, hoping to nab a race seat for 2015.

    According to well-connected F1 journalist Joe Saward, Jules Bianchi would have also been in the mix for a race seat with the Swiss team had he not been severely injured in a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix.

    With all those options available, Sauber chose Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr for 2015. The drivers are already familiar with each other from two seasons in GP2 (the above video is of Ericsson overtaking Nasr in 2013 at the Hungaroring).

    Ericsson, a 2014 F1 rookie with Caterham, impressed as the season went on and even finished ahead of Gutierrez in the drivers' standings on the back of an 11th-place finish in Monaco.

    Nasr, meanwhile, has spent the last three seasons in GP2. Last year, he took four victories and finished third in the series behind Jolyon Palmer and Stoffel Vandoorne. 

    Nasr also served as Williams' test driver, giving him valuable experience in the new generation of F1 cars.

    Two young, talented drivers with something to prove is a recipe for an interesting battle, but we won't be seeing much of it unless Sauber can improve their car significantly.

Lotus

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    Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean
    Pastor Maldonado and Romain GrosjeanMark Thompson/Getty Images

    The line-up at Lotus remains unchanged for 2015, with Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado in the cockpits.

    While Grosjean was clearly the better driver in the first half of last season, dragging the uncompetitive E22 to two points-scoring finishes, the gap was much closer in the second half.

    There are still a couple things that must happen for this rivalry to blossom, though. First, Maldonado needs to stop crashing into everything in sight (an affliction that also plagued Grosjean in the past).

    Second, Lotus, like Sauber, need to build a much better car for 2015. The addition of the Mercedes power unit should help.

Toro Rosso

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    At just 17 years old, Max Verstappen is a novelty in the F1 paddock.
    At just 17 years old, Max Verstappen is a novelty in the F1 paddock.Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    This is one of the most intriguing match-ups on the grid. Max Verstappen, the just-turned-17-years-old prodigy, would be fascinating against anyone, but he is pitted against the highly rated Carlos Sainz, Jr.

    Of the nine drivers that have driven for Toro Rosso since 2006, only three are still in F1, so this battle has the feel of a cage match—only one man might come out of it with his career intact.

    In any other season, Sainz would probably be the youngest driver on the grid at 20 years old. Next year, though, he will be a grizzled veteran compared to Verstappen.

    Sainz has five years of car racing experience, from Formula BMW to Formula Renault 3.5. Verstappen has just one, coming third in the Formula Three championship in 2014.

    As with Ericsson and Nasr at Sauber, Sainz and Verstappen are both young and hungry. They also might be more talented drivers, and they should have a better car. This is a battle not to be missed.

Force India

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    Nico Hulkenberg leads Sergio Perez at the Spanish Grand Prix.
    Nico Hulkenberg leads Sergio Perez at the Spanish Grand Prix.Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Force India also opted to retain both their 2014 drivers for next season. That is actually a coup for the Silverstone-based team, as Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez both have the talent to slot into a team further up the grid.

    Hulkenberg is the more consistent of the two, whereas Perez shows flashes of brilliance but also some impetuosity. Perez had the bad luck of getting a drive at McLaren in 2013, one of the worst seasons in the team's history. Hulkenberg, meanwhile, has yet to get a seat with a top team. 

    In 2014, Hulkenberg finished 37 points ahead of his Mexican team-mate, but it was Perez who claimed Force India's only podium of the season in Bahrain.

    Both men are experienced racers, but they are still trying to claw their way into the sport's top tier—this is another team-mate battle to keep a close eye on in 2015.

McLaren

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    Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button
    Fernando Alonso and Jenson ButtonHandout/Getty Images

    Last year, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari should have been one of the best intrateam rivalries on the grid. Instead, the car was uncompetitive and Raikkonen was never comfortable with it, while Alonso fought valiantly to challenge the Red Bulls, if not Mercedes.

    Now, Alonso returns to McLaren, the site of his infamous falling out with Ron Dennis in 2007. Another world champion is waiting for him, in the form of Jenson Button.

    Although Alonso is generally viewed as the more talented driver, both men are known for getting the most out of their machines. And that may be particularly important as McLaren welcomes Honda back to F1 as their engine supplier in 2015.

    The new power unit is still a question mark, but McLaren had the best engine on the grid in 2014—the championship-winning Mercedes PU106A Hybrid—and they still finished fifth in the constructors' standings.

    Therefore, it could be a trying year for Alonso and Button, but both men have plenty of experience in subpar cars. It should still be fascinating to watch the battle between them, even if they aren't challenging for victories.

Ferrari

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    Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at the 2014 British Grand Prix.
    Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at the 2014 British Grand Prix.Rui Vieira/Associated Press

    It is a rarity in F1 to have two former world champions paired together. But with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen teaming up at Ferrari in 2015, it will be the third such pairing in two years.

    Both drivers, as well as the Ferrari team, are trying to redeem themselves after disappointing 2014 seasons. Vettel was thoroughly beaten by his young team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and is stepping outside the Red Bull bubble for the first time (aside from a one-race cameo with BMW Sauber at the beginning of his career).

    Now we will see whether Vettel's success at Red Bull was just the product of a series of superior cars or if he can replicate it with another team.

    Raikkonen had two strong seasons at Lotus to begin the second act of his F1 career, prompting Ferrari to bring him back to Maranello last season. The return of Ferrari's last world champion was a disappointment, though, as the Finn managed just one top-five finish and Alonso outscored him 161 to 55.

    This battle could go either way in 2015. If Ferrari produces a competitive car and both Vettel and Raikkonen find their previous form, it will be spectacular. But the car might not be good, or either driver could struggle to find his comfort zone. In that case, it will be another long season for the Scuderia.

Williams

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    Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa on the podium in Abu Dhabi.
    Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa on the podium in Abu Dhabi.Clive Mason/Getty Images

    After their most successful season in a decade, Williams decided to retain both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa for 2015.

    Bottas is a rising star in the sport and exceeded even the loftiest expectations for him last season, finishing on the podium six times.

    Meanwhile, Massa is nearing the end of his career, but he seemed rejuvenated after moving from Ferrari to Williams for 2014. He managed three podiums as well and nearly won at the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

    The Williams drivers will continue to push each other in 2015, with race wins a serious possibility if the team does not fall behind in the development race over the winter. If Massa can avoid some of the bad luck that plagued him throughout 2014, this could be a very close battle (although the animosity to make it a heated rivalry does not seem to exist between them).

Red Bull

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    Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo
    Daniil Kvyat and Daniel RicciardoMark Thompson/Getty Images

    For the second year in a row, Red Bull are losing an experienced driver and replacing him with a youngster from Toro Rosso.

    For 2015, Daniil Kvyat replaces the outgoing Sebastian Vettel, teaming up with Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian was the revelation of 2014, winning three races—the only non-Mercedes driver to reach the top step of the podium.

    Kvyat was impressive in his first year in F1, leading to the Red Bull call-up. However, he has far less experience than Ricciardo, and it is doubtful he will seriously challenge the Aussie in 2015.

    Speaking about his new team-mate, Kvyat said, "He's showing a great performance this year but it sets a challenge and I really like a challenge," per ESPN F1.

Mercedes

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    Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg after Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying.
    Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg after Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying.Dan Istitene/Getty Images

    Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg set the gold standard for team-mate rivalries in 2014. Challenging for the drivers' title, they had multiple close (and too close) on-track tussles and waged a season-long psychological battle behind the scenes.

    From Rosberg's supposed mistake in Monaco, to the collision in Spa, to the final, ultimately anti-climactic, showdown in Abu Dhabi, there was constant tension in the Mercedes garage. 

    Nothing should change for 2015. Mercedes will still have the best car, Rosberg will still be hungry for his first world championship and Hamilton will be looking to cement his place among the greatest drivers of all time.

    "I think it is very clear that if your team-mate—the one in the same car—is your biggest enemy then it gets tense," said Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff, per ESPN F1. "I have no doubt that we will have similar situations and challenges between the two next year again. Anything else wouldn't be normal."

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