5 Predictions Ahead of Formula 1 Pre-Season Testing
From the beginning of February until the start of March, Formula One will hold three four-day pre-season test sessions as preparations for the 2015 campaign get serious.
Testing can be among both the most exciting and frustrating times of F1's traditional pre-season schedule.
Although it makes a return to racing seem a step nearer yet still so desperately far away, winter running gives drivers, teams and spectators an idea of what to expect when the grand prix season gets fully underway in Australia.
A look at the testing times alone can sometimes tell us who will be fighting for both the drivers' and constructors' world championships and who will merely be making up the numbers.
And as we count down to the opening day at the Jerez circuit in Spain, we've looked into our crystal ball and found five things that will happen in pre-season testing.
Lewis Hamilton to Crash on His First Day of Running
Crashing on the first day of testing has become something of a ritual for Lewis Hamilton in recent years.
In 2013, Hamilton's progress at Jerez was interrupted by a rear brake problem at the Dry Sack hairpin, resulting in a heavy collision with the barriers and a premature end to his first day of running.
Even his debut behind the wheel of last year's W05 Hybrid, the car that took him to his second world title, didn't go seamlessly.
On his approach to the first corner at the Spanish track, Hamilton's front wing failed and collapsed beneath his wheels, leaving the British driver with no steering and a trip to the wall. The moment was captured—in perfect what-happened-next style—by a trackside television crew.
Hamilton, it seems, needs an early shunt to get the winter blues out of his system—so remember to take cover from that No. 44 car if you're visiting Jerez on February 2, which Mercedes confirmed will be the reigning champion's opening day with the W06.
Fernando Alonso to Follow in Sebastian Vettel's Footsteps
Perhaps the most iconic image of pre-season testing in 2014 was that of Sebastian Vettel helping marshals wheel his car back to the Red Bull garage after it had failed to reach the end of the pit lane.
It was a reflection of the complexities of the new power units and a metaphor for Vettel's campaign. Little went right for the four-time world champion in his final season with the team.
With 2015 being the second year of the new regulations, the sight of cars stopping only yards from their garages should be rare—except, potentially, at McLaren.
Honda, the team's new engine partner, will have to go through all the same teething troubles that hindered Ferrari- and Renault-powered runners in 2014.
BBC Sport's Andrew Benson reported that the Honda power train could complete only five laps, none at full speed, in last November's post-season test, and the fear of a repeat could lead to some sleepless nights for Jenson Button and marquee signing Fernando Alonso.
With all three tests taking place in Spain, could Alonso suffer the humiliation of wheeling his brand new car back up the pit lane in front of his adoring home fans?
What a way that would be to start banishing the memories of the two-time world champion's 2007 season with McLaren.
Williams to Start Poorly, Improve Just in Time for Melbourne
In recent years, pre-season testing has seen at least one leading team face a fight to recover ground in time for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix having made a mess of their new car.
In 2011, McLaren struggled throughout pre-season testing but ultimately finished second in the constructors' championship. Ferrari performed an identical trick the following year.
McLaren again had a difficult start to 2013 but failed to make amends and didn't secure a podium all year, while Red Bull, of course, recovered to take three wins and the runner-up position in the standings after a dire pre-season last year.
Of all the teams who could underwhelm between now and the first grand prix, it is arguably Williams, whose form has fluctuated since 2010, who are most unlikely to live up to their promise.
The Grove-based team exceeded all expectations by finishing third in the championship in 2014, but staying there—despite the obvious benefits of Mercedes power—will be difficult.
And with Auto Motor und Sport's Tobias Gruner tweeting that the outfit's 2015 preparations are "a bit delayed," it could be a long few weeks for Williams.
But with the likes of Pat Symonds and Rob Smedley on board, they shouldn't stay there for long.
Sauber to Make an 11th-Hour Driver Change
Upon learning that his Sauber contract wouldn't be renewed at the end of 2014, Adrian Sutil made quite the parting shot, telling ESPN F1: "We (Sauber) have confirmed two drivers but it doesn't mean the drivers are going to drive."
The drivers the German was referring to, of course, are Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, who are known to have paid for their places in F1.
Ericsson, according to Turun Sanomat, per Autoweek, paid over $15 million to race for Caterham last season, while Nasr, according to the Press Association, via the Guardian, is estimated to supply over £10 million worth of sponsorship.
And should either driver have difficulties providing funds to the team, Sauber—who are looking more and more hopeless as each year passes—probably wouldn't hesitate to ask Nasr and Ericsson to shut the door on their way out before replacing them with another funded driver.
A similar scenario played out at the beginning of 2013 when Marussia employed three drivers—Timo Glock, Luiz Razia and Jules Bianchi—to fill one seat in less than two months as financial concerns mounted.
Barcelona Return to Be Welcomed by All
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is widely regarded as the truest test of a Formula One car.
With a mixture of fast, medium, slow, long and short corners—as well as a giant front straight—the home of the Spanish Grand Prix is a nearly perfect venue for engineers to evaluate the aerodynamic performances of their machines.
The track, though, was dropped from last year's testing schedule in favour of the Bahrain International Circuit, which, with its warmer climate, subjected the new engines to conditions that would be more representative of those at grands prix.
With the initial gremlins now firmly ironed out of the power units, the final two tests of the 2015 winter schedule will once again take place at the Barcelona circuit.
Not only will that please engineers, but it will also help the teams—who are all based in Europe—save costs and lead to a more vibrant atmosphere, with both tests taking place across long weekends (Thursday to Sunday), allowing fans to get an early taste of F1 2015.