Nearly four months on from Lewis Hamilton securing his second drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi, Formula 1 returns this weekend with the first Grand Prix of the new season getting underway in Melbourne. This time around the calendar won’t begin with the same raft of rule changes as 12 months ago, but there have, as ever, been some alterations for the teams to take on board.
Notably, to the huge relief of most, double points for the final race of the season, which threatened to deliver the title to Nico Rosberg last year, have been scrapped. From a more technical standpoint, each driver will now be limited to just four engines, while a virtual safety car will be introduced to improve safety under double-waved yellow flags. The cars will also look better with the nose regulations getting a welcome rejig.
The biggest changes for the new season, though, are in the makeup of the grid. Some of F1’s biggest drivers have switched teams as the quest to catch up to Mercedes heats up.
Here’s how they will lineup:
Lewis Hamilton: After an increasingly fractious battle with his teammate, Hamilton won six of the final seven races to soar to the title. With a car that again looks to be the class of the field, the British driver will be aiming to further enshrine his name in the history books and join his idol Ayrton Senna on three world championships.
Nico Rosberg: The German impressed many by the fight he showed to go head-to-head with Hamilton for much of the 2014 season. But he will know that it is a key to get a strong start to this year to avoid slipping into the role of No. 2 at Mercedes.
Daniel Ricciardo: After moving up to replace Mark Webber, the Australian had a superb first year in an otherwise disappointing season for Red Bull. Having gotten the better of the now departed Sebastian Vettel in 2014, Ricciardo is now the main man at Red Bull and will be aiming to build on his three wins.
Daniil Kvyat: The 20-year-old has followed Ricciardo in making the step up from Toro Rosso and will have to build on the promise he has showed early on in his Formula 1 career.
Valtteri Bottas: In what was a return to the business-end of the grid for Williams last season, Bottas made a major statement of his talent to finish fourth in the drivers’ standings. With Williams still boosted by Mercedes power, the Russian will be counting on further success in the coming months.
Felipe Massa: Having being out-performed by his younger teammate last year, the experienced former Ferrari man will want to show he still has the pace to be a major factor at the front of the grid.
Sebastian Vettel: As part of one of the biggest driver shakeups in recent times, two-time champion Fernando Alonso has been replaced by four-time title winner Vettel. But, having seen his dominance come to a grinding halt without winning a single race last season, Vettel faces a tough challenge to revive both his and Ferrari’s fortunes.
Kimi Raikkonen: On his return to Ferrari last season, former world champions Raikkonen was a major disappointment in finishing more than 100 points behind than teammate Alonso. The Finn must give Vettel a much tougher run for his money in 2015.
Fernando Alonso: After five years at Ferrari in which he consistently had to fight to make the most of a car that denied him a realistic chance to add to his two world titles, the Spaniard surprisingly returned to a McLaren team he left in acrimonious circumstances after just a single season in 2007. The start has not been encouraging, with McLaren struggling in testing and Alonso suffering concussion that means he will be unable to compete in the opening race of the season.
Jenson Button: Kevin Magnussen will be the man to replace Alonso, and the Dane will have extra motivation to prove his worth after McLaren finally decided to choose Button over him to line up alongside Alonso in 2015. Button’s experience gave him the edge and he will want to demonstrate that, aged 35, he can still mix it with the best.
Nico Hulkenberg: The German continues to be a reliable scorer of points and will hope to benefit from starting a season with the same team for a second season running for the first time in his career.
Sergio Perez: Unceremoniously dumped by McLaren after a single season, the Mexican showed he has a future in F1 with an impressive first year at Force India in 2014.
Max Verstappen: The sister team of Red Bull caused waves when announcing that they had chosen the then 16-year-old Verstappen, son of former F1 driver, Jos, to fill one of their seats for next season. While he has now turned 17, it is still a massive challenge to cope with the demands of Formula One.
Carlos Sainz Jr:
Sainz was initially overlooked for Verstappen, and only given a seat when Vettel’s departure from Red Bull led to Kvyat moving on. The Spaniard has already made it clear he intends to demonstrate that the initial decision was a wrong one.
Romain Grosjean: After showing plenty of pace early in his career, Grosjean suffered in what was a dismal year for Lotus in 2014. Both he and the team will be hoping that a Mercedes engine will lead to much better times this season.
Pastor Maldonado: It’s fair to say that the Venezuelan’s move from Williams to Lotus didn’t exactly go to plan as his former team soared up the grid and his new car floundered.
Following on from a year in which they failed to score a single point, Sauber’s preparations for the new season have been thrown into disarray. A court in Melbourne ruled this week against Sauber and in favor of former test driver Geido van der Garde’s claim that he was promised a seat on the team 2015. A fresh appeal is due for Thursday, meaning it remains unclear whether Sauber will be compelled to race Van der Garde instead of one their two announced drivers, Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr in Melbourne.
Roberto Mehri: Marussia are another team to have endured far from ideal preparations for the Australian Grand Prix, having only been cleared to race last week after emerging from administration. Only three days before practice is set to get underway in Melbourne, 23-year-old Spaniard Mehri was named as one of the drivers for at least the opening rounds of the season.
Will Stevens: The Brit will now hope to get a more extended run to impress in Formula One, having started the final race of last season for Caterham.
2015 Schedule Australia (Melbourne) -- Mar 13-15
Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) -- Mar 27-29
China (Shanghai) -- Apr 10-12
Bahrain (Sakhir) -- Apr 17-19
Spain (Catalunya) -- May 8-10
Monaco (Monte Carlo) -- May 22-24
Canada (Montreal) -- June 5-7
Austria (Spielberg) -- June 19-21
Britain (Silverstone) -- July 3-5
Germany (TBA) -- July 17-19
Hungary (Budapest) -- July 24-26
Belgium (Spa) -- Aug 21-23
Italy (Monza) -- Sep 4-6
Singapore -- Sep 18-20
Japan (Suzuka) -- Sep 25-27
Russia (Sochi) -- Oct 9-11
USA (Austin) -- Oct 23-25
Mexico (Mexico City) -- Oct 30-Nov 1
Brazil (Sao Paulo) -- Nov 13-15
Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) -- Nov 27-29