The winter is long for us F1 fans.
Engines are silent, garages are...well, if not deserted, then shut, and hunting around for speculation on teams, drivers and the odd sight of testing on a rainy day in the arse-end of Spain (sorry, but as far as the F1 season goes testing at Jerez is pretty much the same as Spring Training...a lot gets written and everyone gets excited about not much important actually happening in a crap venue that nobody particularly likes visiting. There's a reason the F1 circus prefers to go somewhere else in Spain when the races actually mean something).
This offseason has been more fraught than many, though, with continuing worries over the plight of Jules Bianchi (#forzajules), repeated questions over money allocation and the gap between rich and poor in F1, new regulations, and even questions over how many teams would actually race.
Luckily, the FIA stepped in with their usual decisive and highly-targeted action by...making it illegal for drivers to change their helmet livery from race to race.
Top job, lads. I'm sure F1 Nation will sleep safer at night now.
Anyway...enough of the negativity. With teams loading up bloody great jets and heading to Melbourne as we speak for the opening race of the season this Sunday, it's time to take a look at what we'll actually be watching. Here's the lineup...
AMG PETRONAS MERCEDES F1:
CAR: W06 Hybrid -
DRIVERS: Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg
The Silver Arrow is...well, it's the Silver Arrow. The W06 was a class above anything else in the field for most of last year, and Merc have basically thought "hey, it worked. Why change anything?"
You can't blame them. 16 race wins. 11 1-2 finishes. And that was in the W05. The W06 is the W05, but better. It's also driven by the current World Champion and the current runner up, who just happen to be two of the best drivers in the world and also rivals.
In short, it's REALLY bloody good. Mercedes have set the standard for F1, and the rest of the grid is still scrambling to catch up.
DRIVERS: Seb Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen
The Prancing Horse has gone for it this off-season, recruiting racing cyborg Seb Vettel to plug himself into a new steed after tremendous success with Red Bull, and also the World's Calmest Man Kimi Raikkonen to back him up. The Ferraristas are hoping that the blend of Southern European flair and fire and Northern European pragmatism and efficiency will balance each other out and tip the scales in their favour and bring the red cars back to the top of the grid, in a move that...well, is brave for the sheer amount of Euros chucked at it if nothing else.
However, the main question will be that nagging one "was it the car that made Seb so good?" How will Vettel fare adjusting to a new team, a new culture and...oh yeah, a fanbase that will rip any failure to shreds?
We shall see.
RED BULL RACING
DRIVERS: Danny Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat
Red Bull have already given us one of the biggest disappointments of the season by going with the livery above for the RB11 instead of the absolutely incredible camo livery they rolled out in testing. I mean...LOOK at this thing:
Yes, that pic has to be that big for the full awesomeness of the black/white camo to become apparent. The actual livery looks...well, boring compared to that, doesn't it? Come on, Red Bull. Just take that one, paint within the lines and it'd still look better than the actual RB11.
Anyway-enough about the cars. On to the drivers. Danny Ricciardo has pretty much become everyone's favourite second driver-he's incredibly quick, can chuck a car around with the best of them and most of all, he appears to be on some sort of intravenous drug that makes him the happiest man on earth. Daniil Kvyat, meanwhile, makes the step up from Toro Rosso to the big team after showing promise both last year and in testing this time out. They'll have to prove a lot, though. Can the Russian Rocket keep up with the Honeybadger - and more importantly, can the RB11 keep up with the Mercedes after an up and down year for the RB10 last year?
WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING
DRIVERS: Felipe Massa, Valteri Bottas
Ah, Williams. One of those teams that everyone secretly likes. Frankly, it's bloody hard not to-they have two of the most likeable drivers in second-banana extraordinaire Felipe Massa and Valteri Bottas, who like most Finns appears to have imbibed the ability to drive a racing car quickly with his mother's milk. They also have THAT Martini livery, which for F1 or indeed motorsports traditionalists is akin to the Mona Lisa in terms of reverence and artistic quality.
As far as the car goes, though, they've probably let a few black cats pee on it this time round in an attempt to get rid of the seeming curse the FW36 attracted last year. When it was quick, it was REALLY quick. But when it wasn't...it was usually being crashed by Felipe Massa, notably in this spectacular 190mph effort in Canada:
The Williams car is a good one, and it's got two good pilots. But the FW37 will need a lot more than just "good" if it's to contend consistently at the front this time round.
Drivers: Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button
*wakes up with a start*...sorry, that bloody McLaren livery sent me off to sleep again. It'll do that, you know. Despite making arguably one of the biggest newsworthy changes of the offseason in rekindling their (historically dominant) partnership with Honda, McLaren have decided not to...y'know, actually reflect that by bringing back this gorgeous paint job with it, instead going with F1's equivalent of beige, the silver-and-black, once again Which means we are all poorer, frankly:
However, while looking at the car is still about as interesting an experience as drinking water in a brewery, McLaren have made some big changes in the cockpit, poaching Fernando Alonso from Ferrari to partner human charisma vacuum...sorry, "consummate professional and veteran" Jenson Button for the season.
It hasn't exactly started well, though...Alonso will miss the first race after a huge crash in testing which despite every medical sign pointing him that way "did not give him a concussion" according to Ron Dennis. Cue much hilarity/wailing about the fact that McLaren seem to be losing the ability to actually see their drivers as flesh and blood that might need protecting once in a while.
So, test-driver Kevin Magnussen makes a brief return to actual racing for the same team he did last year in Australia, in a car that will no doubt suffer a few teething problems once again. However, there will be hope in Woking that Honda's limitless yen and experience working in F1 can haul them back into contention and rebound them from a disappointing season last time out. Me...I'm not so sure it can, yet. We might be seeing the odd Spanish tantrum before season's end. And Button...well, he might actually show some spontaneous emotion or frustration occasionally. If he does,you know the problem's got really serious.
That's your front runners...tomorrow on SCOMO-we look at the rest of the F1 field...including two new teams and one that doesn't actually have a car yet.