All the attention is usually focused a little bit further up the track than these guys make...but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take a look at the mid-to-rear of the F1 field. Apart from anything else, there is drama, conflict and insanity here to rival anything a Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry can throw at us. Driver contract disputes, missing engines, arguments...we got it all. Let's plunge in:
SAHARA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES
Drivers: Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez
The Force Indias are the type of cars no-one really notices as being either good or bad. They're just there, plugging along in the middle of the field, maybe being involved in the odd exciting midfield battle that the cameras focus on when one of the Mercedes is driving off into the sunset up front. In Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez they have two drivers who have been around a while without actually pulling up any trees, though both are perenially linked with making the step up to an elite team and indeed Perez has for a little while at McLaren. With the untold rupees of the Kingfisher beer brand behind them they will never really risk going insolvent, but they're not likely to pull up many trees. Young test driver Pascal Wehrlein is a talent, though. He's one to keep an eye on if one of the other drivers can't race for whatever reason during the season.
In short, Force India are basically like Iowa. They're there, everyone's aware they exist, dependable, but you can't really think of anything truly notable about them.
TORO ROSSO RENAULT
Drivers: Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz Jr
If you look at F1 in hockey terms, Toro Rosso are basically Red Bull's AHL affiliate. The reserve squad by which Red Bull develop their talent, or where they stick drivers who they'd like to keep around in their F1 system but either aren't quite good enough or just not lucky enough to get a seat with the big team. This year, without question, though, they are going with a full-on youth policy. Max Verstappen isn't old enough to drive on public roads in most of the countries he'll be racing in this season, but he is considered old and good enough to be given the keys to one of the most advanced and fastest automotive machines on the planet. Given that his dad, Jos Verstappen, was fairly useful handling an F1 car in his day, though, the 17-year-old Dutchman has the bloodline for it.
His team-mate continues the "famous dad" theme. Rally fans will instantly remember Carlos Sainz as one of the greatest men ever to drive a car through a muddy forest, and his son now gets the chance to show if some of that superb car control has rubbed off on him at Red Bull's F1 university.
Toro Rosso has been responsible for developing the likes of Seb Vettel, Danny Ricciardo and sadly-missing Jean-Eric Vergne in the past. The two youngsters have a lot to live up to. But with their dads guiding them along with a proven development system, they should be OK.
LOTUS F1 MERCEDES
Car: E23 Hybrid
Drivers: Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado
Lotus have a proud history in F1. The John Player Special cars of the late 70's and early 80s were absolute beasts created by the motorsport warlock that was Colin Chapman.
The modern Lotuses...not so much. They're usually known for either blowing up, getting in the way of faster cars or, more often than not, being destroyed in new and interesting ways by the human car extinction event known to us only as "Pastor Maldonado".
Seriously. If crashing an F1 car is an art form, Maldonado is its Mozart, its Michaelangelo. There has been no car built he can't destroy. No barrier placed in a position so out of the way that he can't drive into it. He is the Cézanne of carnage, the Piero della Francesca of futility-the Picasso of prangs. It's now at the point where a legit F1 game is a sweepstake on what lap he'll send his car bounding off into the local scenery. He's so good at hitting things he could hit water in a desert. Entertaining he is. Competent he is not.
Romain Grosjean, meanwhile, can actually handle an F1 car pretty well, which instantly puts him about ten levels above his team-mate. He should probably be in a better car-it's a mystery why one of the "bigger" teams hasn't given the Frenchman a chance. But he's a safe pair of hands at Lotus. Which is, frankly, the best they can hope for given who they insist in putting in the other car.
MANOR MARUSSIA FERRARI F1 TEAM
Drivers: Will Stevens, Roberto Merhi
The observant among you will notice that there is no car picture. That's because Manor haven't actually launched their car yet. They weren't even racing until around a month ago-desperate efforts from the Marussia F1 team to avoid bankruptcy all but failed, before they were rescued at the last second by John Booth and Graham Lowdon. They contain two pay-driving rookies (because it's frankly the only way they can get on the grid) with one race of F1 experience between them. They're also currently in Australia but reportedly lacking vital engine parts, so it's unclear whether or not they'll race at all for the first outing of the season.
In short, to call this team's birth "chaotic" is to understate it spectacularly. It remains to be seen what'll happen.
DRIVERS: Felipe Nasr, Marcus Ericsson, Giedo van der Garde
Ah, Sauber. We leave them until last because as far as starts to seasons go, the Swiss couldn't have had a worse one. You will notice they have three drivers listed. That's because nobody actually knows who will be in the car from race to race this season. Felipe Nasr is a newbie this season-his dad owns the Banco do Brasil, so that explains both the car livery and also how Nasr got his seat in the first place. Marcus Ericsson comes over to Sauber from the defunct Caterham. Easy enough, right?
Except it isn't, because Sauber apparently promised Giedo van der Garde a race seat for 2015 back in 2014. And the Belgian has gone to an Australian court to argue that he should be in one of the cars come Sunday...which the Australian court has agreed. Sauber have appealed on grounds that it would be unsafe to put a new driver in the car at this late stage, but had it thrown out, so VDG is now applying for a superlicence to race. If he gets it, then Sauber have to let him race or face MORE legal action.
It's not a good situation for anyone...and it could have so easily been avoided had the Swiss team not been offered a ton of money by a rich Brazilian bloke to let his son have a plaything for a season. This is the reality of F1 now.
So...at the back of the grid we have one team not knowing if they'll be able to finish building their cars to race at all, one team not sure who will DRIVE the cars they've built...it's not exactly the best-organised start to an F1 season at the back of the grid ever...
But it's interesting, isn't it? And of course, if in doubt, you can always be certain that Pastor Maldonado will drive into something, and it will be hilarious. Such is life in the lower reaches of the F1 season in 2015.
Three days to green light...