Even before the first engine roars, Formula One can be heard drawing breath this week in readiness for another year of drama, intrigue and trepidation, starting with the final countdown to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Fewer cars, teams and drivers will start this year’s championship, one of the sport’s stars is mysteriously missing amid a spiral of conspiracy theories, and, as financial constraints continue to eat into its balance sheets, the global juggernaut that mixes glamour, danger and speed faces an uncertain future.
At 84, the sport’s enduring commercial ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone is also under scrutiny.
After the tumultuous events in 2014 when Briton Lewis Hamilton seized his second drivers world championship from the clutches of Mercedes team-mate and season-long rival Nico Rosberg in a brutal finale in Abu Dhabi, a similar on-track sporting scenario is in prospect.
Pre-season testing has suggested that Mercedes have improved both chassis and engine and extended their advantage. ‘Catch me if you can’ is the most-used headline in the run-up to Sunday’s race at Albert Park where Rosberg was flawless and triumphant a year ago, setting up a duel with Hamilton that shifted through the gears as the story unfolded. Off-circuit, however, it is a different matter.
The grid has been reduced following the demise of theCaterham team and only 20 cars are expected to line up for the opening race, or 18 if the Manor-Marrusia outfit, a re-hashed team built from the remnants of last year’s Marussia, fails to qualify.
Safety procedures have been revised and, hopefully, improved after the accident in Japan that left Frenchman Jules Bianchi fighting for his life after aquaplaning into a collision with a recovery vehicle in teeming rain.