2015 – A Year In Review

Following their domination of the 2014 campaign, Mercedes picked up in 2015 from where they left off. Once again, the Brackley based squad were the class of the field, from the moment the W06 rolled out and completed an astonishing 157 laps on the opening day of testing, to the season finale and the team’s 17th win of the year. It was a campaign where their victory t-shirts were never far away, but also where the men and women in red came back to the forefront, with Ferrari surprising the competition to emerge as Mercedes’ closest challengers.

A year where the sport’s power players took center stage and where Brand Hamilton stole the show.

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Image Credit: Mike Boudreaux (via Flickr) [CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0]

Three Times A Champion

Motorsport is all about time, numbers and statistics. In 2015, Hamilton’s raw figures tell the story. The Englishman defended his 2014 title is fine style, claiming 11 victories, 11 pole positions, 8 fastest laps and a mammoth 381 points along the way.

His first 25 points, secured with an emphatic victory in Melbourne, rather set the tone for the season. Hamilton arrived with confidence, brushing aside the challenge posed by teammate and chief rival Nico Rosberg. It took the German until round five before he finally managed to beat Lewis over the course of a weekend. Ultimately, the deficit he faced early on in the season proved insurmountable once Hamilton hit his stride.

The Brit’s formerly-fragile mindset was put to the test in Monaco, where what McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis described as a “bonkers” strategy cost Hamilton certain victory. With tyre temperatures falling behind the safety car, a nervous Lewis and seemingly confused pit-wall called the race leader in for a precautionary stop, only to find that the gap to Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel had shrunk, thus leaving him languishing in third at a circuit where overtaking is an improbable feat.

Lewis Hamilton of yesteryear may have struggled to accept the result, particularly given that it gifted Rosberg a victory and a historic third consecutive win at the Principality. However, he bounced back with victory in Canada and kept on marching towards the title.

After his maiden title challenge ended in disappointment, Rosberg was hoping for much more in 2015. Three of his six victories came after Hamilton had already wrapped up the title. They were all excellent drives, but too often Rosberg was out-muscled by his teammate when the title fight was alive. In both Japan and the USA, Hamilton took the high ground early on. Even though Rosberg eventually recovered in Texas, he proceeded to hand Lewis victory by lighting up his rear tyres and heading off road.

That moment optimised the battle between the pair this year. Nico was never far away for Lewis, but lacked the latter’s gritty edge – the type of edge that is present in all champions. After winning the final three rounds, Rosberg will head into next season full of confidence, but unless he develops the champion’s trait, he will surely struggle again.

He can learn a lot by watching how Hamilton relentlessly marched towards a historic third title.

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Image Credit: Stephen Ross (via Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0]

Popularity Contest

As F1’s rockstar name, Lewis Hamilton is one of the sport’s most recognisable and popular drivers. However, a fan survey carried out by the GPDA earlier in the year suggested that 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen has the most fans. The enigmatic Finn’s army of supporters, however, will have been disappointed by their driver’s lackluster campaign, in which he obtained just 3 podiums and finished on 150 points.

Compare that to his new teammate’s haul of 13 podiums en route to a sensational tally of 278 points. Sebastian Vettel’s first season at the Scuderia was full of high points, as the German rediscovered the type of form which saw him secure his four consecutive drivers titles at Red Bull. His 2014 struggles against Daniel Ricciardo were quickly forgotten in 2015, with Vettel’s first podium coming on his Ferrari debut, followed by a surprise victory in Malaysia, as Mercedes floundered on a sub-optimal strategy and felt the effects of the Malaysian heat far more than the Ferrari powertrain.

Two more victories came during course of the season. In Hungary, Vettel controlled the race from the front and with Mercedes embroiled in a titanic scrap for supremacy behind, he was relatively unchallenged by the Silver Arrows. Raikkonen was unfortunate at the Hungaroring, having been running second behind his teammate throughout the afternoon, an ERS issue robbed the Finn of another podium and Ferrari of their first 1-2 since 2010.

Singapore saw Vettel claim his third and final win of the year, as he once again capitalised while Mercedes faltered. He secured the first non-Mercedes powered pole position of the hybrid era and once again dominated the race from the front.

Unlike during his time at Red Bull, this and his other two victories were well-received, as Vettel has once again earned the adulation of fans, which both his skill and sense of humour merits. The German’s consistency this season demonstrates that he can take the fight to Mercedes in 2016. If James Allison can inspire Ferrari to further reduce the deficit to the champions this winter, Vettel will be a force to be reckoned with.

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Image Credit: Joe McGowan (via Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0]

MAXimum Attack

Ferrari’s resurgence was unquestionably one of the stories of the season. However, the feel-good story of 2015 centered around an 18 year-old who brought the exuberance of youth to the sport. After just one year of junior category car racing, Max Verstappen joined Toro Rosso alongside Formula Renault 3.5 champion Carlos Sainz Jr and both were sublime.

Verstappen ended the year on 49 points, but it was his table-topping 49 overtakes over the course of the season which provided the highlights. He demonstrated an adept feel for the brakes, pulling off a catalogue of late-braking maneuvers. As the year progressed, his overtakes became more ambitious, with his pass around the outside of Blanchimont on Sauber’s Felipe Nasr stunning the paddock. Supreme bravery and confidence was required to perform such a daring move.

Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz’s F1 debut was more subtle in its highlights, yet the Spaniard’s achievements this season should not be diluted by his teammate’s headline making exploits. Sainz too managed 49 overtakes during the season, but his were more measured than those of Verstappen, demonstrating the differences between the two.

Sainz’s final points total of 18 is highly misleading, however, with the rookie missing out on sizable points haul’s due to reliability over the course of the season. Four consecutive retirement’s mid-season took the wind out of his sails, while his brake failure in Russia cost him a fifth place finish – a fifth place which would have been one of the results of the season, after Sainz missed qualifying following a huge 46G accident in FP3 on Saturday morning.

 

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Image Credit: Keisuke Kariya (via Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0]

The Force Is Strong

For several years, Force India have been considered as one of F1’s pound-for-pound best outfits, as the Silverstone squad have converted small budgets into big results. 2015 was no different, yet the campaign saw the team triumph against adversity in an entirely new fashion.

The VJM08 arrived in Australia as an unfinished product. After the now-defunct Caterham team were late in leaving the Cologne wind-tunnel, Force India found that their winter programme was pinched. Despite their aero-package needing significant work, the team performed the exercise of damage limitation in adept fashion during the first half of the year.

When the VJM08-B first took to the track competitively for the British Grand Prix, Force India’s 2015 campaign truly started. 7th and 9th at Silverstone was merely the start, as the team proceeded to claim a number of headline results. Sergio Perez, who emerged as one of the drivers of the season, secured a dramatic podium in Russia, while the Mexican managed fifth place in both Belgium and Abu Dhabi.

Fifth place in the constructors championship marked Force India’s best ever finish. In a year which started with such adversity as a result of severely limited testing, the team have unquestionably over-achieved yet again.

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Image Credit: Steve Hayes (via Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0]

Power Struggle

In an era where powertrain’s are key drivers of success, the Honda element of the newly reformed McLaren Honda partnership proved inadequate this season. The Japanese manufacturer seemed to underestimate the challenge of the regulations, as the team endured battery deployment and MGU-H reliability issues all year long.

Jenson Button managed to stay on message for the majority of the year, refraining from publicly denouncing his frustrations. Meanwhile, teammate Fernando Alonso was more vociferous, with team radio messages in Canada and crucially Japan sending shockwaves around the paddock. His assessment of the Honda engine being GP2-esque threw the gauntlet down and will have surely had an impact on McLaren’s partners.

In regards to public criticisms of partners, Alonso’s comments are small-fry compared with the war of words fought between Red Bull and Renault this season. The quadruple champions were heavily dissatisfied with the lack of progress made by their engine partners over the course of the winter, as this year’s Renault unit proved both under-powered and unreliable.

However, Red Bull ultimately backed themselves into a corner, as Mercedes and Ferrari refused to provide their rivals with competitive engines for 2016. The team even knocked on Honda’s door before McLaren reportedly vetoed Honda supplying the Milton Keynes based squad. As such, Red Bull ended up back with Renault, albeit set to run TAG Heuer branded powertrains in 2016 – Renault units with a sprinkle of Mario Illien magic – to hopefully turn their fortunes around.

Final Thoughts

Driver of the Season

Sebastian Vettel

The German has had a stunning maiden campaign at Maranello, securing three superb victories and 13 podiums. 2015 was a critical year for Vettel, given the manner in which he was beaten by Daniel Ricciardo in his final year at Red Bull – had he moved to Ferrari and endured another difficult season, his stock would have been irreversibly damaged. Vettel is back on top of his game and will surely be a force to be reckoned with in 2016.

Team of the Year

Force India

Everyone loves an underdog story and Force India were F1’s underdogs this year. Fifth place in the constructors was a phenomenal achievement given the difficulties they faced throughout the winter months. Both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez enjoyed excellent campaign’s, with the latter in particular hitting his stride.

Overtake of the Year

Max VERSTAPPEN vs Felipe Nasr 

In terms of edge of the seat action, Max Verstappen was box office this season and his move around the outside of Felipe Nasr at Blanchimont during the Belgian Grand Prix was a Hollywood moment. The Dutchman’s bravery and commitment was stunning. It was a unique feat that may never be repeated.

Start of the Year

Felipe Massa at the British Grand Prix

Williams nailed the launch at the British Grand Prix, as they converted third and fourth on the grid into first and third on the first lap. Felipe Massa not only reached turn one first but launched so effectively that he built up a lead by turn three. A sublime start, but unfortunately for Williams, a day which ended without a podium finish.

Moment of the Year

Lewis Hamilton’s final stop at the British Grand Prix 

As a second shower loomed, Lewis Hamilton was being closed down by teammate Nico Rosberg at a rate of two seconds per lap before the Brit jumped into the pits for a set of intermediates. It seemed like a desperate call, made at least one lap too soon. However, as he left the pits the rain began to fall heavily leaving Rosberg marooned on unsuitable slicks and paving the way for Hamilton to claim a third home Grand Prix victory.

Comedy Moment of the Year

Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat’s rain dance

Who says teammates are the best of enemies. During the rain-soaked FP2 at Austin, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat put on a show for the fans in the grandstands, dancing together in front of the garage. Red Bull have been short on points in 2015 and Ricciardo and Kvyat’s footwork would not have scored too highly on Strictly either.

 

2015 has been an intriguing year. The title fight may have been over prematurely, but the performances of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz lit up the season on more than one occasion. With Ferrari on their way back to the top, 2016 is poised to be even more entertaining.

Happy New Year everyone.

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