2015 was the 2nd year in the new era of F1.
2015 saw teams ironing out issues from the previous year and even forming new partnerships.
2014 Champions Mercedes AMG Petronas had high hopes for 2015, Ferrari were determined to take the fight to the Mercs while Red Bull were hoping to have a faster and a more reliable engine with Renault.
Lotus F1 saw it wise to switch to Mercedes power for 2015, Toro Rosso to Renault while Sauber & the new entrant Manor F1 ( formerly Marussia ) stuck to Ferrari Power.
McLaren welcomed the return of Honda to F1 and became the works team. Experts said the First year for Honda would be tough but McLaren had hopes of rolling back the years to Senna - Prost era.
Hamilton who became a Double World Champion in 2014 hoped to replicate his form in 2015 while Rosberg promised to leave no stone unturned in his challenge. Sebastian Vettel said goodbye to Red Bull and switched to Ferrari to partner the Iceman and his close friend Kimi Raikkonen.
Alonso moved onto a new challenge and rejoined McLaren to partner Button while Kvyat graduated to the Senior Red Bull Team and the Junior sported very young and inexperienced drivers.
The removal of double points for the final race was a welcome change.
Enough of the teasers, time to assess the performances of teams and drivers alike in 2015.
Mercedes AMG F1 Team :
Mercedes flattened the opposition in 2014. The Constructors' Championship was like a "Walk in the Park". Lewis Hamilton prevailed against his team-mate in the final race to win the 2014 Drivers' Title. 2015 promised to be no different. The 2nd year of the V6 era would see the Works Team produce a faster and more refined version of its predecessor. Constructors' Championship was an easy feat to achieve. Barring a blip in Singapore alongwith a couple of retirements, the W06 was a highly reliable car. Lewis Hamilton sealed his 3rd Drivers' Title in United States while Nico Rosberg finished strongly in the 2nd half of the season. Lets take a quick look at the driver performances.
Lewis Hamilton had the measure of Rosberg right from the start. Once he won the Championship, it looked like he let his foot off the gas. Hamilton was on it right from the start of the season, notching up 5 wins, three 2nd places and one 3rd place in the first half of the season. Post the Mid-season break, Hamilton won 5 out of 6 races, Singapore a retirement for the Brit. Hamilton sealed the deal in United States matching the number of titles of his childhood hero and legend Ayrton Senna! Hamilton did lose some momentum finishing 2nd best to his team-mate in the last 3 races but he had performed when it mattered. He proved his mettle on the Sunday, more often than his team-mate making the most of the opportunities for the 2nd consecutive year. Hamilton scored 381 points.
Nico Rosberg hoped to take the battle to Hamilton and won 3 races in the first half of the season, besides 5 podium finishes. He didn't have an answer after the break unfortunately being beaten fair and square by his team-mate. 2 retirements, engine failure in Italy & throttle failure in Russia almost ended his title hopes. An uncharacteristic error in USA meant curtains. Rosberg found a gear in the final 3 races and turned the tables winning them all, too little too late though. The results should galvanize him for 2016, boost confidence and make him believe that his team-mate can be beaten. Rosberg worked hard but Hamilton just had that edge. Rosberg had a tough battle with Vettel for 2nd place in the Championship but sealed his place with his victories in the end. Rosberg scored 322 points.
Mercedes had the quickest car on the grid but Ferrari gave them a reality check in 2015. Mercedes had to dig deep to maintain their advantage and smashed the record for the points scored in a Constructors' Championship with a mammoth tally of 703 points! Mercedes remain favourites for 2016 but I do see them nervously looking over their shoulder hoping to keep the Scarlet Red cars at bay.
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari had a shocker in 2014. They had got everything wrong in the inaugural year of the V6s and a change of guard at the helm was brought about with the hope of restoring some order. Fernando Alonso chose a move to McLaren seeking a new challenge, which he might regret now. Raikkonen was joined by friend and neighbour, not to mention a 4 time World Champion Sebastian Vettel. Hopes were high and Ferrari had a quiet confidence about themselves going into 2015. 2 race victories ( minimum ) was the target set. Ferrari clearly was the team that took the fight to Mercedes AMG F1 and were the "best of the rest" on the grid. Vettel won the team-mate battle comfortably.
Sebastian Vettel was in the title hunt for quite sometime until the engine penalty ( planned ) in USA ended his title hopes. Vettel was involved in a see-saw battle with Rosberg for 2nd place until the German got his act together to win the last 3 races and squash the challenge. Vettel gained the love and support of the team and the Tifosi fairly quickly with his stunning performances. Mistakes were sparse and Vettel had the joy of being on the top step of the podium in 3 races - Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore. Vettel suffered 2 retirements, one due to a dangerous tyre blowout denying him a 3rd place in Belgium and a crash in Mexico which followed a series of errors. Vettel had 10 podium finishes besides the 3 victories to finish 3rd in the Championship with 278 points.
Kimi Raikkonen, the Iceman had a better 2015 but not an ideal one in his own words. Raikkonen finished 4th after winning a hotly contested tie with Bottas, 138 points behind his team-mate. The points disparity was huge but the Flying Finn had his wings cut more often than not in races - A loose wheel in Australia, puncture in Malaysia, accident in Austria, Wrong tyre call in Britain, MGU-K Failure in Hungary, Gear-box Failure in Belgium GP Qualifying.
Raikkonen had committed mistakes too, the one in Russia on Bottas and the spin in Montreal handing the same man a podium. The Worst misfortune was when his car stalled on the grid at the start of the Italian Grand Prix. Raikkonen had qualified 2nd in front of the Tifosi and hopes were high for a Ferrari victory.
Many wanted the Finn sacked but Raikkonen showed his class and ability by finishing 2nd ( season best ) in Bahrain and notching up two 3rd place finishes in Singapore and Abu Dhabi. Raikkonen eventually prevailed in his battle with Bottas to finish 4th in the Championship with 150 points.
James Allison, Ferrari's Technical Director praised Raikkonen and defended Ferrari's decision to retain him rightly pointing out that Raikkonen was faster than Vettel on many occasions, qualifying being the only gremlin that needed to be addressed. Raikkonen also had reliability issues that denied him better race results. 2016 should be a better year for the Finn.
Ferrari had a satisfactory 2015 but knowing Ferrari, the goals for 2016 will be much higher. The duo of Vettel and Raikkonen changed the atmosphere within the team. Retaining Raikkonen was the right decision and will maintain stability besides strengthening the challenge for 2016. As a Raikkonen Fan I dare to believe that he will be a close contender for the crown in 2016. Remember he belongs to the select few who won a Drivers' Championship in their debut year!
Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :
Williams was the quickest customer team of Mercedes in 2014. The duo of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa humbled the mighty Ferrari, a victory of sorts especially for Massa. Williams had their work cut out for 2015 and the benchmark was raised. Massa and Bottas would bear the load of carrying the team through in 2015. Williams however weren't able to replicate the form of 2014. Williams was always playing catchup with the Mercedes Works team and Ferrari. They were able to capitalize on the mistakes of their rivals in a few races but other than that they were the 3rd best team on the grid. Silverstone was their best chance at a double podium and possibly a victory. Tactical errors robbed them. Lets take a quick peek at how their drivers fared.
Bottas won the team-mate battle and the gap of 15 points is deceiving. The Finn wasn't able to start in Australia due to a mechanical failure but scored a chunk of points consistently from thereon. Two 3rd Place finishes in Canada and Mexico helped him keep pressure on Raikkonen for 4th place in the Championship. Bottas and Raikkonen came together in Russia and both were robbed of a potential 3rd place. Kimi was blamed for the incident and penalized. The duo came together again in Mexico with Kimi being the aggrieved party but Bottas escaping penalty. Bottas suffered just one other retirement in USA. A dismal final race in Abu Dhabi denied Bottas a shot for 4th place. Bottas scored 136 points to finish 5th in the Championship.
Massa had a roller coaster season in 2015. From the highs of finishing 3rd in Austria ( Thanks to Vettel's slow pit stop ) & Italy ( Thanks to Raikkonen stalling on the grid ) to the lows of 2 retirements in Singapore and USA and disqualification at his home race in Brazil due to discrepancies in tyre pressures, Massa has experienced it all. Massa had a good 2015 nonetheless and would hope for a better year in 2016. He scored a total of 121 points and finished 6th in the Championship.
2015 was somewhat of a step back for Williams and the team would be hoping to be a lot closer to their competitors in 2016. They have the funds and the people to accomplish this. 2016 will be interesting for them.
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull Racing, works team for Renault had a topsy-turvy 2014. The Team hoped for a change of fortunes in 2015 but it was worse than 2014. The Relationship that saw the team bring 4 Consecutive World Championships ( Drivers and Constructors ) was fractured and eventually destroyed over the course of 2015. Red Bull were not happy with the Renault power units which besides misfiring were extremely unreliable. Claims of improvement post upgrades produced next to nil results. The tie was severed for 2016 and 2015 just became a season that had to be "finished" for the team. The latter stages of the season featured being peppered by the media about the engine deals the Milton Keyes based outfit were exploring. Mercedes deal fell through, Ferrari refused 2016 spec engines from the fear of competition, Honda had no intentions and the threat of a withdrawal loomed for the team. It was sad to see the focus shifting from the performances of 2015. I must not repeat the mistake. So, returning to 2015, Daniil Kvyat joined forces with Daniel Ricciardo, the Russian replacing the highly decorated and loved Sebastian Vettel who jumped ship to switch to the red overalls of Ferrari. Ricciardo had beaten the outgoing Vettel in 2014 and it was interesting to see how he would cope with his quick and young team-mate. Ricciardo lost the battle this time, albeit a very closely contested one. Red Bull finished 4th in the Constructors' Championship with 187 points.
Kvyat finished 7th in the Drivers' Championship narrowly beating his team-mate Ricciardo. The Russian was at home in his car and didn't let the disappointment ( Did Not Start ) of his debut hamper his performances. Scoring consistently, his efforts were rewarded with a 2nd place finish in Hungary. Kvyat finished with 95 points.
Ricciardo didn't lag behind in his performances and matched Kvyat in many races. He scored 2 podium finishes too ( 2nd in Singapore & 3rd in Hungary ) but 4 finishes outside the top 10 hurt him bad. 92 points and 8th place in the Championship for the Honey Badger. Ricciardo has his work cut out for 2016 now and I would like to see him get the upper hand this time.
"Oh how the mighty have fallen" summarizes the state of Red Bull Racing. The ruptured relationship with Renault almost left them without an engine supplier until an understanding was reached when they confirmed a deal to run TAG Heuer branded Renault engines in 2016. The travails of Red Bull don't end here though. The loss of revenue, their say in the future structure of the sport leaves their future in balance. All this could change if the team returns to the pedestal which would be really good for the sport!
Sahara Force India F1 Team :
Force India have been in F1 for a fairly long time. The aim to move up the grid never was a walk in the park but the team has kept at it and produced their best season in F1. 5th place in the Championship is a big thing considering the resources on offer. Force India had to wait for their B-Spec car and they greatly benefited post its introduction. Nico Hulkenberg & Sergio Perez form a quick pairing for Force India . There was a time when they had the more successful and moolah laden Red Bull Racing nervously looking over their shoulder and many believe the Mercedes powered team could have beaten them but for the lack of finances. Force India scored 136 points in 2015
Sergio Perez won the team-mate battle in 2015. Perez had almost a trouble-free 2015 with just one retirement. His 3rd Place Finish in Russia saw Force India return to the podium for the first time since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. Perez finished in the points in 11 other races. Perez finished 9th with 78 points.
Nico Hulkenberg didn't have smooth sailing in 2015. 4 retirements and a "Did Not Start" in Belgium ( Engine Failure ) hurt his chances of a 9th place finish badly. Hulkenberg was a tough nut to crack and produced great results when he had a proper functioning car under him. Him best finish was 6th, thrice in the season - Austria, Japan & Brazil. Hulkenberg completed the top 10 with 58 points.
Force India, just like Lotus F1 show a lot of promise. Progress is slow and the battles get tougher higher up the grid. Force India dare to dream and I do see them challenge that elusive 4th place in the Constructors and the benefits that come with it. How much will they have in the wallet for 2016 remains the big question.
Lotus F1 Team :
Lotus F1 had a dismal 2014. 2015 saw them switch engine suppliers from Renault to Mercedes. Romain Grosjean & Pastor Maldonado continued their partnership & the team hopes to have a better outing. The Lack of finances meant that the frequency of upgrades was low and progress slow. The team also suffered from delayed arrival of freights on race weekends, not to mention being locked out of their Hospitality units due to non-payment of dues. This occurred more often than not in the second half of the season. However these off track issues didn't deter the team from producing stunning results come Sunday. The team displayed amazing grit and will power to keep fighting and finished a commendable 6th in the Constructors' Championship. How did the drivers fare?
Romain Grosjean, unsurprisingly was the more successful of the duo. Grosjean was on the edge of point scoring positions in many races but Belgium saw him score a fairy-tale 3rd, rewinding back the time to 2012 and 2013. Grosjean scored a total of 51 points and finished 11th in the Championship. His performances proved to be pivotal in the battle with the Toro Rossos.
Maldonado on other hand attracted the ire of Fans and Media alike with his reckless moves on co-drivers. 5 out of the first 6 races were retirements. The 2nd Half of the season yielded better results but the final tally still don't justify his place in the pinnacle of motorsport. 7th was the best Maldonado could conjure, albeit 3 times this year - Canada, Austria, Russia. He finished 14th in the Championship tied on 27 points with Nasr, the latter's better finishing position at Australia giving him the upper hand.
Lotus F1 is a team I shall always love and support. It was nice to see them recover from the shock of 2014. There isn't a team like them and I am so happy to know that Renault have taken over the reigns for 2016. This will not only address financial issues but also provide the bright minds at Enstone the much needed money to build a more than capable challenger. The Driver Lineup sees a change as well with Palmer partnering the misfiring Maldonado. Prospects will be explored in the 2016 Preview.
Scuderia Toro - Rosso F1 Team :
Toro Rosso were at the centre of media attention throughout the season. The Team hired the services of two youngsters one a minor. Both had Fathers who raced in F1 and maybe that fast-tracked their entry into F1. Carlos Sainz Jr. made a name for himself in the lower categories and was soon justifying the backing of the Red Bull Driver program. Max Verstappen landed the 2nd seat after being the test driver in 2014. The Dutch Youngster completed only 47 races, Formula 3 being the only series he had raced in before F1. Experts and media alike were skeptical of this new pairing. Questions were raised about the inexperience of both drivers since Red Bull had drivers racing in GP2 the feeder series.
However the performances of both the drivers would leave everyone impressed.
Max Verstappen quickly developed a reputation of a fearless but not reckless rookie. He was fast all season, seriously fast! The youngster learned quickly and pulled off some sensational moves. He refused to abide by team orders on a few occasions too but these decisions helped him stay ahead of his team-mate and score 49 points with 4th being his best finish twice in the season ( Hungary & USA ). Max is young but has been on a rapid learning curve and 2016 will see him go from strength to strength. Respect to the Dutch Stallion for proving doubters ( including me ) wrong!
Carlos Sainz Jr. another Red Bull protegee and a fan of Alonso earned a name for himself in the lower categories and landed a seat in 2015. Sainz matched Verstappen in terms of pace but suffered from reliability issues more than his team-mate ( 7 to 4 ) and that hampered his 2015 campaign. Verstappen grabbed all the news but Sainz always managed to put in solid shifts and please his employers in his rookie season. Sainz best finish was 7th in USA and he scored a total of 18 points in the championship which was less than hald of what Verstappen achieved. Verstappen was the bolder one and was willing to take risks. Sainz was more calculative in his approach and I hope to see him do substantially better in 2016.
Toro Rosso have a talented lineup and 2015 saw them outperform the A-Team in some races too. Upwards is the only way for them for 2016.
Sauber F1 Team :
Sauber hired the services of Nasr & Ericsson for 2015. However Sauber's early season preparations were disrupted by a series of legal challenges from former Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde, who claimed that he had a contract to race that was signed in June 2014. Van der Garde went to court in an effort to force the team to replace one of their drivers with him at the opening round in Melbourne, with the court finding in his favour. Van der Garde later agreed to not participate in the event, with the driver and team settling the dispute for an undisclosed sum to terminate the contract following the first round.
Backed by Ferrari power, Sauber hoped for maximizing points all season long to bring in the much needed revenue for survival. However the team has seen contrasting performances at different race tracks. The car has dialed in pretty well on some and had been totally at sea in the others.
Nasr was the better of the 2 drivers at Sauber. 5th was his best finishing position with 5 other races in the points. Nasr finished 13th in the Standings with 27 points. Ericsson, a lot slower than his Brazilian Team-mate finished 18th in the Championship with just 9 points, 8th being his best finish in Australia.
Sauber suffered funding issues all season long and with Sahara Force India launched a formal complaint at the European Commission raising concerns about funds distribution in F1. The lack of funding meant that development was slow and I doubt this will change going into 2016. Sauber hopes to enjoy a better share of the pie in 2016 and I hope they do with their case at the Commission.
McLaren Honda F1 Team :
McLaren reignited an old partnership with Honda as the engine supplier. Honda the new entrant in the Turbo Era had a mountain to climb. The Power Unit Allocation was reduced from 5 to 4 for 2015 but Honda being a new supplier, got the comfort of a 5th unit. However they would need many more! McLaren's longest continuous testing session lasting twelve laps in Barcelona and Problems started from the season opener in Australia. Alonso's injury gave Magnussen a race but an engine failure for him didn't allow him to even reach the grid. Both cars suffered multiple retirements, grid penalties all season long and Honda invited the ire of Alonso over team radio on a few occasions. Honda top brass remained adamant that they were making progress.
The Balance of Performance and Reliability had to be reached and the team were fortunate to score some points over the course of the season, thanks to the misfortune of others or rapid weather changes. Nevertheless it was a dismal year for McLaren. The Team also lost some valuable sponsorship to rivals Mercedes and Red Bull ( for 2016 ). McLaren finished only above Manor and suffered a huge loss in terms of revenue & performance in 2015. A team of McLaren's history and stature shouldn't be lingering in 9th in the Constructors' Championship.
Jenson Button & Fernando Alonso featured in the 2015 lineup. The Former World Champions struggled to get to grips with their cars all season long. Button prevailed in the team-mate battle scoring 16 points with 6th place in USA being his best finish. Alonso scored a meagre 11 points best being 5th in Hungary.
13 retirements combined for both the Drivers in 2015 and doubts prevail for 2016. It will be intriguing to see how patient McLaren & Co. are going to be in this new partnership.
Manor F1 Team :
Manor, the Old Marussia F1 under new ownership hired the services of newbie Roberto Merhi and Ex-Caterham Driver Will Stevens. GP2 driver Alexander Rossi also got to race in 5 events - Singapore, Japan, USA, Mexico, Brazil. Although neither of the 3 scored points, Merhi & Rossi were classified above Stevens in the championship due to their best finishing positions of 12th ( Britain for Merhi, USA for Rossi ) to Stevens' 13th in Britain.
The Team had a decent outing in 2015 with the resources they had. The team was unable to participate in the opening round in Australia but ensured their participation in all other rounds. 2015 had not been smooth sailing for them with top personnel leaving and new ones being added. The Drivers too were instrumental in bringing in some sponsorships to keep the team afloat all season long.
I really hope to see Manor back on the grid in 2016 and in a much more competitive avatar.
2015 saw faster cars in the new era of F1. It was interesting to see the drivers finish in pairs ( two by twos ) in the first 10 places in the Drivers' Championship, some team-mate battles being hotly contested ones.
Mercedes reigned supreme again with Ferrari being the only challengers to the crown; Williams enjoyed being on the sharp end of the grid, Red Bull amazingly finished 4th despite their issues with the Renault Power Units, Force India had their best season in F1, Lotus recovered from a dismal 2014, Toro Rosso was the surprise package while Sauber, McLaren and Manor have a lot of catching up to do.
Lewis Hamilton now a 3 Time World Champion in his Three Pointed Star Machine will hope for a repeat in 2016. Will Rosberg mount a bigger challenge? I definitely think so!
I hope to see Raikkonen in the mix in 2016 and notching up a few victories too.
2015 was a great year and I had the privilege of being in Austria and Belgium, 2 stunning race locations, highly recommended!
Plans for 2016 might feature Barcelona, Canada and Hungary...time will tell.
The 2016 Season Preview will follow post pre-season tests.
Congratulations to the Three Pointed Star - Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes AMG F1 Team!!!
Happy Holidays everyone!