2015, the second year in the Turbo Era of F1. In 2014, Mercedes AMG Petronas flattened the opposition with their dominance.
Would 2015 be a repeat of the same? We have reached the mid point of the season and the F1 Fraternity take a 4 week break before returning for the Belgian Grand Prix.
A quick look at how the season has conspired so far.
Mercedes AMG Petronas :
Mercedes have preserved their dominance in the new era but its not been easy sailing this time. Hamilton leads the Championship from Rosberg by 21 points. Reliability has been the forte for the team this year. Bahrain was the only race where the limits ( Brakes ) were tested for the team. No Retirements this year, the duo featured on the podium at every race barring the recently concluded Hungarian Grand Prix. Mercedes lead the constructors with 383 points on the board. One can say they have one hand on the Constructors' trophy.
Hamilton won 5 Races ( Australia, China, Bahrain, Canada & Great Britain ) to Rosberg's 3 ( Spain, Monaco & Austria ). One might argue that Rosberg was handed victory at Monaco thanks to Hamilton's tactical error but points are points. Hamilton was destined to lose his lead to Rosberg at Hungary after his hasty move on the German ( at the start ) bumped him down from 4th to 10th. Rosberg was set for 3rd place when Ricciardo clipped his rear tyre and caused a puncture. Hamilton retained his lead going into the break and looks favourite to retain his title.
Mercedes have the edge for now. Ferrari are close but not close enough.
Scuderia Ferrari :
2015 saw a change in the driver lineup for the Maranello based outfit. Vettel joined forces with Raikkonen as Ferrari began hunting down the leaders with full earnest. Ferrari are the closest contenders to Mercedes and have been since the start of the season. They seem to have overcome the problems of last year and show a marked improvement, particularly on the powertrain side. Results improved by far and the team has already met their target of 2 victories for the season. Upgrade Tokens were used before Canada but the upgrades have yielded mixed results. Ferrari still linger in outright pace in comparison to Mercedes. The first couple of races in the 2nd half will be of utmost importance for the team. Mercedes always keep something in reserve. Monza, Ferrari's home race, will be a reality check.
Sebatian Vettel joined Ferrari after winning 4 titles at Red Bull. He is following his idol Schumacher's Footsteps. Vettel has been brilliant this year and is definitely on course to becoming a legend at Ferrari. The German with his tremendous racecraft has outfoxed the Mercedes duo on a few occasions; with 2 victories under his belt, he still is in the reckoning for the Driver's Title. Hungary was a brilliant outing for him and victory cut down the deficit to Hamilton to 42 points. It still is a tall order, but Vettel chooses to believe.
Kimi Raikkonen, The Iceman. What can I say. Its been a funny year for him. In his own words "its not as disastrous as last year" The Finn has been on the wrong end of reliability on a couple of occasions. Strategy & Variable weather conditions have cost him dearly. Honestly the results are not as good as 2013 but way better than what they were last year - Three 4th Place finishes, One 5th, 6th & 8th with a brilliant 2nd Place in Bahrain. Kimi is known to be stronger in the second half of the year and I am hoping to see him silence his critics come Belgium.
I had the privilege of supporting him live in Austria, unfortunately the first lap crash cut short his race. Kimi is the King of Spa and I shall be in Belgium to support the Iceman! Praying for a better outing! Keep Flying Iceman!
Williams F1 Racing :
Williams were a revelation in 2014. Come 2015 and they still are the Strongest Mercedes Customer Team on the grid. Williams have surprised their bigger spending rivals with some sparkling performances this year - Red Bull has been displaced, Ferrari are looking over their shoulders and Mercedes got a reality check in a couple of races. Williams must learn to be decisive in their decisions though and winning races should always be a priority. Silverstone was a harsh lesson but other than that its been another good year for the team. 3rd Place will match their performance from last year and quite honestly 3rd is the best this team might achieve. Ferrari have been pretty strong in the first half and catching them will be no walk in the park.
Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, one of the strongest pairings in F1. There is little to choose between them. Only 3 points separate the team-mates with Kimi Raikkonen sandwiched in between. Both ensured that after Ferrari, they are the next best team on the grid, sometimes even beating the Prancing Horse. A 3rd place for each and finishing on the sharper end of points underlines the consistency. The strategy coupled with weather cost the duo a double podium and possibly victory in Britain. Hungary was a disaster too and only the 2nd time that Williams didn't take home any points ( Monaco was the other ). Williams are stronger at power tracks. There are still a few in the 2nd half of the season. They can definitely spring a surprise, so eyes open rivals!
Red Bull Racing F1 :
Red Bull lost their prized quadruple World Champion Sebastien Vettel to Ferrari at the start of 2015. Daniil Kvyat graduated from Toro Rosso to partner Daniel Ricciardo. Red Bull are a mere shadow of themselves in the Turbo Era. The Renault engine has hampered their chances and the team is struggling hard to bring home results. The Team predicted that Hungary and Singapore are 2 races they would be the strongest at. Hungary was a brilliant outing with a double podium. Strong Points haul every other weekend is the target for the team and 4th place looks cemented for them. Williams in 3rd aren't out of reach but it may be too big a task even with the resources the team possesses.
Daniel Ricciardo has been the more consistent and became the new leader in the team. The Aussie continues to impress in 2015 and the latest result in Hungary proved his driving prowess. Ricciardo is locked in battle with his team-mate for 7th in the Drivers' Championship but he will eventually move up the list by the end of the season. 3rd place in Hungary was his best finish so far.
Daniil Kvyat had a much better outing in 2015 albeit in a stronger car. Kvyat has cemented his place in the team with the performances produced in the first half of the season. He will go from strength to strength thanks to an able ( & Young ) Challenger in Ricciardo. 2nd Place in Hungary, his best finish taught him many things as a driver. He might not be able to replicate this finish this year but he has played the perfect support role to his team-mate this year.
Sahara Force India F1 :
Force India retained their 2014 lineup and 2015 has been a mixed season so far. Barring the debacle at Hungary, the car is reliable. The updated chassis was introduced in Britain and it remains to be seen how effective it is going to be. The setup prior to the B-Spec was solid and the team produced consistent results. 5th place seems to be a realistic target but Force India needs a strong second half to ensure they are untouched.
Nico Hulkenberg deserves to be in a team higher up the grid. His performances have been nothing short of brilliant. The German is in the top 10 with 4 points finishes so far. If the car has the speed, he could spring a surprise at the end of the year.
Sergio Perez had a tough 2015 so far. He has been on the cusp of points finishes on a few occasions. Although he has 5 points finishes, the aggregate points are 9 less than his team-mate's. Perez has a formidable rival in Hulkenberg and needs to move up a few gears for the remainder of 2015 - both for himself and the team.
Lotus F1 :
Lotus F1 had a dismal 2014. A Change in the Engine Supplier seemed to have helped the team this year. Lotus is locked in battle with Force India and Toro Rosso for 5th place. Securing their target would help them to bring in more sponsorships aiding their development for 2017. The Team still suffers from gremlins and their main aim should be to increase reliability for the second half of the season. Lotus has enough personnel to produce the results they desire. I do feel 5th place in the Constructors will be too much to ask considering the team's current roster of drivers.
Romain Grosjean has been more successful than his team-mate and unsurprisingly so. Grosjean showed that he has the speed provided the car given to him is reliable. The Frenchman finished in the points 5 times in the first half of the season. The Team would be really dependent on him to produce the results in the 2nd half as compared to Maldonado who is very mercurial with his performances.
Pastor Maldonado earned a reputation of being the bad boy of F1 and this season he hasn't done anything significant to shake off this perception. Retirements and crashes have damaged his season badly. The team needs serious reconsideration for 2017 as the Venezuelan doesn't look cut out for the sport. Maldonado has brought home only 12 points with 2 Seven Place finishes so far.
I really hope that Lotus does well this year. I have great respect for the team and their work - ethic. They have a talented bunch of people in Oxfordshire and deserve to be racing in the pinnacle of motorsport.
Scuderia Toro Rosso :
Toro Rosso got 2 rookies for 2015. Max Verstappen, son of Ex-F1 Driver Jos Verstappen and only 17 years old. Carlos Sainz Jr. joined the team from the Formula Renault 3.5 Series. Toro Rosso have struggled so far in 2015 primarily with reliability issues. The Drivers have produced impressive drives and made a strong case for themselves. One can safely say that they have silenced the doubters. Toro Rosso will be looking to Renault to address their reliability and performance issues so that they can start producing better results and move up the grid in the second half of the season. Funding from Red Bull is of paramount importance too.
Verstappen has outperformed his team-mate so far. As a rookie, the mistakes are few and the Belgian will definitely be championship material in a quicker car. His best finish was 4th at Hungary besides being in the points on 2 other occasions ( Malaysia & Austria )
Carlos Sainz Jr. suffered more retirements than his team-mate and seems to be overhauled by him this year. Sainz Jr. has been in the points in 4 races, the best being 8th in Malaysia. The Spaniard needs a strong second half to preserve his seat in Toro Rosso, competition from GP2 is definitely closing in.
Sauber F1 :
Sauber hired Felipe Nasr & Marcus Ericsson for 2015. The Financial influx is more than welcome for Sauber as they strive to survive in a sport that is getting expensive day by day. The Team benefited from the revamped Ferrari Unit and did well in he early part of the season. However they have fallen back after China and are struggling to bring home the much needed results. The Chances of holding onto 8th in Constructors seem bleak and Sauber might end up being 9th and only faster than Manor by the end of the season. They need some upgrades soon to stay in touch with the competition around them
Nasr the rookie has finished in the points only thrice this season, his best finish being 5th at the season opener in Australia. Nasr has a lot to learn from the remainder of the season and I doubt he would be able to challenge his immediate rivals.
Marcus Ericsson who bagged the 2nd seat has performed slightly better than his previous year with Caterham. Ericsson's best finish was 8th in Australia. He also bagged a point each in China and Hungary. In comparison to his rookie team-mate, Ericsson has a lot of catching up to do. Some might even question his abilities to hold onto his seat for 2016. Only time will tell.
McLaren Honda :
McLaren switched from Mercedes to Honda for 2015. The Lineup saw a change too with Fernando Alonso returning to the Woking based Outfit to partner Jenson Button. Magnussen stepped down to become the 3rd driver. The faithful are hoping for a return of the Glory Years when Honda dominated the Sport in the Turbo era with Senna & Prost. However Honda's renewed partnership with McLaren has been anything but successful. The team struggled first with reliability issues and then started running short on the number of engine allocation units for the season. The change in the regulation allowing a new engine manufacturer to have an extra power unit in its first year has failed to provide any respite either. The team has taken baby steps in addressing reliability issues and now slowly shift their focus to performance. 2015 is a leaning year for McLaren and they would love to bring home as many points as they can.
Alonso suffered a crash in pre-season testing and had to sit out for the season opener in Australia. Magnussen took his place only to not start the race with an engine failure. Alonso had to endure a series of retirements besides losing a new engine in his crash with Raikkonen in Austria. However the last 2 races have brought about a change of fortunes. Alonso finished 10th in Britain and took an unthinkable 5th in Hungary, the team admitting to have run the engines at maximum performance.
Button's season hasn't been any different. Although Button has more finishes this season, he has finished in the points only twice - 8th in Monaco & 9th in Hungary. He would be hoping for a better 2nd half to the season with McLaren seemingly addressing their reliability issues.
Manor Marussia :
Manor became the new owners of Marussia for 2015 and sported a new lineup of Roberto Merhi & Will Stevens. The Team has had a decent outing so far with the limited resources that they have. Roberto Merhi produced the best result for the team with 12th Position at the British Grand Prix with Will Stevens 13th.
There isn't much the team can expect from this year. A points finish would be a blessing but the lack of funds isn't going to help their cause
A LEGEND GOES HOME :
Safety has been paramount in the world of F1 since Ayrton Senna's demise in 1994 at Imola. However a severe crash ( in Japan ) with a extrication vehicle ( sent to retrieve Sutil's stricken Sauber ) saw Jules Bianchi of Marussia F1 Team ( now Manor ) suffer serious heading injuries eventually sending him into a coma. Battle for Survival ensued with many hoping for the young Frenchman to return to the sport. However 9 months later, on 17th July 2015, Jules Bianchi passed away, the first fatality of the sport after Senna.
Jules Bianchi was a brilliant driver, a talent well spotted by Ferrari and inducted into their driver program. The aim was to eventually replace Raikkonen with him and Bianchi had ticked all the right boxes. The 9th Place in Monaco for Marussia was a testimony of his God gifted abilities. However Bianchi went home and left the F1 Fraternity and the fans broken.
Hungary was an emotional weekend for F1 Personnel and Fans alike. Emotions still run high as I type this. A Young Talent lost...
Its the Drivers that make F1 the sport that it is. The men who take to the grid are the best in the world. Bianchi was one of them. He will live on in the annals of F1 history as a Legend.
Jules, you will be missed. JB17, JB17 FOREVER. CIAO JULES!
The Summer Break is a time for the Teams and Drivers to take a much needed break and recuperate before the start of the final 2 European Races and the Fly Away Events.
Belgium will see everyone refreshed and ready for the 2nd half of the season.
As a Fan, I can't wait for F1 to return!