In the first of three features reviewing the opening half of the 2015 Formula 1 season, MotorSportsTalk casts its eye over the drivers that have raced so far this year.
Just as we saw in 2014, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have ruled the roost so far in 2015 as Mercedes once again stole a march on the rest of the field.
However, with the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and rookie Max Verstappen all impressing in the first ten races, putting together our driving gradings in the summer break proved to be a tricky task.
Nevertheless, here are MotorSportsTalk’s mid-season driver gradings. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – Grade: A+
Just as he was at the halfway stage of the 2014 season, Lewis Hamilton is top of the class once again. The Briton has been a cut above Rosberg so far this year, and his record of nine pole positions in ten races is hugely impressive. Title number three is within sight.
Highlight so far: Weathering the storm at Silverstone to win his home race.
Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) – Grade: A+
Vettel moved to Ferrari for 2015 with a point to prove. The nature of his four world titles with Red Bull left many still questioning his ability. However, his two victories this year have been proof of his huge talent, and with just one mistake all year long (Bahrain, causing damage to his car), we have seen Vettel at his annoyingly flawless best once again.
Highlight so far: The controlled win in Hungary on an emotional weekend for F1.
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – Grade: A
Rosberg has been consistent once again in 2015, scoring nine podium finishes in the first ten races. However, he has lacked that killer pace to beat Hamilton regularly, and missed a huge opportunity to get back in the title hunt in Hungary.
Highlight so far: Storming to victory in Austria after a perfect start.
Carlos Sainz Jr. (Toro Rosso) – Grade: A-
Sainz has gone under the radar quite a bit this season due to the focus on his younger teammate, but the Spaniard has been outstanding in his first ten grands prix. Issues with the car have denied him a greater haul of points, and Sainz has outqualified and outraced Max Verstappen more often than not so far this year.
Highlight so far: Battling through to eighth place at the flag in Malaysia.
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) – Grade: B+
Ricciardo may not have reached the lofty heights of 2014 this year, but the Australian has led Red Bull’s charge with a string of good performances. He had been in the mix to win in Hungary, but a late run-in with Nico Rosberg meant he had to settle for P3.
Highlight so far: Third in Hungary after fighting through the field.
Valtteri Bottas (Williams) – Grade: B+
Bottas’ performances may have done enough to secure him a place on Ferrari’s shortlist for 2016, but the Finn has failed to truly outclass teammate Felipe Massa. Regardless, to run fourth in the championship with only the third-quickest car is an impressive feat.
Highlight so far: Finishing on the podium in Canada after Kimi Raikkonen’s mistake.
Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) – Grade: B+
Considering that Force India only introduced an updated car at Silverstone, Nico Hulkenberg has performed admirably so far this season by leading the team’s charge. Expect even better results in the second half of the season.
Highlight so far: Easing to sixth in Austria with an outdated car.
Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso) – Grade: B+
Max “HE’S ONLY 17 YEARS OLD” Verstappen has done much to debunk the myth that he wasn’t ready to race at this level by challenging the seasoned racers in the sport. Fourth in Hungary was an enormous achievement, marking Toro Rosso’s best finish since Vettel left at the end of 2008.
Highlight so far: Fighting hard in Malaysia to P7 to become F1’s youngest ever points scorer.
Fernando Alonso (McLaren) – Grade: B
Given that Alonso’s struggles thus far in 2015 have been induced by the unreliable McLaren-Honda car, it is difficult to give him a grade. The Spaniard has been dancing his usual dance, dragging the car kicking and screaming to points where possible, warranting a B grade.
Highlight so far: P5 in Hungary just 24 hours after physically pushing his car back to the pits.
Romain Grosjean (Lotus) – Grade: B
With an improved car in 2015, Grosjean has been showing much of the pace that was hidden last year. 23 points is a fair reflection of his form as he leads Lotus once again this season, even if he has been forced to miss a number of FP1 sessions.
Highlight so far: Seventh in China and Bahrain with two faultless displays.
Felipe Massa (Williams) – Grade: B
Like Bottas, Massa has done about as expected for Williams so far this year. The Brazilian came close to a podium finish in Australia, and finally broke through in Austria, proving that he still has plenty to offer in F1.
Highlight so far: Holding Vettel back for third place in Austria.
Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull) – Grade: B
Kvyat’s sophomore year may not have been what Red Bull wanted (then again, its season as a whole isn’t), but the Russian has proved to be more than a match for Ricciardo. Second place in Hungary was a deserved breakthrough after a solid first half of the year.
Highlight so far: Rising to second in Hungary in the crazy closing stages.
Jenson Button (McLaren) – Grade: B-
Like Alonso, Button’s grade cannot really reflect his form or achievements in 2015. The Briton has lacked the panache that his teammate has displayed, though, losing on both occasions that the two McLaren have finished in the points.
Highlight so far: Ninth in Hungary, largely thanks to the misfortune of others.
Sergio Perez (Force India) – Grade: B-
Perez has been lurking around the points for much of the season, but has lacked the edge that Hulkenberg has shown. The Mexican driver may fare better with the new car, though.
Highlight so far: Keeping his cool to finish P7 in Monaco.
Felipe Nasr (Sauber) – Grade: C
Nasr made an immediate impression on debut in Australia by finishing fifth, but it has proven to be the high point of the season so far. The Sauber car is underdeveloped and isn’t really good enough to make him a top ten regular, but the Brazilian has wiped the floor with teammate Marcus Ericsson.
Highlight so far: Fifth in Australia, the best debut result for a Brazilian driver in F1.
Roberto Merhi (Manor) – Grade: C
It’s always difficult to grade the backmarkers, particularly in Manor’s case as it is the only team at the rear of the field with no-one else to fight with. Merhi narrowly edges Stevens in the gradings because of his recent run of victories over his teammate despite having a weight disadvantage.
Highlight so far: 12th at Silverstone, Manor’s best result since Jules Bianchi’s points in Monaco last year.
Will Stevens (Manor) – Grade: C-
Stevens gets a C- as a result of his recent run of defeats to teammate Roberto Merhi despite being 12-15kg lighter than the Spaniard and having more F1 experience.
Highlight so far: 13th at Silverstone.
Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – Grade: C-
C- is in fact an improvement for Raikkonen from this time last year, but it’s still not much to shout about. The Finn has fared far better, scoring regular points and picking up his first podium finish since joining Ferrari. However, with less than half the points of Vettel in the same car, it’s been a poor first half of the year.
Highlight so far: Charging to second in Bahrain on an alternative strategy.
Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) – Grade: D
Ericsson may have scored his first points in F1 this year, but he has failed to set the world on fire. The Swede threw away a good chance for a top ten finish early on in Malaysia, and has done little else of note.
Highlight so far: Eighth on debut for Sauber in Australia.
Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) – Grade: D-
With an improved car, Maldonado was expected to rediscover some of the form that he showed at Williams in 2012. Two seventh-place finishes have followed (more than he ever did last year), but compared to Grosjean, he has been very average. Racking up five penalties in Hungary is probably his most notable action thus far.
Highlight so far: Fighting to seventh in Austria with a brave pass on Verstappen late on.