F1 2015 mid-season review: Grading the teams so far

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Following on from the first part of our mid-season Formula 1 review on Thursday, we now take a look at how the teams on the grid have fared in the opening half of the 2015 campaign.

Just as we saw in 2014, Mercedes has been the team to beat once again this season thanks to the might of the W06 Hybrid car and, more crucially, its power unit.

However, the other nine teams have their own stories to tell, ranging from a phoenix rising from the flames in the form of Manor to the youngest ever line-up in the history of the sport at Toro Rosso.

But who is top of the class? Find out in MotorSportsTalk’s mid-season team grades below.

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team – Grade: A

Mercedes has been close to flawless in the opening half of the 2015 season once again, scoring 383 points in the first ten races. Had it not been for a bizarre turn of events in Hungary, the team would be ahead of its total at this point last year (393). Wins have been well-earned, and although some results have been lost thanks to Ferrari’s increased presence, both titles are bound for Brackley once again this year.
Highlight so far: Fighting back through the rain to claim a one-two at Silverstone.

Scuderia Ferrari – Grade: A-

Ferrari has come on leaps and bounds in 2015 after a miserable 2014 season, removing the deadwood of the old regime (Marco Mattiacci, Luca di Montezemolo and Fernando Alonso) and reinvigorating the team with new faces such as Sebastian Vettel and Maurizio Arrivabene. Arrivabene targeted two race wins at the start of the season. Having already achieved that, Ferrari will now be hoping to press on and continue to hassle Mercedes in the final nine races, even if Kimi Raikkonen continues to drag his heels.
Highlight so far: Vettel’s dominant victory in Hungary (but it really should have been a one-two)

Sahara Force India F1 Team – Grade: B+

Force India may only sit fifth in the constructors’ championship, but given that it completed just two days of pre-season testing with the VJM08 car and didn’t update it until Silverstone, this is a major achievement. Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg have both produced some solid drives for the team, and it is a testament to all of those working behind the scenes that heads have not dipped despite facing some uncertainty over the winter.
Highlight so far: Double points finish in Austria with an outdated car.

Scuderia Toro Rosso – Grade: B

Toro Rosso entered the 2015 season with the youngest driver line-up in the history of the sport, prompting many to question whether Max Verstappen (17) and Carlos Sainz Jr. (20) were ready to make the step up. Both have proven themselves to be more than capable in the first half of the season, though, taking the team to seventh in the constructors’ championship. Expect a close fight for fifth to rumble on until the end of the season.
Highlight so far: Verstappen’s charge to fourth in Hungary.

Williams Martini Racing – Grade: B

Williams has failed to put up as much of a challenge to Mercedes and Ferrari as many would have liked or expected, but the team looks poised to retain top-three status in the constructors’ this year. Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa have both finished on the podium once so far this year, but the team’s caution saw a chance to win at Silverstone pass by. With Red Bull so far behind, it would be nice to see Williams roll the dice a little more in the second half of the season.
Highlight so far: The opening stages of the British GP, running P1 and P2.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing – Grade: B-

Red Bull may have been claiming that every problem so far this season has been Renault’s fault, but the team must take responsibility in some areas. Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat have both impressed on occasion, with their strongest weekend coming last time out in Hungary. However, it has been a largely disappointing first half of the season for the ex-champion team. The ‘my way or the high way’ attitude towards F1 hasn’t helped matters, either.
Highlight so far: Double podium in Hungary thanks to a race of attrition.

Lotus F1 Team – Grade: B-

Perhaps B- is a little harsh for Lotus, but the ability of the E23 Hybrid car far outweighs the haul of 35 points so far this season. Nine retirements in the first ten races have denied the team a chance to battle further up the field, and Pastor Maldonado continues to lag behind teammate Romain Grosjean. It has certainly been a better year for the team, but still a far cry from the lofty heights it was at just 18 months ago.
Highlight so far: Both cars in the points in Canada, although even then Grosjean should have been higher.

Sauber F1 Team – Grade: C+

Like Lotus, Sauber has been better but far from brilliant thus far in 2015. Felipe Nasr’s fifth place finish in Australia was an early high, but few more successes have followed. Like Force India, the team has struggled with an outdated car and a lack of updates, although these are due at the next race in Belgium. 2015 has been very much an average year for Sauber so far – some highlights, but nothing too outstanding.
Highlight so far: Nasr finishing fifth on debut in Australia.

Manor Marussia F1 Team – Grade: C

Just as it was in the driver reviews, it is very hard to grade Manor given the nature of its comeback. Getting on the grid at all has been admirable, and with no other team to compete with at the back, all we can really do is judge Manor on its achievements. P12 and P13 at Silverstone were good finishes for Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens, but in reality, simply racing is the real achievement here.
Highlight so far: Getting both cars back on the grid for the Chinese Grand Prix.

McLaren – Grade: D

Harsh? Perhaps. Fair? Certainly. McLaren has been nothing short of dire so far this season, largely thanks to the troubles with the Honda power unit. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso have scraped up into the points where possible, and Hungary looked like a turning point for the team. In reality though, there is still a mountain to climb for the British team in the second half of the season.
Highlight so far: Double points in Hungary with Alonso finishing fifth.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”