“The more things change, the more they stay the same”.
Such a saying is rather fitting when reflecting on the first half of the 2015 Formula 1 season, for despite there being a shake-up in the driver market from 2014 and a number of other developments, Mercedes has once again remained the team to beat.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg again duking it out for the championship just as they were last year, leaving the rest of the field to pick up the leftovers when available.
However, this has not stopped the 2015 season from being another intriguing and entertaining affair thus far, with races in Malaysia, Great Britain and Hungary being particular highlights.
In the third and final part of MotorSportsTalk’s mid-season review – be sure to check out part one and part two – we look at the story of 2015 so far, and the story that is to come in the second half of the season.
THE STORY SO FAR
Mercedes dominant with tensions defused
Mercedes’ billing as top dogs in F1 has not changed in 2015. If anything, the German marque has been even more dominant than it was last year, running ten points behind its total at this point last year with one grand prix less. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have been the drivers to beat yet again, both finishing on the podium at nine of the ten races so far this season.
However, Rosberg has lacked some of the edge that he enjoyed in 2014. The reliability of the W06 Hybrid is certainly an improvement over last year, meaning that Hamilton has not had the same woes. Rosberg has taken two well-earned victories (the third was a fluke), but has otherwise been second best to the Briton. His chance to get back in the title fight in Hungary was spurned with just a few laps to go.
Interestingly though, there has been little of the tension that defined the team’s 2014. Rosberg had a brief dummy-throwing moment in China when he accused Hamilton of going too slowly, but otherwise, things have been rather civil between the pair. Let’s see if that lasts into the remainder of the season.
Vettel and Arrivabene lead Ferrari’s revival
After a miserable 2014 campaign that yielded just two podium finishes, Ferrari has bounced back in style in 2015. The core of the team’s problems lay with the power unit, but now these have been resolved, new lead driver Sebastian Vettel has excelled in the red of Maranello.
Victory in Malaysia gave hope to the F1 world that Mercedes may have some competition in 2015, and although this has failed to come to fruition, Ferrari has applied a good deal of pressure. The nature of Vettel’s win in Hungary was particularly impressive, controlling proceedings from the front like he used to at Red Bull.
Kimi Raikkonen has been less impressive, scoring just half as many points as his teammate, and remains under pressure to keep his seat. However, the general feeling at Maranello remains positive. Maurizio Arrivabene’s pre-season target of two wins has already been met, and spirits are high. Don’t expect the team to ease off in the remainder of the season, though.
Red Bull throws its toys out of the pram
Just as one should be humble in victory, there is a certain decorum to dealing with defeat. No-one likes to lose, but those who do so with grace often retain a good deal of respect and their reputation.
Red Bull has fallen back down the field yet again in 2015, running fourth in the constructors’ championship. However, the finger has been firmly pointed at Renault, its power unit supplier. Although the French marque has had a number of well-documented problems with its offering in 2015, it has not excused Red Bull’s impetulant attitude.
After just one race, the team was already threatening to quit F1, and these threats have only grown stronger as the season has gone on. However, the team has gone through a great deal of change of late, and this must be recognised. To simply point the finger at Renault fails to tell the full story. The manner in which Red Bull has handled its struggles this season has been rather fickle, in truth.
Misery for McLaren-Honda
When McLaren announced that it would be reforging its partnership with Honda for 2015, memories of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost going wheel-to-wheel in the MP4/4 came flooding back to those old enough to remember one of the most dominant spells in the history of the sport.
The reality of 2015 has been very, very different. Honda was behind schedule long before the season started, and the catch-up has been slow. DNF after DNF has dented confidence at Woking, even if the team remains all smiles. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have both performed admirably, but a haul of just 17 points reflects the struggles faced by McLaren so far this season.
The most important story of the first half of the 2015 season came in the week before the Hungarian Grand Prix when we received the sad news that Jules Bianchi had died at the age of 25. Nine months on from his accident at Suzuka, the French driver succumbed to his injuries in Nice, France.
Bianchi’s death has seen an outpouring of love and support from the F1 community, which came together in Hungary for an emotional tribute. It was a reminder that behind the visors, race suits and rivalries in F1, they are just human beings.
THE STORY TO COME
Can Lewis make it stick for title number three?
Hamilton’s form so far this season has left the rest of the field in the shade, putting a third F1 drivers’ championship well within the Briton’s reach.
However, it will be interesting to see just how he can perform in the final nine races of the year. His late-season form was instrumental in his title success of 2014, as he dropped just seven points of the final 200 that were on offer. A similar spate of form could see him be crowned champion in Brazil, or perhaps even as early as Mexico or Austin.
On the flip side, it will be interesting to see how Rosberg can react to blowing his chance to take the lead of the championship in Hungary. Will he implode and crack under pressure like he did in 2014, or thrive being the underdog? Either way, the final nine races of the season have plenty to offer.
Midfield battles look set to rage on
The pecking order in the midfield has been particularly intriguing so far this season, with Red Bull, Lotus, Force India, McLaren, Toro Rosso and Sauber all being quite evenly matched at points. Heading into the final nine races, how will they all turn out in the constructors’ championship?
Red Bull still appears to have the edge on the other five teams in spite of its woes, so should seal fourth in the constructors’. Complete with a new B-spec car that is set to be fully upgraded by Singapore, Force India could prove to be the team to beat behind though. That said, what if the belated upgrades at Sauber work their magic? Or if McLaren does miraculously rediscover its top form?
Mexico makes its long awaited F1 return
The Mexican Grand Prix may not have appeared on the F1 calendar since 1992, but the nation has remained fanatical about the sport ever since. Now with Sergio Perez on the grid and Esteban Gutierrez poised for a full-time drive in 2016, it appears to be the perfect time to return to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.
It promises to be an enthralling and exciting affair, and it is also one that bucks the trend of F1’s recent global expansion. This is a return to an old circuit – a traditional home for the sport. Let’s hope it lives up to the billing and delivers the race we are all hoping for.
Driver market dominoes will fall
After a big shake-up for 2015, the driver market looks to be very fluid once again for next season. Much of the movement depends on Ferrari’s deal with Kimi Raikkonen, and whether the Finn’s option is taken up or if he is replaced by Valtteri Bottas.
Following that, the likes of Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado and even 2009 world champion Jenson Button could all be implicated. And with Haas F1 Team joining the grid next year, two more seats will be created to ease some of the pressure on the market. Silly season is set to rumble on to Abu Dhabi.
It was the same question we had last year: where is F1 going? Does the sport even know itself? Many failed Strategy Group meetings have yielded little more than consensus over one matter that has subsequently been canned and thrown in the garbage.
What we know is that change is on the horizon for 2017. The new hybrid engines may technologically be some of the finest work to come out of F1, but because they’re not loud enough, they’re being altered. F1 is thinking only about the short-term at the moment, not the long-term. Let’s see if that stance changes any time soon…