Now that we’ve had a few days to fully digest and come to terms with the 2015 Formula 1 season, it’s time to begin MotorSportsTalk’s full review of the year.
Over the next couple of weeks, myself and Tony DiZinno will be offering our thoughts on the season that has been, looking at the drivers one-by-one and also putting together a definitive driver ranking.
To kick things off, we bring you the ‘stories of the season’ following on from a similar post last year.
2015 lacked the drama of 2014 – of that there is little doubt. It’s hard to dress 2015 up as anything more than a ‘good but not great’ sequel; a year featuring the kind of dominance enjoyed by Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes is always tricky to sell.
That said, 2015 has produced a number of interesting storylines, many of which will extend into the new season and even beyond. Here’s our run-down of the main talking points in 2015.
More magic from Mercedes
Mercedes was arguably the most stable team on the grid between 2014 and 2015 in terms of performance, enjoying remarkable levels of success once again. The W06 Hybrid proved to be a more than able successor to the W05, picking up another 16 wins and an impressive 12 one-two finishes thanks to Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
If 2014 was about Mercedes getting used to winning, then 2015 was a case of consolidating that. And the Silver Arrows did so brilliantly. The defeats in Malaysia and Hungary were avoidable but largely circumstantial – the heat, the start, tire wear – while Singapore was an anomaly, a weekend where the team inexplicably lacked the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari.
To have bettered 2014 is testament to all of the hard work at Brackley, but 2016 will be perhaps an even bigger test. Ferrari is coming, and quick – can the Silver Arrows stay at the head of the field and break yet more records?
Hamilton v Rosberg II – the slow burner
After the tenacious fight between Hamilton and Rosberg in 2014, many hoped for and expected a repeat this year. They were to be disappointed.
Rosberg clearly bore the scars of losing the championship as he did in 2014 right the way until – arguably – his lost it again in Austin. Very rarely did he challenge Hamilton on-track in the opening eight months of the season, blowing his only chance to even get close in the championship standings in Hungary.
But what followed in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi was a remarkable resurgence. Hamilton may have taken his foot off the gas, but Rosberg capitalized and was untouchable in the final three races, stoking the fire nicely for a fiercer battle in 2016.
Ferrari and Vettel come back to life
Both Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari endured a miserable and forgettable year in 2014, but their new partnership in 2015 has proven to be a dream start for both parties.
Following in the footsteps of hero Michael Schumacher, Vettel picked up a podium in his very first race for the Scuderia before taking a shock win at the second attempt in Malaysia, leading some to tip him as an outsider for the title.
Ultimately, the pace of the Mercedes proved too much for Ferrari to handle, but the progress made with the power unit and SF15-T car was astonishing, ending the year far closer to the German marque than it had started.
Similar progress over the winter could set things up for the Hamilton/Vettel title fight we so dearly want yet have somehow been denied for so long. For starters though, the Arrivabene-Allison-Vettel triumvirate is shaping up very nicely indeed.
Red Bull and Renault fall out – and not quietly
The souring of Red Bull and Renault’s relationship has been arguably the longest running story of the 2015 season. From testing, there were rumblings that the Renault power unit wasn’t giving Red Bull the performance desired, which were justified in the early stages of the year as Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat struggled.
Red Bull went nuclear almost immediately, issuing quit threats and publicly criticizing Renault to the extent that it played a part in the French manufacturer’s decision to return to F1 with a works team for 2016, believing that the benefits offered by only being an engine supplier to Red Bull were limited.
And you can see why. Christian Horner remained his calm and calculated self, putting forward a reasonable argument for Red Bull: the team didn’t get the product it expected. Team advisor Helmut Marko’s outspoken manner descended the dispute into dummy-throwing, though.
The irony of it all is that Red Bull will still be racing with a Renault power unit in 2016. This time around, it will be called a TAG Heuer after the watch company took the naming rights for the engine, thus cooling the situation somewhat.
Few at Red Bull have come out of this tough year looking too clever. Losing with grace can be just as important as winning with it.
McLaren-Honda’s year to forget
Oh, McLaren. The difficulties of 2013 and 2014 prompted the switch to Honda power units for 2015, yet even the troubles of those years would have been heralded as great successes in the context of this campaign.
From the very beginning, there were concerns about the Honda power unit. As early as October 2014, I was told that it was behind schedule and too heavy; such issues proved critical throughout the year.
The homologation rules in F1 restrict in-season development, leaving McLaren largely stuck from the start of the season. Seeing two former world champions Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso battling just to make it through Q1 was a surprise, but their misery was expected to be short-lived. Surely progress would be made?
It was, but not a great deal. Even come the end of the year, both drivers were suffering. 2015 therefore goes down as McLaren’s worst season in over 30 years, and Alonso’s worst since his debut campaign with Minardi back in 2001.
We therefore head into 2016 with big questions needing to be answered by McLaren. Even in Abu Dhabi, there was talk of Alonso taking a sabbatical next year given the struggles being faced, and you have to question how much more his resolve can be tested.
Oh, we did get #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe though – arguably the most exciting thing to happen in F1 this year.
Force India, Lotus excel in the face of adversity
The long-running financial issues faced by a number of teams in F1 remained one of the biggest storylines in 2015, but there was a little more hope offered this time around thanks to the success of both Force India and Lotus.
Force India did not even debut its 2015 car until the final pre-season test of the year in Barcelona, and was only able to introduce a B-spec with much-needed updates at the British Grand Prix. However, the team enjoyed enormous success, finishing an all-time high of P5 in the constructors’ championship and scoring a podium finish in Russia thanks to Sergio Perez.
For Lotus, the year started better than Force India, but a lack of financial resources meant updates were few and far between. Nevertheless, Romain Grosjean continued to keep the team’s head up, scoring a podium finish in Belgium despite the team battling against court hearings and even bailiffs at the time.
Lotus’ future now looks more secure after Renault’s buy-out of the team was confirmed on Thursday, while Force India’s success will put it in good stead for 2016. Both have proven that even in dark times, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Make room for Max
When Max Verstappen first stepped into an F1 car at the tender age of 16, there was some degree of skepticism about his ability, suitability and readiness. Undoubtedly he had the talent, but surely it was too early for him to race in F1?
Such naysayers will surely be converts now following the most impressive rookie season since Lewis Hamilton arrived in F1 back in 2007. Verstappen has delighted fans all over the world this season with an aggressive and plucky on-track attitude, a phenomenal racecraft and other qualities that belie his age.
2015 was the year that one of F1’s all-time greats first hit the grid – I’m quietly confident that’s something we can say in years to come when Verstappen enjoys the success he looks bound for.
On July 17, nine months on from his horrific accident at Suzuka in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, Jules Bianchi died at the age of 25 in Nice, France.
Jules was a shining star of the sport both on and off-track, as proven by the way in which the paddock came together in Hungary following his death, and his memory will live on.
In terms of other big stories, we must also mention:
- Nico Hulkenberg’s victory at Le Mans with Porsche.
- Alexander Rossi’s F1 debut, becoming the first American driver to hit the grid in seven years.
- The incredible return of the Mexican Grand Prix.
- Manor’s revival and return to the grid after an uncertain winter.
- Haas F1 Team’s preparations for its 2016 debut, including signing Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez.
- Susie Wolff’s retirement from motorsport.
- Concerns about the future of the United States GP in Austin.
- Ferrari’s decision to keep Kimi Raikkonen for 2016.
2015 may not have been a classic year for F1, but it has set everything up beautifully for a year to remember in 2016.