F1 2015 Review: MotorSportsTalk’s Driver Rankings

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Following on from the first part of our 2015 Formula 1 season review on Friday, MotorSportsTalk has compiled a complete driver ranking for the year following on from last year’s similar post.

Below, you can find our thoughts on each driver and why they are ranked where they are, plus their movement from the 2014 rankings.

One thing that was apparent when putting together the ranking is just how close it was in the midfield this year. Positions 4-15 were largely interchangeable, but to keep things fair, it was only right to rank each driver with the ability of their car as the defining factor.

We have included all 21 drivers who started a grand prix in 2015 in this ranking, omitting Kevin Magnussen as he did not start in Australia, nor would it have been fair to do so even if he had.

So without further ado, here are the driver rankings for 2015 – let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes (non-mover from 2014)

#1 was relatively easy to decide. Lewis Hamilton was quite frankly a tour de force in F1 this year, sweeping to his third world title in emphatic fashion. His dominance was impressive, racking up ten wins and 11 pole positions en route to wrapping up the championship early in Austin. A late season blip will raise a few questions heading into 2016, though.

Season Highlight: The strategy call at Silverstone that saw Hamilton charge through the spray to win his home grand prix for the third time.

2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari (+5 from 2014)

There is a good argument for Sebastian Vettel being the driver of the year, but second place is certainly an impressive achievement given the relative standing of both himself and Ferrari this time last year. Vettel rejuvenated the Scuderia, taking three superb victories and running Nico Rosberg close for P2 in the championship. A better car should give him a shot at a fifth title in 2016.

Season Highlight: Perfecting a two-stop strategy in claim his first win for Ferrari in Malaysia as the heat got to Hamilton and Rosberg.

3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes (+1 from 2014)

2015 was largely a disappointing year for Nico Rosberg. Early promise came with a sequence of three wins in four races between Spain and Austria, but a rough run saw the gap to Hamilton grow and grow before becoming insurmountable in Austin. Rosberg rallied after this defeat though to claim three comfortable wins to round out the season, giving hope of a renewed charge next year.

Season Highlight: Any of the wins in Mexico, Brazil or Abu Dhabi. He out-Hamiltoned Hamilton with peerless displays on each of those weekends.

4. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso (new entry)

Max Verstappen has been nothing short of a revelation in F1 this year. At the age of 17, he took to the series like a duck to water, pulling off moves that left much of the field speechless – at least half of the best overtakes in F1 this year were his. Boasting a maturity and a racecraft that far exceeds his tender age, Verstappen is going to break more and more records in years to come.

Season Highlight: Finishing fourth in Austin despite being on the wrong strategy at the end, making the most of the wet-dry conditions.

5. Romain Grosjean Lotus (+10 from 2014)

In a year that saw Lotus get far closer to the brink than most would care for, Romain Grosjean kept the Enstone flag flying high. His performances all year long were gutsy and powerful, with the most impressive result coming in Belgium when he scored the team’s first podium finish in almost two years. You cannot understate the coup that Haas has pulled off to sign him for 2016.

Season HighlightCharging to P3 at Spa on a weekend blighted by bailiffs and court orders in an outdated car.

6. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull (-3 from 2014)

Daniel Ricciardo learned a big lesson in success this year: when it disappears, it’s hard to stand back up. Yet the affable Australian continued to perform admirably, picking up two podium finishes, and would have beaten teammate Daniil Kvyat in the standings with a little more luck. In a year limited by Renault’s power unit, Ricciardo shone once again though.

Season Highlight: Pushing Vettel close for the win in both Hungary and Singapore – the latter perhaps being the more outstanding performance all things considered.

7. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull (+9 from 2014)

The promotion from Toro Rosso to Red Bull was swift for Daniil Kvyat, as was evident in his first few races for the team as he acclimatized to life further up the grid. The Russian eventually found his feet and had a strong second half of the year, scoring a breakthrough podium in Hungary. Mathematically better than Ricciardo, but still lacking his teammate’s fire, it was a nonetheless an impressive year for Kvyat.

Season Highlight: Keeping cool in the madness of Hungary to finish second, marking the best ever result for a Russian in F1.

8. Valtteri Bottas Williams (-5 from 2014)

Much like Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas struggled to live up to the lofty expectations thrust upon him following such a good 2014. The Finn did well to nearly beat Kimi Raikkonen to P4 in the standings, but had few truly outstanding performances. The haul of just two podium finishes is disappointing, and the failure to beat Felipe Massa with ease may have dampened Ferrari’s interest.

Season Highlight: P3 in Canada after besting Raikkonen in a race-long battle.

9. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso (new entry)

It seems a little unfair to put so many places between Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. Had it not been for a little more luck, Sainz could have matched his teammate for points. He may not have stolen the headlines, but throughout the year, Sainz put in a string of highly impressive performances. The haul of just 18 points does his form and on-track skill little justice.

Season Highlight: Qualifying fifth in Spain as the top home driver before battling through for points at the end.

10. Sergio Perez Force India (+1 from 2014)

Perez and Force India teammate Nico Hulkenberg were held back by the lack of updates on the VJM08 car, but once the resources were there, both flourished. Perez was particularly outstanding in the intra-team battle, finishing the year 20 points clear of Hulkenberg. Battling at the front early on in Spa was great to see, but nothing quite matched his (fortunate) podium in Russia.

Season Highlight: Scoring Force India’s third-ever F1 podium in Sochi after a late clash between Raikkonen and Bottas.

11. Fernando Alonso McLaren (-6 from 2014)

Of all the drivers in this ranking, Fernando Alonso and McLaren teammate Jenson Button were the most difficult to place. We know they’re not this far down in terms of ability, but the McLaren-Honda car made it a miserable year for them both. Alonso gets the nod for having a little more chutzpah this year, finishing fifth in Hungary and, of course, giving us #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe.

Season Highlight: Battling up to fifth in Hungary after late drama, ending a good weekend on a high for McLaren. Few other highlights to speak of, though.

12. Jenson Button McLaren (-4 from 2014)

You could copy and paste the gobbet on Alonso and apply it to Button, too. He was a little more fortunate in terms of reliability, and as such came away with more points. Was also the better qualifier across the season, and one can only hope that McLaren and Honda offer an improvement next year.

Season Highlight: P6 in Austin when the wet track didn’t make the McLaren MP4-30’s flaws so glaring.

13. Felipe Massa Williams (-7 from 2014)

Like Bottas, Felipe Massa had a rather solid if unspectacular season. He put up a good fight to his teammate, but had few stand-out displays across the course of the year. Leading early at Silverstone gave us hope of a shock win, only for Williams to – again – mishandle the strategy. Massa was perhaps the most anonymous driver of the top eight in the championship.

Season Highlight: Keeping Vettel back late on to finish third in Austria.

14. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari (-1 from 2014)

There’s no denying that 2015 was an improvement for Kimi Raikkonen, yielding almost thrice as many points plus a trio of podium finishes. However, when you consider that he failed to match Vettel for much of the year, it’s hard to dress 2015 up as being that much better for the Finn. Had there been a more outstanding candidate for his seat, Raikkonen would most probably be on the sidelines already.

Season Highlight: Charging to second place in Bahrain, beating Rosberg.

15. Nico Hulkenberg Force India (-5 from 2014)

Another driver you could arguably put higher, but in truth, Hulkenberg had few notable displays. He was quietly impressive in places, easing home to sixth or seventh when the pace was there for Force India. Proof of his relatively average F1 season comes in that his victory at Le Mans is the main reason he hit the headlines, not because of his grand prix results.

Season Highlight: In F1, running well to P6 in Japan. Otherwise, Le Mans, most definitely.

16. Felipe Nasr Sauber (new entry)

As debut F1 seasons go, Felipe Nasr’s will hardly go down in history. However, he easily outclassed Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber, and even scored the best ever debut result for a Brazilian driver in Australia (better than Senna, Piquet, Fittipaldi etc.). It’ll be interesting to see how he can fare with a better car in the future.

Season Highlight: Working his way up the order to finish sixth in Russia.

17. Pastor Maldonado Lotus (+2 from 2014)

That’s right, +2. Pastor Maldonado was certainly better this year, but failed to hold a candle to teammate Romain Grosjean at Lotus. He bounced back from a string of early retirements to score some good points on occasion, yet he is still unable to shake loose his reputation for on-track incidents.

Season Highlight: Finishing seventh in Austria after a brave banzai overtake on Verstappen late on.

18. Alexander Rossi Manor (new entry)

America’s F1 driver drought came to an end in Singapore when Alexander Rossi made his long-awaited debut. Putting him above the other Manor drivers after only doing five races may seem odd, but Rossi outclassed Will Stevens throughout their time together as teammates. Deserves another shot to prove his quality next year.

Season HighlightScoring Manor’s best result of the year in Austin, coming close to points at home.

19. Will Stevens Manor (new entry)

Will Stevens’ first full season in F1 was a year of quiet improvement and progress at the back of the field. He failed to match Rossi during their time together, losing 4-1, while it wasn’t until the middle of the year that he began to get the upper hand over Roberto Merhi despite the Spaniard being many kilos heavier. His fine final outing in Abu Dhabi was proof of just how far he has come.

Season Highlight: Abu Dhabi, finishing a lap clear of Merhi in the same car and just 37 seconds behind Fernando Alonso.

20. Marcus Ericsson Sauber (-1 from 2014)

Marcus Ericsson’s year was one of mediocrity and anonymity. A bright start with points in Australia and good qualifying in Malaysia and China proved to be the highlight of the year, with more top ten finishes only following through luck as the year went on. A very average campaign indeed.

Season Highlight: Qualifying 12th in Italy before finishing ninth.

21. Roberto Merhi Manor (new entry)

Roberto Merhi came into F1 for his debut season at the last minute, with his height and subsequent additional weight playing against him. He did well to edge Stevens in the early part of the year, but was relatively forgettable and is unlikely to be back in 2016.

Season Highlight: Scoring Manor’s best result since Monaco 2014 with P12 at Silverstone.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).