Originally I was going to write a comprehensive review of the 2015 season shortly after its conclusion, whereby I would compare the finishing positions of the drivers and teams with my predictions. Some time after the season’s end, I don’t particularly have the will to go back over everything and evaluation the performance of every driver, but I will touch upon the key men and moments from 2015.
Let’s start at the top – where else would I start?
Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes
Prediction 1st – Finished 1st
I declared at the start of the season that Hamilton would defend his title and he has done exactly that, leading the title race from the very start, and has been nigh-impossible for anyone else to catch. Only occasionally has he wobbled, and on even rarer occasions has he been out-raced.
Australia saw Hamilton win comfortably, and further wins would follow in China, Bahrain, Canada, Britain, Belgium, Italy, Japan, Russia and the USA. It would be fair to say that Hamilton has taken things up a notch this season, looking as focused and driven as I’ve ever seen him. On the track, he’s had Rosberg in his pocket pretty much the entire time, and off the track, he’s had Rosberg out-psyched, winning the title with three races to spare.
In winning the 2015 title, Hamilton is now a three-time world champion, and has also become the first British driver to win back-to-back titles. What more can I say except he’s been sublime at times, leaving the pack far behind him. There have been a few questions surrounding his performances at the final three races – which Rosberg won – but overall, he has been simply too good for anyone to cope with.
Nico Rosberg – Mercedes
Prediction 2nd – Finished 2nd
Nico tried. He did not give up at any stage, but despite a couple of truly world-champion quality displays (Spain and Austria spring to mind), he saved his best for when it was too late to make a difference. When the pressure was on, Rosberg had no answer to Hamilton’s pace, and indeed, his late error at the US Grand Prix handed Hamilton the title. With the pressure off, Rosberg was able to win the final three races quite convincingly, but there will inevitably be question marks around why he couldn’t do that when it mattered. At no stage has Rosberg performed badly, but he’s just been outgunned this year.
Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari
Prediction 7th – Finished 3rd
One of my contenders for the star of the season is Vettel, who has enjoyed a new lease of life at Ferrari, having slotted in nicely to the team and almost immediately making a bold impact. Three wins, taken in varying circumstances, combined with a number of consistent podium finishes, meant Vettel still had an outside chance of the title going into the USA Grand Prix – but the gap between the Mercedes and the Ferrari meant a title challenge was never too realistic. Nevertheless, Vettel comfortably beat Kimi Raikkonen, applied some pressure to the Mercedes duo, and looked very composed throughout the year. My respect for him has certainly risen, with good reason.
Max Verstappen – Toro Rosso
Prediction 16th – Finished 12th
Formula 1’s youngest driver is another one of my candidates for driver of the year. Despite one or two moments where youth got the better of his talent (such as Monaco), his performances were by and large excellent, considering his lack of experience with the car, tracks and competitors. It will only get tougher for him in 2016, when expectations will be raised, but his encouraging debut year is hopefully something he can build on.
Carlos Sainz – Toro Rosso
Prediction 15th – Finished 15th
Going into 2015, much of the media attention concerning the new drivers was mostly on Verstappen, yet if not for having the lion’s share of technical problems within the Toro Rosso team, Sainz might have actually beaten Verstappen over the course of the year. His own performances were excellent, and he has deserved the praise that has come his way in his debut season. Like Verstappen, the pressure will be on him to continue his good performances in 2016, and hopefully Sainz will do exactly that!
Race of the Season
Whilst there were points in 2015 that were quite dull for F1 fans (the Canadian Grand Prix was far from the spectacle it could have and should have been, for example, and the Australian Grand Prix saw a number of cars not even start, for various reasons), there were nevertheless some stand out occasions. The US Grand Prix that saw Hamilton seal his third title seesawed a little in uncertain weather conditions and saw Rosberg hand Hamilton the title on a platter with a lack mistake. In Russia, things got feisty between Finns Raikkonen and Bottas on the final lap, whilst they would collide again in Mexico in a fine return to that venue.
The Monaco Grand Prix served up a disastrous strategic error that cost Hamilton an almost certain win, and in Britain, Williams might rue not releasing Bottas to pull ahead of Massa and the Mercedes pair, when variable weather allowed Mercedes – and Hamilton in particular – to win.
For me though, the true race of the season was Hungary. It was an emotional occasion, being the first race held since the tragic loss of Jules Bianchi, and it was clear that everyone was going to give absolutely everything in the race, not holding anything back as they channeled their feelings into the performance of their lives. From the moment the Ferraris jumped the Mercedes’ at the start, to Ricciardo’s bumps with both Hamilton and Rosberg and Raikkonen’s misfortune, not to mention a sterling drive from Verstappen and a double podium for Red Bull (very unusual in 2015), the race had all the drama that a good F1 race should have, and serves as fitting tribute to Bianchi.
So controversies may be the wrong choice of word, but what – aside from on track events – kept F1 ticking over in 2015?
The near-end of the partnership between Red Bull and Renault, that had been behind so much success, was a hugely public spat that, from my own point of view, was a spectacular temper tantrum from Red Bull. Renault’s engines may have been under-powered, but they were under-powered even during their era of dominance, yet had demonstrated terrific drive-ability – they were stable and reliable, yet Red Bull (in Renault’s eyes certainly), never gave them much credit. The moment things started to go wrong, it was Renault who took the brunt of the blame, and Red Bull made several attempts to secure other engines, including talks with Mercedes and Ferrari.
Neither of their rivals were prepared to give Red Bull engines, which prompted them to claim their rivals were scared to do so – but no one in their right mind would hand over such a potential advantage to a close rival – that’s like Barcelona lending Real Madrid Lionel Messi – and I doubt Red Bull would be willing to do likewise if the tables were turned. In the end, Red Bull have remained with a re-badged Renault engine – but they have work to do.
McLaren renewed their historically mighty association with Honda in 2015 – but the season has been a long struggle for them, with the patience of re-signed Fernando Alonso stretched to near-breaking point at times, as especially evidenced by his frustrations in Japan. The engine has been both woefully under-powered, even compared to Renault, but also unreliable. A second season spent scraping at the back of the grid will not do, but the scale of the work required to bring McLaren back up to anything remotely competitive is daunting.
Hamilton and Rosberg once again had a little bit of a spat, including some remarks directed toward each other after Hamilton’s victory in China – Rosberg felt that Hamilton had been deliberately backing him toward the Ferrari of Vettel, whilst Hamilton simply said Rosberg should have driven faster to try and catch and pass him. The two of them have been quite cool with one another throughout 2015, a sign that their friendship is going to hurt for as long as the two of them are in direct competition for titles.
2015 was a landmark year for British drivers in F1. Hamilton became the first British driver to win back-to-back titles, and the first three-time champion for Britain since Sir Jackie Stewart. He has set himself up nicely to push on and make it three in a row – as well as equaling Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel on four titles. At times Hamilton was peerless, and at times, Vettel reminded everyone – including me – that he earned his own titles. There were signs toward the end of 2015 that Rosberg is still capable of putting up a fight, and one can never discount the likes of Williams (who were once again third in the constructor’s championship) from sniffing around for podiums and even wins. 2016 has been teed up nicely for some closer battles and more exciting races. Let’s hope it delivers!