Monday, 4 April 2016

Round 2: Fixing Formula 1

I used to write a lot more about Formula 1. This is obviously not in a professional capacity at all, it's purely because I enjoy writing about a sport I've followed for over 25 years and if the occasional person enjoys a little read then all the better.

However, my output has steadily decreased over the last year. Not because I haven't been enjoying the racing (although admittedly 2015 was nowhere near being a classic... or good come to that), but because the constant political wrangling behind the scenes was beginning to just do my head in, to be ever so slightly flippant. I mean I like a bit of political intrigue in the F1 world, but this is now threatening the life of Formula 1. 

The governance of the sport has been sorely lacking for a while now, the teams, although often trying to appear to be on the side of the fans are often on the side of themselves, the drivers are often ignored.

So let's start with the present furore over qualifying. Last year and for the nine years previously we have been using a three session system where 5 or 6 cars get knocked out in each of the first two sessions leaving the final session with 10 cars going for pole position. It worked nicely, it was generally exciting, it caused the occasional upset. 

A few weeks before the 2016 season started the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone conjured up a new system with the aim of mixing up the grid to create better racing forgetting that this is not WWE and is in fact a sport. Nobody asked for a change in qualifying as there was nothing wrong with it but a change was eventually somehow voted through. The teams warned it wasn't likely to be good but common sense is something that long vanished from this sport.

At the first round in Australia it was rubbish, leaving the track empty by the end and any hope of a top runner messing up would have been just as likely with the old system. The teams all agreed to go back to the 2015 system but as there has to be unanimity for a change to be made in-season, this was blocked by the various structures that govern the sport. So despite everyone hating it, it stayed for the second race of the season. Guess what? Yep, wasn't great a second time round either.

The FIA and the Commercial Rights Holder offered an alternative of an aggregate system for the next race in China, again forgetting that everyone wants the old system and that an aggregate system in 2005 was dropped mid-season because it didn't allow for the spectacular foot to the floor on the edge laps that can grab pole position in the dying seconds which the likes of Lewis Hamilton excel at and makes for thrilling viewing.

This looks like it will run and run because it's not really about qualifying at all, as various journalists and broadcasters have said this is a battle ground for control of the sport which I won't get into right now. The qualifying saga is just a symptom of how poorly run this sport has become. 

There are many things that need to be sorted, the inequitable distribution of money to the teams (Sauber in particular are operating close to the line), the sums charged to the circuits which constantly means traditional tracks are up against it because they're not funded by some middle eastern royalty or a corrupt government somewhere (which I suppose could be anywhere). 

The messing around with the rules,the lack of a long term strategy, the sport being put on pay-tv thereby reducing overall viewing figures and sponsorship value and then wondering why viewing figures are falling and teams aren't getting enough money in, oh it must be the product, lets mess around with it.

Most importantly Commercial Rights Holders, the private equity firm CVC to sucking money out of the sport. Ideally somehow the European Commission (a complaint has been made to the European Competition Directorate by two teams) would tear up the current contracts governing the commercial rights but this could take years.

So here are a few thoughts which in an ideal world would be implemented.

  • The FIA to appoint someone experienced in the world of Formula 1 to have over all control of the rule making side of the sport, someone like Ross Brawn. He would head a group of Formula 1 engineers to produce a 10 year road map for the sport so there is stability within the rules. However his decision would be the final decision with no team (looking at you Ferrari) having the right of Veto. 
  • Technical regulations to remain partially road relevant but not to forget that these are meant to be exciting prototypes that should be raced to the edge. Rules to ensure close racing with more mechanical grip and less reliance on aerodynamics should be pushed through allowing us to get rid of gimmicks like DRS (although useful right now).
  • To remember that this is a sport. Yes it should be entertaining but not at the expense of sporting purity. There should be no reverse grids, or qualifying sprint races, there is simply no need to mess around with the sport. You're not always going to get a thriller, but mostly the races are fine,some good, some great and some spectacular. There are many football games which are boring, but the authorities there don't suddenly think, we need to spice this up, lets stick an extra ball on the pitch.
  • If CVC are still the commercial rights holder they would re-negotiate the current deals with the teams so that all teams receive the same amount of money, apart from any prize money resulting from their finishing positions in the constructors championship and sponsorship gained. Teams would agree for the good of the sport (yeah right).
  • To keep the teams as even as possible a budget cap of $100-150 million to be imposed.
  • A forward looking strategy for broadcasting the sport on TV and the internet. Some sports already broadcast on their own websites and on Youtube. This doesn't mean charging the earth though. The main objective should be to get the sport out to as many people as possible to create a new fan base.
  • Securing traditional race tracks such as Monza, Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps on the calendar. A fairer deal for these circuits to allow them to make a profit and stop the sport heading to places which have no motor sport tradition and takes away from the core audience. In an ideal world there would be a core group of around 10-12 races with another six rotating every year to allow new events. Most importantly, make the races more of an event and something to be looked forward to.

If these were implemented I think we could look forward to a sustainable and exciting future for Formula 1. However, until Bernie Ecclestone departs its unlikely anything will change, especially while his 'employer' CVC are the main shareholders of the Formula One Group. Bernie did a lot of great things for Formula 1, but it is increasingly obvious he has lost touch and only wants few more dollars. If he's not careful his legacy will be how he destroyed a once great sport.

It would also be nice if FIA president Jean Todt decided to care about the sport, but the one thing he's tried to do recently is push a qualifying system no one wants, so perhaps it's best he stays away. The likelihood of anything changing soon is sadly not going to happen, but with the teams beginning to publicly voice their exasperation, the drivers stating their desire in an open letter to see the sports current governance abolished we can see that this current situation may just come to a head sooner rather than later. Hopefully it'll be for the better.

The race and a lot of positives from the Bahrain Grand Prix

So after all that negativity lets get on with some nice things. The Bahrain Grand Prix was a pretty good race, there wasn't anything overly spectacular about it but there were plenty of positives to take from it regarding the championship and there was some brilliant action through the field which was entertaining.

Overall the race had plenty of passing a lot of good strategy difference which helped to spice up the action and some great attacking and defensive driving.  As I mentioned in my Australian review, the extra tyre compound is really adding to the races and mixing it up nicely. It's a nice extra element on the strategy side which is actually adding something good to the sport.

Romain Grosjean once again starred for new team Haas with fifth, while Stoffel Vandoorne finished 10th putting in an assured debut for McLaren in place of the injured Fernando Alonso. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo took his second consecutive fourth place, his form looks promising and I can't wait for him to get the Renault power unit upgrade later in the season. Hopefully it'll really let him challenge.

Other notable performances came from Pascal Wehrlein in the Manor, he finished 13th but it was probably the first time in a normal dry race that Manor were really able to properly race with the other teams since they started competing in 2010, I think Wehrlein is a major part of that. 

A quick shout out to Marcus Ericsson finishing 12th for Sauber with some nice defensive driving while Kevin Magnussen came from the pit lane to finish 11th in the under developed Renault.

It was a disappointing day for Williams and Force India who despite having problems during the race just didn't seem to have the pace.

Meanwhile at the front Nico Rosberg made it two from two with a fairly easy drive to victory after a great start put him in the lead from second on the grid. For the second race in a row Lewis Hamilton's start wasn't the best, this time there was an attack from Valtteri Bottas that dropped Lewis  to seventh. He managed to climb back up to third despite damage. Bottas got a drive through penalty and could only manage ninth.

Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari finished second after making his own bad start and having to mount a come back with some great passing. Sebastian Vettel didn't even survive the formation lap, suffering an engine failure. It would have been good to see how much closer he could have got to Rosberg as he was a little quicker than Kimi all weekend. Reliability seems to be Ferrari's major problem so far this year. However, they are certainly closer and I think they'll be making Mercedes work increasingly hard as the season progresses.

With Rosberg's win giving him a 17 point gap to Hamilton, it's now time for Lewis to start coming back at him. Already we're looking like we're going to be getting a much more exciting title battle than we had in 2015.

all photographs taken from

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Rosberg takes win after spectacular Alonso crash

As is traditional the Australian Grand Prix opened the Formula 1 season at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne. After a Mercedes 1-2 in qualifying with Lewis Hamilton on formidable form with a brilliant pole position it was surely back to the normal routine as he commenced his bid for a fourth world title...

Of course so much has gone on to get to that point. The last four months has seen the teams working feverishly to get their cars ready, especially as the Australian race was brought forward by two weeks meaning a lot of the teams planning had to be shuffled. 

Testing showed Mercedes were strong but the hope was Ferrari had taken another step forward over the winter to really challenge, after qualifying this hope was rather dampened as they lined up nearly a second back from the silver cars.

A lot has changed in Formula 1 and a lot has stayed the same since the end of the 2015 season. Some of the more notable additions to this year was the new qualifying format, which I won't go into because it was so rubbish it's already looking like it'll be scrapped for the second round in Bahrain in two weeks time with the old system being brought back in. 

When will these people realise there isn't anything wrong with the format, it's the way the money is distributed and perhaps the way the rules are formed. Although if we could have consistent rules stability everyone would close up in the end. Today we saw that at the top and in the pack it's all looking rather promising, more on which later, for now lets continue to bitch about the stupidity.

So qualifying was one of the major changes that was magicked out of the air and so it proved the second point of things staying the same which is Formula 1 is ruled by chaotic decision making and ill-thought out ideas. Never mind, at least the team bosses got together on Sunday morning to get rid of such a pointless change in the first place.

A couple of other changes look like they are good additions with the addition of an extra compound of tyres available for each driver. Drivers are free to choose how many sets of each compound they want, two of which must be used in the race. It creates extra strategic options as seen in today's race.

The further restriction of radio transmissions mean the drivers are certainly more alone than they have been for years and are no longer the play things of the engineers sitting on the pit wall. This was relaxed slightly an hour before the race to allow strategy calls to be made between the teams and drivers. 

So let's go back to 'rather promising' aspects of the days events and the racing, because this is what we got today, a good race. Nico Rosberg picked up where he left off to take his first win of the year and his fourth consecutive victory when you include his winning of the last three races of 2015. Lewis Hamilton came through the pack to finish second after a faltering start where the Mercedes cars touched slightly and he dropped back to seventh.

So it seems on first look this was further demonstration that the old order of Mercedes way out in front was maintained from the previous couple of seasons. But this wasn't so, in qualifying Ferrari hadn't gone for a second run in Q3 whereas Mercedes cars had improved on their times. Ferrari's race pace was arguably as strong as the German giants, certainly their starts were light years ahead.

Engine notes raised, lights out, Vettel launched between the silver cars, Hamilton was sluggish away while Rosberg hung on claiming the inside line, but a bit of squeezing from Vettel let the Ferrari through and clear he went. Rosberg hung on so long, he almost clattered into Hamilton, he did shove him wide though allowing the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen through, the brilliantly qualified Toro Rosso's of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, and Felipe Massa in the Williams got ahead as well.

Even fans of Mercedes must have been praying for such a start, now we had a race on our hands. So the Ferrari's led in 1-2 formation on a track which is difficult to pass on. Rosberg closed up a bit but never really challenged while behind Lewis began his comeback passing Massa but getting stuck behind the Toro Rosso drivers.

Then came lap 17, battling in the midfield Fernando Alonso proved just how safe Formula 1 cars are these days. He came up behind Esteban Gutierrez in the new Haas car as they approached turn three, feinted to the right then to the left, but it seemed Alonso misjudged the speed differential or Gutierrez braked a little earlier than expected, but whatever happened (the stewards deemed it a racing incident) Alonso smashed into the back of the Haas, his McLaren speared into the wall and towards the gravel trap which pitched it into a barrel roll. 

The television coverage picked up Gutierrez's car first and as it zoomed out we caught site of Alonso scrambling out of an upside down and completely mangled McLaren. It was a miraculous escape for the double world champion. 

The safety car was initially deployed but a red flag soon flew and the race was stopped. This means any damage can be fixed in the pit lane and tyres can be changed. it's effectively a free pit stop. This helped determine the result. Before the stoppage, Kimi had lost a place to Rosberg during the first round of stops. Both Ferrari's were on super-soft tyres, the quickest of the compounds but not very durable.

Rosberg was on soft tyres, but during the stoppage switched to mediums, which were likely to get him to the end of the race. Hamilton had already elected to switch to mediums to help him get ahead of the Toro Rosso's and not have to stop again. The Ferrari team decided to stay on super-softs meaning they would definitely have to stop again. It was a decision that turned a likely Ferrari win into a Mercedes victory.

When the race got going again, Vettel pumped in a few quick laps extending his lead over Rosberg, but the Mercedes soon was on his pace and then started to catch him. When Vettel pulled into the pits with 22 laps left to go it was game over for the win, it was now his mission to hunt down Hamilton. By this time Kimi was already retired, flames coming from the air box.

The Toro Rosso's got out of the way of Hamilton as they also needed to stop, leaving Lewis to try and catch Rosberg, but Nico was wise to it and maintained a 10 second gap. Vettel closed the gap to Lewis, but locked up with a couple of laps to go losing him a chance of second.

So Rosberg crossed the line to win, Lewis was happy to come back for second while Vettel seemed happy enough with the knowledge that his car looks like it will help him to challenge for the title. 

Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth after an inspired drive, and my Star of the race. Red Bull have produced a great chassis, and although still down on power the Renault engine in the back has been improved. He started eighth but dropped a place at the start. However before the red flag he had worked his way up to sixth with a few late braking passing moves before moving up to fourth as those around him pitted. Not having pitted he got a free pit stop, but kept a good pace to keep up with the leaders. It was a strong drive, he'll be in the mix this year at many more races along with his team mate Daniil Kvyat who didn't even make the start following a problem as the grid formed up.

Felipe Massa took a lonely fifth, while Romain Grosjean in the Haas also hadn't pitted by the time of the stoppage and found himself in ninth when the race restarted. With retirements and others pitting he worked his way up to sixth, but although slightly fortuitous it showed how much genuine pace is in this new car and team as he held off challenges from behind. A brilliant start to this new teams life in the top rung of motor sport. 

Force India was another team which could have had a better team, Sergio Perez losing out to finish only 13th although Nico Hulkenberg got them some points with seventh holding off the recovering Williams of Valtteri Bottas, the Williams driving recovering from 16th on the grid after a gearbox penalty.

The Toro Rosso's ended up with Sainz ahead of Verstappen due to the Spaniard pitting first. This caused the teenager to get quite creative with his language on the team radio, they're both going to be great entertainment this year and if not for the red flag would have finished much higher up than ninth and tenth.

Amongst the other runners Jolyon Palmer made his debut for the reformed Renault team and impressed straight away by out qualifying his highly rated returnee team mate Kevin Magnussen who had a year on the sidelines in 2015. Palmer showed off some great defensive work against Bottas, both he and Magnussen will provide good drama.

Sauber were pretty awful, Manor are still at the back albeit closer and with Pascal Wehrlein they have a star on their hands. McLaren were having a much better start than last year and are at least able to race although after Alonso's crash, Jenson Button's strategy calls weren't the best.

So in summing up, until Formula 1 is out of the hands of a private equity firm it will continue to lurch from stupid decision to stupid decision and not treat the teams or circuits fairly, actually the product is pretty good and is not what needs changing.

Haas are a genuinely nice surprise, McLaren look like they have a platform to at least make progress and the lower midfield are well capable of mixing it with the higher end midfield runners. Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso are going to be locked into a great fight, Renault will have a difficult season but will spring a few surprises.

I truly believe once Red Bull get an engine upgrade in Montreal from Renault (if it's good) they will become contenders for victory, as it is I think they'll mix it up on occasion. 

At the very front, after Lewis' late season form in 2015 allowed Rosberg the luxury of a few easier weekends he was as strong as ever in Australia and was only undone by a poor start. Rosberg looked to have reverted to type during practice and qualifying but it was a strong race performance and a nice aggressive start. At Ferrari Kimi looks to be on the pace while Vettel should have taken the win, but he has a car to do battle with and that might well be enough. It's all set up nicely and I think we can be quietly confident this season is going to be a bit of a cracker.

all photographs taken from &

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Drivers of the year 2015

2015 wasn't a classic Formula 1 season by any stretch of the imagination, but while stuffing my face with the last of the Christmas food and dredging the last drops of alcohol I sat down to watch the F1 2015 season review DVD. 

It's brilliant, it looks gorgeous, I don't know what they did to the picture but that and the different camera angles that weren't broadcast gives it a cinematic quality that demonstrates how intoxicating this sport can be. I wonder why the F1 production team don't present the sport like this every race because it looked faster, more brutal and intense than what I've been watching over the last 12 months. At the very least it got my mind working to finally sit down and think about my drivers of the year. Twenty-two took part, so below is my list of how they performed in 2015.

22. Kevin Magnussen (McLaren-Honda)

Magnussen took part in the season opening Australian Grand Prix in place of the concussed Fernando Alonso. He needn't have bothered turning up, with car problems throughout he didn't even make it to the starting grid. He deserved better than the way he's been treated by McLaren, being dropped from the reserve role on his birthday. For now it looks like his motor racing career lies outside of F1, which I think is a great shame.

21. Roberto Merhi (Manor Marussia-Ferrari)

Struggled in the early part of the season and didn't impress much in general. He had a height and weight disadvantage to his team mate Will Stevens and it also didn't help he was turfed out to make way for Alexander Rossi for five races at the back end of the season. Occasionally he showed what he could do, but it probably wasn't enough to stay in the sport.

20. Will Stevens (Manor Marussia-Ferrari)

In the first half of the season Steven's dominated Merhi and he looked genuinely impressive as he competed in his first full season. But as the season wore on Merhi came back at him and I think doubts will have been raised when GP2 graduate Rossi stepped into Merhi's car for five races and was immediately on the pace and beating Stevens. In general it was a good year, but it wasn't great, although how great can you be in a Manor is always going to be tricky.  

19. Alexander Rossi (Manor Marussia-Ferrari)

Rossi finished runner-up in GP2 this year and also graduated to the Manor team for five races. I thought he was immediately impressive as he matched full timer Steven's in the races and out-qualified him in the final 3. It was difficult to show what he could really do with the equipment he had but it was a good starting point that could well see him on the grid for next year.

18. Pastor Maldonado (Lotus-Mercedes)

Oh Pastor. Sometimes I think poor Pastor. He was once again involved in many incidents but to be fair to him a lot of those weren't of his own making. However, there were still plenty that were including the Hungarian Grand Prix where he managed to achieve three penalties of some description. The thing with Maldonado is he's extremely fast, but he can't seem to harness that speed consistently. He's been in the sport long enough now that he should have learn't from his mistakes, that he still does occupy a seat it seems is down to his Venezuelan friends still funding him. He still had a few decent results but ultimately he was thrashed by his team mate and made to look ordinary.  

17. Marcus Ericsson (Sauber-Ferrari)

I thought Ericsson was extremely lucky to secure a drive with Sauber for 2015 after a dismal debut campaign with Caterham. Having money does help to keep doors open though. To be fair to Ericsson, despite not exactly setting the track alight with virtuoso performance he was unlucky and deserved some better results. He had a good run of points finishes and in general matched his rookie team mate. Needs to start delivering at a higher standard if he's to progress any further in Formula 1.

16. Felipe Nasr (Sauber-Ferrari)

Started brilliantly in his first race at the Australian Grand Prix to secure what would be his best result of the season with fifth. After that, lack of development with his Sauber car somewhat hindered him, but also mistakes and some flat performances stopped him achieving more. He still sporadically produced some good results and after a years experience can look towards 2016 optimistically.

15. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

There's no doubt that since Kimi Raikkonen returned to Ferrari at the start of 2014 he has disappointed... massively. His huge fan base can no doubt cook up various reasons as to why he has been soundly thrashed by first Fernando Alonso and then equally so by Sebastian Vettel, but there's not one that could explain his current predicament entirely. 

In a season where Kimi declared himself much happier with the car, he could only manage three podiums and out qualified his team mate just four times (two of which were because of Vettel car issues). It's simply not good enough from a former world champion. However, there were still flashes of the old Kimi, his drive in Bahrain where he nearly won was brilliant for instance. It isn't enough and I think he should consider himself lucky to still have a drive.

14. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India-Mercedes)

Hulkenberg should have been in a top drive years ago. In the past he has produced results in cars that weren't worthy, but this season it feels like for large parts of the campaign he's been lacking. Hulkenberg is highly rated but for whatever reason that hasn't allowed him to progress above the midfield ranks. What were the top bosses seeing that meant they didn't want to take a chance?

He still hasn't managed a podium and there have been opportunities. Force India have scored two in the last two seasons, neither of which Hulkenberg has taken. Perhaps there are doubts if he can take those opportunities when presented to him? He may have won Le Mans this year for Porsche but in F1 his team mate Sergio Perez has taken him on and shown him up. Next season he needs to mount a bit of a comeback if he is to ever join the fight at the front and not be the forgotten man.

13. Fernando Alonso (McLaren-Honda)

He may deny it, but can anyone believe Fernando doesn't look back at his decision to leave Ferrari with some regret? What an utterly dreadful season, McLaren and Honda let each other down and they let their drivers down. Alonso's season didn't start well at all, he missed the first race of the year due to concussion from a testing accident. 

From then on there were sporadic moments of false hope and the odd surprise result like his fifth place in Hungary but there was nothing heart warming to look back on as the season ended. Alonso understandably, despite public appearances, was frustrated, a few choice radio calls demonstrated that. This is not what he rejoined McLaren for. I can't believe the situation between driver and team is all that harmonious and rumours continue to circulate he may take a sabbatical. 

Despite this Alonso rarely gives up and if there's a sniff of a decent result he'll be on it in a second, the only thing is there was rarely the scent of anything tasty and it looked like some of the time he just didn't want to be out there resulting in some lacklustre performances. If McLaren and most importantly Honda can get anywhere half decent next year then Alonso will deliver for them.

12. Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso-Renault)

The young Spaniard had many on-track fights with the elder Spanish racer Alonso which showed his superb race craft. Only 20 years old when the season started he was arguably the more impressive of the Toro Rosso rookies in the opening rounds of 2015. 

Unfortunately for Sainz bad luck and multiple problems with the car and power unit cost him many better results. He did seem rather prone to mistakes but he was equally capable of fighting back from such adversity. He certainly has the speed of his more celebrated team mate Max Verstappen but possibly is not yet quite as consistent but much of that is probably because he never really got a decent run without problems intervening. 

11.  Felipe Massa (Williams-Mercedes)

I'd have been tempted to put Massa higher on the list if he could just have maintained his form against his team mate Valtteri Bottas. For the first half of the season the Brazilian out-qualified the Finn 6-3 and for a decent portion was either ahead or level with him on points.

In the second half of the season Massa's form waned a bit, in the last 10 races he could only beat Bottas twice in qualifying and eventually fell away from him in the points although not by much. Despite this Massa showed himself to still be extremely combative in the races and some of his starts were awesome, none more magicial than when he shot past the two Mercedes to take the lead at the British Grand Prix.  

If Williams can start building forward again rather than stagnating as they did this year then I think Massa can still look to seek a win before the end of his career.

10. Jenson Button (McLaren-Honda)

I know a lot of people will be surprised to see Button placed ahead of Alonso but I genuinely think that he gave his all this year despite being treated pretty poorly by the team as they pondered his future. That he has been given another year proves his worth to the team and shows how much of a team player he is.

He still battles hard and to my mind at least got more out of the car than Alonso did on many occasions. He kept on searching for the positives when often there wasn't any, but he continued nevertheless. His sixth place in the USA was a highlight, but that says a lot about the poor state McLaren are in.

Jenson could well be approaching his final year in Formula 1 but driving the way he is at the moment it wouldn't surprise me to see him being signed up once again, it really depends if McLaren make much progress because if they don't then I can also see him walking away too.

9. Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Mercedes)

I pondered on this one for a while. Valtteri Bottas is no doubt a very good driver and could well be world champion one day. I just think that if he was to be then he'd be dominating Massa a little more than he has. Massa is a very good driver but in my opinion not the driver he was back in 2009 so Bottas should be beating him more often.

I also think he seems a bit too placid when it comes to wheel to wheel combat, although his overtake on Kimi Raikkonen when a podium was at stake in Mexico was nicely aggressive. So we know he can do it, it just doesn't seem like it is always his preferred option.

He can go missing in races, I'd like to see him race his heart out for every position and not just when there's a chance of a decent result. It's perhaps indicative that Ferrari once showed interest in him but this appears to have gone quiet recently. Having said all that, he is a very good driver and will probably one day be a winner.

8. Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull-Renault)

It wasn't a strong start to the year for Kvyat, but from Monaco onwards he was on his team mates pace pretty frequently and often the faster of the Red Bull's. His race in Belgium was a particular highlight as he made some impressive over takes to charge from twelfth to fourth. 

He became more confident but there was still the odd mistake, although it shouldn't be forgotten this was only his second year in Formula 1 and he is still only 21 years old.

There's no doubt he's only going to get better and although he out-scored Ricciardo this was mostly down to circumstance and slightly better reliability, but he will be a definite contender once Renault sort out their problems. Hopefully he can show more of what he can do next season.

7. Sergio Perez (Force India-Mercedes)

It's tempting to write that Perez was a revelation this season, but was he really? We've known he's good at managing the tyres to a surprise result pretty much since he came into the sport, but his reputation took a severe knock when he was at McLaren.

Since his arrival at Force India I would say he's restored if not bettered his reputation. Taking on Hulkenberg who is highly rated has done wonders for Perez as he's often out-performed him. Although he might not have the ultimate pace of his team mate he seems more at home when there are big results on offer.

He doesn't buckle under pressure and is capable of bringing the car home, in short he grasps the opportunity when it's presented. He was impressive this year.

6. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Renault)

This time last year Ricciardo was celebrated as the best driver of the year with his brilliant performances up against four time champion Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull. He truly was the man of the moment, charging through any gaps presented to him, grabbing with both hands any victory or podium chance that came his way.

He had speed, style and a brilliant consistency that would be hard to live with for any team mate. Three victories, the only non-Mercedes driver to win in 2014 was the icing on the Ricciardo cake. The Renault in the back of the Red Bull would surely be improved to allow him a proper crack at the title in 2015.

It wasn't, it was worse and the frustration at times clouded his driving. Some of the moves that before would have been sublime and pinpoint accurate now appeared desperate. So it is with all due credit that those moments were few and despite the frustrations of not being in a race winning car Ricciardo charged on. 

In fact he came close to winning twice this year, scored a couple of podiums and would have far more points if it weren't for the car or more accurately the power unit. Ricciardo re-set his targets and was still delivering. I can't wait to see him in a title challenging car.

5. Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Mercedes)

Grosjean was brilliant this year. He comprehensively thrashed his team mate Maldonado, utterly dominating him in qualifying and more often than not out racing him too. 

His podium finish in Belgium was very deserving giving the car probably more than it really warranted. He's leaving for new team Haas next year which has strong connections to Ferrari, so the potential is there for Grosjean to be moving up a level in a few years. I hope he won't be forgotten if the team struggles in its debut season.

But what you get with Grosjean is a driver who can learn from his mistakes. He's constantly developing and working to become better. He's one of the fastest out there and very consistent too. He gave Lotus a far better season than they would have had without him. Getting into the top 10 of qualifying 13 times was pretty remarkable. He was under the radar a lot of the time but when he needed to battle and race he was ready to shine, possibly his best year in the sport to date.
4. Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso-Renault)

This kid is entertainment. Verstappen is just brilliant, he has bravery in abundance, car control which is sublime, and the skills to go wheel to wheel with the very best.

For someone who was only 17 at the start of the season he didn't seem overawed in the slightest despite the hype surrounding him as the youngest ever F1 driver. He quickly established himself as just one of the drivers, but one who often would create the entertainment as he battled away in the midfield.

There's possibly some drivers who should be above him, he did make mistakes, he did push things too far sometimes but to me it's just a young driver trying to find the limits, the very edge of the edge. His overtake on Felipe Nasr at Spa around the outside of Blanchimont at 200mph was simply breathtaking. 

He may have only raced in cars for one year before he joined Formula 1 but his place in this sport is richly deserved. I'm looking forward to seeing how he'll cope with the pressure now people know what to expect. If anything I expect him to get even better even if his Toro Rosso will be hobbled by a year old engine next season. Max has got a very bright future.

3. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

If Lewis Hamilton is the fastest driver in the sport right now, then it follows that Nico Rosberg must be spectacularly good too seeing as he is often only a slither behind and sometimes ahead.

Rosberg is a very good driver, he can dominate race weekends just as well as anyone. He's extremely fast and arguably if Lewis Hamilton wasn't his team mate he'd be a double world champion right now.

But Lewis is his team mate and he's not and the truth is he never looked like he would be a title winner this year. For the first 16 races he was beaten badly. Even as he started his run of six pole positions in the last six races, Hamilton still beat him in the first three of those. Once the title was wrapped up the pressure eased and Rosberg relaxed and he stormed the last three races to win all of them.

If only he could drive like that when the pressure of a championship is at stake. Maybe those three wins and six 2015 wins in total will give him the momentum heading into 2016. We'll see, but if Mercedes are dominant again, for the sake of the audience we need Rosberg at his best Lewis beating form then we'll have a fight. It remains to be seen whether he is capable of that throughout a year.

2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

Vettel looked a shadow of himself during his last season at Red Bull in 2014. He struggled to adapt to the new regulations, he was being walked over by Ricciardo and he seemed disillusioned with the sport. It also didn't help that after four years of continuous success he didn't seem able to process the reality that he didn't have a car to challenge for the title.

So he left for Ferrari and what a transformation. Vettel was rejuvenated this year, he was back to his best. It seemed like he'd taken on the role of Ricciardo in 2014, as he maximised any opportunity to take on the Mercedes, beating them three times to claim his first victories since 2013.

He was inspired sometimes, Singapore produced the only non-Mercedes pole position of the year and it was probably the lap of the season, brilliantly committed. He kept himself in title contention until both he and Rosberg were defeated with three races to spare, but in the Ferrari, although much progress had been made, that was impressive.

It was great to see Vettel happy and driving how he wanted to again. He has a thirst for success that I don't think any other driver can equal at the moment and I'm sure it won't be long before he has emulated his childhood hero Michael Schumacher and taken Ferrari back to the top. 2016 has a lot of potential to be a classic title fight, Hamilton better watch out.

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

Quite simply untouchable. At least for the first 16 races. Perhaps it was inevitable after wrapping up the title with three races to spare that Lewis would take his foot off the gas a little bit, although you just have to listen to his radio calls to the team to realise he was still wanting to be leader of the pack.

Hamilton raised the bar this year. He obliterated his team mate Rosberg for most of the season. 12 pole positions from the first 13 races is remarkable as is taking another 10 wins in an exceptional display of speed and consistency.

Truthfully the title was never really in doubt after the first few races. Hamilton was on another level. There were occasional missteps such as in Hungary, but generally no one could get close. Even the disappointment of losing Monaco due to a team (and Lewis is included in that) cock up wasn't enough to knock him from his stride.

In previous years it might have but his mind management is improved, he simply reset and won the next race. I imagine it'll nag him a little bit that Rosberg won the last three races, but I won't be surprised to see him destroy his team mate when battle resumes in Australia next season. Reset and win is how Hamilton seems to operate.

More than anything though, I think Hamilton would like a challenge, not just from Rosberg but from another team. If Ferrari can challenge Mercedes next year, expect Hamilton to set the bar higher again as he goes wheel to wheel with Vettel. A great year from a great champion, there really wasn't an equal.

all photographs taken from