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

No comments:

Post a Comment