Counting down to 2016, Jennie Gow recaps on a memorable Formula One season which saw a dominant champion and the emergence of a couple of bright young stars.
As the sun sets on the 2015 Formula One season, I wanted to reflect on what we have learned, and look ahead to what we can hope for next year, in my last column of the season for Mobil 1 The Grid. And, seeing as it’s almost Christmas, I thought a Top-10 would be totally appropriate. So, let’s start with…
10 teams competed in Formula 1 this season. Caterham fell by the wayside and Marussia became Manor as, once again, we saw that running teams at the highest level takes very deep pockets. With engines costing millions of pounds, and even a basic front wing costing as much as £100,000, it’s clear that there are very few shortcuts in F1.
The Haas F1 team – the baby of American motorsport legend, Gene Haas – will enter the sport in 2016. It will be a junior team for Ferrari, and will see Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean as drivers. It’s important to appeal to the American market, as well as it is for grid numbers to grow again. I’m excited to see what Haas can do, and they will definitely be a team to watch out for when testing gets underway in February 2016.
A moment of pause to remember the 9th place our much missed friend Jules Bianchi managed to race to in Monaco in 2014. After fighting for his life since his horrific accident at Suzuka in October that year, Jules lost his battle on July 17th 2015, aged just 25. His number 17 was retired by the FIA as a mark of respect. Gone but never forgotten. Ciao, Jules.
Eight, is the number of retirements for Fernando Alonso’s car in 2015. There hasn’t been much to cheer about for McLaren this season. Their new relationships with Honda and Alonso have been tested, but there are signs that things are improving, and boss Ron Dennis is confident that the team will come back fighting in 2016. With two former World Champions in the stable, there is much to improve upon. But if anyone can help the team get in shape for next season, it’s Alonso and teammate Jenson Button. I really hope they can come back from what has been a tough 2015, for the sake of the Championship and the sport. A huge name like McLaren has more heritage than to be picking up just 27 points in an F1 season.
Kimi Raikkonen. We still love him, and it’s great he’s going to be around for another year in F1. Despite his impossibly short answers and grunts when taking part in interviews, he is still one of the fans’ favourites. And with a podium at the last race of the year in 2015, there are signs he can perhaps get back to winning ways next season, with Ferrari looking increasingly likely to challenge Mercedes. It would certainly be nice to see another former World Champion in the mix. And, as the oldest man on the grid, and the prospect that this could be his last year in F1, it would be great to see him go out on a high.
Six rookies took to the track this season – all handled themselves well but there were some stand out performances. Felipe Nasr made his mark at the very first race of the season when he got Sauber’s best finish of the year with an amazing 5th place. Alexander Rossi was impressive, as he joined Manor for four races towards the end of the year. The American had a best-placed finish of 12th in his home race – as well as finishing second in the GP2 Championship.
That leads me nicely on to all the fives – 55 – Carlos Sainz Jr. He has been a real talent and has certainly proved all of his doubters wrong. From the moment he stepped into the Toro Rosso, he has impressed. He got into the points first time out in Australia, and beat his rookie teammate 10-9 in qualifying. His crash in practice three at Sochi was terrifying to watch but, after spending a few hours in hospital, he bounced back to the circuit to take part in the race on Sunday. Sainz has been exciting to watch and, with a little better luck on the reliability front, he could well have been in the Top-10 at the end of the season.
One word: Tyres. Pirelli won the contract to supply F1 tyres until 2019, beating Michelin to the spoils. They spent 12 hours testing with teams after the last race of the season and will introduce a new ‘purple banded’ super-super soft tyre for 2016. With tougher pressures and temperature checks in force for 2015, sometimes drivers were less than complimentary of the four tyres on their car. They want to be able to race and overtake, and not have to nurse their Pirelli’s.
However, Pirelli must be doing something right to be getting their contract renewed. Let’s hope that, with the teams now working more closely with them to supply testing data, the tyres continue to improve and, therefore, we’ll see improvements in the level of racing.
Of course, Number 33 has to be Max Verstappen. The Toro Rosso pair of Verstappen and the aforementioned Sainz Jr. has been one of the best things about the 2015 season. Both highly talented and pushing each other to succeed, they have been brilliant to watch and – I can also say – are a delight to work with. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for both drivers, but Max’s overtaking was sublime to watch and earned him a legion of fans this season. And thank goodness someone had the courage and skill to give it a go. A genuinely good guy to deal with in the paddock, he will be a star of the future. As someone said to me recently – if he continues to rise at this rate, he will be as loved and then as disliked as Michael Schumacher was when he was winning all the time.
When you think of Sir Stirling Moss, it’s easy to assume he must have won a World Drivers’ Championship. He did not, and subsequently remains the most successful F1 driver never to have won the title. Nico Rosberg, however, is fast giving him a run for his money.
Moss won 16 races throughout his career – Rosberg currently has 14. It must be tough being a number 2 – to come to the sport, or to come to a team, at just the wrong time, is a frustrating thing indeed. For Moss, it was Juan Manuel Fangio who made it so hard for him to win a title. For Rosberg, it is of course, Lewis Hamilton.
Had he been born a few years earlier – or later, for that matter – perhaps he would be a multiple champion by now. Instead, he has come up against his former friend at almost every juncture of his career. Let’s hope that in 2016 he can put forward a closer challenge, and start the season the way he has finished it this year. Three wins on the bounce, for the first time in his F1 career, is no small feat, but he needs to do it when there is more at stake than just pride.
The Top Dog this year is, of course, Lewis Hamilton. He dominated the 2015 season with 10 wins and 11 pole positions, finishing the season 59 points ahead of nearest rival and teammate, Nico Rosberg. He was simply in a class of his own for much of the season. Balancing his life in F1 with his jet-setting ways, he partied with Rihanna and boogied in Barbados – and who can blame the 30 year old for wanting to have fun? He has already started a brand new physical training regime for next season, and will look to come back stronger as he bids to become a four-time World Champion.
Despite not winning the last three races of the season, I see very little to challenge Lewis when the racing gets back underway in March. It would be lovely to see Rosberg and Vettel bringing it to Hamilton but, if Mercedes evolve their 2015 car, I believe he will still have the best machinery at his disposal. When the racing really matters, I’m just not sure Rosberg has what it takes to beat his teammate to the title.
The only man who can beat Hamilton at the moment, is Hamilton himself. That said, he is more resilient than he used to be and very rarely wears his heart on his sleeve these days. Simply put, the 2016 title is his if he wants it. And if he is to be both as focused, and having as much fun as he has done in 2015 – with no ill-effect, I should say – then I see no reason why he won’t be World Champion again next year.