With both championships locked up and only minor placings to fight for, the championship finale was a chance for everyone to let their hair down and go hell for leather in search of a result with nothing to lose. Sadly just a few were brave enough to make bold moves on the track and on strategy.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg went to war in Brazil, both on track and off it, kicking off the age old debate of whether or not to reduce the aero on F1 cars, removing it as the pinnacle of technology to improve the spectacle. Rosberg once again had the Brit’s number with another win from pole, though it's fair to say that Hamilton hardly had the best week of preparation. As the Mercedes pair squabbled with Sebastian Vettel just beyond striking distance, the best battles were once again for lower end points.
There are always a few surprises on a new track with teams struggling to replicate the exact conditions they will face on a track they have never raced on before. While F1 has raced at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez before, it was on a different layout, with a full Peraltada and fewer sweeping corners in the middle sector. Teams also had no information on track surface and how the tyres would behave. Matters were made worse by a damp first practice session, reducing the precious minutes cars had on track to prepare.
Even with the world title sealed we were treated to a fantastic race after a long wait for track action in Texas this weekend. With fans rightly disappointed to be locked out of FP3, which would potentially set the grid, only to sit in the stands waiting for a qualifying session that never came, they were rewarded for their patience with an action packed Sunday. Lewis Hamilton won a shootout with his teammate to seal his third crown after both Red Bulls and Sebastian Vettel had appeared to be in race winning positions.
After a tricky introduction in 2014, the Russian GP delivered a cracker in 2015. While Lewis Hamilton was unchallenged at the front to all but wrap up a third world title (Russian officials can’t affect Nico Rosberg’s throttle damper), there was intrigue up and down the field. Romain Grosjean’s accident – one of two that were a cause for a concern regarding the safety of the circuit – created havoc for strategists, who had to choose between maintaining track position and opening a gap or going aggressive and managing a long final stint.
With the Mercedes team given the silent treatment in Japan, there was plenty of time to watch the battles further down the field. Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas fought Nico Rosberg for a spot on the podium while Max Verstappen, Daniil Kvyat, Sergio Pérez, Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa all tried to fight their way back through the field with varying levels of success after an assortment of ailments ruined their weekends.
What a turn up for the books; on the weekend that Mercedes and in particular Lewis Hamilton looked set to emulate his childhood hero Ayrton Senna, he and his team were rather upstaged by Ferrari, and indeed Red Bull. Alarm bells were ringing from Friday afternoon as Merc simply couldn’t match their rivals, unable to open the taps on their Mercedes power unit, allowing Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s chassis to shine on the street circuit.
Hopefully that wasn’t the last time that the F1 circus travelled to Italy. The Tifosi made for a splendid atmosphere as Lewis Hamilton took a giant step towards a third world title, equalling his hero, Ayrton Senna, and his boss Niki Lauda. But while it was a stroll in the park for the newly blond Briton, others had to work a lot harder to earn results at Monza.
As ever the Belgian GP provided the F1 world with plenty of intrigue. And while we weren’t treated to a classic GP in the Ardennes Forest, partly due to the weirdly sunny weather, there were still plenty of battles throughout the field. As expected, the long straights and flat out nature of the circuit provided the four Mercedes teams with a real edge but the twisty high speed sector two also offered a little something for everyone else, so long as they had a decent chassis.
Remember the days when the Hungarian Grand Prix was a punchline, an annual snoozefest procession won from pole. Over the last 10 years, Budapest has put up several thrilling races, and the rest all seemed to have major significance in the championship fight. That streak continued on Sunday as an intriguing race exploded into a thriller after Nico Hülkenberg’s cruel misfortune, a scary front wing failure costing the German a shot at good points. It brought the field closer together and gave those further back a chance to launch an assault on the cars ahead. Meanwhile, there was little troubling the man at the front.
The British GP served up a cracker. The race was made as both Williams got great starts to pass the Mercedes, rattling Hamilton into a mistake on the restart. But Williams were hesitant on strategy, leaving Bottas angry and potentially welcoming attack from Mercedes. Ultimately I think they made the correct decision, if a little slowly. Once the battle for the lead was ‘resolved’ mid-way through the race, attention turned to the sky and the on-off rain was a nightmare for teams, unable to commit to slicks or intermediate tyres.
After diverting my attention to the sports car variety of prototype for a week, F1 was back on my mind as the sport returned to the European grind with a trip to the hills of Austria. Mercedes were striving for a year of pole positions, having slipped up in Spielberg this time last season. Oddly on their way to completing the year of Saturday dominance, not only did Lewis Hamilton spin (again) but Nico Rosberg had an off himself at the final corner on both of their final runs but this time neither Ferrari nor Williams were anywhere near close enough in terms of raw pace to take advantage.
It may not have been the best race of the season so far but with Felipe Massa and Sebastian Vettel chasing through the field after mechanical gremlins on Saturday and others out of position compared to their race pace, there was still plenty of action and incident. Montreal proved why it is a favourite on the F1 calendar with good overtaking and close racing. And with a mixed up grid, it gave a few of the drivers who haven’t had the best of starts to 2015 a chance to shine.
As Mercedes defended phantom moves at the front to their detriment, the Brackley-squad were left upstaged by young stars in the midfield. Qualifying was always going to be key in Monaco but down the field, some bold strategy moves and ballsy overtaking moves saw some of the stars of the future climb up through the field having started out of position.
The start of the European season is always hyped as the start of the development race where we find out the true pecking order for the F1 season as teams bring new parts galore and race around the optimum testing track, highlighting the best chassis of the season. And unfortunately, Ferrari’s title credentials took a critical blow, as they watched the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg drive off into the distance.
The Bahrain GP delivered once again as Mercedes couldn't quite shake the Ferrari fight. Nico Rosberg had to pass a Ferrari five times and still finished behind Kimi Räikkönenafter the Finn chased him through the final stint before Rosberg's brakes faltered at "the worst possible time" with two laps left.
While strategy was the source of intrigue in Malaysia as spectators were left wondering if Sebastian Vettel could outpace the Mercedes in a straight fight, it was the source of frustration for many in China, not least Nico Rosberg. With a risk of burning out tyres and allowing Ferrari into the picture, Mercedes went very conservative and secured a one-two with an incredibly measured strategy, though Lewis Hamilton’s pace appeared more conspiracy than controlled in the eyes of some.
It took twenty one races for Mercedes air of invincibility to be evaporated. For the first time, Mercedes were beaten in a straight fight on pace, with strategy a factor but by no means the sole reason they were beaten. Take nothing away from Daniel Ricciardo but his three wins in 2014 did owe a lot to Mercedes unreliability and unrest as well as weather. This wasn't lucky, this was the perfect blend of skill and hard work from Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel.
F1 returned in farcical circumstances in Australia. Heading into the season opener we didn’t know how many cars would be on the grid, which drivers would be there or how many races will be on the calendar (and we still don’t). Even once we got to Melbourne, one team was in court being sued by one of its three drivers and another found that their car wasn't able to run at all. In the end, just 15 cars, 75% of the entry list, started the race and we were reduced to 13 runners after just one lap.
Okay, so we didn’t get a title decider for the ages. It wasn’t 2008, or 2012 but it was still a fascinating weekend and a great battle between the two worthy contenders from Mercedes, right up until the moment that Nico Rosberg suffered an ERS failure. But the championship already appeared within reach for Lewis Hamilton after a lightning fast getaway that launched him into first and control of the race.