What a race! For the first time in a long time, no one knew who would win throughout the Grand Prix. Would a two-stop work for Verstappen and Räikkönen before their tyres fell off a cliff? Could Max keep his nerve? How fast would Ricciardo be on fresher tyres in the final stint? In the end, it was the teenager who came out on top and to be fair, the Mercedes incident had no impact on the Red Bull/Ferrari fight, though it did highlight it and raise the stakes with a rare opportunity of a win, rather than just a podium, as Mercedes failed to score a point for the first time since the 2012 US GP.
The Russian GP and indeed the World Championship took a major turn at 3:48pm local time on Saturday when it became clear that Lewis Hamilton’s MGU-H had failed, leaving him stuck in tenth on the grid, with Nico Rosberg in a perfect position to profit with an easy pole and odds on for the win with the pace advantage Mercedes had. However, there was still intrigue with Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel coming through the field, and then more intrigue after the second corner as Daniil Kvyat triggered mayhem, knocking Vettel out of the race and hampering several of the front runners, which opened the door for the lower midfield to fight for points.
It really would help if the championship contenders formed an orderly queue behind Nico Rosberg rather than tripping over each other. China saw a sixth straight win for Rosberg, as he became the fourth driver in history, and the third German, to achieve such a feat. But he knows better than anyone that the fight is far from over, so long as the chasing pack can cobble together some consistency, reliability and even a little luck.
The expected farce on Saturday, with Williams running cars in Q2 “for the good of the sport”, was once again rescued by a stonking race in the desert night. F1 seems to have stumbled across a good idea introducing three tyre compounds and increasing the variability of strategy, though it’ll be interesting to see how long the variation lasts as teams revert to the mean. Ultimately though the first two races have been exciting because over half the field have been putting in strong performances, undoubtedly motivated by the potential drives up for grabs at Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren, but here are the best performances from Bahrain.
F1 needed a good day after the exciting new elimination qualifying designed to liven up the grid led to a farcical loss of running and a severe lack of suspense. The race on the other hand had two key factors that added extra spice: Ferrari jumping from third and fourth on the grid to first and second by turn three and then Fernando Alonso’s world being turned upside-down down under leading to a red flag on lap 17. But several drivers, including the pair at Renault who haven’t raced in over a year, showed no rust and started the season with good performances.
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.