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.
The Brazilian GP threw up another thriller as delicate, volatile tyres left teams on the edge with strategy. Blisters were evident after just a couple of laps into a stint and the man caught out the most was the favourite for the championship, Lewis Hamilton. The alternative strategies led to a fascinating race but in the end, the biggest factor in the result was a Mercedes power unit.
The US GP helped to lift the gloom off of one of the darkest months in F1 history. But there were still reminders of the struggles the sport is going through. While Jules Bianchi’s injury is by far the worst of the struggles F1 has had, the starkest image was just seeing 17 cars on a threadbare grid. But even with just 18 cars in the race, there was still some entertainment on Sunday evening, with some cars appearing to use demolition derby techniques in their finely tuned F1 cars with varying degrees of success.
It was a strange weekend in Russia with all the excitement of a new facility and the start of the championship run in, and yet no one wanted to know, focused on answers after Jules Bianchi’s horrific crash in Japan. But Russia offered everyone the opportunity to move on and get their thoughts somewhat, if not fully, back on racing. But there was definitely something missing, not least the 22nd car on the grid of Jules Bianchi. Perhaps an indication of drivers’ thoughts being on Jules Bianchi, no-one really had the perfect weekend. But regardless, there were still some good performances to write home about.
It was a bizarre weekend in the land of the Rising Sun - not that you could see the Sun on Sunday - with shock driver moves as Sebastian Vettel fled to Ferrari, triggering Daniil Kvyat's early promotion to the Red Bull senior team, and warnings of extreme weather affecting the race as Typhoon Phanphone hit the coast of Japan. And mixed in was the inevitable politics of F1 as arguments raged over why the race was not brought forward to avoid the worst of the storm.
The Singapore GP may have started out as a moonlit cruise but the fireworks came out in the second half of the race as Adrian Sutil caused a safety car that completely changed the complexion of the race. Though the early part of the race had been fairly processional (12 to 21st all remained in the same order until lap 8), it was packed with drama as the one retirement was a critical one. A wiring loom failure created pre-race anxiety for Nico Rosberg which was justified as the German failed to pull away for the formation lap. And while Rosberg did manage to get away from the pitlane, he never really got going, even the Caterham and Marussias easily pulled away from his mis-shifting Mercedes.
365 F1 stories
Which Williams driver took F1 by surprise, bringing forward his retirement by one race and quitting on this day?
F1 test schedule
|Circuito de Jerez||Spain||1 Feb|
|Circuito de Jerez||Spain||2 Feb|
|Circuito de Jerez||Spain||3 Feb|
|Circuito de Jerez||Spain||4 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||19 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||20 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||21 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||22 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||26 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||27 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||28 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||1 Mar|