Sunday, 27 December 2015

2015 season review

Well, that wasn’t a classic.

I finished moderately ahead, which is good, but it was a bit down on some other years. In racing terms, the total dominance of Hamilton, especially in the first half of the season, made the title race a concept rather than a reality.

Mercedes

Probably increased their margin over the field compared to last year. Reliability improved to near perfect, pit stops were all good and the only black spot was a perplexing (some would say suspicious, but I think that’s a bit conspiracy theory) loss of pace in Singapore. Their engine remains the best, though Ferrari narrowed the gap, and the car itself was one of the best, making it formidable almost everywhere.

Ferrari

Made a great leap, from 4th to 2nd this year (the opposite of Red Bull). Vettel fits the team like a glove, and, whilst Raikkonen was lacklustre, the two drivers actually get along. Right now they seem the team likeliest to challenge for the title in 2016 but there remains a significant pace deficit to Mercedes. They were the only team to win this year, other than Mercedes, and the only other team to get a pole position (I think).

Williams

They came 3rd, for the second year in a row. After the recent years of woe, this is a great result, but the team must be disappointed not to have narrowed the gap to Mercedes. The driver lineup is very well-balanced, but some strategic errors (the team seems overly cautious) probably cost points. More downforce is needed. I expect them to achieve podium results next year again, but they really need to get another win under their belt.

Red Bull

As well as slipping dramatically down on pace, despite two very impressive drivers, Red Bull also managed the impressive feat of pissing off every engine manufacturer with their incessant whining. On track, the car was weak on top speed but the chassis remains very good, arguably the best on the grid. On slower circuits, the Red Bull was competitive. I do not think they’ll make much headway next year.

Force India

A great year for the team after a difficult start. Late to the tests, then stuck without upgrades for about half the season. But when the B-spec car and upgrades rolled in, Perez and Hulkenberg made the most of it. The two drivers are very well-matched and where one seems weak, the other seems strong (Perez is good at Yas Marina, Hulkenberg at Interlagos). Perez got another podium, and whilst Hulkenberg’s never had one, he did win Le Mans this year. The team may be acquired by Aston Martin.

Lotus

If Force India had a difficult year, Lotus’ was a triumph of team spirit over economic reality. Literally visited by bailiffs and locked out of their own hospitality unit, Lotus survived on borrowed sandwiches and joie de vivre, achieving an almost incredible podium at Spa for Grosjean (whose departure from the team was due to its inability to guarantee its presence on the grid when Haas came knocking). They return to being Renault next year, which will hopefully revive their fortunes.

Toro Rosso

The little sister of Red Bull, Toro Rosso had a pair of newcomers who performed very well indeed. Verstappen’s overtaking prowess (and occasional exuberance, though I think Monaco was the only blatant mistake) is well-known, though I think Sainz has been a little overlooked (and more unfortunate with reliability). Next year they have Ferrari engines [albeit the 2015 version]. They may actually be faster than Red Bull, which is sticking with Renault, so we shall see.

Sauber

A so-so year for the Swiss team, but after its first and only failure to score any points in 2014, I imagine they’d take it. Finishing 8th also means they get some prize money. Nasr and Ericsson seem decent drivers, though it can be hard to tell with a backmarker team.

McLaren

Easily the worst year I’ve ever seen for McLaren. The car itself seems ok, but the Honda power unit is a dog. Although a dog can protect your house from burglars, cheer you up when you’re down, and is a great companion. As well as being well down on raw horsepower, the electronic aspects seem just inefficient/ineffective, so on long straights the power runs out and the car is something crazy like 160bhp off the best. There are positives and negatives, looking forward. The problems seem reasonably understood. But there’s limited scope for development. McLaren need to leap back into at least the midfield. They’ve got a fantastic pair of drivers, but they need an engine that bloody works. Worth noting they’ve been more patient and friendly with Honda than Red Bull have with Renault.

Manor

Just scraping onto the grid, this was always going to be a place-holder year for the team. And so it proved. Trundling at the back a day and a half behind everyone else must be pretty miserable, and they’ve lost Graeme Lowdon (former team principal when it was Marussia), which is a shame as he seemed to have his head screwed on right. However, next year they’ve got a Mercedes engine, so that should help propel them to challenge for points. If not, they may sink.

Haas

Not on the grid this year, but they will be next, with Grosjean and probably Mexican eyebrow-enthusiast Gutierrez. The team will have Ferrari engines and many other bits from Ferrari. In fact, some think that all the work Haas has done this year in the wind tunnel (all legitimately, but far more than would be permitted had they been on the grid) is, ahem, helpful to Ferrari. I think Haas will hit the ground running in 2016 and definitely score points. The likes of Sauber should be worried about being pushed further down the pecking order.

So, who will the contenders be for 2016?
Hamilton is an obvious one. Rosberg may be. He was poor in the first half of the year but ended with six consecutive pole positions and three consecutive victories. Vettel is another obvious candidate.

But beyond them? Very speculative, but Ricciardo and Kvyat could be in with a shot, though that depends on Renault getting their act together. I do not think Williams will be able to compete as their engine may be a few races behind Mercedes in terms of upgrades, and the team needs more downforce. Alonso/Button could, but that’d require one hell of a comeback from Honda and I don’t think there’s sufficient flexibility to make the necessary changes.

In all likelihood, it’ll be a Hamilton versus Rosberg versus Vettel contest.


Morris Dancer