The 2015 Formula 1 season may not go down in the history books as a classic, but they were some compelling stories to talk - and write - about. Ferrari’s resurgence was particularly well received and bodes well for 2016. Similarly, Max Verstappen gave some memorable moments this year with his daring moves over much more experienced rivals on the grid.
On the contrary, the renewal of McLaren and Honda only made for terrible reading as two world champions languished at the back of the grid in an underpowered and unreliable car.
Ferrari’s renaissance in 2015 has been one of the major talking points of the season.
After a torrid year, by their standards, in 2014, Ferrari emerged as the closest challenger to pace-setting Mercedes this year, taking three victories and a plethora of podiums in the hands of Sebastian Vettel.
Over the course of 2014, several top-level managerial and technical officers were ousted as a new structure took shape. Former Marlboro sponsorship man Maurizio Arrivabene was instated in the role of team principal while James Allison continued at technical director, having rejoined the squad from Lotus.
Major gains were made on the power unit front, allowing Scuderia to close the gap to Mercedes. The team found a loophole in regulations that allowed for in-season engine development, giving more time to the engine manufacturer to develop their power units, within the total allocated engine tokens.
The chassis was also top-notch, as was the liaison between the two departments.
The incoming of Vettel from Red Bull brought a breath of fresh air within the team. And the German duly delivered, scoring podiums in 13 races and meeting Ferrari’s target of 3 wins this season.
The first victory, a strategic one, came as early as March at the Malaysian Grand Prix, while last one in Singapore was down to outright pace advantage on a weekend Silver Arrows struggled for speed.
Daring debut of Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen silenced his critics with his bold and daring moves, repaying the faith instilled on him by Red Bull’s head of young drivers programme, Helmut Marko.
The young Dutchman secured a season best result of fourth place in Hungary, despite a drive through penalty, and matched that finish in Austin at the other end of the year. But his drive of the season arguably came in Singapore when he bounced back from early race woes to finish in the top 10.
It would be unfair to review Verstappen’s season without highlighting his strong wheel-to-wheel racing skills. The daring Dutchman has been able to pull through moves at locations where even world championships struggled, providing plenty of entertainment to the fans and receiving plaudits from pundits at the same time. His pass over Felipe Nasr on the outside of Blanchimont is labelled by many as the overtaking move of the year.
Jules Bianchi’s death
On 17th July, 2015, Jules Bianchi succumbed to injuries sustained during a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix. The French driver had ran off the track in tricky conditions, sliding underneath a crane that was deployed to recover the stricken car of Adrian Sutil.
After spending nine months undergoing treatment and rehabilitation in Japan and France, Bianchi was pronounced dead, giving a stark reminder of the dangers associated with this sport.
The accident panel formed after the crash came up with some reasonable recommendations, such as a four-hour gap between race start and dusk and the introduction of what came to be known as the Virtual Safety Car.
Force India - punching above it weights
Amid the cash flow issues, what Force India achieved this season is truly remarkable.
The team introduced its 2015 car - essentially a minor update of its predecessor - only at the final pre-season, as financial problems delayed production of parts and delivery from suppliers. The car was handful, at best, but drivers Hulkenberg and Perez managed to score points on a regular basis.
When the much awaited - and much delayed - B-spec VJM08 was rolled out of the Silverstone pitlane, it marked a turnaround in team's fortunes.
The car delivered as per its potential, with Perez regularly notching top-five results, including a stunning podium finish at the inaugural Russian Grand Prix. A fourth place grid slot at Spa was just as impressive.
The Silverstone-based team ended the season in fifth place in the standings, its highest ever since joining the sport in 2008.
The off-track battle to seek control
Similar to FISA-FOCA battle, a new fight is raging on in Formula 1 at present, with manufacturers on one side, and FIA/FOM on the other. The independents outfits in this case are merely ‘passengers’, as rightly labelled by Force India deputy chief Bob Fernley.
Fearing manufacturers are gaining control of the sport in an engine-dominated formula, Ecclestone and Todt have joined hands to regain power. The push for an alternative engine, which was eventually rejected, is a prime example
More recently, the FIA mandated Todt and Ecclestone to come up recommendations regarding some of the pressing issues that Formula 1 finds itself embroiled in, namely, governance, power unit and cost reduction. A deadline of 31st January has been set for the same.
Red Bull engine saga
The Red Bull engine saga dragged on longer than most would have probably liked, with a deal announced only after the season.
The Austrian team grew frustrated with Renault’s inability to produce a competitive engine for a second year, openly criticising the French manufacturer to the media. It also began negotiation with other manufacturers as a potential replacement to Renault, but couldn’t pen a deal with any of the three.
Eventually, Red Bull agreed to see out its current deal with Renault, with Swiss watch maker Tag Heuer rebadging the company’s engines.
Honda’s torrid comeback as engine partners
Much was made of Honda’s return to Formula 1 with McLaren, with the two companies having dominated the sport during the late 80s and early 90s.
However, the season turned out to be nothing short of a nightmare with Honda producing an unreliable and underpowered engine, with an inefficient energy system only adding to the misery.
The McLaren chassis wasn’t the best in the class either, with the result that world champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button languished close to the rear of field all season long.
Exclude Manor, who are effectively running a 2014 engine/chassis, and McLaren finished at the bottom of the standings - hardly acceptable for a team which won has 8 constructors titles and 12 drivers titles under its belt.
Renault’s return to the sport
Amid increasing tensions between Red Bull and Renault, the French manufacturer started evaluating plans to return as a full-blown outfit. The top brass at Renault have developed an opinion that the marketing returns from being solely an engine manufacturer are minimal. Never-ending criticism criticism heaped by Red Bull only added to their belief.
So, the Renault set about repurchasing the Lotus squad from Genii Capital. But with sky high debts and a contract with Ecclestone to be drawn regarding historic payments, uncertainty continued to embroil the Enstone team.
Late arrival of parts to grand prix weekends became a common feature and at one occasion team was not given access to its designated hospitality unit.
A letter of intent was eventually signed and a confirmation of the deal was announced once the chequered flag was dropped on the 2015 season. At the time of writing, the final details of the deal are yet to be concluded.
The successful return of the Mexican Grand Prix
Mexico’s return to the Formula 1 calendar after a 23 year hiatus was highly successful, as over 300,000 fans flocked the circuit to cheer home hero Sergio Perez.
At a time when new venues are struggling to fill seats and older tracks are finding it hard to break even, the Mexican Grand Prix gave a perfect example of how a race should be hosted.
Although the race was dull and the circuit has partly lost its character, the atmosphere made the race one of the highlights of the year. The stadium section offered a unique way for fans to catch the action, who also got the best seats in the house during the podium ceremony.
by Rachit Thukral