As that familiar winter blues feeling begin to settle in, and Nico Rosberg returns home with a spring in his step, the engines have been turned off for the final time in 2015. Now, by no means was 2015 a vintage Formula One year. Christian Horner even alluded to the fact himself in Abu Dhabi that the most exciting action this season took place off track, with the politics and drama of this great sport quickly unraveling into a tangled mess. Our highlights of the year feature will follow shortly (we’re working on it right now I can assure you!) but in the meantime thehairpincorner looks back at four lessons we learned during the 2015 F1 season.
Sebastian Vettel can be the next Micheal Schumacher. Vettel has more or less single-handedly led Ferrari on track throughout 2015. It was a remarkable season for the Scuderia in more ways than one. Yes, bouncing back from an extremely disappointing 2014 in which they scored just one podium finish was one of the highlights but more importantly, they might have finally found a driver capable of filling Schumacher’s gigantic shoes.
Schumi is Vettel’s idol, a fact he’s made clear since his very first days in F1. If you take a moment to think about Ferrari’s driver line up in the post Schumacher era, first there’s Felipe Massa. Now, Massa is an extremely quick driver there’s no doubt about that and he just missed out on the championship in 2008 (well, he did win in for about 30 seconds), but was he really the leader Ferrari needed to build there team around? I think not.
Then we can welcome into the fold Kimi Raikkonen, again like Massa in his heyday he was devastatingly fast, the best driver on the grid but Kimi was never a team player, he was never going to rally the troops in the way that Michael did in Ferrari’s glory days. Yes, he won the title in his debut season but where he disappear to after that? Relatively speaking Raikkonen was nowhere the near the title in 2008 or 2009 before he departed F1 to try his hand at Rallying.
Alas, at last Fernando Alonso arrived at Maranello, and on the outside he seemed everything that Ferrari needed. There’s no doubt that Alonso has the capability to lead, motivate and build a team around himself and he twice came tantalizingly close to clinching his third world title in his four seasons at Ferrari, but you never got the impression he was loved by the team in the same way Schumacher was. Ferrari and Schumacher were joined at the hip, and even still after his three year stint at Mercedes, you associate the two together before you do anything else.
Que the arrival of Sebastian Vettel who, from the minute he arrived in Italy has made it his mission to live, breathe and eat Ferrari in a way that no other driver since Schumacher has done. You can tell the team love him, and in return he loves the team. Even in Mexico, when it appeared obvious to everyone that his retirement was caused by a mechanical/brake issue Vettel stood firm in his defense of his team, a move which would have done him no harm whatsover. You could hear it over the radio messages when he took his three wins this season. “Forza Ferrari” he’d scream. Now, you’d never catch Kimi, and I doubt Fernando doing that. If all goes well over the winter Ferrari have a genuine chance of catching Mercedes next year and if they do, there’s a real chance another dynasty will be built over at Maranello.
Sergio Perez deserves another crack at the big time. He’s said himself that his year at McLaren in 2013 was probably a step to far at that stage in his career, and in the kindest possible way, it certainly was. But fast forward two seasons and Perez looks a completely different driver from the erratic and crash happy youngster of two years ago. Beating his highly rated teammate Hulkenberg to 9th in the table by 20 points in 2015 was testament to the improvement the young Mexican has made in every aspect of his racing, and nowhere was this demonstrated better than his fantastic drive to the podium in Sochi after Raikkonen effectively clothes lined Bottas into the barriers. In all fairness to Perez, coming into McLaren as Hamilton’s replacement was always going to be a difficult task, and combined with the 2013 McLaren being a dog to drive he unluckily joined the team at the beginning of their downfall. If Perez keeps his stunning form up in 2016, it’s only a matter of time before F1’s frontrunners are offering him a chance to eat at the sports top table once again.
Whilst Sergio Perez definitely deserves a chance, we can think of one man who doesn’t. By our reckoning, if as expected Renault enter as a works team next season, they won’t have a single leg to stand on. Nine retirements and just 27 points in a Mercedes powered Lotus represents another measly haul for poor old Pastor in 2015. Completely overshadowed by the outbound Romain Grosjean all season (oh how Lotus will miss him), Maldonado didn’t exactly fill anyone with the confidence that he was the man to spearhead Renault’s full time return. With Palmer confirmed in the other seat, expect Renault to have a torrid start to the season as the 2014 GP2 champ finds his feet and Maldonado continues, well just being Maldonado. No doubt over time Palmer will mature and develop into the accomplished driver he obviously is but time is surely running out for Pastor, who with Renault back in the fold, might find his sponsorship millions sacrificed by the Renault board in favour of stronger results.
Please bring back refueling, please! More races than we care to remember this season have turned into a monotonous procession featuring just one or two (when it no longer matters) pitstops. It was such a shame when F1 bosses decided against bringing back refueling in 2017 on the basis of cost grounds, when manufacturers are constantly increasing their costs for customers engines. Bringing back refueling would have added an extra element to the strategy and sub plot of each race, something which plenty of races in 2015 were crying out for. Instead we were left wondering if Vettel could have snatched any more race wins from Mercedes had Ferrari out thought Mercedes on race day….