2. Nico Rosberg. 322 points. Grade: A- . What a season this could have been for Rosberg if he had found his stunning end of season form earlier on in the year. Up until Mexico, Rosberg was thoroughly second best to Hamilton at Mercedes and had won less than a third of the races of Lewis. Originally we graded Rosberg as a B+ for season until his reaction to losing out on the championship boosted him up to an A. Bar the now infamous “cap-gate” incident in Austin, Rosberg has been extremely gracious in defeat and now looks a completely new driver. He ended the season with six race victories and a further nine podium finishes, still not a bad haul when you put things in perspective….
3. Sebastian Vettel. 278 points. Grade: A. There really isn’t much more Vettel could have extracted from the Ferrari this season. The only driver outside of Mercedes to score a race victory (make that three) and a comprehensive drubbing of his teammate is a phenomenal difference to the forlorn, unmotivated figure we saw so much of in 2014. A further 10 podiums helped Ferrari score 2nd place in the constructors championship after a disappointing 2014 by their standards. If Ferrari can continue their rate of development over the winter then the championship can most certainly be a four horse race in 2016. Bonus marks to Vettel for displaying his potential as a stand-up comedian at many of the press conferences this year. In the serious world that F1 is, a refreshed, rejuvenated and funny Sebastian Vettel was one of the highlights of the season.
4. Kimi Raikkonen. 150 points. Grade B. In many races, Kimi was probably F1’s loneliest man throughout much of the season. Just fast enough to hold off Williams and Red Bull, but not fast enough to challenge his teammate or Mercedes, Raikkonen spent much of 2015 on the periphery of the action. Just three podiums compared to Vettel’s 13 highlights the gulf in class between the two at Ferrari but as we pointed out yesterday, it may just play into Ferrari’s advantage next season. Like it or not, Raikkonen played the perfect No2 role at Ferrari this season and barring any major changes over the winter looks set to spend what will probably be his final season in F1 as much of the same.
5. Valteri Bottas. 136 points. Grade B+. The last part of Bottas’ season was severely compromised by Williams chosing to end development on their 2015 car relatively early, and that for reason the Finn gets a grade of B+. For most of the season Bottas looked to have the measure of Kimi Raikonnen and if not for a poor last few races, (barring Mexico) he may well have pipped his countryman to fourth. In some respects 2015 may feel like a bit of an anti-climax for Williams. Securing 3rd in the constructors table for the second consecutive season is a amazing achievement however the team have slipped behind Ferrari in the battle to be best of the rest. Two podiums in Canada and Mexico was his only silverware in 2015, but all evidence points to the fact that Bottas is maturing into a very capable driver who has more than a few years left at the top of F1.
6. Felipe Massa. 121 points. Grade B. Massa is enjoying a twilight period in his career proving many of his doubters wrong for the second consecutive year. The veteran Brazilian was much closer to his teammates pace all season and scored a further two podiums for Williams in Austria and Italy. Again, like Bottas his latter half of the season was heavily comprised but should William’s gamble to focus on 2016 early pay off, then expect Felipe Massa right back at the front again next year.
7. Danil Kvyat. 95 points. Grade B. Kvyat enjoyed a successful first season in the Red Bull senior team, in a strong car which was hampered by a severely under powered engine. Beating his highly regarded teammate in the standings is about as much as the Russian could have hoped for in 2015, even if it was through Ricciardo’s woeful luck with reliability. He showed his potential with a strong drive to second place in Hungary and if Renault can provide Red Bull with an improved engine next season, then the F1 paddock can enjoy watching Kvyat vs Ricciardo further up the grid than this year.
8. Daniel Ricciardo. 92 points. Grade B. Hampered by chronic reliability problems and engine changes, two podiums and an eight place finish concluded a year in which the smiling Aussie would have surely hoped for better. All to often this season the quadruple drivers and constructors champions found themselves scrapping for points around the bottom half of the top ten, a position which Red Bull have found themselves rather unaccustomed to in recent seasons. Ricciardo didn’t really have much to do all season to be perfectly honest and by Britain onwards it became clear that the rest of 2015 would be a bit of a rubber duck for the Red Bull squad. Still, Ricciardo and Kvyat made the best of what they had, and will be hoping that Red Bull TAG-Heuer will be more competitive come the start of 2016. Ricciardo’s ballroom dancing expertise with Kvyat in Austin must also get an honourable mention here!
9. Sergio Perez. 78 points. Grade A*. What a fantastic season Sergio Perez had in 2015. Scoring Force India’s only podium in Russia was the highlight of what was most certainly Perez’s strongest season yet. The young Mexican has undergone a transformation since his messy season at McLaren in 2013 and has matured into one the top drivers in the field. A further fourth place on the grid in Abu Dhabi compounded his and Force India’s exceptional end of season form and if they can carry that on into 2016, F1’s top four teams will have to start looking over their shoulders.
10. Nico Hulkenberg. 58 points. Grade A-/B+. Perez’s form make it easy to overlook Hulkenberg’s performances this season but since Force India debuted their new car at the Austrian GP, the German’s results have still been extremely impressive. A solid 10th place finish in the championship highlights Force India’s progress and Hulkenberg certainly received the wrong end of the reliability stick over the course of the season. I know we’re just focusing on F1 here, but Hulkenberg’s win on his debut at the 24 hours de Le Mans was a gentle reminder of this drivers ability and class. So commonly linked with a move to bigger teams in the past, Hulkenberg somewhat fell off the silly season radar in 2015, however his performances this season should not be overlooked, as he and Perez continue to form a formidable driver line up over at Force India.
Do you agree with our driver ratings? Tune in tomorrow when we’ll assess the performances of drivers 11 -20 in the 2015 F1 table!