By Daniel Wilson.
Formula One in 2015 was so similar and yet so different from 2014. Same turbo engines, same two drivers battling up front and ultimately the same outcome. But around the paddock, all was changed.
Four-time champ Sebastian Vettel moved from his beloved Red Bull team to follow in the footsteps of his idol Michael Schumacher and take on a new challenge with the prancing horse. In his place, a promoted Daniil Kvyat looking to challenge an Australian who had seen off Vettel to take the number one status in the team. That left two new spaces at Toro Rosso after Jean-Eric Vergne’s departure. And what entertainment rookies Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz have provided us.
Up front though, it was business as usual for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, who both had a more dominant season this time around. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the best of 2015, including BBC Sport’s video highlights.
Winter testing can never be read into too much, particularly when it comes to lap times. It was clear from Day One though that Mercedes and Ferrari looked impressive, but further down the field, cracks were emerging.
Honda’s comeback into F1 with McLaren has been highly anticipated and built up as a potential challenge for the championship in the hope of emulating the iconic partnership which dominated the sport in the early 1990’s. But this year has been the complete opposite and signs it was going pear-shaped emerged in testing.
The team’s two world champion drivers – Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button – completed very few laps over the 12-day schedule – and things only got worse when Alonso suffered concussion from an accident at the second outing in Barcelona. This not only ruled him out of the rest of testing, but also the first race in Australia.
Another team struggling was Force India. The financial delays to their 2015 car meant they did not test at all in Jerez and only used their 2014 model in the final three runs – so all to play for going into Australia.
RACE ONE : MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
If you’re Mercedes, round one couldn’t have gone any better. They locked out the front row, with Lewis Hamilton leading home a one-two to get his title fight off to a tee. And for the icing on the cake, Ferrari were more than half a minute back which at the time wouldn’t have bothered Sebastian Vettel as he scored a podium for the Scuderia on his debut.
Only 11 of the 20 cars saw the chequered flag after big name retirements from Daniil Kvyat and Kimi Raikkonen, leaving big opportunities. And it was debutant Felipe Nasr who took his Sauber to fifth behind fellow countryman Felipe Massa.
Check out highlights of the race here:
RACE TWO: SEPANG, MALAYSIA
In 2014, Red Bull were the only team to challenge Mercedes, but this year, they were fighting for points rather than podiums. And after a dominant victory in Australia, many were worrying about a whole season of total dominance that could harm the sport.
But Malaysia surprised even the winners themselves. Sebastian Vettel knew when he moved to Ferrari that Mercedes were still top dogs, but his performance in Malaysia came down to strategy and raw pace. The intense heat favoured the Ferrari better and forced Mercedes to make one extra stop, handing a debut win for Vettel in the prancing horse.
Relive Vettel’s first Ferrari win here:
RACE THREE: SHANGHAI, CHINA
After their shock win in Malaysia, all eyes were on Ferrari to see how they would fare in the cooler conditions of China. It’s fair to say they were still a bit close for comfort for Mercedes, but the world champions held off the challenge this time around as Lewis Hamilton took his second win of the season to move 13 points clear in the title race. But already, the relationship between Hamilton and Rosberg was hitting rocks as the German accused his teammate of driving too slowly, backing him up into Vettel.
Meanwhile, in the midfield, the show was stolen by teenager Max Verstappen, who made a number of impressive overtaking moves in Shanghai, including one heart-stopping moment at the hair pin on Marcus Ericsson. Although his efforts were not rewarded as his engine let go a few laps from home.
Relive Max’s moves and Hamilton’s win here:
RACE FOUR: SAKHIR, BAHRAIN
F1 returned to Bahrain for the second time at night and once again, it was Lewis Hamilton who took home first prize. But Ferrari were still in touching distance, and this time it was Kimi Raikkonen who took second place away from Nico Rosberg, while teammate Vettel made a number of unusual errors to finish fifth.
Watch highlights here:
RACE FIVE: BARCELONA, SPAIN
As F1 moved back into Europe, it was crunch time for one driver – Nico Rosberg. The German was 27 points behind teammate Hamilton in he standings, and was yet to beat him in both qualifying and the race in 2015. So, Barcelona seemed a good place to put that right and he did just that. Nico secured pole position and led from there to the finish. Meanwhile, Lewis had to fight his way back past the Ferrari of Vettel on a track notoriously difficult for overtaking. The gap was now 20 points – a revival for Nico?
See the Spanish GP highlights here:
RACE SIX: MONTE-CARLO, MONACO
The famous Circuit de Monte-Carlo is one of sport’s greatest challenges and racing here never disappoints, but this year’s event will probably be remembered for the wrong reasons – if you’re Lewis Hamilton. The British driver has only one here once – in the wet in 2008 – but admits he has failed in recent years in a car which could’ve taken the chequered flag. So, this year when he took pole position and led away at almost a second a lap, he must’ve thought it was in the bag.
However, 15 laps from the end, a big crash between Max Verstappen and Pastor Maldonado at Turn one brought out the safety car, and Mercedes decided to pit Hamilton as a precaution thinking they had enough of a gap to Rosberg and Vettel – but they were wrong. Hamilton was back in third, and despite being on much fresher tyres, he couldn’t find a way past. Lewis was ultimately robbed of a dominant win in Monaco and his championship lead was now just 10 points.
Relive Hamilton’s Monaco heartbreak here:
RACE SEVEN: MONTREAL, CANADA
With a narrowing gap in the title race, Lewis Hamilton needed to bounce back from the race in Monaco, and he did just that. He won a close fight with his teammate to take his fourth win in Canada, and with Ferrari pegged back in fourth and fifth, Mercedes began to stretch their legs.
Watch highlights from Canada here:
RACE EIGHT: SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA
Despite winning two of the previous three races, there were still questions over whether Nico Rosberg could beat Lewis Hamilton in a fair fight, and you could say he answered some of those questions in Austria. For the seventh time this season, the Englishman was on pole. But this time, Nico took his teammate off the line and defended his line into Turn One. From there, Nico controlled the race and Lewis was left defending second place when he incurred a five second time penalty for crossing the white line on pit exit.
Watch the action from Austria here:
RACE NINE: SILVERSTONE, GREAT BRITAIN
Prior to the start of the season, it was thought Williams and Ferrari would be fighting for best of the rest behind the Merc’s, but at Silverstone, they proved they could battle it out up front. Massa and Bottas were on the second row of the grid behind home favourite Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate. At lights out, both Williams overtook both Mercedes’ until Hamilton fought back past Bottas at turn three. But the undercut in strategy and eventual rainfall cost them a chance of their first F1 win since Spain 2012, and Hamilton made history by taking a third victory at his home event.
Relive the drama of Silverstone here:
RACE TEN: BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
F1 returned in Hungary after a three week break with a noticeable sombre mood. The news of Jules Bianchi’s death nine months on from his accident at the Japanese Grand Prix shocked the paddock and the world, and a minute’s silence was held prior to the race to remember his incredible life and his talent so tragically lost at the tender age of 25.
When racing began, it was clearly a show put on in memory of Jules and one which could be the most exciting of the year. Vettel snatched the lead from Hamilton off the line and saw off numerous challenges from Rosberg and Raikkonen to seal his second win in a Ferrari.
But behind, Hamilton was making crucial mistakes which cost him places and penalties, but when it looked as though he would lose the title lead going into the summer break, his teammate’s tyre was punctured by Daniel Ricciardo at Turn One, and Hamilton ended up sealing sixth place to Rosberg’s eighth – pushing him 21 points clear.
The chaos at the front was gold dust for McLaren who managed to get both cars across the finishing line in the points for the first time all year – notably with Alonso’s fifth place.
Relive the drama from the Hungaroring here:
RACE ELEVEN: SPA, BELGIUM
The paddock regrouped after the summer break at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit, and Lewis Hamilton secured his tenth pole in eleven races, meaning he claimed the pole position trophy for the year- such a turnaround from 2014. The Brit went on to dominate and win from teammate Rosberg. It was an unexpected third place finish for Romain Grosjean who drove a fantastic race and overtook Vettel with two laps to go when a tyre on the Ferrari blew out after going most the race on the same set. An eventual 12th place finish damaged the German’s title chances significantly, with Hamilton now 28 points clear of Rosberg.
Watch highlights from Belgium here:
RACE TWELVE: MONZA, ITALY
Lewis Hamilton secured another dominant win in Italy and took a huge step forward in the title race after teammate Nico Rosberg’s engine gave up four laps from home. But Lewis’ win was not without tension as he was forced to pull a 25-second gap to Vettel over fears of a penalty for illegal tyre pressures. The team were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing and Hamilton was now sitting pretty 53 points clear at the top.
Recap all the action from the cathedral of speed here:
RACE THIRTEEN: MARINA BAY, SINGAPORE
Ferrari delivered another shock of the season in Singapore, but it was Red Bull who were going with them as both drivers from both teams out-qualified the Mercedes team for reasons beyond their knowledge. Sebastian Vettel led the pack away from pole position and was in complete control of second-place man Daniel Ricciardo. Championship leader Lewis Hamilton scored his only DNF of the year in Singapore, and luckily for him, his teammate could only finish fourth, and it was Vettel now in second place in the title hunt after his third win of the year. The gap was now 41 points.
Watch highlights from the Marina Bay circuit here:
RACE FOURTEEN: SUZUKA, JAPAN
Mercedes arrived in Japan still unsure of what went wrong in Singapore and with questions over how or if they would bounce back. But they did and in style too. After securing pole, Rosberg was forced wide at Turn One as Hamilton overtook him for the lead and it was left to the German to fight back to second place after a strong challenge from Sebastian Vettel, who scored yet another podium for Ferrari.
Watch Japanese GP highlights here:
RACE FIFTEEN: SOCHI, RUSSIA
Compared to last year, Russia served us up a treat. Hamilton took another dominant win after his pole sitting teammate retired on lap eight. but behind him and Vettel, the battle for third place was entertaining to say the least. After an early pit stop, the impressive Sergio Perez was up in third, but he thought his dream was over when the faster cars of Bottas and Raikkonen overtook him under braking with just over a lap to go. However, the two ended up tripping over themselves on the last lap after a desperate manoeuvre from Raikkonen forced both out, and handed third back to Perez. At the front, Hamilton was on the verge of a third title with a healthy 66-point lead with four races to go.
Watch all the action from Russia here:
RACE SIXTEEN: AUSTIN, USA
Going into the race, Lewis Hamilton had to do two things to claim his third championship here: outscore Nico by two points and Vettel by nine. Simple, right? Well, perhaps not. For the third time in succession, it was his teammate who secured pole position on Sunday morning after heavy rain had limited running significantly on Friday and Saturday.
But as he has done on many occasions this year, it was Hamilton who got the better of the start and yet again forced his teammate wide at Turn one, demoting him to fourth place. But all was not smooth out front for Hamilton, who struggled in the damp conditions to fend off the Red Bulls and eventually his own teammate, and it was only a costly error by Nico which handed Lewis a golden pass to an historic third title, which now levels him with his idol Ayrton Senna and also moves him up to third in the list of the all time number of F1 wins – 43.
Lewis Hamilton is now the only British driver to successfully defend a world championship and becomes the first British driver to win three titles since Sir Jackie Stewart in the 1970’s.
Relive how Hamilton won his third world championship with highlights of the US GP here:
RACE SEVENTEEN: MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
1992 was the last time F1 raced in Mexico, and it was a Brit who won it that year – Nigel Mansell – and so with Lewis Hamilton still high off winning the title seven days earlier, you’d have to be a brave man to bet against the union jack waving above the top step of the podium at the iconic circuit once more.
But it seemed Nico still had some fight left in him, and he once again secured pole position with Hamilton alongside. The two led away at the start, but Nico fended off his teammate on the long run down to turn one, and from there controlled the race beautifully to take his first win in four months.
Ferrari meanwhile had a day to forget, with both drivers crashing out of the race for the first time since 2006.
For me, Mexico is a circuit that can rival any other, and the stadium section is one of sport’s greatest spectacles, especially if you’re home boy Sergio Perez.
Watch the action from Mexico here:
RACE EIGHTEEN: SAO PAULO, BRAZIL
The iconic Interlagos circuit was the setting for the penultimate race of the season, with Lewis Hamilton still looking for a win around a circuit his idol called home. But once again, he came out second best, with his teammate dominating the British driver in both qualifying and the race itself.
Once again, the star of the day was Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen who made a number of crunch overtakes around the outside of turn one and through the Senna S’. He was now emerging on the radar of big teams for the future, and rumours of a bidding war between Mercedes and Ferrari for the Dutch driver were floating around the paddock.
Watch all the highlights from Brazil here:
RACE NINETEEN: ABU DHABI, UAE
The glamorous Yas Marina circuit was the stage for the season finale, but this year, there was little pressure compared to a year ago, with only midfield teams looking to climb the constructors table.
But for Nico Rosberg, he secured a sixth pole position in a row and a hat trick of victories as he dominated his teammate once again, leaving Hamilton second and questions about his form circling in the media.
Watch all the highlights from the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP here:
A LOOK AHEAD TO 2016….
There are questions around Hamilton and Rosberg ahead of next year, with some questioning whether Nico will carry much more confidence into 2016 off the back of six poles and three successive wins, but Lewis will have something new to fight for in Australia – a fourth championship. There has also been a shock warning from Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff who says the two must improve their relationship or face losing their place in the team.
Despite Hamilton’s emphatic year, my star of the season is Max Verstappen, who combined with teammate Sainz, has brought a breath of fresh air into GP racing, and I expect more of the same in 2016.
Lotus have of course been taken over by Renault, who will return to the sport as a name team from March, and all eyes will be on them and their engines as to the challenge they can provide at the front.
Honda will also be looking for improvements in every area with two world champions looking to move back up the field or they could both step away from the sport as a whole.
And finally, the new team Haas will be on the grid next year, and with a Ferrari engine in toe, it will be interesting to see what sort of a start they make in their F1 journey.