SEA­SON RE­VIEW

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS STU­ART CODLING

We take a look at the highs and lows from another ex­cit­ing sea­son of F1

AUS­TRALIAN GP 15/03/15

Off-track dra­mas dom­i­nated the agenda in the run-up to the Aus­tralian GP, to the point where the race came close to start­ing with more than a quar­ter of the field miss­ing. Former Cater­ham driver Giedo van der Garde took Sauber to court over their de­ci­sion to run Felipe Nasr and Marcus Eric­s­son, claim­ing that he had a valid con­tract to race for the team. Swiss and Aus­tralian courts ruled in van der Garde’s favour, dis­miss­ing an ap­peal by Sauber, and the team missed the first track ses­sion as the row es­ca­lated to a point where their as­sets were on the verge of be­ing seized. Van der Garde even­tu­ally set­tled out of court.

Kevin Mag­nussen sub­sti­tuted for Fer­nando Alonso, who had suf­fered a con­cus­sion in a crash in win­ter test­ing, but his Mclaren broke down as he drove to the grid. So, too, did Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull, while only one Wil­liams started be­cause Valt­teri Bot­tas had been ruled out by a back in­jury. Manor Marus­sia didn’t run at all, ow­ing to soft­ware prob­lems, leav­ing just 15 cars on the grid. And then nei­ther Lo­tus made it to the end of the first lap, ow­ing to a no-fault col­li­sion in­volv­ing Pas­tor Mal­don­ado and a power-unit fail­ure for Romain Gros­jean.

Just 11 cars fin­ished the race, mak­ing this an un­promis­ing start to the sea­son for all but even­tual win­ner Lewis Hamil­ton, although Se­bas­tian Vet­tel’s third place sparked hopes that Fer­rari might be able to take the fight to Mercedes this year.

Such was the su­pe­ri­or­ity of Lewis Hamil­ton in 2015, he ren­dered the rest of the F1 field mere sup­port to his star­ring role. But the en­sem­ble

cast still man­aged to put on a darn’ good show….

MALAYSIAN GP 29/03/15

In the af­ter­math of the Aus­tralian Grand Prix, where it be­came clear that Re­nault had not made enough of a com­pet­i­tive leap dur­ing the off-sea­son, Red Bull made what would be the first of many threats to quit the sport. Their mo­tor­sport ad­vi­sor, Hel­mut Marko, claimed that Red Bull’s star tech­ni­cian, Adrian Newey, had been “cas­trated by this en­gine for­mula”. Team prin­ci­pal Chris­tian Horner also pub­licly lam­basted Re­nault, who fired right back by ac­cus­ing the team of “ly­ing”.

Off-track ma­noeu­vrings con­tin­ued as the Ger­man GP was struck from the cal­en­dar. Pirelli, mean­while, sig­nalled dis­quiet over the sport’s fu­ture tech­ni­cal rules, point­ing out that since the tyre con­tract for 2017 and be­yond was up for ten­der later this sea­son, they would like F1’s other stake­hold­ers to reach firm agree­ment on all the pro­posed rad­i­cal changes so that they would know what they were sign­ing up to when en­ter­ing the ten­der process.

On track, Manor Marus­sia fi­nally stut­tered into life, se­cur­ing per­mis­sion to start both their driv­ers in spite of them be­ing out­side the 107 per cent cut-off in prac­tice, although Will Stevens was with­drawn on the morn­ing of the race. Fur­ther up the grid, Vet­tel took ad­van­tage of Fer­rari’s ap­par­ent strength in hot con­di­tions to smash the Mercedes hege­mony, only just los­ing out to Hamil­ton in qual­i­fy­ing and then us­ing a two-stop strat­egy to his ad­van­tage in the race.

CHI­NESE GP 12/04/15

Not for the last time this sea­son, se­cu­rity came un­der scru­tiny af­ter a spec­ta­tor crossed the track on the main straight dur­ing prac­tice.

Mercedes sought to prove that the Malaysian re­sult was just a blip as Hamil­ton won from his third con­sec­u­tive pole po­si­tion, ahead of team­mate Nico Ros­berg. Vet­tel fin­ished third, ahead of the sec­ond Fer­rari of Kimi Räikkö­nen, to ren­der the podium iden­ti­cal to Mel­bourne’s.

But, as was of­ten the case in the previous sea­son, there was ev­i­dence of ten­sion within the Mercedes camp as Ros­berg com­plained over the ra­dio that Hamil­ton wasn’t push­ing hard enough, leav­ing him vul­ner­a­ble to the pur­su­ing Fer­rari of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel. He re­peated the com­plaint dur­ing the post-race con­fer­ence, adding a de­gree of spice to what is of­ten an oc­ca­sion for plat­i­tudi­nous waf­fle.

Just three grands prix into the sea­son, it was be­com­ing clear that Mercedes and Fer­rari were some way clear of their ri­vals on race pace. This race fin­ished un­der yel­low-flag con­di­tions (ow­ing to Max Ver­stap­pen’s smoky re­tire­ment in an in­con­ve­nient spot), dis­guis­ing in the fi­nal re­sults the size of the gap from Räikkö­nen to the Wil­liams pair of Felipe Massa and Valt­teri Bot­tas. Red Bull, re­newed threats to quit by no less a fig­ure than Di­et­rich Mates­chitz echo­ing in their ears, were out of con­tention again; Kvyat was an early re­tire­ment and Daniel Ric­cia­rdo couldn’t sum­mon the pace to es­cape the midfield af­ter a bad start. Rev­ert­ing to the 2014 brake spec pre-week­end sug­gested that the team’s prob­lems weren’t con­fined to the en­gine bay…

BAHRAIN GP 19/04/15

Bernie Ec­cle­stone chose the be­gin­ning of the Bahrain week­end, and an in­ter­view with the in­flu­en­tial and widely quoted Ital­ian pa­per Gazzetta dello Sport to roll a po­lit­i­cal grenade un­der the door. Blam­ing the hy­brid en­gine reg­u­la­tions for de­clin­ing TV view­ing fig­ures, he called for the sport to re­turn to V8 en­gines with sim­ple KERS, mod­i­fied to pro­duce more power – namely 1,000bhp. Fol­low­ing a meet­ing with Ec­cle­stone, Mercedes mo­tor­sport boss Toto Wolff spoke for the man­u­fac­tur­ers, say­ing V6s would re­main, although they would ex­plore ways of mak­ing them louder and more pow­er­ful ahead of the new for­mula in 2017.

Manor Marus­sia claimed that they would have their 2015 car ready by Au­gust. Their close ri­vals at the back of the grid – Mclaren – faced yet another week­end in which tech­ni­cal prob­lems meant lim­ited run­ning in prac­tice, crip­pling both their ef­forts to find qual­i­fy­ing and race pace and to learn enough about the MP4-30 to de­velop it. An en­ergy-re­cov­ery sys­tem fail­ure forced Jen­son But­ton to with­draw be­fore the start, hav­ing failed to set a time in qual­i­fy­ing.

Hamil­ton won from pole, but Fer­rari’s pace on the soft tyre was im­pres­sive and Vet­tel would have fin­ished much higher than fifth but for two mis­takes, one of which dam­aged his front wing. Kimi Räikkö­nen was more clin­i­cal this week­end, mug­ging Ros­berg for sec­ond when both Mercedes suf­fered brake prob­lems.

SPAIN 10/05/15

Dur­ing the three-week gap be­tween races – and per­haps more im­por­tant po­lit­i­cally, ahead of an im­por­tant F1 Strat­egy Group meet­ing in early May – former FIA pres­i­dent Max Mosley reap­peared on the scene, giv­ing an in­ter­view in which he called for sig­nif­i­cant changes in the sport. He would re­peat sev­eral of his ideas (such as the prin­ci­ple of giv­ing teams more design free­doms in ex­change for them sign­ing up to a bud­get cap) in a joint TV in­ter­view with Ec­cle­stone later in the year.

Mean­while, the pro­mot­ers of the Aus­tralian Grand Prix sprang a sur­prise on ev­ery­one by an­nounc­ing a 3 April slot for their 2016 event, sug­gest­ing an even more com­pressed cal­en­dar with ad­di­tional dou­ble-header events.

As usual, many of the teams in­tro­duced ma­jor tech­ni­cal up­dates to their cars for this first race of the Euro­pean sea­son. Mclaren also changed their liv­ery, drop­ping the chrome ef­fect. But Force In­dia ad­mit­ted that their B-spec car would be de­layed, ow­ing to the knock-on ef­fects of win­ter fi­nan­cial short­falls.

Be­hind the scenes, Re­nault and Honda con­tin­ued to push for driv­ers to be al­lowed five power units each rather than four, and the driver ‘silly sea­son’ got un­der way early as ru­mours cir­cu­lated that Fer­rari were court­ing Valt­teri Bot­tas for 2016. The FIA also wrote to the teams out­lin­ing fur­ther pro­ce­dures to po­lice the use of ‘ac­cu­mu­la­tors’ to flout the fuel-flow reg­u­la­tions.

Ros­berg won from pole as Hamil­ton spent much of the race try­ing to un­seat Vet­tel from sec­ond place, hav­ing lost ground at the start.

MONACO GP 24/05/15

Be­tween races, the Strat­egy Group met at FOM’S Big­gin Hill fa­cil­ity and agreed a se­ries of mea­sures to im­prove the spec­ta­cle of For­mula 1 from 2017 on­wards, from rein­tro­duc­ing re­fu­elling and mak­ing the cars look more ag­gres­sive to slash­ing lap times by as much as five sec­onds through aero­dy­namic changes.

It was sub­se­quently ru­moured that cost­sav­ing pro­pos­als had been ve­toed in favour of the priv­i­leged ‘Con­struc­tors’ Cham­pi­onship Bonus Teams’ (Mercedes, Red Bull, Fer­rari and Mclaren) run­ning third cars, or sup­ply­ing in­de­pen­dent teams with ‘cus­tomer’ cars. Cru­cially, though, the Strat­egy Group has no ex­ec­u­tive power, and these mea­sures re­mained sub­ject to rat­i­fi­ca­tion from bod­ies higher up.

At Monaco Pirelli demon­strated a set of 18inch tyres on a GP2 car, while in the run-up to the race Bernie Ec­cle­stone poured scorn on the de­tail of Miche­lin’s pitch for the F1 tyre-sup­ply con­tract, say­ing that noth­ing needed to change.

Lewis Hamil­ton an­nounced a new three­year con­tract with Mercedes – which he had ne­go­ti­ated him­self – but it was speedy teenager Max Ver­stap­pen who stole the lime­light out on track, go­ing sec­ond fastest in first prac­tice and then show­ing a brisk turn of speed dur­ing the race – un­til clum­sily strik­ing the back of Romain Gros­jean’s Lo­tus. That in­ci­dent would have a pro­found im­pact on the out­come of the race, tac­ti­cally wrong­foot­ing Mercedes, cost­ing Hamil­ton what had promised to be a dom­i­nant win – and lead­ing to al­le­ga­tions of favouritism as Ros­berg in­her­ited the vic­tory.

CANA­DIAN GP 07/06/15

An en­dur­ing off-track im­age from the Cana­dian Grand Prix was the sight of se­nior fig­ures from Mclaren, Mercedes, Fer­rari and Red Bull meet­ing be­hind closed doors but, un­for­tu­nately for them (this be­ing a tem­po­rary cir­cuit with tem­po­rary hos­pi­tal­ity suites), not closed win­dows. This helped fuel con­cerns from the in­de­pen­dent teams that the ‘gang of four’ were con­spir­ing to ex­er­cise more con­trol over the sport. The power games con­tin­ued as Bernie Ec­cle­stone added his weight to crit­i­cism of the F1 Strat­egy Group, build­ing on com­ments in Monaco from Force In­dia’s Bob Fern­ley that the group was “not fit for pur­pose”. Mean­while, one of the Strat­egy Group’s pro­pos­als for 2017 – that re­fu­elling be in­tro­duced – was unan­i­mously re­jected by team man­agers in a meet­ing with the FIA’S Char­lie Whit­ing.

The FIA also flexed its mus­cles, is­su­ing a rules clar­i­fi­ca­tion re­gard­ing front-wing de­flec­tion ahead of the grand prix, and draw­ing oil sam­ples from Hamil­ton and Vet­tel’s cars af­ter­wards to check for per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing ad­di­tives. Noth­ing was found.

The race it­self seemed un­event­ful as Hamil­ton won from pole po­si­tion ahead of Ros­berg, with Valt­teri Bot­tas 40s adrift. Com­ments from the mid­field­ers, how­ever, re­vealed tor­ment: Daniel Ric­cia­rdo de­scribed Red Bull as ‘lost’ af­ter a batch of tech­ni­cal up­grades ap­peared to yield lit­tle ef­fect, while Fer­nando Alonso re­sponded an­grily to a mid-race in­struc­tion to save fuel: “I don’t want to! Al­ready I have big prob­lems. Driv­ing like this, look­ing like an am­a­teur…”

AUS­TRIAN GP 21/06/15

Miche­lin con­firmed their en­try into the ten­der process for the next For­mula 1 tyre-sup­ply con­tract, but, cru­cially, their pro­posal hinged on driv­ing through a se­ries of tech­ni­cal changes – chief among which was a move to 18-inch wheels – be­fore reach­ing a com­mer­cial set­tle­ment. Their pitch re­ceived the FIA’S bless­ing, but would founder later when it reached the desk of Bernie Ec­cle­stone.

Red Bull mag­nate Di­et­rich Mates­chitz used the plat­form af­forded by his home grand prix to fire another shot at Re­nault: “Be­sides tak­ing our time and money they have de­stroyed our en­joy­ment and mo­ti­va­tion.” Daniel Ric­cia­rdo and Daniil Kvyat, al­ready on their fourth en­gines of the sea­son, in­curred ten-place grid penal­ties in Aus­tria when they were forced to use fifth units; Mclaren were also in grid-drop hell over en­ginecom­po­nent changes (Alonso 20; But­ton 25).

Sens­ing blood in the wa­ter, per­haps, Fer­rari chair­man Ser­gio Mar­chionne floated the no­tion of sup­ply­ing Red Bull with en­gines; be­hind the scenes, un­known at this time, Red Bull were also talk­ing to Mercedes via Niki Lauda.

Wil­liams brought an up­grade pack­age to Aus­tria but while Felipe Massa fin­ished third be­hind the Mercedes of Nico Ros­berg and Lewis Hamil­ton, he lacked pace to chal­lenge for out­right hon­ours as he had at this cir­cuit last sea­son. Valt­teri Bot­tas fin­ished fifth, hob­bling to the flag af­ter cook­ing his brakes run­ning in the wake of Force In­dia’s Nico Hülken­berg, who had leapfrogged him dur­ing the pit­stop phase.

BRI­TISH GP 05/07/15

Jean Todt has cho­sen to keep a lower pro­file in F1 than his pre­de­ces­sor, Max Mosley, so many took it as a sign of in­creas­ing in­ten­sity in the back­stage power strug­gles when he popped his head above the para­pet to de­fend the cur­rent 1.6-litre hy­brid en­gine for­mula from its crit­ics (led by Bernie Ec­cle­stone, with cheer­lead­ing from Red Bull team prin­ci­pal, Chris­tian Horner, who had called for a re­turn to V8s). Todt also sug­gested that the race week­end for­mat could be rad­i­cally over­hauled, and threat­ened to take ac­tion over the cost to cus­tomers of the cur­rent en­gines, a no­tion scorned by Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, who said cost con­trols would cause his com­pany to suf­fer a huge loss.

CVC chair­man Don­ald Macken­zie also tends to be a rare sight in the For­mula 1 pad­dock, per­haps out of dread of an en­counter with fear­less F1 Rac­ing colum­nist Di­eter Rencken. How­ever, he ap­peared at Sil­ver­stone to deny that the sport was up for sale af­ter ru­mours emerged that a Us/qatari in­vest­ment con­sor­tium was in­ter­ested in pur­chas­ing CVC’S stake.

On track, Fer­rari in­tro­duced a new wheel­nut sys­tem af­ter the pit­stop de­lay that cost Se­bas­tian Vet­tel a podium fin­ish in the Aus­trian Grand Prix, but it was Wil­liams who looked most likely to up­set the bal­ance of power at the front, seiz­ing the lead early on. Rain nixed their hopes and re­stored the Mercedes bal­ance of power.

Lo­tus faced a wind­ing-up or­der on the Monday af­ter the grand prix as their var­i­ous cred­i­tors be­gan clam­our­ing for pay­ment.

HUN­GAR­IAN GP 26/07/15

Be­tween races, the FIA World Mo­tor Sport Coun­cil rat­i­fied the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the en­gine and gear­box re­stric­tions, elim­i­nat­ing the unloved in-race sanc­tions against those who had in­curred greater grid penal­ties than there were avail­able slots. They also an­nounced a 21-race cal­en­dar for 2016, which was im­me­di­ately the sub­ject of com­plaints, and amended the points sys­tem for su­per­li­cence qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Jules Bianchi’s death in hos­pi­tal, where he had re­mained in a coma since his crash in the 2014 Ja­panese Grand Prix, in­evitably cast a shadow over pro­ceed­ings. Nerves were jan­gled still fur­ther when a wish­bone fail­ure caused Ser­gio Pérez’s Force In­dia to roll dur­ing prac­tice. Amid all this, al­most un­no­ticed, 2013 GP2 cham­pion Fabio Leimer made his prac­tice de­but for Manor Marus­sia.

Valt­teri Bot­tas said he was go­ing to wait to an­nounce his fu­ture as ru­mours con­tin­ued to link him with Fer­rari. His cur­rent em­ploy­ers, Wil­liams, in­tro­duced a new front wing in the hope of clos­ing the gap to Fer­rari and Mercedes.

Vet­tel won the grand prix – later declar­ing it “game on” in the ti­tle race – af­ter Hamil­ton briefly went off on the first lap, dam­ag­ing his front wing, with Ros­berg fluff­ing his op­por­tu­nity to cap­i­talise. But an MGU-K fail­ure for Räikkö­nen de­nied the team their first one-two since Ger­many 2010. Daniil Kvyat was the ben­e­fi­ciary, boost­ing his morale af­ter a trou­bled sea­son by record­ing his best fin­ish yet.

BEL­GIAN GP 23/08/15

Those pin­ing for a shake-up in the com­pet­i­tive or­der pinned their hopes on the FIA’S new re­stric­tions gov­ern­ing the start­ing pro­ce­dure, specif­i­cally the ban on driv­ers be­ing coached by their engi­neers on clutch set­tings. The gov­ern­ing body also pub­lished a pre­scrip­tive list of top­ics that would be per­mit­ted in driver­pit ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions dur­ing 2016.

The par­lous fi­nan­cial state of some F1 teams made the agenda once again as Lo­tus, hav­ing be­gun to pay off cred­i­tors and hav­ing en­tered ne­go­ti­a­tions with Re­nault for a buy-out, faced fresh le­gal ac­tion. Former test driver Charles Pic took the team to court over the amount of run­ning he had in 2014 and, for a time, it looked as if the team’s equip­ment (such as was left af­ter Pas­tor Mal­don­ado had a 17G im­pact with a kerb dur­ing the race) might be im­pounded.

Fer­rari re-signed Kimi Räikkö­nen, re­mov­ing one ful­crum from the ‘silly sea­son’, and leav­ing the new Haas team as the fo­cus of spec­u­la­tion. Red Bull, mean­while, had a po­ten­tial va­cancy be­hind the cock­pit as news emerged that they were con­sid­er­ing an early ter­mi­na­tion of their Re­nault con­tract.

En­gines re­mained a sore topic at Mclaren, who had to change so many power unit com­po­nents that their driv­ers took a com­bined grid penalty of 105 places. Pirelli also re­ceived un­wel­come at­ten­tion as Nico Ros­berg and Se­bas­tian Vet­tel suf­fered blow-outs.

ITAL­IAN GP 06/O9/15

Pirelli an­nounced new min­i­mum tyre pres­sures af­ter a post-spa in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed “a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of cuts” in their tyres. But they were irked by Vet­tel’s crit­i­cism af­ter the Bel­gian GP, point­ing out that his one-stop strat­egy had been risky. Bernie Ec­cle­stone sup­ported his al­lies in old-school style, sum­mon­ing the driv­ers for a dress­ing down and telling them to stop crit­i­cis­ing Pirelli.

Mercedes brought a new en­gine spec that ri­vals de­scribed as “scary”, even though Ros­berg had to re­vert to an older unit (which blew up dur­ing the race) af­ter a leak con­tam­i­nated his new one. At the other end of the power and re­li­a­bil­ity scale, re­la­tions be­tween Honda and Mclaren reached a nadir when en­gine boss Ya­suhisa Arai was bru­tally tag-teamed by Fleet Street dur­ing Mclaren’s press con­fer­ence. His F1 fu­ture float­ing in the ether, Jen­son But­ton re­mained un­con­firmed for 2016 as the team dithered over ex­er­cis­ing an op­tion to keep him.

Be­lea­guered Lo­tus had to bor­row tyre blan­kets from ri­vals af­ter overnight rain dam­aged theirs, and with the fu­ture of the Ital­ian GP once more un­der threat, Se­bas­tian Vet­tel made an emo­tional ap­peal for Monza to re­main on the cal­en­dar. Run­away win­ner Hamil­ton later es­caped sanc­tion af­ter his tyre pres­sures were mea­sured be­low the manda­tory lim­its on the grid. A day later, and hav­ing served no­tice on Re­nault, Red Bull learned that Mercedes had ruled out sup­ply­ing them with en­gines in 2016.

All in all, this was not a week­end in which the sport cov­ered it­self in glory.

SIN­GA­PORE GP 20/09/15

Fears that this race would be dis­rupted by smog caused by In­done­sian for­est fires came to noth­ing, but what ar­bo­real clear­ance failed to bring about was achieved by a man who took a short cut across the track dur­ing the race. The Bri­tish na­tional was later jailed for six weeks.

Roberto Mehri ar­rived to learn his place at Manor Marus­sia would be taken for five of the re­main­ing races – in­clud­ing this one – by Alexan­der Rossi. His was not the only un­pleas­ant sur­prise, for the Mercedes team en­dured a stinker when they couldn’t get their tyres to work and were at a loss to ex­plain it. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel ben­e­fit­ted from their slump, and while Daniel Ric­cia­rdo closed in at the end of each stint, two Safety Car pe­ri­ods frus­trated his chal­lenge.

It emerged over the course of the week­end that the much-ma­ligned F1 Strat­egy Group had agreed a cost cap for en­gines (£8.5mil­lion a year, where teams are be­lieved to be spend­ing up to £14.2m), as well as a ban on wind­tun­nel test­ing. These would then be ad­vanced to the FIA World Mo­tor Sport Coun­cil for rat­i­fi­ca­tion. Sea­soned Strat­egy Group watch­ers agreed that they would be­lieve it if and when they saw it.

RUS­SIAN GP 11/10/15

Ahead of the Rus­sian Grand Prix, the FIA re­leased a sub­stan­tially re­jigged ver­sion of the 2016 cal­en­dar, mov­ing the early grands prix for­ward to make the sched­ule less com­pressed, but po­si­tion­ing the new Euro­pean Grand Prix at Baku on the same week­end as the Le Mans 24 Hours. The gov­ern­ing body also an­nounced new ex­haust reg­u­la­tions, with a view to mak­ing the cars louder, and a clar­i­fi­ca­tion on track lim­its – but there was noth­ing about en­gine cost caps or wind­tun­nel bans. Jean Todt later ac­cused Fer­rari of ex­er­cis­ing their veto to kill the former con­cept.

Sochi’s or­gan­is­ers an­nounced that the race would take place in the evening, un­der ar­ti­fi­cial lights, from 2017. F1’s par­tic­i­pants sim­ply hoped for an in­crease in or­gan­i­sa­tional ef­fi­ciency – first prac­tice was de­layed af­ter a track-clean­ing ve­hi­cle leaked diesel over the cir­cuit.

As the sport turned its col­lec­tive eyes to­wards 2016, Jen­son But­ton fi­nally an­nounced a year’s ex­ten­sion to his Mclaren deal, while Manor Marus­sia for­malised an en­gine-sup­ply ar­range­ment with Mercedes and a gear­box deal with Wil­liams. But at­ten­tion quickly re­turned to the here-and-now when a brake fail­ure pitched Car­los Sainz into a 46G im­pact with a Tecpro bar­rier, a stark re­minder that for all the talk of busi­ness, the sport can­not af­ford to be­come com­pla­cent about safety.

US GP 25/10/15

It seemed that the out­come of the US GP would be a fore­gone con­clu­sion, as Fer­rari opted to give new en­gines to both their driv­ers and swal­low the sub­se­quent penalty. Re­nault also an­nounced that they had spent de­vel­op­ment ‘to­kens’ on a new power unit spec­i­fi­ca­tion that would be avail­able from Austin on­wards, although both Red Bull and Toro Rosso gave a luke­warm re­sponse. Honda, too, had made changes, plac­ing a ‘phase four’ en­gine at Fer­nando Alonso’s dis­posal.

Freak weather bat­tered the Cir­cuit of The Amer­i­cas, forc­ing sec­ond prac­tice to be can­celled and qual­i­fy­ing to be post­poned un­til Sun­day morn­ing. There were signs of storms off-track, too, as Bernie Ec­cle­stone dropped spoil­ers to the press con­cern­ing the FIA’S plans to open a ten­der process for a low-cost en­gine – all part of the greater wran­glings be­tween the gov­ern­ing body, the com­mer­cial rights holder, and the in­creas­ingly pow­er­ful en­gine man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Had the track re­mained wet Daniel Ric­cia­rdo – still un­cer­tain as to whether his team would par­tic­i­pate in For­mula 1 next year – could have sprung an up­set, but on slick tyres Lewis Hamil­ton re­gained the ini­tia­tive – and, hav­ing al­ready dis­posed of his team-mate, claimed his third world cham­pi­onship.

MEX­I­CAN GP 01/11/15

Mex­ico City’s re­turn to the F1 cal­en­dar af­ter a 23-year ab­sence met with great ex­cite­ment, but the slip­pery track sur­face – caused by late ap­pli­ca­tion of the as­phalt, ow­ing to poor weather – proved a hin­drance through­out the week­end.

Off-track, the sport’s stake­hold­ers di­gested the FIA’S dual bomb­shell in which the gov­ern­ing body an­nounced the ten­der for a low-cost en­gine from 2017 and pointed the fin­ger at Fer­rari for shoot­ing down cost-cap pro­pos­als. Mercedes re­vealed what had scup­pered their talks with Red Bull: namely the need for agree­ment with Re­nault, ow­ing to road-car part­ner­ships be­tween the two, and Red Bull’s in­er­tia when in­vited to sug­gest joint mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives that might offset any loss Mercedes’ F1 team might suf­fer through sup­ply­ing a strong ri­val. This left Red Bull with just two op­tions to con­tinue in the sport: kiss and make up with Re­nault, or arm-wres­tle with Ron Dennis over Honda.

Three key fig­ures in the Manor Marus­sia or­gan­i­sa­tion – tech­ni­cal con­sul­tant Bob Bell, team prin­ci­pal John Booth and sport­ing di­rec­tor Graeme Lowdon – all handed in their res­ig­na­tions. Bell had only joined in June. Ru­mours sug­gested a dis­agree­ment with owner Stephen Fitz­patrick over the team’s di­rec­tion.

The Haas team fi­nally con­firmed F1’s worstkept se­cret, an­nounc­ing Este­ban Gu­tiér­rez as their sec­ond driver for 2016.

BRAZIL­IAN GRAND PRIX 15/11/15

Staff changes at Manor Marus­sia con­tin­ued as former Mclaren sport­ing di­rec­tor Dave Ryan (who de­parted amid the fall­out from ‘Lie-gate’ in 2009) joined the team as rac­ing di­rec­tor. Tavo Hell­mund, the busi­ness­man who was one of the prime movers be­hind the con­struc­tion of the Cir­cuit of The Amer­i­cas, re­vealed him­self as part of a con­sor­tium in­ter­ested in buy­ing the team.

COTA it­self suf­fered another blow – on top of the storm dam­age that oc­curred in the week fol­low­ing its grand prix – when the state of Texas re­duced its an­nual fund­ing for the fa­cil­ity. Lewis Hamil­ton was also in the wars, claim­ing to be suf­fer­ing from a fever, and ar­riv­ing late at In­ter­la­gos af­ter en­forced bed rest fol­low­ing a mi­nor car ac­ci­dent in Monaco.

The tragic events in Paris on Fri­day in­evitably had an im­pact, but when FIA pres­i­dent Todt re­fused to budge on the is­sue of a minute’s si­lence – there was al­ready go­ing to be one for the vic­tims of road ac­ci­dents as part of Todt’s global road-safety drive – the re­sult was an un­seemly fudge. Romain Gros­jean point­edly held a French flag dur­ing the si­lence.

Af­ter a largely un­event­ful grand prix, many driv­ers lamented the lack of over­tak­ing in mod­ern F1. They should per­haps watch a re­play of Max Ver­stap­pen’s race…

ABU DHABI GP 29/11/15

Be­tween races, Wil­liams dropped their ap­peal against Felipe Massa’s ex­clu­sion from the Brazil­ian Grand Prix on ac­count of it hav­ing no bear­ing on their fin­ish­ing po­si­tion in the con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship. Fight­ing the case would, they said, be an un­nec­es­sary ex­pense.

Costs, not for the first or last time this sea­son, came to the fore­front once more as it emerged that both Manor Marus­sia and Sauber had sought ad­vances on their share of F1’s com­mer­cial rev­enues. Em­bat­tled Lo­tus, mean­while, found them­selves caught in the horse-trad­ing be­tween pu­ta­tive new own­ers Re­nault and F1’s com­mer­cial rights hold­ers, hav­ing to wait once more while their equip­ment was held at the air­port await­ing pay­ment of an over­due bill.

Not ev­ery­one was on the same page re­gard­ing cost con­trols, though; the F1 Com­mis­sion voted against the FIA’S pro­posed ‘bud­get en­gine’. The gov­ern­ing body did man­age to as­sert its au­thor­ity else­where, though, clamp­ing down on loop­holes in the aero­dy­namic rules that might en­able the larger teams to use part­ner teams to aid their own aero de­vel­op­ment.

Mercedes ended the year in a po­si­tion of dom­i­nance as Nico Ros­berg led another one-two ahead of a frus­trated Lewis Hamil­ton, and all eyes quickly turned to 2016 as a 12-hour tyre test got un­der way on the Tues­day fol­low­ing the grand prix. Pirelli’s ca­pac­ity to en­gi­neer more un­pre­dictabil­ity could be the key to other teams build­ing a more reg­u­lar chal­lenge to Mercedes over the com­ing sea­son.

1.

Max Ver­stap­pen (above) im­pressed on his de­but, aged 17 and For­mula 1’s youngest race en­trant to date. He looked set for a points fin­ish with Toro Rosso, fol­low­ing a ma­ture drive, but en­gine grem­lins put paid to his hopes

AUS­TRALIA PODIUM 1. Lewis Hamil­ton 2. Nico Ros­berg 3. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel

Ten­sion sim­mered at the post-race press con­fer­ence (above). Ros­berg ac­cused Lewis of com­pro­mis­ing his race by only think­ing about him­self. Lewis replied: “If Nico wanted to get by he could have tried – but he didn’t”

Strong in Satur­day qual­i­fy­ing, Seb sur­prised ev­ery­one by split­ting up the Mercs and tak­ing the win – Fer­rari’s first since the Span­ish Grand Prix in May 2013, 35 races pre­vi­ously

MALAYSIA PODIUM

1. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel 2. Lewis Hamil­ton 3. Nico Ros­berg

CHINA PODIUM

1. Lewis Hamil­ton 2. Nico Ros­berg 3. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel

An ERS fail­ure forced Jen­son But­ton to with­draw with­out set­ting a qual­i­fy­ing time in Bahrain (above left) and de­spite their shiny new liv­ery (above right), in­tro­duced in Spain, Mclaren’s woes con­tin­ued

BAHRAIN PODIUM

1. Lewis Hamil­ton 2. Kimi Räikkö­nen 3. Nico Ros­berg

SPAIN PODIUM

1. Nico Ros­berg 2. Lewis Hamil­ton 3. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel

The rein­tro­duc­tion of re­fu­elling (left) had been pro­posed by the F1 Strat­egy Group for 2017, but this was roundly re­jected by team mangers in a meet­ing with FIA race di­rec­tor, Char­lie Whit­ing

Ver­stap­pen’s col­li­sion with Gros­jean in Monaco brought out the Safety Car, re­sult­ing in Lewis be­ing brought in for an un­nec­es­sary pit­stop that handed his cer­tain vic­tory to Nico Ros­berg

MONACO PODIUM

1. Nico Ros­berg 2. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel 3. Lewis Hamil­ton

CANADA PODIUM

1. Lewis Hamil­ton 2. Nico Ros­berg 3. Valt­teri Bot­tas

Red Bull had al­ready used up their en­tire sea­son’s sup­ply of Re­nault power units by the eighth race of the year in Aus­tria fol­low­ing a se­ries of fail­ures, in­clud­ing Ric­cia­rdo’s spec­tac­u­lar blow-out me­tres from the fin­ish line in Bahrain (be­low)

The fu­ture of Lo­tus (above) in F1 seemed un­cer­tain af­ter the Bri­tish Grand Prix, when the debt-rid­den team were faced with a wind­ing-up or­der on the Monday

BRI­TAIN PODIUM

1. Lewis Hamil­ton 2. Nico Ros­berg 3. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel

AUS­TRIA PODIUM

1. Nico Ros­berg 2. Lewis Hamil­ton 3. Felipe Massa

Vet­tel takes the win in Hun­gary (above) while in Bel­gium, Fer­rari fi­nally con­firmed that Kimi Räikkö­nen (top) would be kept on for 2016

HUN­GARY PODIUM

BEL­GIUM PODIUM

1. Lewis Hamil­ton 2. Nico Ros­berg 3. Romain Gros­jean

1. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel 2. Daniil Kvyat 3. Daniel Ric­cia­rdo

Re­la­tions be­tween Mclaren and Honda be­come even more strained, as Honda chief Ya­suhisa Arai (pic­tured above with Mclaren’s Ron Dennis) en­dured a bruis­ing en­counter with the press in Monza

An in­truder (above) walked out onto the track at Ma­rina Bay and darted in front of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, bring­ing out the Safety Car

ITALY PODIUM

1. Lewis Hamil­ton 2 Se­bas­tian Vet­tel 3. Felipe Massa

SIN­GA­PORE PODIUM

1. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel 2. Daniel Ric­cia­rdo 3. Kimi Räikkö­nen

Great Brits: Jen­son But­ton (be­low) ends spec­u­la­tion by con­firm­ing he will stay at Mclaren for 2016; and in Austin (right) Lewis Hamil­ton takes his third F1 world cham­pi­onship

US PODIUM

1. Lewis Hamil­ton 2. Nico Ros­berg 3. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel

RUS­SIA PODIUM

1. Lewis Hamil­ton 2. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel 3. Ser­gio Pérez

A minute’s si­lence in Brazil (above) for the vic­tims of road ac­ci­dents was re­vised to also hon­our the vic­tims of the Paris ter­ror at­tacks; in the race, Max Ver­stap­pen proved over­tak­ing hadn’t gone out of fash­ion (right)

MEX­ICO PODIUM

1. Nico Ros­berg 2. Lewis Hamil­ton 3. Valt­teri Bot­tas

BRAZIL PODIUM

1. Nico Ros­berg 2. Lewis Hamil­ton 3. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel

Floun­der­ing Manor and Sauber both sought ad­vances on their 2015 con­struc­tors’ prize money Nico Ros­berg took a third con­sec­u­tive vic­tory in Abu Dhabi. Ti­tle-wise will it be third time lucky for him in 2016?

ABU DHABI PODIUM

Nico Ros­berg 2. Lewis Hamil­ton 3. Kimi Räikkö­nen

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