June 22, 2024

FF1M

Fantasy Formula 1 Management

2015 End of Season Review

Rewind to the end of Road America where Sebastian Vettel took his fifth win of the season, and with it, the drivers championship lead by two points from Fernando Alonso. At this point, Shake ‘n’ Bake were sitting 20 points behind Tornado, but four races prior to Road America, that gap was 50 points, and the Yorkshire team had the momentum. Little did the FF1M community know that things would go catastrophically wrong for one of those teams in the second half.

Home to eight out of the 11 teams, the British Grand Prix saw none of those eight take pole position for the race, as Kimi Raikkonen led an all Meister front row, the German team’s third of the season. In the race, it was Tornado who took charge as team boss Tobias had promised a more aggressive engine strategy. On a three-stop strategy, Alonso worked his way into the lead on the 5th lap going into Copse and used his lighter fuel load to pull away from the field. Alonso’s teammate, Tomas Gonzalez, also used his three-stop strategy and worked his way from 11th on the grid to 2nd by half distance.

Meanwhile, Vettel’s two-stop strategy was compromised after a spin at Abbey under pressure from Jean-Eric Vergne, although quick thinking (and a nudge) from teammate Itsuki Yoshida helped Vettel back the right way round. The championship leader worked his back up to 4th, which then became 3rd when Gonzalez suddenly and inexplicably crashed out with just seven laps to go. Vettel’s 3rd wasn’t a done deal however as a resurgent Lewis Hamilton overtook Vettel to assume the final place on the podium with four laps to go. The only thing even more curious than this was that Exolite weren’t running hard tyres. One lap later, it got even worse for Vettel as his gearbox failed.

This left Alonso to retake the championship lead after a dominant performance and his fourth win of the season. Raikkonen took a distant 2nd, some 42 seconds behind Alonso, while Hamilton took a brilliant 3rd for Exolite, which meant that all teams had scored podium finishes in 2015. Another notable performance came from Cooper Lee, who wasn’t having the best of seasons with just two points to his name, but he put in a mature drive from 12th to 5th.

There was anticipation for the Meister team at the German Grand Prix, as not only did the crowd have three German drivers to cheer on, but they had a team to support as well. In qualifying, Meister didn’t disappoint as they once again locked out the front row, but with Felipe Massa on pole for the first time in 10 seasons, and only the second time in his career. It would be a tall order to stay there with Mode 1 and Hockenheim’s long straights to stay there, and indeed from 3rd on the grid, Vettel used a lighter fuel load and a determination to make amends for losing points at Silverstone to take the lead before the Jim Clark chicane. He built up such a big lead before his first stop that he remained there after making his first visit into the pits.

Tornado team boss Tobias had once again joined the commentary team for this race, but he would experience a difficult race thanks to a collision between Alonso and Nico Rosberg, sending the Spaniard plummeting down the order. Fortunately or unfortunately, footage of this collision was lost, so apportioning blame would’ve been based on conjecture. To rub salt into the wound, Gonzalez suffered a reliability issue on the next lap and was forced to convert to a two-stop strategy. Luckily for Tornado, both drivers would recover to finish in the points, despite another collision for Alonso, this time with Kevin Magnussen.

At the front, Vettel was peerless as he built up a lead of half a minute, but his Megatron engine failed in a spectacular way with 12 laps to go, handing the lead to fellow German Rosberg. Like most manufacturer teams, Willows appeared to be running higher engine modes, which in previous races have ended early. This time around, Rosberg held on to take his first win of the season, and Willows’ result was sweetened with Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 2nd. Raikkonen took 3rd, his second consecutive podium finish, while the drive of the race came from FJR’s Charles Pic (a.k.a. Charlotte Plectrum), who went from 21st to 6th despite a few hairy moments with himself and other drivers. His entertaining drive meant that remarkably, Jenson Button was now the only driver without points.

Still keen to maintain some sort of championship challenge, Vettel took his fourth pole of the season for the Hungarian Grand Prix, with Hockenheim winner Rosberg joining him on the front row. Soft tyres were heavily favoured by most teams as the Hungaroring is regarded as a difficult circuit to overtake, but the softer compounds would prove to be a real handful in the race. Vettel for instance had five separate off-track excursions, the third of which on lap seven saw him lose the lead and drop down to 20th. Even those on the medium compound were struggling for consistency, particularly the two GRM drivers. Valtteri Bottas’ mistake was massively costly as he threw away 2nd in the closing stages.

Vettel’s race-lead-losing error put Rosberg in the lead, but he lost the lead to Carlos Sainz after making his first pitstop too late, but Sainz then made a mistake handing the lead to Magnussen, who as in Road America, overtook three cars on the first lap. FJR appeared to be the only team who could handle the difficult soft tyres, but they had a different problem to deal with. Despite switching to Mode 1, both Pic and Magnussen’s engines failed before half distance, which was later discovered to be an overheating issue due the team getting the cooling levels wrong.

Rosberg had already retaken the lead from Magnussen before the FJR’s engine failed, but once again, the Willows driver was jumped in the second round of stops, this time by Hamilton. It got worse for Rosberg as he crashed out on his outlap. This left Hamilton in a comfortable lead in Exolite’s 300th race, but he then made his own mistake and promoted Massa into the lead. The Brazilian was one of just five drivers to run hard tyres, and this proved to be a masterstroke as the slower, but more consistent tyre allowed him to stay on the track and ultimately, take his first win since 2011, and Meister’s first win of the season. Finishing 1st and 4th meant that they moved up to 2nd in the constructors championship ahead of Shake ‘n’ Bake.

Completing the podium were the two Tornado drivers, who got themselves into bother with team boss Tobias when they collided with each other going into the first corner. The results were a few seconds lost by both drivers and a trip to Ikea for Tobias as his table disintegrated from the power of his angry fist. Raikkonen was 4th, also on the hard tyres, as was Daniel Ricciardo who finished 5th after making some useful overtakes in the mid part of the race. Three drivers who took part in their 100th race, Sergio Perez, Romain Grosjean, and Nico Hulkenberg, all failed to finish.

The teams crossed the western Hungarian border into Austria, and once again, Meister were on pole with Raikkonen ahead of Alonso and Vettel. Both championship contenders made light work of Raikkonen on the first lap, but the battle become one-sided when Vettel spun off at the Jochen Rindt Kurve. He was lucky not to be collected by Robert Kubica, who was having his own spin at the same time. Both rejoined and recovered to finish in the points, which essentially ended Vettel’s all or nothing run.

Elsewhere, two drivers on soft tyres, Rosberg and Hamilton, crashed out at Würth Kurve, whereas Bottas had an off at Rauch Kurve and whilst rejoining, ambled into the path of Charlotte Plectrum and lost his wheel in an act of karma. None of this was bothering Tornado, who had cruised to an easy 1-2 finish, with Alonso ahead of Gonzalez.

The Belgian Grand Prix saw the first driver swap of the season, with Charlotte Plectrum making way for FJR test driver Benjamin Pryor, who became the first ever driver from Wales to participate in an FF1M race. Qualifying was a bit of a baptism of fire as he qualified last, over a second off of the next quickest driver, and he would go on to finish 15th and last of the runners. Meanwhile at the front, Massa had qualified on pole for the second time this season, but lost the lead immediately to Vettel at the start, quickly followed by Rosberg.

As Vettel and Rosberg pulled away at the front, the two Tornado drivers were providing the initial entertainment with Alonso making what was described as a “dog’s breakfast” of his race from a lowly 12th on the grid, and Gonzalez botching an overtake on his teammate by turning in too early at the Bus Stop chicane and spinning. Gonzalez would later collide with Sainz going into Eau Rouge with both getting away without crashing, and would then retire with a loose wheel shortly after his second stop. Alonso would have an even scarier retirement when his engine exploded, and the resulting smoke caused Massa to plough into the Spaniard.

Vettel continued to lead at half distance, but Rosberg’s early first stop and a heavy fuel load had started to backfire as he lost positions to Bottas and Raikkonen in the middle stint. A later second stop enabled him to retake Raikkonen on fresher tyres, but Willows’ reliability issues returned with six laps to go thanks to a loose wheel. More dramatically, another fine race and probable win was cruelly taken away from Vettel thanks to a left-rear puncture, effectively ending any realistic possibility of retaining the championship. This left Bottas to take his first win of the season ahead of Raikkonen and the impressive Vergne, who went from 19th to the podium.

The second ultra-low downforce race of the season took place at Monza, where a powerful engine and/or a strong ERS system was king for qualifying. The top three were all Climax runners in the order of Raikkonen, Massa, and Lee, whereas the back of the grid was occupied by the Judd-engined FJR cars. The start nearly saw a pile-up at the first chicane as Bottas bumped Lee into Massa, while the other Mitchell of Hulkenberg tagged Raikkonen. This briefly put Hulkenberg in the lead before Massa regained the initiative going into the Parabolica. Meanwhile, Alonso had a terrible start as he was boxed in going into the first chicane before suffering poor traction and dropping from 13th on the grid to last, while Antonio Felix Da Costa lost both his wings.

The order was comprehensively reshuffled on lap three thanks to a healthy dose of mayhem. Firstly from 3rd and 4th, the two Mitchell drivers collided going into the first chicane putting Hulkenberg in a spin and in the middle of the track before being elbowed out of the way by Magnussen. The other FJR of Pryor then ignored yellow flags to perform a triple overtake on Sainz, Alonso, and Vandoorne. Going into the Roggia chicane, Button’s engine blew up while almost unnoticed, Vandoorne was pulling off with his own issue, a puncture. At the chicane, Magnussen and Vergne collided, and Grosjean overdid his avoidance of the collision by driving into the gravel trap at the exit. Finally at the first Lesmo, a three-wide moment between Pryor, Vergne, and Ricciardo resulted in inevitable contact. Vergne and Ricciardo went heavily into the barrier nose first, while Pryor survived having almost gained eight places in half a lap, but had to settle for a net four.

The race calmed down somewhat as Bottas took the lead from Massa on lap 5, and brilliantly controlled the race for his second consecutive win, and the first which wasn’t inherited in the closing stages. Rosberg would finish 2nd after Massa suffered a gearbox problem. The German’s drive to 2nd was much better than it looked having started from 15th and making the most of a strong first lap. After his atrocious start, Alonso finished 3rd having passed Raikkonen in the closing stages. Other noteworthy drives included Hulkenberg’s recovery to 5th and Pryor’s dogged drive to 7th, which left Button the only driver without points… again.

Of the more un-noteworthy performances, Vettel had a dismal race, spinning at the Parabolica in the early stages, shunting Alonso into a pirouette at the first chicane, and then crashing out for good at the first Lesmo. Lee’s race was more controversial. Despite his earlier collision with Hulkenberg, he was still in the running for a strong result before colliding with Hamilton at the first chicane, and then having survived the incident, Lee appeared to deliberately spin Hamilton back round the wrong way.

The result in Monza gave Alonso and Tornado the chance to wrap up both championships at the Malaysian Grand Prix. In order to stand any chance of retaining the championship, Vettel had to win the remaining three races with Alonso scoring less than three points. His task would be made more difficult thanks to qualifying only 6th and Tornado comfortably locking out the front row in part thanks to being the only team on soft tyres.

The race saw Vettel’s impossible task made even more difficult after being punted from behind by Kubica on lap six and dropping from 7th to 13th. Another driver having trouble was Hamilton, who couldn’t put his impressive 5th place on the grid to good use as he grappled with his medium tyres and a couple of spins. Elsewhere, Magnussen had a bit of trouble with his new teammate, Cristobal Alvarez, who put up more of a fight than FJR was hoping for as Magnussen had made an early first stop and was much quicker on new tyres.

At the front, the two Tornado drivers were untroubled as Alonso cruised to an easy victory, and with it, his third drivers championship. Gonzalez’s 2nd place as well as many other general contributions towards Tornado’s campaign also ensured the constructors championship at the same time. This was Tornado’s 7th constructors championship win, a new record. Taking 3rd in the race was Massa, but Meister had scuppered a possible 3-4 finish after double stacking at the first round of stops. Benefitting from this was Bottas, and with Shake ‘n’ Bake having failed to score points, GRM had now moved ahead of the Yorkshire team in the constructors championship. Similarly, Cooper Lee’s strong drive to 5th moved Mitchell to 8th ahead of FJR, but the fight for last in the championship was far from settled.

The penultimate race of the season was at Shanghai, and the last Chinese Grand Prix for a while as its contract was not renewed for 2016. Like at Sepang, Tornado were the only team running the soft tyres, with most teams favouring the medium tyres, but unlike Sepang, Tornado didn’t lock out the front row. In fact, it was a surprise pole for Romain Grosjean and Pedersen, and with the team sitting 10th in the constructors championship, this put them in good shape for the race to make inroads away from last in the championship.

Although Grosjean had a good start, it was clear from the first lap that Tornado were the team to beat in the race as Gonzalez easily powered past the Pedersen on the back straight. On the next lap, Alonso followed suit and the two Tornado drivers battled for supremacy throughout the race whilst pulling away from the rest of the field. Alonso took the lead on lap six and was the first to pit on lap 15. Gonzalez pitted five laps later and spent most of the second stint closing a 10 second gap to his teammate.

Meanwhile in the midfield, the two FJR drivers were making progress thanks to running full ERS in the race. Magnussen had overtaken Hamilton for 9th using the outside line on the main straight, while Alvarez was also making progress from 20th on the grid, despite a half-spin after contact with Lee. He jumped from 13th to 8th after timing his first pitstop well, then moved up to 7th after capitalising on a minor mistake from Sainz at the first corner, and then 6th when Perez was forced to make an unscheduled stop to fix an electrical problem. Alvarez’s teammate wasn’t quite as lucky as a loose wheel forced him to retire whilst running in 8th place.

Back at the front, Gonzalez had closed the 10 second gap to his teammate and retook the lead on lap 30, but Alonso was able to keep up and at the second round of stops, the Spaniard jumped Gonzalez after pitting a lap earlier. Tomas had a chance to fight back on his outlap, but damaged both his front tyres after locking up and had to settle for 2nd behind his teammate, who took win number seven. The two Meisters managed their 3-4 finish that they lost at Sepang, while Bottas and Kubica were 5th and 6th.

Alvarez took an impressive 7th despite a slow second pitstop, which meant that not for the first time, Button became the only driver without points again. However, for the final race at Suzuka, Tornado had managed to successfully arrange a driver swap with Exolite’s Alonso to give the 2008 champion one last hurrah before heading into retirement. Going from one of the slowest cars to one of the quickest cars gave Button enough of an incentive to qualify 3rd on the grid behind polesitter Vettel and the other Exolite of Hamilton. Vettel’s pole was a bit of a surprise considering he was nowhere at Shanghai, 16th to be exact, and Shake ‘n’ Bake had only scored three points since Silverstone, the fewest of all teams.

Vettel maintained the lead after the first lap, but a rejuvenated Button powered in front on the second lap and quickly pulled away from the field. Conversely, Alonso’s first race with Exolite since 2013 ended far too soon after a race-ending puncture on the same lap. Other drivers struggling with their tyres were Magnussen, Yoshida, Rosberg, Gonzalez, and the returning Pic, all of whom were on soft tyres and had spun and retired at the tricky first corner.

At the front, Button looked comfortable and was well on course to emulate Michael Schumacher by winning his final FF1M race, but on lap 17, heartbreak. His engine failed coming out of the hairpin leaving him pointless in his final season. This opened up the race with four drivers battling for the win; Vettel, the two Meister drivers, and the two-stopping Kubica, who had worked his way to the front from 18th on the grid. Despite older tyres, Kubica was able to hold on to the lead before his second and final stop, and some demon outlaps helped him to build a gap when the other drivers made their final stops. From there, Kubica was untouchable as he went on to take his first win since the 2013 Singapore Grand Prix. Raikkonen would’ve taken 2nd, but a suspension failure on the last lap robbed him of a podium finish and runner-up spot in the drivers championship. Instead, it was Massa who finished 2nd with Vettel capping off a horrendous second half of the championship with a hard-earned 3rd, and Raikkonen’s retirement meant that the Shake ‘n’ Bake driver salvaged the runner-up spot.

Gojira’s win helped them to jump up to 3rd in the constructors championship behind Tornado and Meister, and ahead of GRM and Shake ‘n’ Bake. Further down the field, Exolite’s double retirement rooted them to last in the championship, while strong performances from Mitchell and Pedersen in the final race helped them to jump FJR, who slipped down to 10th after both drivers spun at the first corner.

With new cars and regulations arriving for 2016, the potential for the order to be shaken up is ominous. The first clues will be revealed at Sakhir for the Engine Manufacturer test and the first three days of pre-season testing.