May 23, 2024


Fantasy Formula 1 Management

2015 Mid-Season Review

Rewind to the beginning of the season when all 11 teams were predicted… right from the first race, the predictions were way off as the team predicted to come last won the first race, and were also the only team to get two cars in the points. One thing that was correct however was how competitive the field were, with 10 out of the 11 teams finishing on the podium in the first eight races. That itself isn’t a record; five other seasons (S2, 2003, 2003, 2005, and 2010) have seen that particular distinction, and the 2009 season saw 11 out of 13 teams take podium finishes. However, no season has seen 100% of teams take podium finishes, and 2015 could see this happen if Exolite get their act together.

Despite the erroneous predictions, there were clear patterns already developing from the very first race in Australia. Climax had arguably the best ERS system with six out of its eight drivers occupying the top six in qualifying, but the highest placed manufacturer was down in 6th courtesy of Tornado’s Fernando Alonso. It was also clear that Mugen’s ERS system has had very little development as Gojira went from championship contenders in 2014… to the back row.

Another pattern that was evident from the first race was Shake ‘n’ Bake going aggressive with their race engine. If there were any potential shortcomings with aerodynamics thanks to Sebastian Vettel’s justifiable salary demands and a lack of customers, then their engine performance more than made up for it as from 7th on the grid, Vettel worked his way into the lead with an elbows out overtake on polesitter Daniel Ricciardo. The Aussie would get revenge as Vettel suffered a suspension failure at two thirds distance, a similar failure to what teammate Itsuki Yoshida suffered earlier in the race.

One team that performed well was Meister in what was their debut race (Aside from two seasons in the classic format). A rejuvenated Felipe Massa had qualified a brilliant 2nd and despite a couple of incidents in the race, finished 3rd. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen had taken the lead after Vettel’s retirement, but then dropped behind Ricciardo after an off at turn 13. He was still in a comfortable 2nd before suffering an unlucky gearbox failure with just a few laps to go, which left Ricciardo a comfortable winner. Elsewhere, Pedersen’s Sergio Perez had put in a commendable drive to finish 2nd after starting 9th. His teammate, Romain Grosjean, was the first retirement on the season, and would suffer a further three retirements in the following three races.

The second race was held in Mexico, shifted from mid-season in 2014 to a double-header with Brazil. Continuing from their strong start, Meister achieved their first ever pole position courtesy of Raikkonen, his first pole since Brazil 2013. The race followed a relatively similar pattern with Vettel working his way into the lead before suffering an engine failure in the closing stages. The main beneficiary this time was Alonso, who took Tornado’s first win of the season. Ricciardo finishing 2nd ensured that he kept the championship lead, while Massa was once again 3rd after jumping Raikkonen in the second round of pitstops.

Two drivers who had points finishes in Australia got themselves into bother on the first lap. Going through the fearsome Peraltada, Antonio Felix Da Costa and Kevin Magnussen collided and speared off towards the barrier at tremendous speed. Da Costa retired having flipped and lost a wheel, while amazingly, Magnussen was able to continue, do a whole lap, and pit for a new rear wing. Even more astonishingly, he somehow managed to pinch a point thanks to a high attrition rate. It also transpired that due to a software error, FJR ran full race ERS having intended to run just half of it, and Magnussen set the third fastest lap of the race.

The Brazilian Grand Prix saw the first pole position of the season for a manufacturer team in the form of Fernando Alonso, but he was joined on the front row by Cooper Lee. Although he and teammate Nico Hulkenberg had been qualifying strongly, their races have been a story of either bad luck or no luck with crashes, incidents, and unreliability. Lee would finally score points in Brazil, but just the one as he faded during the race.

Having lost probable wins in the first two races, Vettel finally managed to finish a race. Not only that, but he beat Alonso and began foundations for an intense championship battle with the Spaniard. The differences in the race ERS strategy between the two teams was notable. When Alonso was behind Vettel, he struggled to overtake and had to use an early final pitstop to jump the German, but when Vettel caught Alonso, he breezed past relatively easily. Taking 3rd in this race was the Gojira of Jean-Eric Vergne having started 12th. Although the Mugen-powered cars were struggling in qualifying, their race engines were extremely strong, and this pattern would continue over the following races.

After a one season absense, the San Marino Grand Prix returned to the calendar, with the fast and flowing Mugello circuit hosting a race for the first time. For once, a Climax-powered car wasn’t on pole position as fresh from his Brazil win, Vettel took his first pole of the season, being the only driver to lap under 76 seconds. Qualifying strongly in 3rd was the Exolite of Lewis Hamilton, but his race didn’t get off to the best of starts as he lost a few positions. It then got even worse when Massa went off at Scarperia and spun into the path of the three time champion. More was to come for Whiteley’s team as Lee spun coming out of Borgo San Lorenzo, and Jenson Button had nowhere to go… not a good day to commentate on that race for Whiteley!

Vettel was also caught up in that incident. He had spun on the second lap at Correntaio and dropped well down the order. Having pitted for a new front wing, he recovered to 6th before his engine failed with three laps to go. This left Alonso to take a comfortable win from the impressive Valtteri Bottas in the GRM, who went from 11th to 2nd, but even more impressive was the Willows of Stoffel Vandoorne. Having had a difficult start to the season, Willows opted for a more aggressive race ERS set-up for this and the following sequence of races, and despite starting 16th and spinning on the second lap, Vandoorne brilliant charged his way through the field to take a superb 3rd, although this was partially helped by the Tornado of Tomas Gonzalez suffering a late pitstop to rectify a gear selection problem.

Talking of the Argentine, he’d had a steady start to the season compared to his teammate with modest points scores and an error in Brazil. He was able to display his talent at the Nurburgring with his first career pole position by just half a tenth from his teammate. Both Mitchell drivers qualifying strongly on the second row, but once again, it would go badly wrong for Lee as he spun into retirement while under pressure from Nico Rosberg. Another driver who spun into retirement was Ricciardo, who went wide at the Dunlop hairpin and into the path of Bottas, who needed a new front wing. Although not having been on the pace since Mexico, Andrew Racing were more than happy to retain the Aussie for 2016.

From 6th on the grid, Vettel got his braking absolutely spot on and took the lead going into the first corner, but just like the first two races, he retired from the lead, this time with a puncture. This left the two Tornado drivers to battle for the win, and a new set of underpants was needed for Tobias when Gonzalez brushed the back of Alonso at one point. The two would eventually settle down and take a 1-2 finish, with Alonso taking his third win of the season. Taking 3rd was Rosberg, who appeared to be running higher engine modes for the race, but was still a good drive from 10th on the grid.

Having replaced the Spanish Grand Prix last season, the Portuguese Grand Prix was once again favoured for the annual Iberian race. Once again, Tornado were on pole position, this time with Alonso, who was looking to build on what was a fairly comfortable lead in the championship. Similarly, Tornado had double the amount of points over their nearest rivals, who were the impressive Meister team.

The start of the race almost replicated that of the Nurburgring as from 4th on the grid, Bottas shot past both Tornado drivers and Grosjean in order to lead going into the first corner. The Finn was then able to maintain a gap of just under a second from Alonso, but the gap became much larger as Alonso pushed too hard and crashed out at the first corner. Tornado’s race then got worse as Gonzalez made contact with Jenson Button and dropped down the order. He wasn’t able to mount a fightback due to a conservative engine setting and finished down in 13th.

Meanwhile, both Willows drivers once again went aggressive with their race ERS and were the two fastest cars on the circuit. Having started 14th, Rosberg had made his way up to 2nd and was catching Bottas, but his engine failed shortly after one third distance. His teammate was still going strong and had moved up to 2nd from 17th on the grid. This then became the lead when Bottas unexpectedly and inexplicably crashed out of the lead with 12 laps to go, but sadly, a dream win wasn’t meant to be for the Belgian as his engine failed with just five laps to go.

The main beneficiary was Vettel, who had passed Grosjean shortly before Vandoorne retired and took his second win of the season. Taking 3rd after a quietly impressive race was Hulkenberg, while other notable drives came from Itsuki Yoshida, Robert Kubica, and Kevin Magnussen. Yoshida’s 4th place was slightly lucky as he escaped a late incident with the crashed Da Costa without damage, Kubica’s 5th came after starting 21st, while Magnussen went from 15th to 7th in the final 12 laps.

The tiny street circuit of Monaco was next, and Tornado were keen to bounce back after a point-less race at Estoril. Alonso couldn’t quite get to grips with his car as he qualified down in 6th, while Gonzalez managed to qualify on the front row, with Kimi Raikkonen on pole, Meister’s second of the season, although he was destined to suffer a water leak in the race.

The circuit had been revised for this season with modifications made to the barriers in the final sector, and this caught out a few drivers, including Carlos Sainz, Stoffel Vandoorne, and Kevin Magnussen. None of this was troubling the Shake ‘n’ Bake drivers. Both even manage to overtake other drivers on the tight and twisty streets! Vettel’s in particular was crucial as this helped him get into prime position to jump to the front after the first round of pit stops. From then, he was untouchable despite getting stuck behind Cooper Lee, and he went on to take his 3rd win of the season, with both Tornado drivers joining him on the podium.

Monaco’s circuit revisions seemed to trend itself onto the next race in Canada, where the run up to the Casino hairpin was modified as well as the pit exit. The in-form Vettel took his second pole of the season ahead of both Tornado drivers. Team boss Tobias had donned the microphone for the first time as he hoped for a strong race, but once again, their race strategy appeared conservative. Both Gonzalez and Alonso came under siege in the early stages from both Willows drivers and Kevin Magnussen, all of whom appeared to have gone aggressive with FJR boss James Brickles revealing during commentary that he was running full race ERS. At least the two Tornado drivers managed to stay away from any incidents, such as Charles Pic spinning into the path of the unfortunate Cooper Lee. Both would eventually finish 4th and 6th, with Gonzalez in front.

Meanwhile, the race had developed into a two-way battle between Vettel and Rosberg, both of whom were Shake ‘n’ Bake teammates in 2011. Rosberg nearly jumped Vettel in the first round of pitstops after the Willows driver stayed out longer. Rosberg then made a move on Vettel going into the final chicane, but it was made simpler when Vettel suddenly dived into the pits for an unscheduled stop to rectify an issue with the throttle response… a new steering wheel works wonders!

The race looked to be heading towards Rosberg, but disaster and bad luck struck due to driveshaft failure, possibly as a result of the extra power. His teammate would also retire in the closing stages due to broken suspension. Rosberg’s retirement brought Magnussen into the lead, but with reliability concerns of his own after Pic retired with an oil leak. The Frenchman’s car was apparently seen being dumped into the old Olympic rowing basin, and the team would have to ship out a new chassis for the next race. Magnussen would suffer no such problems, but he was overtaken by the recovering Vettel just before half distance. Vettel would go on to take his 4th win of the season ahead of Magnussen, who took a career best 2nd, while Jean-Eric Vergne took 3rd after a quietly understated drive from 11th on the grid.

Willows’ bad luck unfortunately continued across the border for the United States grand prix, and in the worst possible fashion as well. Having started 14th on the grid, Rosberg had worked his way up to 2nd behind Vettel having set the fastest lap in the process, but his engine failed on the final lap, much to the devastation of team boss Joseph Willows, who was in the commentary box alongside Brickles and Tobias. To add insult to injury, Vandoorne crashed out on lap 8.

It didn’t go that much better for the other two commentators with Gonzalez crashing out at the Carousel at half distance having had a woeful race up to that point, and both FJR drivers failing to finish. Magnussen had been running strongly in 3rd having performed a triple overtake on the first lap and then having a sniff of the race lead when Vettel and Bottas were held up behind Lewis Hamilton, who himself nearly bulldozed a marshal at the exit of Bill Mitchell Bend, but the Dane pushed too hard and crashed out at Canada corner… quite a way to celebrate the renewal of his FJR contract for the 2016 season!

Vettel’s race at the front was a comfortable one as he won by 20 seconds and took the championship lead in the process, but the drives of the race came from the two GRM drivers. Using the soft tyres, Bottas kept up with Vettel before having to convert to a three-stop strategy due to a mid-race problem. He finished 2nd, while from 12th on the grid, Carlos Sainz had worked his way up to 4th despite punting Cooper Lee off early in the race. This then became 3rd after Rosberg’s last lap engine failure, and for the first time in their career, GRM scored a much deserved double podium finish and shot up to 3rd in the constructors championship ahead of Meister and Gojira, their manufacturer. They currently sit 51 points behind championship leaders Tornado, who themselves sit 20 points ahead of Shake ‘n’ Bake. That might sound like a comfortable lead, but four races before, they were 50 points ahead of Shake ‘n’ Bake, and the Yorkshire team have the momentum. Will this continue going into Silverstone? Stay tuned…