With F1 on its mid-season break, it's an ideal moment to assess the performance of the teams and drivers so far.
With F1 on its mid-season break, it's an ideal moment to assess the performance of the teams and drivers so far. This year we've chosen to do it in match-ups between pairs of comparable teams, with our own JA on F1 Ratings for Drivers and teams.
First up the two outstanding performers of 2015 so far.
Mercedes vs Ferrari: Overview
With eight Formula 1 wins from 10 races, 2015 has so far been another year dominated by Mercedes. The Silver Arrows have also taken pole at every race so far this season and its drivers sit at the top of the championship.
But behind them in third place sits Ferrari’s Sebastien Vettel. The four-time world champions seems rejuvenated and has taken two fighting wins in Malaysia and Hungary. The Scuderia has leapt up the order and emerged as Mercedes’ closest challenger this year thanks to significant improvements to its V6 turbo engine.
Lewis Hamilton has taken nine pole positions, compared to Nico Rosberg’s one, and raced to three wins out of the first four races, but the reigning world champion then suffered a dip in form when F1 returned to Europe. He had no answer for Rosberg’s domination in Spain and lost a guaranteed win Monaco when he pitted during the safety car period.
Hamilton hit back with another win in Canada but had no answer for Rosberg at the Austrian Grand Prix. Hamilton was noticeably slower off the line at the Red Bull Ring – a problem he blamed on different clutch settings that had been affecting his starts since Spain – but a penalty for running over the pitlane exit line also blunted his threat in that race.
The start gremlins returned at Silverstone, where the Williams drivers shot ahead of both Mercedes, and again at the Hungaroring, where Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen got the jump off the line. Hamilton was able to stalk and pass the Williams cars at Silverstone for win number five, but in Hungary he suffered a day to forget – he went off attempting to pass Rosberg further around Lap 1 and then clattered into Daniel Ricciardo later on.
As well as his wins in Spain, Monaco and Austria, Rosberg also grabbed headlines with a feisty drive in Bahrain before a brake failure gifted second place to Raikkonen. That followed three tame drives at the start of the year where he could do nothing to get ahead of Hamilton. Rosberg’s three victories and consistent podiums have kept him in play in the title fight, but missing the chance to switch to the faster soft tyres for the final stint in Hungary meant he could not fight Vettel for the win even before contact with Ricciardo dropped him down the field and the chance to close right up his teammate in the points was lost.
The biggest headache for for Rosberg is that his qualifying edge appears to have deserted him. The German claimed eleven poles in 2014, but has just one so far this year. When he hits the front he can stay there, but he's not giving himself the chance often enough. Rosberg said his focus on the races has hampered his qualifying form, but it is not working out; he is still behind Hamilton in the points and wins tallies.
Vettel only led one lap last year and with two wins for Ferrari to his name already, the former world champion appears to have put his 2014 woes behind him. The switch to Ferrari seems to have invigorated him and he has taken every opportunity Mercedes has offered to him. An uncharacteristically poor weekend in Bahrain and engine problems in Canada dropped him off the podium and the German could do nothing to beat Massa to the podium in Austria. Williams’ capitulation in the wet weather at Silverstone and Mercedes' Monaco blunder gifted him better positions, but Vettel is certainly a threat; making the most of Ferrari’s upturn in performance this year.
Kimi Raikkonen suffered his worst ever season in 2014, but he too has capitalised on Ferrari’s improvements to return to the podium this year. If the Bahrain race had been a few laps longer he might have been able to turn Mercedes’ brake problems into victory, which was a good response to a disappointing start to the year. Raikkonen’s qualifying form still appears to be a significant weakness and this lead to him getting involved in incidents early in the year that cost him a higher finishing position. His gap to Vettel has led to increased speculation about his place in the Ferrari team, with fevered speculation that compatriot Bottas is being lined up to replace him next year. He has had a fair bit of bad luck too; a number of reliability issues and a botched pit stop in Australia, for example.
JA on F1 Verdict
Hamilton - 8.5/10
Rosberg - 7.5/10
Vettel - 8.5/10
Raikkonen - 5.5/10
Prospects for the rest of the season:
The title remains Hamilton's to lose. If he can maintain the form he has shown for the majority of the year he should have no trouble defending his title. But his recent race starts are a major cause for concern and it remains to be seen if the upcoming start procedure regulation changes from the Belgian Grand Prix will help or hinder him.
While he deserves credit for remaining so close to the championship lead, Rosberg will need to raise his game, especially in qualifying, if he is to claim his first title. Hungary, Spain, Austria and Monaco have shown Hamilton is not bullet-proof, but if Rosberg has another gear in him, he needs to find it now, to do more than just capitalise on any mistakes by Hamilton.
Vettel will be satisfied with his season so far, but as a champion he's hungry for more. The German is still in the title fight and as such remains a threat. Realistically he will need Mercedes to falter on a number of occasions, but when the Ferrari has got in front it has stayed in front, showing that Mercedes' advantage is not as great as the stats may suggest – qualifying and the race starts are the key.
Despite the step he has made in 2015, Raikkonen remains an enigma. He has had some strong weekends and bad luck accounts for some of the deficit to Vettel but trailing by 84 points after 10 races is too much and it could be time for a younger man. Ferrari's decision around what to do with him for 2016 will be fascinating.
Mercedes has maintained its dominant position at the head of the F1 field. Unlike last year, it has claimed pole position at every Grand Prix so far and that Saturday pace has underpinned its superiority over the field on Sundays. The team started the year running conservative engine settings in races, but have gone more aggressive since June. Reliability concerns have been allayed this year and neither driver has lost ground yet thanks to mechanical issues. When it happens, it could prove decisive.
But the errors on tyres and strategy in Malaysia, as well as the Monaco pitstop blunder means its operation is not immune to errors when the pressure is on, and they lost the potential to rescue victory in Hungary by not putting Rosberg onto the option tyres.
Ferrari’s ruthless clear-out over the 2014 closed season has worked and with James Allison’s engineering influence finally coming the fore, the Scuderia can close the gap to Mercedes. Its power unit improvements have made the biggest contribution, perhaps making the chassis look better than it is. More impressive was the fact that during the early season, Ferrari was able to run the aggressive modes Mercedes could not and the team still has tokens to spend on finding further improvements.
Strategy-wise, Ferrari has been making better decisions this year than for a long while and have been more aggressive, for example saving tyres in qualifying at key races, which carries risk, but potential reward. When Ferrari has been able to get ahead of the Mercedes it has been able to stay in front thanks to the benefits of running in clean air. Allison’s cars are generally able to be kinder to their tyres over the course of a stint and this has helped Ferrari in race trim. But this hurts them on the harder compound tyres, where the Mercedes has a clear edge.
JA on F1 Verdict
Mercedes - 9/10
Ferrari - 8.5/10
Prospects for the rest of the season:
Mercedes will mainly be worried about the race starts and will need to focus on stopping Ferrari, and others, getting the jump off the line. But its underlying qualifying pace is still their bedrock and it’s hard to see the Silver Arrows failing to claim a second straight constructors' title.
Ferrari will be very satisfied at hitting its pre-season targets, but Arrivabene will be hoping the squad can improve in qualifying in order to mix it up with Mercedes in the second half of the year.Do you agree with our ratings? Leave your own, together with your comments in the section below
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