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Winners and losers - 2015

09 Dec 2015

Surprise packages, experimental liveries, rookie sensations, beleaguered world champions, public fallouts, email dismissals, and even a hurricane - there was no shortage of storylines in F1 this year, even if the title itself was wrapped up at a canter. We run through the winners and losers from the 2015 season...

Winners

MAX VERSTAPPEN

A sensation in his rookie season, even before one considers he wasn't old enough to drive on public roads for half the season. Put another way, he had already passed Felipe Nasr around the outside of Spa's 290km/h Blanchimont left-hander - arguably the overtake of the year - by the time he convinced an examiner he was fit to drive in his native Holland.

Amid such swashbuckling confidence, it was often hard to shake the conviction that Verstappen simply has no right to be this good, this young. A solitary season in FIA European Formula Three seemed scant preparation for the step up to F1 competition, but Verstappen made an immediate impact and never let up thereafter. Of the few errors he made, a high-speed crash with Romain Grosjean in Monaco was the most notable, but it was very much the exception rather than the rule. Despite his never-say-die style (see below) and enthralling bravado, the Dutch teenager was nigh on immaculate. Not bad considering he was still in karts just 24 months ago...

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FERRARI

The exits of then-president Luca di Montezemolo and then-team principal Marco Mattiacci suggested Ferrari would be in for a massive, and lengthy, restructuring in 2015. Instead, they began the year with an unexpected spring in their step, and broke into a full gallop in Malaysia.

By the season's end they had triumphed on another two occasions - one short of prompting Maurizio Arrivabene to take a barefoot stroll in the Maranello hills - and claimed 16 podiums, their best return since 2008.

With James Allison steering the technical direction, and Sebastian Vettel injecting a fresh energy along with his unerring talent, the Scuderia's prospects are suddenly looking very rosy.

LEWIS HAMILTON

Now a three-time F1 world champion, and with 43 victories to his credit - two more than childhood idol Ayrton Senna, and third on the all-time winners list behind only Michael Schumacher (91) and Alain Prost (51).

If his end-of-season dip gave him food for thought, Hamilton wasn't letting on in Abu Dhabi, where he said - as much to Nico Rosberg as to the press - "I think being world champion sounds a lot better than winning the race..."

Hamilton has earned the right to such a statement. For all the talk of his lifestyle being a distraction - and references to the occasional off-track mishap - Hamilton at his best, and in the best machinery, is a frightening combination. Seven wins, 11 poles and 11 podiums from the opening 12 races showed that when it mattered most, Hamilton blew his opposition away.

MEXICO CITY

Proof that absence makes the heart grow fonder - or that Mexico's love for F1 racing has not dwindled in the slightest over the last two decades. A sell-out crowd, a carnival atmosphere and that podium - this was a glorious return in every sense of the word, as Mexico City rapidly established itself as a new fan and drivers' favourite.

FORCE INDIA

The best campaign in Force India's history started in inauspicious fashion, with the team missing the first two pre-season tests and running an interim car for the first half of the year. Despite that, both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez kept themselves in the game with a collective nine points finishes over the first nine races, leaving them perfectly placed to capitalise when the B-spec car finally hit the track.

They did just that. Over the final races, the team outscored Red Bull, and only just trailed Williams, 106 points to 97. A podium in Russia - the fourth in the team's history - was the standout moment, but just as impressive was the fact they scored points in every race from Belgium onwards. Only one other team managed that - Mercedes.

SERGIO PEREZ

As Force India hit their stride, so too did Perez. A list of the results of his last five races tells its own story: 3rd, 5th, 8th, 12th, 5th, equating to 39 points. Only the championship top three - Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel - picked up more.

In the process, the Mexican finished a career-best ninth in the championship, and out-scored Nico Hulkenberg 78 points to 58 - the first time Hulkenberg has been put in the shade by a team mate since his rookie season. Little wonder Perez himself labelled it his 'best season' in F1.

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

Gambled by leaving Red Bull, who scored 12 podiums and three wins in 2014, to join Ferrari, who claimed just two podiums amid their worst season in modern times. It paid off.

This wasn't just about Ferrari's upturn - Vettel himself was reinvigorated after the low of 2014. It wasn't needed, but by comprehensively out-performing Kimi Raikkonen the German offered proof of the qualities that carried him to his four world championships. When on song, Vettel is a match for anyone on the grid. If Ferrari take another step forward in 2016, a fifth crown will be firmly in his sights.

CAMO PAINT

Red Bull scored a massive PR win before the championship had even started with the bespoke camouflage livery run in pre-season testing. 'More than just black and white' was the team's take on the CamoBull. 'Epic' was the verdict from the fans.

MARUSSIA

Saved at the 11th hour prior to the season's start, their mere presence on the grid - let alone staying the course and actually closing the gap to Mercedes across the 19 races - is to be celebrated. 

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

A superb season to dominate his team mate - Grosjean led Lotus team mate Pastor Maldonado 17-2 in qualifying, and scored 188 percent of the Venezuelan's total points. That he did so while missing 13 FP1 sessions makes the achievement all the more emphatic - while the unlikeliest of podiums in Belgium, amid a string of financial complications for Lotus, was the icing on the cake. A fitting way to end his relationship with the team from Enstone - now he rolls the dice and bets big on the US newcomers Haas.

SPEED TRAPS

Mexico City replaced Monza as the temple of top speed in 2015, with the high altitudes producing record speeds in excess of 360 km/h - significantly faster than the pre-V6 era.

ALONSO AND THE FIRST LAP

No driver made up more ground, or on more occasions, on the opening lap than the two-time champion. Admittedly McLaren's dismal season played into Alonso's hands in this particular regard, giving him plenty of opportunities to rise from the lower fringes of the grid. But when the lights went out, the Spaniard was a force of nature, making up more than 40 places - an average of more than two per race - over the season.

Losers

McLAREN-HONDA

Perhaps it was always going to be difficult to live up to pre-season hype for McLaren and Honda, but the reuniting of these two former powerhouses wasn't just underwhelming: it was crushingly disappointing.

Pre-season set the tone, with McLaren turning in 827 laps in total. Mercedes alone managed 1,914, Mercedes-powered cars 5,836 - effectively seven times Honda's count.

Five seconds off the pace in qualifying in Australia, McLaren pledged patience. But while they did improve, there was ultimately no fix for the fundamental issues of the Honda power unit. Having made compromises to try and keep the engine as tightly packaged as possible, Honda's small compressor meant they were down on power and energy harvesting, leading to a 'scary' deficit of around 20km/h on some straights.

After 19 painful races, both parties have the chance to make real changes - and real progress - over the winter. After such a dismal year, it is an opportunity they simply must take.

RED BULL

They might not have plumbed the same depths as McLaren, but Red Bull had their own painful season, as well-documented issues with power unit suppliers Renault dogged their form.

For the first time since 2008, the team failed to win. Over the same period, 2015 delivered their lowest podium count (three) and worst championship position (fourth).

The conviction remains that the RB11 was one of the best chassis in the field, a notion backed up by the team's instant improvements at circuits where engine power wasn't a priority. But in their very public row with Renault, and their subsequent (unsuccessful) pursuit and aggressive brokering with other engine suppliers, Red Bull lost face as well as performance. Not a season to add to the collection.

RENAULT

Whether your sympathies were with Red Bull or Renault during the war of words that broke out in 2015, it was hard to argue that the French manufacturer had gone the right way with their power unit. Poor initial reliability - which they eventually got on top of - was married with a distinct lack of power, a dynamic exacerbated when they finally released their upgraded unit in time for Brazil. Daniel Ricciardo was the only man to try it, and was distinctly underwhelmed. "It hasn't really given us anything," was the verdict, "so back to the drawing board for Renault." Quite.

ALONSO AND BUTTON

Was there a more depressing sight in 2015 than two world champions, widely considered to be among the best drivers in the world, trudging round at the back of the field? Both often looked for the positives, but this was a character-building season for two veterans who didn't need it, having already cut their teeth in F1 for a decade. 

Frustrations inevitably spilled over at times, and there was even talk - prompted by McLaren chief Ron Dennis - of Alonso potentially taking a sabbatical in 2016 if things don't improve. The Spaniard played that down, reiterating his belief in the team's long-term prospects. There is a lot to put right over the next two months...

MARUSSIA

Winners for staying the course in the season, but losers for the way they ended it. The departures of Graeme Lowdon and John Booth, the men behind the team's phoenix-like rise from the ashes, is a big loss. With technical chief Bob Bell also departing, and having been demonstrably slower than anyone else in 2015, the team have a massive battle on their hands over winter.

PASTOR MALDONADO

Maldonado lived up to his alias in 2015, completing five laps or fewer in six Grands Prix this season, and retiring from nine in total. Only Roberto Merhi and Alexander Rossi, neither of whom contested the full season, completed fewer racing laps than the Venezuelan, who was also emphatically beaten by team mate Romain Grosjean. This wasn't a season to silence his detractors by any stretch.

KEVIN MAGNUSSEN

Let go by McLaren. By email. On his birthday. Despite largely matching Jenson Button during his rookie season in 2014, the talented Dane's future F1 options are already looking limited.

SUN WORSHIPPERS

The Saturday of this year's Grand Prix at Austin was not a time to be outside. Buffeted by the fringes of Hurricane Patricia, high winds and heavy rain lashed the circuit and caused first the delay, and then the postponing, of qualifying until Sunday morning. Through it all, fans somehow remained in their seats. We can only salute them.

THE POSTMAN

"Will you get each other a Christmas present?" one reporter cheekily asked Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in Abu Dhabi. 'No', was the effective response.

Such frosty relations could actually be exactly what F1 needs. Rosberg might have been blown away at the start of the year, but by the end he was firmly on top and had Hamilton rattled. Continue in that vein of form, and the pair's fierce rivalry might become a fierce fight for the championship - and that can only be a good thing for the sport, even if the postman might not be delivering them Christmas cards anytime soon.

KIMI RAIKKONEN

Won a reprieve by signing a one-year contract extension with Ferrari, but there was no disguising the fact Raikkonen was soundly beaten by a multiple world champion for the second season running.

The big chance to reset the balance was at Monza, where Raikkonen beat Vettel and Rosberg to a front-row starting slot. It didn't go well....

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RACE REVERSALS

One win in 19 came from outside the front row in 2015 - and that was when Vettel won from third in Hungary. That's not to say there weren't some outstanding races - but it does emphasise the control Mercedes had over proceedings almost throughout.

THE STEWARDS' CALCULATOR

Even Alonso poked fun at McLaren's list of grid penalties, particularly the 105-place collective demotion he and Button received at Spa. That 'world record' was mocked by pundits and public alike, though regulation changes did at least mean it constituted nothing more than a back-row start.