It was a season with a supposed renewal of hostilities between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. The stage was set for a repeat of the fissures that had emerged during the course of the 2014 campaign, the creaking and cracking of an old friendship which played out with a gracious concession by Rosberg at the season decider in Abu Dhabi.
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But in truth, for all the ebbs and flows of this season, Hamilton’s now successful bid to emulate his hero Ayrton Senna with a third world title never looked anything other than a certainty for much of the year.
In part, that was down to Rosberg’s qualifying dominance last year and Hamilton’s determination not to let that happen again. In the first 12 races of 2014, the German headed Hamilton 7-4 (with Felipe Massa’s solitary pole) in the one-lap shoot-out while a year on it was 11-1 in Hamilton’s favour.
In Rosberg’s defence, he has since redeemed himself with five consecutive pole positions although only two of those were converted to race wins and, in truth, it was too little too late.
So there is to be no title decider in Abu Dhabi as there was last season and again in 2014, Hamilton having already sewn up the world title three race weekends earlier in the United States.
Hamilton has been aided by greater reliability and fortune this year with just one race retirement to date compared to three in the previous title tussle, and boasts double the number of race victories to Rosberg – 10 to 5.
It began with victory in the Australian Grand Prix, the first of 11 Mercedes one-twos, to take a championship lead he has not rescinded all season long.
Sebastian Vettel, having apparently found a new lease of life at Ferrari, gave a flicker of hope to the rest of the grid and the watching public that there could be a non-Mercedes title challenger when he took victory in the second race of the season at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
But it was to be another eight races before he challenged for victory – in Hungary – the second of three grand prix wins this season, and while it was an impressive step forward by the Maranello outfit it was not enough to have Hamilton running scared.
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) November 25, 2015
It only took until the third race on the calendar for the war of words to emerge either side of the Merc edes garage when Rosberg accused his teammate of deliberately ruining his race by backing him up in the middle stint. The opprobrium appeared to dissipate as finally Rosberg broke his season duck with a victorious start to the European leg of the season by claiming wins at the Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix, although he was gracious enough to admit that Monaco had been a gift win.
Mercedes completely miscalculated a pitstop for Hamilton when the safety car came out denying the Briton what would have been a certain win. Hamilton was fairly mooted in his post-race complaints, in stark contrast to increasing problems at other major teams.
At Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmut Marko used the first European race to voice his disgust with a Renault power unit it was felt to be 100 horsepower down on that of Mercedes. Marko said: “If we don’t have a competitive engine in the near future, then either Audi is coming or we are out,” while McLaren’s new engine partnership with Honda proved even more dismal.
Rival teams GPS data from Brazil revealed new Renault engine had around 20hp less power than old one. AMuS (German): https://t.co/gyPoe1ASd5
— Tobias Grüner (@tgruener) November 16, 2015
Monaco was something of an anomaly as Jenson Button sealed a points finish but 2015 has been an annus horribilis for the team with 13 retirements between him and Fernando Alonso, something the Spaniard has increasingly struggled to come to terms with. It reached arguably its lowest ebb at the Japanese Grand Prix with outbursts over the team radio such as “GP2 engine, GP2” at what was Honda’s home race.
It was not a season, though, without its share of tragedy. Just days after Hamilton drove superbly after a dire start and a wet finish, the sport was rocked by the news that Jules Bianchi had lost his battle for life following his horrific crash at last season’s Japanese Grand Prix.
At the subsequent race in Hungary, Vettel proved victorious to Ferrari and celebrated with the words: “Merci Jules, you will always be in our hearts and we know that sooner or later you would have been part of this team.”
Come Belgium, it was as though Hamilton had put the hammer down as he won five of the next six races. At Spa, he said his greatest concern was not the chasing pack but the state of this Pirelli tyres, the Italian company earning negative publicity from Sebastian Vettel for his tyre failure and that of Rosberg.
Tyres again hogged the headlines the following race weekend at Monza when Hamilton’s victory hung in the balance for two hours when his rubber was found to be below the statutory level of pressure. Critics suggested it was an intentional move by Mercedes to gain an unfair advantage, which the team argued was not the case and the race stewards agreed.
For the first time all season, though, the wheels appeared to fall off Merc’s challenge at the subsequent Singapore Grand Prix in which Hamilton retired and Rosberg could only muster fourth. But that was to be the last Mercedes scare as Hamilton claimed a hat-trick of victories in Japan, Russia and the United States, the last of the three giving him the world title.
With the title sealed, it seemed to release Rosberg, who won the next two races in Mexico, returning triumphantly to the calendar for the first time in 1992 with crowds in their thousands, and Brazil. Quite what lies in store at Yas Marina is another matter. Few though, would look past a Mercedes one-two.