F1 mid-season report: Who's been quickest out of the blocks?

F1i 15:33 09/08/2015
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Sebastian Vettel faces an uphill task to break the dominance of Hamilton and Rosberg.

As the Formula One calendar hits its mid-season point, F1i reviews the action so far with Lewis Hamilton leading the drivers championship.


The defending champion didn’t have the smoothest time of it last year, but Hamilton started 2015 in immense form as he took four consecutive pole positions and three victories, only missing out when he finished second to Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia. Monaco should have been another victory but for Mercedes making a strategic error, but Hamilton quickly put it behind him to win in Canada. Was only clearly beaten by Nico Rosberg in Austria, while Hungary is the only weekend which could be described as poor as he made numerous mistakes, but Hamilton still looks a stronger proposition than a year ago regardless.


Rosberg’s consistency has been impressive this season, but less impressive is the fact he has been consistently slower than Hamilton and most races. Having lost his qualifying edge from last year, Rosberg is already on the back foot when the lights go out and is reliant on beating his team-mate off the line otherwise the race already appears to be over. Clearly got the ability to challenge for the title, but Rosberg needs to up his game on Saturdays to allow him to close the gap to Hamilton.


The Ferrari is a much-improved car this year, but Vettel has been back to his old self at his new home. Quick in qualifying, Vettel has regularly been the biggest threat to Mercedes and delivered two faultless drives for victory in Malaysia and Hungary. Bahrain was Vettel’s one poor weekend and he still finished fifth, with Canada and Austria the only other two races where he failed to finish on the podium – the former due to a reliability issue in qualifying (but he still recovered to fifth) and the latter due to a slow pit stop dropping him to fourth place. The title is a long shot, but on current form Vettel will get the maximum out of the majority of weekends to keep the pressure on the leaders.


Much has been made of Bottas’ potential – with the Finn strongly linked with a move to Ferrari – but he has not had things all his own way against Felipe Massa this year. Unfortunately ruled out of the opening race due to a back injury, Bottas delivered strong drives upon his return, most notably in Bahrain and Spain as he finished fourth ahead of a Ferrari both times. An impressive podium in Canada was Bottas at his best as he proved too quick for Kimi Raikkonen once ahead of his fellow Finn, but Bottas was then outpaced by Massa in Austria before missing out on the chance to challenge his team-mate in Silverstone due to team orders. A very good first half of the season, but still more to come.


Raikkonen has been far from his best for the past two seasons at Ferrari, but it is qualifying which really hurts him at the moment. Retiring due to a team error in Australia was followed by fourth in Malaysia – where Vettel won – because Raikkonen started 11th after being caught out by rain. Often comfortably outperformed by Vettel on a Saturday has left Raikkonen playing catch-up on race day, with his first chance to start from third in Canada ending with a fourth place after a spin. Hungary saw huge misfortune as Raikkonen retired with a power unit issue when set for second place, but he has to improve his qualifying to have a chance of keeping his seat.


Now fully settled at Williams, Massa appears to be improving in his second year with the team. 2014 saw sporadic good results married with too many collisions, but this a strong end to the year has carried over in to better consistency this season. Starting the season with three top six finishes, Massa is likely to have had five in a row but for a mechanical issue on the grid in Bahrain forcing him to start from the pit lane. A back of the grid start in Canada didn’t stop an impressive drive through the field to sixth place, and he was impressive in taking third place in Austria as he held off Vettel. Enjoying a strong season, but Massa remains second on the road to Bottas most of the time.


A hugely frustrating season so far for Ricciardo, who was priming himself for an assault on the title having been best of the rest in 2014. The car has been off the pace but Ricciardo has also failed on occasion, most notably in Canada where he was comfortably beaten by team-mate Kvyat. Despite the struggles, Ricciardo has led the team well, remaining positive for the majority of the time but also not afraid to speak out when he feels necessary. Adding a fourth win to his tally has been a distant dream everywhere except Hungary, but the improvement in recent races will give him confidence there is a better second half of the season in store.


Kvyat’s rise up the championship standings has gone almost unnoticed, but he has shown rapid progress during his first 10 races for Red Bull and is giving Ricciardo a real run for his money. Apparently under pressure after the first few rounds – boasting a best finish of ninth from the first five races – Kvyat’s season really started in Monaco where he finished fourth and was a big team player in letting Ricciardo attack for third place before regaining the position on the final lap. His improvement was capped off with second place in Hungary. To highlight how strong he has been, Kvyat is just six points behind Ricciardo in the standings yet didn’t even get to start in Melbourne, a race where his team-mate scored eight points.


Ignoring his Le Mans victory, Hulkenberg has still had a strong season so far. Force India managed just two days of testing with its new car yet the German still finished seventh in Australia, with the following run of five races without a point highlighting the car’s relative uncompetitiveness. Improvements to the car have seen Hulkenberg deliver the results, with eighth in Canada being followed by an excellent drive to sixth in Austria just a week after winning Le Mans. Seventh at Silverstone continued the strong run and Hulkenberg was set for another big haul of points in Hungary when his front wing failed.


Given a much more predictable and competitive car, Grosjean has enjoyed a more productive start to the season, often bringing the Lotus home in the points. On certain tracks the car is good enough for solid points and Grosjean has delivered with three seventh places, but has yet to outperform his machinery. Team-mate Pastor Maldonado looked capable of doing so in Spain before retiring, but Grosjean has had the upper hand in qualifying. To be fair to him, the Frenchman would also be able to boast a bigger points tally but for back-to-back retirements in Austria and Great Britain through no fault of his own.


All eyes were on Verstappen at the start of the season and he should have been able to celebrate his first points on debut in Melbourne but for a power unit issue. He quickly made up for the missed opportunity with seventh in Malaysia, but had to wait until Austria to score again. Monaco is a race Verstappen will be remembered for, scything through the field before a heavy crash after hitting Grosjean ended his charge. His biggest weakness appears to be admitting fault in such situations, but his on-the-edge driving style is starting to pay off more often than not, with eighth in Austria and a brilliant fourth in Hungary sandwiched between a retirement when he went off at high speed at Silverstone.


In one sense, Nasr was always going to struggle to live up to expectations after scoring a remarkable fifth place in the opening race. For a rookie it would be easy to get carried away with such a result, but the Brazilian has remained realistic and has taken his chances when they came with further top ten finishes in China and Monaco. The car has become less competitive but Nasr has generally got more out of it than team-mate Marcus Ericsson over a race weekend, with Canada the obvious exception as he crashed heavily after losing control with the DRS accidentally activated while warming his tyres during FP3.


So far, 2015 has been a somewhat typical Perez season. The uncompetitive car at the start of the year hasn’t helped matters, but Perez has often been second best to team-mate Hulkenberg, interspersing that trend with the odd impressive result such as finishing seventh in Monaco and eighth in Bahrain. The updated Force India should allow Perez to challenge higher up in the second half of the season, but he will need to start beating Hulkenberg more often when points are on offer.


Maldonado’s season started in ominous fashion as he crashed out at Turn 1 in Melbourne, though he was largely blameless in the incident. However, it sparked a run of five retirements from the opening six races, with Spain particularly harsh on him as he looked very quick in race trim. Back-to-back seventh places in Canada and Austria – the second of which was a particularly good drive – show what Maldonado can do, but weekends such as Hungary where he received three in-race penalties are a sad sign of his ability to find a way of ruining his own race.


A pre-season crash in Barcelona left Alonso unable to race in Australia and even led to doubts over his ability to race again from some quarters. Fortunately there were no long-term effects as Alonso returned in Malaysia and quickly got to grips with the MP4-30, despite its limitations. Was already hauling the car up to the verge of the points by the fourth race and could well have scored in Spain but for a brake issue causing his retirement. A terrible run of luck saw Alonso miss out on points in Monaco as one of four consecutive retirements, but he called the conditions right to score for the first time at Silverstone before taking the car higher than it realistically should have been with fifth place in Hungary.


Somewhat unfortunate to be so low in the standings compared to his fellow rookie team-mate, Sainz has impressed in his opening ten races on the whole. Scored points in his opening two races and delivered an excellent qualifying performance at home in Barcelona to start from fifth place. Unfortunately, the car was not as strong in race trim and cautious lap time targets from the team saw him finish ninth, but he followed up with another point in Monaco. Four top tens from the opening six races is an impressive return for a rookie, but a run of three consecutive retirements due to reliability – most painfully when as high as sixth in Hungary – have masked his performances.


Alongside Alonso, Button has been enduring a frustrating season so far but deserves credit simply for his optimistic demeanour throughout McLaren’s struggles with Honda. On the whole Alonso has had the edge in qualifying as the season has progressed, but Button delivered the first points with eighth place in Monaco. In races Button has kept Alonso honest and the two have been closely matched, but the 2009 world champion’s race craft at the start has been no match for his team-mate and means he often brings the car home in its expected position but rarely exceeds it.


Ericsson’s season could be looking so much better but for one standout mistake. Scored points in Melbourne but was in the shadow of team-mate Nasr on race day, and then threw away the chance to make amends at the next race. Starting from ninth, Ericsson was too eager trying to make early progress further up the top ten and spun at the first corner attacking Hulkenberg, missing out on strong points while Nasr struggled. Since then the two have been evenly matched but Ericsson has only picked up solitary points and a slight upturn in qualifying performances has come with the car at its least competitive.


Having struggled compared to team-mate Will Stevens at the start of the season, Merhi has grown stronger as he’s learned to adapt his driving style to the Manor and has started higher in three of the last four races. An improvement in looking after his tyres has also seen Merhi become more competitive in race trim and he boasts the better outright results between himself and Stevens. Has definitely earned himself the chance to be retained for a full season.


Having failed to start the first two races and with both Manor drivers having had zero testing, Stevens was impressive at the start of the year as he comfortably outperformed his team-mate. The strong start has tailed off as Merhi has got to grips with the car, with more mistakes creeping in such as a spin on worn intermediates at Silverstone when set to finish 12th ahead of his team-mate, a result which would have improved his championship standing. Both drivers have performed well in difficult circumstances.

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