Five highs and five lows of the F1 season

(From left) Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen pose with a Mercedes team member at the podium of the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi Nov  29, 2015.
(From left) Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen pose with a Mercedes team member at the podium of the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi Nov 29, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

Even though Lewis Hamilton made the early capture of his third Formula One drivers' title look so easy, there was still plenty of drama left in the sport to keep followers enthralled and entertained.

DAVID TREMAYNE recaps the highs and lows of the 2015 season:

HIGHLIGHTS

1. Hamilton in Austin

The weather did its absolute best to ruin the US Grand Prix in Austin, as torrential rain disrupted Friday and Saturday. But Hamilton had a fabulous race on the Sunday as he beat team-mate Nico Rosberg and set all of America talking again about the good side of F1 as he achieved his boyhood dream of emulating idol Ayrton Senna's three world championships.

2. Vettel in Malaysia

Ferrari rocked F1 when Sebastian Vettel beat the hitherto dominant Silver Arrows of Hamilton and Rosberg in Malaysia.

It was only the second race of the season and it owed something to tyre performance in tricky high temperatures, but it was a much-needed breath of fresh air that confirmed how much progress the Scuderia had made over the winter. Two further wins underlined the potential of their threat for 2016.

3. Max Verstappen

The critics said that a 17-year-old rookie would be a liability in F1. Max Verstappen proved them wrong time and again with his performances for Toro Rosso.

He made some mistakes, most notably in Monaco, but he also provided some of the most spectacular moments, especially in Brazil, where his bold and confident overtaking moves bore the hallmarks of a future world champion.

4. Force India

Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull took the first four places in the world championship for constructors. In relative terms, all are big-buck operations.

Force India, by contrast, remain a little team. But they punch well above their weight and despite a start to the season that was compromised as they awaited new aerodynamic developments, they scored their best result with fifth, to show that the days of the successful independent are not yet over.

5. Return to Mexico

Formula One has gone to some weird and wonderful new places in recent years, with varying degrees of success depending on the sporting culture of each nation.

The return to Mexico was a major success based on three factors. Sergio Perez's performances have engaged the nation, and with Esteban Gutierrez rejoining the circus next year, interest will remain high.

The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was also brilliantly rebuilt. Mexicans love F1 so much that they welcomed it back with open arms.


LOWLIGHTS

1. Mercedes in Monaco

For the past two years Rosberg had trounced Hamilton, albeit by sleight of hand in 2014. This year the Englishman got everything together and was utterly dominant.

Sadly, that very dominance misled the team's strategists into an ill-fated pit stop that cost their man one of his most deserved successes of the year.

The only thing that prevented it from being an utter catastrophe was the dignified manner in which Hamilton took it on the chin.

2. McLaren-Honda in Suzuka

Both McLaren and Honda have struggled in their new alliance, despite a massive amount of effort trying to make the package competitive with established projects from the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Renault.

The nadir came as the cars were blown off so badly on Honda's home ground at Suzuka that Fernando Alonso likened the Honda V6 to a "GP2 engine".

3. Lowdon, Booth leaving Manor

There are those who would like you to believe that the changes currently being wrought at Manor have nothing to do with sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth having taken the decision to resign.

They assuredly do, as both men disagree with the direction in which the team is being taken.

Besides being honourable and intelligent, both are pure racers who founded the team which entered F1 as Virgin.

Without their efforts in the winter of 2014, when the team was rescued from administration, it would never have survived.

F1 can ill afford to lose characters of such calibre.

4. Deaths of Bianchi , Wilson

Tragedy once against touched the sport when Jules Bianchi succumbed in July to the head injuries he sustained during the 2014 Japanese GP.

His passing marked the first time a driver had been killed in a Formula One race since Ayrton Senna in May 1994, and prompted much discussion about safety cockpits.

The sport was rocked once again with tragedy in August when former Minardi and Jaguar star Justin Wilson also succumbed to head injuries after being struck on the head by debris during the Pocono 500 IndyCar race.

Both tragedies were reminders not just of the progress F1 has made in terms of enhanced safety, but that sometimes there can be nothing that can be done about the random nature of genuine accidents.

5. Todt in Brazil

Jean Todt is the invisible International Automobile Federation (FIA) president, a man who failed to publicise the significant environmental steps that his own new turbo-hybrid V6 engines achieved in 2014.

He compounded that in Brazil this year, after the Paris terror attacks, by refusing to acknowledge them while remaining obsessive about his pet road safety project, thus making F1 appear crass and insensitive.

At the same time, the Frenchman's willingness to consider a turbo-charged V6 alternative engine without complex energy recovery systems raised further questions about his suitability to "lead" the sport.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline 'Five highs and five lows of the F1 season'. Print Edition | Subscribe