Sebastian Vettel?s 2015 season was not the first time he proved his abilities in something less than the most competitive car in the field, but his efforts bear comparison with his most emphatic championship triumphs. He was fast out of the box, he was tenacious, and when Mercedes stumbled he pounced ? not once, but thrice.
Of course it helped matters that this year?s Ferrari was much more capable than its predecessor. But still Vettel walked into a new team and blew the doors off the world champion in the other car.
Early in the season it seemed Kimi Raikkonen might have something for Vettel in terms of outright race pace ? notably at Bahrain, where Vettel was scruffy, and China, where Raikkonen hunted him down. But these soon proved exceptions to the rule.
Right from the off at Melbourne Vettel was on the podium. It?s especially telling that on a total of nine occasions when both the Mercedes drivers were on the rostrum, Vettel was alongside them. But for a slow pit stop in Austria it would have been ten.
In Malaysia, improbably, he was ahead of both. Mercedes made the questionable decision to pit under the Safety Car, showing Vettel clear air into which he proceeded to sprint off. A pair of healthy Mercedes beaten on his second race weekend in red? Surely even the most optimistic Ferraristi couldn?t have dreamt of such an outcome.
He kept Lewis Hamilton bottled up for much of the way in Spain, until Mercedes were able to use an alternative strategy to jump him. But at Monaco Vettel was close enough to profit from another Mercedes mistake to split the pair.
Despite an MGU-H fault during qualifying in Canada Vettel came within a tenth of a second of getting his car into Q2. He then raced from the back of the field to finish on Raikkonen?s tail. It was one of several days when the four-times champion put his fellow champion team mate in the shade. At Silverstone when the rain fell Vettel simply drove past Raikkonen and motored on to the podium.
He went into the summer break on a high after a commanding win in Hungary as the Mercedes drivers self-destructed. That left him 21 points off Rosberg in the championship and 42 down on Hamilton ? a strong performance given the relative strengths of their cars. It also explains partly why he was so livid about his tyre failure in Belgium ? there went another podium finish and 15 points.
Singapore was his last realistic chance of winning a race and he was on a mission from the word go. A scintillating pole position lap put him on top by over half a second, and three-quarters of a second up on his team mate.
A mystifying performance in Mexico was the low point of his season. But in Brazil he was again close enough to Mercedes to keep them on their toes, and in Abu Dhabi he again bounced back from a Q1 exit to finish right behind Raikkonen.
Ferrari undoubtedly raised their game in 2015 but how much of that was down to one of their drivers? Raikkonen?s SF-15T only narrowly beat the Williams pair, but in Vettel?s it often matched the Mercedes ? and sometimes beat them. That?s why he was the driver of the year.
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View race-by-race notes on Sebastian Vettel
Australia ? Vettel?s first race for Ferrari went about as well as he could have hoped. After chiding himself for not taking third place on the grid when it was in the offing, he took it off Massa in the race by pitting three laps later than the Williams and dropping his lap time by around eight-tenths of a second despite the age of his tyres.
Malaysia ? Exclaimed ?not again? when he missed out on pole position to Hamilton by less than a tenth of a second, as he also had done last year. But he was clearly pleased with the Ferrari?s performance, and better was to come in the race. He rebuffed Rosberg at the start, inherited the lead during the Safety Car period when the Mercedes drivers pitted, but picked off both of them after his first pit stop. That put him in position to clinch his first victory for Ferrari at his second attempt.
China ? Three races, three podiums for Ferrari?s newest driver. Was consistently quicker than Raikkonen all weekend and ran third the entire race, behind the Mercedes. Tried to put Rosberg under pressure in the middle stint, but the way that Mercedes pulled away after the final stops suggested challenging for the win was never really a possibility for Vettel in China.
Bahrain ? Showed his potential in final practice and delivered on it by splitting the two Mercedes in qualifying, lining up on the front row. However he wasn?t able to keep Rosberg behind in the race ? being passed three times ? and was forced to make an extra pit stop after going off and damaging his front wing. That dropped him behind Bottas, where he finished.
Spain ? Took third on the grid in the upgraded Ferrari, albeit more than three-quarters of a second off Rosberg?s pole position time. Ran in front of Hamilton for the first half of the race but when Mercedes put their man on a three-stop strategy Ferrari stuck to their guns and Vettel, perhaps inevitably, lost his hold on second place.
Monaco ? Quickest in final practice but when Mercedes got their act together in qualifying the full scale of Ferrari?s deficit to the silver cars at this track was revealed. Nonetheless he took third once again, and fought hard to try to separate the Mercedes drivers at the start. He had to settle for third, but stayed close enough to Rosberg to be able to take advantage when it all went wrong for Hamilton.
Canada ? Power unit trouble was an inconvenience in practice ? and a major problem in qualifying, where it put him out in Q1. Then it transpired he had overtaken Merhi under red flags in practice, incurring a five-place penalty which left him 18th. Made an early pit stop at the end of lap seven but a slow tyre change cost him more time, as did a contretemps with Alonso at the chicane. But he kept picking off his rivals and strong pace after his second pit stop brought him up to fifth place behind his team mate.
Austria ? Quickest on Friday by little more than a hundredth of a second, but twice had to stop with transmission-related problems. Fastest again on Saturday morning, but didn?t have the one-lap pace to split the Mercedes, although he would have been quicker had he also not been unable to use DRS. Didn?t have the pace to attack Mercedes at the start of the race on super-softs, but was quicker on softs in the second half of the race. However by then a slow right-rear tyre change had dropped him to fourth behind Massa, where he finished.
Britain ? Was held up by Massa during his final out-lap in Q3, which may have affected his tyre preparation, then had ?a really bad start? from sixth on the grid. It got worse at the restart where he fell behind Perez, though he took that place back on lap nine. An early first pit stop got him in front of Kvyat and Hulkenberg, and when it started to rain he passed Raikkonen. Significantly quicker than the Williams drivers at this point, a well-timed pit stop got him ahead of them for a podium which had looked unlikely earlier in the race.
Hungary ? Didn?t seem to quite have a match for Raikkonen?s pace in practice but led the way for the team in qualifying to take an increasingly familiar third place on the grid. A superb start put him in the lead from where he used Ferrari?s soft tyre pace to great effect ? Raikkonen was ten seconds behind even when his car was still healthy. The Safety Car period was exactly what he didn?t need but his nearest rivals mostly took themselves out of contention as he grabbed his second victory of the season.
Belgium ? Failed to improve on his Q2 time in the final session leaving him a sub-par eighth on the grid. However he started well and was up to fifth after passing Bottas on lap two. Staying out on medium tyres after making a single pit stop on lap 15 was undoubtedly a gamble, but one he might have expected would lead to a significant loss of pace at the end of the race, rather than an alarming high-speed tyre failure.
Italy ? Was pipped to second on the grid by Raikkonen by a few hundredths of a second, but easily took the place at the start and ran there until the finish. He might have had a more difficult time had Rosberg?s engine not failed, however.
Singapore ? This looked like 2011 or late-2013 era Vettel: car fully underneath him, he blitzed pole position by over half a second with a second run which he later admitted wasn?t really necessary. The parallels continued into the start of the race, where he immediately drew three seconds clear at the start. That performance advantage was clearly only temporary, however, but the two Safety Cars afforded him protection and gave him the chance to control the pace of the race, sparing his tyres.
Japan ? Moved up from fourth to second at the start and probably had the pace to hold onto the position. Ferrari instructed him to keep Rosberg two seconds behind which he did, but the Mercedes driver was still able to jump ahead by pitting early.
Russia ? Was clearly quicker than Raikkonen early in the race, and after getting past he jumped Bottas through the pit stops with little difficulty. He did his best to chase Hamilton, setting the fastest lap as he did, but his pursuit always looked to be in vain.
United States ? Relegated to 13th on the grid by an engine change penalty, Vettel started superbly to take seventh, then soon passed Hulkenberg. Made an early switch to slicks which got him ahead of Perez, motored past the Red Bulls with little difficulty, and initially gambled on a long final stint on medium tyres which could have worked out very well had there been no further Safety Cars. But there was, and although he took the opportunity to put new softs on later, he narrowly failed to demote Rosberg for second.
Mexico ? Was within two-tenths of Hamilton in qualifying and believed he could have been closer. His race was a nightmare, however: first-corner contact with Ricciardo gave him a puncture, after which he spun twice. ?The last one obviously ended my race and I am not proud of it,? he confessed afterwards.
Brazil ? Said there was only a few hundredths of a second left in his car after Q3, while the gap to Mercedes was a yawning half-second around one of the shortest tracks of the year. However in the race Vettel?s pace was more promising, particularly after he switched to a three-stop strategy to keep Mercedes under pressure.
Abu Dhabi ? Failed to make it into Q2 when his team incorrectly assumed his position was safe. But having started 15th he made his way up to fourth with little drama: he ran long on soft tyres while most others used the super-softs, used the softer tyres to easily pass Ricciardo and Perez and coped with the heavy graining which followed. He also made way for Raikkonen when he needed to.
Over to you
Apart from one weak race he?s driven the maximum out of his Ferrari, thrashed his team mate and even beaten the Mercedes and, unlike them, has been able to demonstrate his overtaking skills.
What?s your verdict on Sebastian Vettel?s 2015 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.
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