Ranking the 2015 Formula 1 Driver Lineups
The 2015 Formula One field is one of the best in recent decades. Five world champions, nine race winners and a clutch of sparkling young talents means no fewer than six teams can boast a quality, two-driver lineup.
But which team has the best pairing?
Is it Mercedes, home to double world champion Lewis Hamilton and eight-time race winner Nico Rosberg? Or can Ferrari, whose drivers have five world titles between them, lay claim to this particular crown?
Red Bull might think their lineup is the best; McLaren certainly think theirs is. Or might one of the "midfield" runners fancy their chances?
At the other end of the scale, no one really wants to have the weakest, but someone has to take the wooden spoon. This battle has fewer contenders but is no less closely fought.
Each driver is given a rating out of 20 based on how good the writer perceives him to be. The team's two drivers, added together, is their total.
In the event of a tie, the team with the highest position in the 2014 constructors' championship is ranked ahead.
Rookies are typically given low scores as there is no fully reliable way of knowing how good they'll be without seeing them race. So apologies to Max Verstappen, Felipe Nasr and Carlos Sainz.
9. Sauber: Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr
Sauber field an all-new lineup for 2015, comprising Caterham refugee Marcus Ericsson and GP2 graduate Felipe Nasr.
Marcus Ericsson: 9
Ericsson's displays during last season were not especially promising; his promotion to a better team is all about money. Per the Daily Mail, he adds around £12 million (c. $18 million) to the team's coffers. Without it, he wouldn't be on the grid.
He's a good racing driver in the way anyone at this level has to be, but he's unlikely to push the car to its limit and won't take it to places it has no business going to.
Or maybe he'll surprise us...
Felipe Nasr: 9
Rookie Nasr is something of an unknown so far as F1 is concerned. His early junior career is good but not spectacular, and three years in GP2 brought mixed results.
He was outclassed in his rookie year by five-season veteran team-mate Davide Valsecchi but produced a highly consistent 2013 to outscore Jolyon Palmer. He won four races in 2014 and finished third in the standings.
Nasr's presence at Sauber is largely down to the substantial sponsor package he brings, but he won't be embarrassed. Expect respectable but rarely brilliant displays.
8. Toro Rosso: Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Junior
Toro Rosso also hit the reset button, bringing in two rookies to contest 2015. Max Verstappen comes straight from F3 while Carlos Sainz is the reigning Formula Renault 3.5 champion.
Max Verstappen: 11
Max Verstappen will be just 17 when he makes his debut in F1. Some, including it seems the FIA, think that is too young—a minimum age limit of 18 will be enforced from 2016 onward.
But he has already started 46 car races and a look at his karting record on DriverDB shows just how special his talent may be. He has been racing at a serious level for a decade and age is just a number—if those in charge at Red Bull think he's ready, he probably is.
Verstappen looked entirely at home when he drove in free practice last season and has more potential and perhaps current ability than his two rival rookies. But he may find qualifying easier than racing until he gets to grips with the unique Pirelli tyres.
Carlos Sainz Jr.: 9
Carlos Sainz enters F1 as the reigning FR3.5 champion. That would usually be a sign of great things to come, but the Spaniard remains an enigma. He had an excellent 2011, winning the FR2.0 NEC ahead of Daniil Kvyat and Stoffel Vandoorne, but followed it up with a poor 2012.
In 2013, he was destroyed by team-mate Kvyat in GP3, finishing a winless 10th while the Russian took the championship. Sainz responded by winning FR3.5 in 2014, taking seven wins.
The pace is there but he doesn't always seem able to produce it. His season—and future career—will depend on which Carlos Sainz turns up.
7. Lotus: Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado
Lotus retain the pairing which brought them just 10 points in 2014, Romain Grosjean partnering Pastor Maldonado.
Romain Grosjean: 17
Once labelled a "first-lap nutcase" and considered something of a liability, Romain Grosjean looked to have established himself as a genuine contender after a series of fine displays towards the end of 2013.
The 2014 Lotus was dreadful and he couldn't build on that success, but Grosjean was still able to impress. His eighth-place finish at the Spanish Grand Prix was especially worthy of praise, and he was usually quicker than team-mate Pastor Maldonado.
He'll lead the team's charge in 2015.
Pastor Maldonado: 12
Maldonado's reputation as crash-prone is as frustrating as it is deserved, because he's an extremely quick racing driver. On his day, he can challenge anyone; sadly, his day only seems to come around once or twice a year.
If the Venezuelan ever finds the consistency to go with his raw ability, he could become a very handy addition to any team.
But, for now, it's that substantial PDVSA backing keeping his career alive.
6. Force India: Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez
Force India also stick with their lineup from 2014. Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez both enter their fifth season in the sport.
Nico Hulkenberg: 17
Nico Hulkenberg established himself as the next big thing toward the end of 2013. Quick, consistent and entirely comfortable racing world champions, he looked destined for a seat at a big team.
Flick forward 12 months and his star has faded a touch. After an excellent start to the year, he encountered a run of poor form and, though he turned it around, the German failed to make the Autosport team principals' top 10 drivers of the year for the first time in his career.
The talent is very much there, he just needs to make it show.
Sergio Perez: 15
Sergio Perez scored Force India's only podium of 2014, but his season was marred by a lack of consistency and a higher than acceptable number of errors. Four of these resulted in non-finishes; each was sufficiently spectacular to bring out a safety car.
If he could cut out the errors and bring his "A" game to every grand prix, Perez could be one of the best drivers on the grid.
But the likelihood of that happening seems minimal.
5. Williams: Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa
Williams stick with what they know, teaming Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa for a second successive year.
Valtteri Bottas: 18
Valtteri Bottas looked good in the uncompetitive 2013 Williams FW35, but has emerged as a genuine star after a season in a quality machine.
His qualifying displays in particular made him stand out above his rivals—he was on the first two rows 12 times, more than any non-Mercedes driver. Bottas got the job done in the races, too, scoring six podiums.
The 2015 season will be all about consolidating his position as a potential future world champion.
Felipe Massa: 15
Felipe Massa seemed a perfect fit for Williams when he left Ferrari at the end of 2013. Emerging from the shadow of Fernando Alonso, he has flourished and provided the team with some valuable experience.
He's still a very quick driver, too, as he proved toward the end of last season. Though Massa is one of the grid's senior citizens, he still has at least a couple of years left at the top level.
Not as quick as Bottas, but more than worthy of his seat.
4. Red Bull: Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat
Red Bull have lost their old talisman, Sebastian Vettel, but appear to have already found a new one. Daniel Ricciardo stays on and is joined by Daniil Kvyat.
Daniel Ricciardo: 18
Daniel Ricciardo wasn't considered a top-level driver before 2014—few really thought he could challenge Sebastian Vettel. But challenge him he did, and the Australian came out on top after one of the most impressive breakout seasons in recent memory.
Whenever the dominant Mercedes' faltered, Ricciardo was there to pick up the pieces. He won three races and stood on the podium eight times. Winless Vettel managed just four trips to the rostrum.
A long and successful career awaits if he can keep up the good form.
Daniil Kvyat: 15
Daniil Kvyat's promotion from GP3 straight to a Toro Rosso seat came as a shock to some, but he quickly proved he was good enough.
Three points finishes in his first four races marked him out as one to watch, and though further scores were few and far between, his performances got better. Red Bull had seen enough, and when Sebastian Vettel left to join Ferrari, Kvyat was immediately named as his replacement.
It won't be an easy year for the young Russian. He's up against a genuine star in Ricciardo and is still learning his trade. But he could spring another surprise.
3. Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen
Ferrari have said goodbye to Fernando Alonso and will be hoping new arrival Sebastian Vettel can step into his boots. Kimi Raikkonen stays for a second year.
Sebastian Vettel: 18
Sebastian Vettel won four world titles between 2010 and 2013, but a change of Australians at Red Bull and a fresh set of regulations spoiled his run.
He wasn't blown away by Daniel Ricciardo, but he was definitely beaten. Did he just struggle to get to grips with the RB10 or is he really not that good?
One suspects it's more the former than the latter, but Vettel's credibility has still taken a blow. He can't afford to be beaten by another team-mate in 2015.
Kimi Raikkonen: 16
Kimi Raikkonen is another man recovering from a sobering year. Expected to at least run Alonso close, he was utterly annihilated by the Spaniard. The car not being to his liking takes some of the blame but it only excuses so much.
The Finn burst into F1 with as much natural talent as any driver since Ayrton Senna but things haven't turned out the way he might have expected. He still has the motivation to race—he wouldn't be here if he didn't—but at 35, are his powers fading?
On his day, he's a match for anyone. Raikkonen needs to have lots of "his days" in 2015.
2. Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg
The reigning constructors' champions keep drivers' champion Lewis Hamilton alongside Nico Rosberg for the third year in a row—the sport's longest-running partnership.
Lewis Hamilton: 19
Lewis Hamilton went into 2014 as title favourite and left it as reigning champion.
He won the title due to his superior race and tyre management. Rival Nico Rosberg surprised many by defeating Hamilton in the Saturday battles but had no answer for the Brit on Sundays.
Able to drive around a problem and with as much raw pace as anyone, if Hamilton has a weakness it's in his head. When his approach and mindset is right he's unstoppable; if it's wrong he can underachieve.
Nico Rosberg: 17
Nico Rosberg came far closer to the title last season than many would have expected. His pace over a single lap was often simply awesome—he out-qualified Hamilton, supposedly a one lap master, 9-8 where both set a Q3 time.
But Rosberg did not excel in the area in which he was expected to. His race craft just wasn't good enough on too many occasions and it ended up costing him the championship.
He can take the fight to Hamilton again in 2015 but has to up his game.
1. McLaren: Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button
Fernando Alonso arrives to partner Jenson Button in the most experienced pairing on the grid.
Fernando Alonso: 20
Fernando Alonso is, on available evidence, the best driver currently plying his trade in F1. He single-handedly saved Ferrari from total embarrassment in 2014, scoring nearly three times as many points as team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Capable of extracting the maximum from any car he's given, Alonso will help McLaren make the best possible start to their new partnership with Honda.
If he can't make the MP4-30 lap quickly, no one can.
Jenson Button: 17
Jenson Button looked to be heading out of F1 at the end of 2014, but turned things around with a string of excellent drives to round out the year. Like Alonso, his consistent points-scoring saved his team from the indignity of finishing outside the top five.
Benefiting from 15 years of experience at the top level, Button's primary strength is his race craft. Provided with a decent car, he'll usually put it exactly or just ahead of where it is supposed to be.
He should push Alonso closer than any team-mate since Hamilton and will be the man to watch when it rains.
But Not by Orders of Magnitude...
Ron Dennis was right, at least in the opinion of this writer. McLaren just edge it over Mercedes—now all they need is a decent engine...
Which team do you think has the strongest drivers? Comments are always welcome.
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