Power Ranking the Formula 1 Teams After 2015 Japanese Grand Prix
The 2015 Japanese Grand Prix won't go down as a classic in anyone's book, but its impact on the destination of the year's Formula One drivers' and constructors' world championships is likely to be highly significant.
Mercedes proved their poor form at Singapore was nothing more than a blip, Lewis Hamilton's dominant victory effectively ending any hopes Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel may have had of snatching either crown.
Indeed, this was one of the German team's most crushing displays of the year. Both Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg's Q1 laps—on the slower, hard compound tyres—would have been good enough for pole in Q3, while the reigning world champion's best lap was a full 1.7 seconds quicker than the best non-Mercedes.
But though the battle for the top spot appears over, the fight for the lower placings remains as competitive as ever. Williams took advantage of Red Bull's dismal showing to strengthen their hold on third in the championship; further back, Lotus scored only their second double points finish of the year to keep up the pressure on fifth-placed Force India.
Toro Rosso also remain in the hunt, but Sauber and McLaren appear consigned to scrap over eighth—and on the evidence of Suzuka, the Swiss team look likely to come out on top.
The next race is the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi on October 11. As all the teams head back to their factories to make whatever last-minute changes they can, here's how they rank.
Note on Team Power Rankings
F1 team power rankings ignore the points table and instead present a snapshot of where each team stands in relation to their competitors based on the three key factors of reliability and single-lap and long-run pace.
The rankings are based on how they would perform if racing on an "average circuit" that places equal emphasis on each area of the car.
All position changes are relative to those in the previous set of rankings, published after the Singapore Grand Prix. You can find them here.
Manor kept up their admirable record of getting both cars to the end but remained very slow.
Will Stevens was the team's quickest man in qualifying, setting a best lap of one minute, 38.783 seconds to qualify 19th—but he was over three seconds down on the 18th-placed driver. Alexander Rossi was slowest of all. Both moved up one place on the grid due to Daniil Kvyat starting from the pit lane.
The opening lap saw both Manors pick up places as other cars hit trouble, but they never ran higher than 15th and neither had anything like enough pace to stick with the rear of the midfield.
Stevens looked to have a slight edge for most of the race but made an error in 130R after being lapped by Valtteri Bottas. This allowed Rossi through to take 18th place; Stevens was 19th, and both were two laps down.
Manor remain 10th.
The most interesting part of McLaren's race was what we heard, not what we saw.
Fernando Alonso qualified 14th with an impressive—given what he was driving—lap of 1:35.467. He was less than half a second away from making it into Q3, but team-mate Jenson Button exited in Q1 due to a combination of yellow flags and a communication error. He qualified 16th.
Both McLarens gained two grid places as other cars took penalties, and Alonso had a good opening lap, moving up to ninth. Unfortunately for him, and the Honda executives watching in the garage, he didn't have enough straight-line speed to stay there.
The Spaniard angrily complained about his power unit's weaknesses as first Carlos Sainz Jr, then Marcus Ericsson overtook. But he had a good middle stint and emerged from his final pit stop in a net 11th.
With a little help from Ericsson, who held up a string of quicker cars, he remained there all the way to the chequered flag.
Button also made up places off the line and ended the first lap in 12th. Like his team-mate, the 2009 world champion spent most of his race looking in his mirrors, defending as best he could as quicker rivals tried to overtake.
He kept Ericsson behind as he ran 12th for much of the middle stint, but the Sauber man undercut him and Button—now on the quicker medium tyres—fell back. He finished in 16th.
On paper, Alonso's 11th looks pretty good. The reality on the track is very different.
McLaren remain ninth.
Sauber had a disappointing weekend as their points-scoring run came to an end.
Marcus Ericsson was back on top in the qualifying battle, but neither of the Swiss team's drivers fared well. The Swede's lap of 1:35.673 was only good enough for 17th; team-mate Felipe Nasr was 18th, a tenth slower.
Penalties for other drivers saw both move up two spots on the grid, and Ericsson made a good start to finish the opening lap in 11th. He had good pace and overtook Fernando Alonso for 10th, but he lost time after a spin at Spoon on Lap 10.
This caused him to slip down the order as a number of rivals undercut him in the pits, and he emerged down in a net 13th. One of the cars that got by was Jenson Button's McLaren—unable to pass the MP4-30, Ericsson was badly held up and saw any chance of points disappear up the road.
He rose to 12th after his final stop but was passed by Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat and had to settle for 14th.
Nasr also made up places at the start and ran as high as 11th, but he too lost out in the first pit-stop round. Generally lacking pace, he slipped out of the battle for the points and was forced to retire at the end of Lap 49.
Sauber look a little quicker than McLaren over a race distance, but they need to do better over a single lap.
They remain eighth.
7. Toro Rosso
Toro Rosso made up for a poor Saturday with some decent pace in the race.
Carlos Sainz Jr led the way over a single lap, setting the 12th-fastest time with a lap of 1:34.453. Max Verstappen qualified 15th after failing to set a Q2 lap due to an electrical failure. To add insult to injury, he was given a three-place grid penalty for parking the car in a position that the stewards said "endangered oncoming drivers."
Verstappen got a good start and was up to 13th by the end of the fourth lap after a brave move down the inside of Jenson Button into Turns 1 and 2. However, he got held up by Felipe Nasr and lost a fair old chunk of time before dispatching the Sauber via the undercut at his first stop.
Further hold-ups behind Daniil Kvyat and Fernando Alonso cost the Dutchman more seconds, but he moved onto the medium tyres for a long final stint, and his prospects suddenly looked better.
Massively quicker than hard tyre-shod Sainz, Verstappen quickly caught and passed his team-mate to take ninth at the chequered flag.
An average start saw Sainz hold 10th after the first lap, and soon after DRS was activated, he zipped past Fernando Alonso on the pit straight. The Spaniard held ninth through the first round of stops and caught Pastor Maldonado's eighth-placed Lotus—then it started to go wrong.
The team pulled him in for a very early stop in an effort to get ahead, but Sainz hit the bollard at the pit lane entry and destroyed his front wing. The resulting long stop cost him around 17 seconds and he emerged down in 12th, where he lost more time stuck behind Sergio Perez.
With fading tyres, he was quickly caught by Verstappen, and he seemed to let his team-mate through. Sainz ended up 10th—in the points, but still disappointed.
Toro Rosso and Lotus are all but equal, with Force India not far ahead. The Faenza squad drop a place to seventh on this occasion.
Lotus ignored the cloud of uncertainty hanging over their heads and scored their first points since Spa.
Romain Grosjean kept up his imperious qualifying form to put his No. 8 E23 eighth on the grid. Pastor Maldonado—outqualified for the 13th time from 14 races—was 13th in the No. 13 car.
Grosjean made an OK start and managed to avoid the trouble ahead to slot into sixth. He had a fairly uneventful first stint, unable to keep up with the cars ahead but just about quick enough to hold off those behind.
Unfortunately for him, an early pit stop from Force India saw Nico Hulkenberg sneak ahead at the first round of stops.
That was about as exciting as it got for the Frenchman. He had near-identical pace to Hulkenberg but was too far back to mount an attack, and after losing further ground at the second round of stops, he cruised to the line in seventh.
Maldonado also steered clear of the multiple first-lap contacts and ended the opening tour in seventh. He withstood early pressure from Hulkenberg, but like Grosjean, he could do nothing to stop the German getting ahead with the undercut.
Relegated to eighth, Maldonado circulated a few seconds behind his team-mate and held the position all the way to the chequered flag, securing his first points finish since Austria.
Lotus move up to sixth after only their second double points finish of the year.
5. Force India
Force India kept up their good form with one driver while the other had a race to forget.
Nico Hulkenberg qualified 11th for the fourth time in five races, missing out on a spot in Q3 by just over one-tenth of a second. Sergio Perez did get through to the final session, but he failed to set a lap time because of the late red flag. He was classified ninth.
A grid penalty for colliding with Felipe Massa at the last race bumped Hulkenberg down to 13th, but a good start and a bit of luck in Turn 1 saw him end the opening lap in eighth. He closed up to Pastor Maldonado ahead but was unable to pass, so the team pulled him in for an early first stop.
Lotus responded, but it was too late, and Hulkenberg's blistering out-lap—quicker than either of the Ferraris—saw him emerge ahead of both Maldonado and Romain Grosjean. The German maintained his gap to the E23s throughout the rest of the race and came home in sixth.
Perez didn't get a bad start but had the misfortune to get stuck behind puncture-nursing Felipe Massa on the run down to Turn 1. He took evasive action but this squeezed Carlos Sainz Jr into Hulkenberg, who had occupied the apex.
It looked like Perez tried to turn in on a fairly normal line, and this left Sainz with nowhere to go. He first tagged Hulkenberg, then Perez, the latter being pitched a few inches into the air. Perez lost control and ran wide through the gravel trap.
A pit stop at the end of the first lap left him 18th, and though his pace was reasonable, he was too far back to mount a serious points charge. Perez battled through the traffic to finish 12th, ending a run of three points finishes.
Force India have proved they have a car that works well on all kinds of circuits.
They remain fifth.
4. Red Bull
Red Bull limped away from Suzuka following a severe beating from the bad-luck fairy.
Daniel Ricciardo qualified seventh with a lap of 1:33.497, but a massive crash put Daniil Kvyat out of Q3 before he'd set a time. The Russian was thankfully able to walk away from the shunt, but he needed a new chassis and had to start from the pit lane.
When the lights went out, Ricciardo got off the line like a shot and looked to be heading for fifth, but a wheel-to-wheel clash with Felipe Massa punctured his left-rear tyre. The Australian had to crawl back to the pits and ended the first lap more than 80 seconds down on the race leader.
His efforts to recover were admirable—Ricciardo had a damaged floor and ran what was essentially a one-stop race—but he could only make his way up to 15th at the chequered flag.
Kvyat battled through a multitude of problems including brake trouble, a power unit issue and difficulty managing his tyres. His pace was poor throughout and, though he did pull off a highly intelligent pass on Marcus Ericsson, he ended the race in 13th.
The last time both Red Bulls finished a race outside the top 10, Sebastian Vettel was driving a Toro Rosso.
They fall a spot to fourth.
Williams secured more valuable points in their quest to retain third in the constructors' championship.
Valtteri Bottas put in a great lap when it mattered to qualify in third, less than half a second down on polesitter Nico Rosberg. Felipe Massa didn't get the most out of his first run, and his second effort was ruined by the late red flag. He started fifth.
Bottas' initial getaway off the line was very good, but he got bogged down with wheelspin in the second phase and was passed by Sebastian Vettel. However, the Finn was back into third a few corners later when he slipped around the outside of Rosberg between Turns 2 and 3.
The Mercedes man pushed hard in an attempt to get back past but Bottas held firm, and Williams surprised the world by adopting an aggressive strategy. Rosberg stayed out four laps longer and emerged behind the Williams—the gamble appeared to have paid off.
But Bottas had taken a little bit too much life out of his tyres, and Rosberg, on fresh rubber, outbraked his rival into the chicane on Lap 16 to steal third.
Kimi Raikkonen was next in line to have a go. He didn't look likely to make a pass stick on the track, but Ferrari went for the undercut on Lap 28. Bottas was in a lap later, but it was too late—the Iceman was through and the Williams man had to settle for fifth.
Massa's race was over before it had even begun. He made an average start but clipped Daniel Ricciardo on the run down to the first corner, picking up a rare front-right puncture.
By the time he'd limped back to the pits, he was more than two minutes down on the leader, and he spent a lonely afternoon driving around at the back. Massa finished 17th, only just beating the two Manors to the flag.
Williams rise to third after a race of two halves.
Ferrari returned to Earth with a bump after their stunning Singapore triumph.
Sebastian Vettel qualified fourth with a lap of 1:33.245, almost seven-tenths down on polesitter Nico Rosberg. Kimi Raikkonen—who had appeared to possess strong pace—could only manage sixth after a mediocre lap. The late red flag prevented him from bettering it.
When the lights went out, Vettel made a good start and was ahead of Valtteri Bottas going into Turn 1. He made up a further place when Rosberg was pushed wide in Turn 2 and spent the opening stint in second—but he couldn't match Lewis Hamilton's pace up front.
Early in the second stint, the recovering Rosberg caught up and put the Ferrari man under pressure. Vettel held him off, but Mercedes pulled Rosberg in for his second stop one lap earlier.
Ferrari produced a quicker stop, but the extra lap on fresh rubber was enough to relegate Vettel to third. He tried to stick with his fellow countryman through traffic, but he never really had the speed to challenge and came home in third for his 10th podium of 2015.
Raikkonen made up a single place off the line at the expense of Felipe Massa. He emerged from his first stop in fifth and began to press Valtteri Bottas for fourth, but he couldn't get by on the track.
However, a very quick pit stop and good out-lap saw Raikkonen pass his rival. He had similar pace to team-mate Vettel in the final stint but was too far back to challenge.
Ferrari couldn't replicate their form from the last race but remain firmly ensconced in second.
Mercedes returned to winning ways with a crushing display in Japan.
Nico Rosberg qualified on pole for only the second time in 2015 with a lap of 1:32.584. Team-mate Lewis Hamilton was less than a tenth slower, but it didn't look like either of the W06s came close to their potential over a single lap.
When the lights went out, Hamilton got much better drive in the second phase of the start. This allowed him to pull alongside Rosberg on the run down to the first corner and, after a brief but firm tussle, Hamilton emerged ahead.
From this point on, his race was a somewhat uneventful affair, punctuated only by the occasional demonstration of how fast his Silver Arrow truly was. Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 33; no other team got within 1.7 seconds of it.
The Brit cruised home to take the chequered flag for his eighth victory of the season.
Rosberg had a slightly more exciting race. Pushed wide by his team-mate at Turn 2, he ended up down in fourth. Valtteri Bottas proved too tough a nut to crack in the opening stint, but his Williams team opted to go aggressive on their strategy and pulled the Finn in for an early stop.
This prevented Rosberg using the undercut to get by, but it left Bottas with slightly older tyres in the second stint. After his own stop, Rosberg rapidly closed up and mugged his sleeping rival into the final chicane on Lap 16, moving up to third.
He quickly caught Sebastian Vettel and, at the second round of stops, came in one lap earlier. The two were almost side-by-side as the Ferrari emerged from its stop, but Rosberg had the momentum and steamed through into second.
That's where he finished, completing the first Mercedes one-two since Belgium.
The team remain on top.