Bleacher Report 2016 Formula 1 Awards

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2015

Bleacher Report 2016 Formula 1 Awards

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    The 2015 Formula One season is over, and that can only mean one thingit's time for the annual B/R end-of-year F1 awards.

    There are no prizes for the season itself. Lewis Hamilton wrapped up the drivers' championship with three races to spare, Mercedes continued their dominance over the rest of the field and there were far more below-average races than anyone would have liked.

    But the beauty of this sport is that even a mediocre year will kick out a highlight or three, and 2015 was no exception.

    Fans witnessed the arrival of a number of exciting young rookies, were treated to some of the best races in recent memory and saw some truly brilliant overtakingas well as the occasional monumental error.

    So while some awards were easy to call, others required a little more thought.

    In 10 categories from best driver to biggest disappointment, here are our winners (and losers) of 2015.

    The Panel

    We asked our F1 team of Neil James, Matthew Walthert and Oliver Harden to look back on the season and cast their votes in 10 categories.

    The recipient of the most votes was declared the winner. In the event of a tie (which occurred in three categories), the casting vote was alternated between the panellists.

Driver of the Year: Lewis Hamilton

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Sebastian Vettel returned to top form following his move to Ferrari, winning three races and taking his first pole position since 2013. But Lewis Hamilton's drivingin the first half of the year especiallywas nothing short of outstanding.

    The world champion kicked off the season in style with a hat-trick of pole, fastest lap and the race win at the Australian Grand Prix. He repeated the featespecially difficult in the Pirelli eraon a further three occasions, the last being at the Italian Grand Prix in early September.

    Post-Italy, we saw a change. Though Hamilton took 11 poles from the first 12 races, he didn't manage a single one in the final seven grands prix. But even from second on the grid, he often found a way to take the lead at Turn 1as team-mate Nico Rosberg discovered in both Japan and the United States.

    Hamilton wrapped up the title at Austin with his 10th victory of the season, and it's easy to look at the final three races and say he wasn't that impressive all year long.

    But he did the hard work when it mattered, and he fully deserved his third world crown.

Team of the Year: Mercedes

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    Steve Etherington/Getty Images

    Force India deserve a mention for producing a very good B-spec car on a relatively low budget, Ferrari made great strides over the winter and Toro Rosso's efforts should also be praised. But for the second year in a row, one team stood head and shoulders above all the othersMercedes.

    The two Silver Arrows kicked off the season with a front-row lockout and an easy one-two finish, setting the tone for the year ahead. By the time the chequered flag fell in Abu Dhabi, Mercedes had taken 18 of the 19 poles, won 16 races and set 13 fastest laps.

    Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg locked out the front row 15 times and finished first and second on a record 12 occasions. The team scored more points than any other in F1 history (703) and their margin of victory was a whopping 275 points over second-placed Ferrari.

    There were occasional blipsMalaysia and Singapore being the standout examplesbut a proper challenge never materialised. It wasn't especially exciting to watch one team crushing the rest, but no one could deny Mercedes did a fantastic job with the W06.

Rookie of the Year: Max Verstappen

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Felipe Nasr was the star of the first race and Carlos Sainz Jr. had his moments, but there was only ever going to be one winner in this category: Max Verstappen.

    Eyebrows were raised when the Dutchman was named as a driver for Toro Rosso before he'd even reached his 16th birthday. He was 17 by the time he made his debut for the team at the Australian Grand Prix, but that was still too youngwasn't it?

    Verstappen didn't think so, and he set about silencing his critics from the very first time he sat in the car. Having proved in Melbourne that he was more than quick enough to succeed, he kicked off his great overtaking odysseyand scored the first six points of his careerat the second race in Malaysia.

    Crashes in Monaco and Britain were the lowlights of his season, but some truly spectacular driving and fearless overtaking throughout the rest of the year more than made up for the bad times.

    With a highest finishing position of fourthachieved at the Hungarian and United States grands prixVerstappen ended the year 12th in the drivers' championship on 49 points. Team-mate Sainz had just 19.

    Surely even Jacques Villeneuve is now convinced the youngster wasn't promoted too early.

Most Improved Driver of the Year: Sergio Perez

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Before the 2015 season, Sergio Perez had a reputation as a very talented but somewhat inconsistent performer. He'd occasionally pop up with a brilliant drive to a podium or some good points, but over the course of a season, he seemed unable to maintain excellent form.

    He had only once outscored a team-mateKamui Kobayashi in 2012and had never managed more points finishes than the guy on the other side of the garage. The 2014 season told the story of his careerPerez achieved Force India's only podium, but he only scored 59 points to more consistent team-mate Nico Hulkenberg's 96.

    But in 2015, we saw a new Perez. He didn't get off to a flying starthis attempts to pass Jenson Button's milkfloat-esque McLaren in Australia could have had their own sketch showbut by the midway point of the year, he was on a roll.

    Mating his old ability to be in the right place at the right time with a newfound consistency, Perez became Force India's go-to guy for much of the season.

    His Sochi podium owed a lot to good fortune, but it was no more than he deserved, and fifth at the final race of the year gave Perez a best-ever season total of 78 points.

    Few drivers ever recover from being dropped by a top team. Perez has now banished the demons of 2013 and may yet get another shot at the big time.

Race of the Year: United States Grand Prix

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    Peter J Fox/Getty Images

    Unless Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton buy a majority shareholding in HarperCollins or Penguin, the history books will not be kind to the 2015 season. Too often the races were tepid and processional affairs, and the title race was over long before the season itself.

    But even poor harvests produce at least a few decent bottles of wine, and fans watching in 2015 were treated to a handful of cracking races.

    The Hungarian Grand Prix was one, but the big standout for us was a race that looked like it might never have happenedthe United States Grand Prix at Austin.

    Torrential rain saw limited running in the practice sessions and qualifying was postponed. In the Sunday morning session, Rosberg took pole by one-tenth of a second from Hamilton, with the Red Bulls locking out the second row.

    The rain had eased by the afternoon, and the race got off to a dramatic start as Hamilton barged Rosberg aside into Turn 1 to take the lead. The 56 laps that followed saw the lead change hands a further five times as first Red Bull, then Mercedes, took control.

    There was action and passing aplenty all the way through the field, two safety cars, some beautiful overtaking and more than the occasional mistakeand the most crucial of these was made by Rosberg on Lap 48.

    He spun up his wheels at the exit of Turn 16, lost control and ran wide, allowing Hamilton through to claim the winand with it, the 2015 world championship.

Moment of the Year: Mercedes Beaten by Ferrari in Malaysia

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    GREG BAKER/Getty Images

    The 2015 season started as everyone expected. Mercedes locked out the Melbourne front row with ease and their drivers cruised to a predictable one-two finish. The writing was plastered all over the wall in 20-foot high letters: it would be another two-horse race for the title, with no hope of a challenge from elsewhere.

    But then along came the Malaysian Grand Prix...

    Lewis Hamilton took his second pole of the year, but it was Sebastian Vettel, not team-mate Rosberg, alongside him on the front row. The German's best qualifying lap was just 0.074 seconds shy of Hamilton's bestit was game on.

    Hamilton led the early laps, but Mercedes chose to pit behind the safety car when it emerged on Lap 4. This gave Vettelwho stayed outtrack position, but he was on older rubber.

    However, his Ferrari had substantially better tyre management and his pace was very competitive. As the two Mercedes three-stopped, Vettel was able to make a two-stop strategy work and took the chequered flag for the Scuderia's first win since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.

    It turned out to be nothing more than a blipMercedes were back on top at the next race and the unusual track conditions were not repeated. But for just a week or two, we had something new to talk about, and it looked like the exciting, multi-team title fight so many fans were hoping for could become a reality.

Overtake of the Year: Max Verstappen on Felipe Nasr, Belgium.

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    There were plenty of overtakes to consider in this category. Valtteri Bottas on Felipe Massa in Malaysia, Carlos Sainz Jr. on both Williams (and Daniil Kvyat) in Abu Dhabi, Nico Rosberg finally passing Lewis Hamilton on the track at Austin and countless others are all worthy of a mention.

    But it's probably no surprise to learn the winning move involved a man whose overtaking has been one of the big talking points of the 2015 season.

    Max Verstappen pulled off some daring moves over the course of the year, and the one that stood out for us straddled the fine line between brilliance and madness.

    The Toro Rosso's Renault engine meant it always lacked straight-line speed, so the team's drivers had to improvise. Coming up behind Felipe Nasr on Lap 11 of the Belgian Grand Prix, Verstappen did just that.

    He took the outside line on the approach to the flat-out left-hander of Blanchimont, but while most drivers would have backed out, Verstappen kept his foot to the floor. He hung on around the outside of the Sauber, ran over the kerbs at the exit and completed the move under braking for the final chicane.

    Yes, he put all four wheels over the white line at the exit, butlike Romain Grosjean's awesome move on Felipe Massa at the Hungaroring back in 2013it was still a ridiculously good overtake.

    And it was all the more impressive because a GP2 crash the day before had shown what can happen if such a move goes wrong.

Mistake of the Year: Mercedes' Monaco Pit-Stop Blunder

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    Boris Horvat/Associated Press

    The 2015 season saw a number of howlers, but the standout for us was an error in which a driver and his team conspiredapportion blame as you wishto lose a race that had previously been well and truly in the bag.

    Lewis Hamilton dominated the whole weekend in Monaco. He took pole by a comfortable margin of 0.342 seconds ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg, and when the race got under way, he pulled out a substantial lead.

    At the end of the 63rd lap, he was around 20 seconds clear of Rosberg and the gap was rising with every lap. But when Max Verstappen went into the back of Romain Grosjean at St. Devote, everything changed.

    A virtual safety car was deployed, followed soon after by the real thing. Hamilton saw the Mercedes team out in the garage on one of the big screens around the circuit, assumed Rosberg was stopping for fresh tyres and told the team he wanted to do the same.

    The full radio transcript, published by Sky Sports, reveals Mercedes initially told their driver to stay out. Hamilton asked if that was the best thing to do, and his race engineer Peter Bonnington replied and told him that he'd now be pitting.

    Soon after, Bonnington informed Hamilton the plans had changed again and he wasn't pitting. Hamilton responded by expressing concern that the drivers behind would be on fresh tyres, and Mercedes again changed their minds and said he should come in for new rubber.

    Of course, as we now know, Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel didn't stop for fresh tyresneither ever intended to, something Mercedes failed to mentionand Hamilton fell behind both.

    He ended up coming third in a race he'd already won.

Surprise of the Year: 2015 Singapore Grand Prix

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    PHILIPPE LOPEZ/Getty Images

    After 12 rounds of the season, Mercedes had 12 pole positions and 10 race wins to their name. The two races they hadn't won, they had lost due to unusual circumstancesthe high track temperatures in Malaysia and some appalling driving in Hungary.

    However, during first practice for the Singapore Grand Prix, something unusual caught the eye. Mercedes were ahead, but by a far smaller margin than usual. Second practice was even more strange, as both Red Bull and Ferrari looked quicker than the Silver Arrows.

    But surely Mercedes would be back on top in qualifying?

    No. Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel took his first pole since 2013 and Daniel Ricciardo started in second. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could do no better than fifth and sixthMercedes had been beaten to pole on pure pace for the first time since the start of the V6 turbo era.

    And the following day, neither of the W06s even made the podium. Ferrari and Red Bull filled the top three and Rosberg, the only Mercedes to finish, was a distant fourth.

Disappointment of the Year: McLaren-Honda

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    Andre Penner/Associated Press

    Kimi Raikkonen's poor form continuing for another year was a disappointment for anyone who remembers the Finn in his prime, but at least he managed to grab a podium or two for Ferrari.

    Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were less fortunate.

    They never finished higher than fifthand neither did it on pace alone. The reason for their dreadful seasons was nothing to do with their driving and everything to do with the gutless, fragile Honda engine in the back of their McLarens.

    Few were entirely writing the Woking-based team off even after a disastrous pre-seasonsurely one of the world's largest, wealthiest carmakers couldn't have got their engine so horribly, horribly wrong? But as the races passed by with little sign of improvement, it soon became clear McLaren were set for a dreadful year.

    And two of the best drivers on the grid pootling around in 14th and 15thor sat in a deckchair, watching the actionis not what any fan wants to see.

    Do you agree or disagree with our awards? Let us know in the comments or via Twitter:

    @NeilJamesF1

    @MatthewWalthert

    @OllieHarden

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