Despite form, trends and odds all aligned in favour of Lewis Hamilton leaving Texas with a fifth world championship, the state’s lone star refused to follow line up as expected, pushing the Briton’s inevitable title celebration back by another week.
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In some respects the opening four rounds of the season are points-paying testing rounds.
Valuable though they may be, the month the teams spend away from their European headquarters merely set the scene, with little in the way of development possible so far from home.
So with the Spanish Grand Prix comes a renewed excitement. The lay of the land has been revealed, and the teams and drivers know what to shoot for. The development race starts now, and everything is still to play for up and down the grid.
With the Bahrain Grand Prix closing the first act on a cliffhanger, where will we be picking up in Spain?
Mercedes – P1, 159 points
Class of the field it may remain, but infallible it is not: one win has already fallen to Ferrari and another almost went begging with reliability issues. Money is no issue, however, and the 2015 car, being a closely related relative of the 2014 car, benefits from knowledge gained last season. It still holds the upper hand.
Lewis Hamilton – P1, 93 points
The confidence gained from his second world title has catapulted Hamilton to another level. His thorough outclassing of Rosberg this season is giving Hamilton an opportunity to exert ownership over his team. The title is his to lose.
Nico Rosberg – P2, 66 points
Though Rosberg can take solace from a fighting drive in Bahrain, he desperately needs to break Hamilton’s momentum. With each win, his teammate is only getting better, and Rosberg must arrest that slide. Monaco, anyone?
Ferrari – P2, 107 points
Ferrari has been the start performer thus far. Technical director James Allison has guided the team out of the 2014 darkness and into the light. With big developments promised, Ferrari accidentally finds itself forced to contend for the title.
Sebastian Vettel – P3, 65 points
The four-time world champion is doing exactly what Ferrari wants him to do: lead. Vettel is slowly rebuilding the reputation that took such a battering last season, but Kimi Räikkönen is a threat. He mustn’t let the Finn undo that to which his entire career has been building.
Kimi Räikkönen – P4, 42 points
With Alonso gone and the car deliberately designed to be a more natural fit to Räikkönen’s specific style, Kimi seems at home again. His race pace has been on par with Vettel, but the Finn must improve his qualifying performance to convince Ferrari’s he’s worthy of another year.
Williams-Mercedes – P3, 61 points
The bad news is that the team is in something of a development rut, but the good news is that management is throwing fiscal caution to the wind in its attempt to catch up to its big spending rivals. Fending off a Red Bull’s advance is the mission. Competing for second place is a bonus.
Felipe Massa – P5, 31 points
Massa is almost back to his 2008 near-championship best. The Brazilian is a confidence driver, and he has much to be happy about after the first four rounds. He must ride that wave of self-belief to undo the 52 points worth of damage Bottas inflicted on him last season.
Valtteri Bottas – P6, 30 points
The Finn has been handicapped in the opening four races with what I will speculatively call a football-related back injury. Bottas rose with Williams last year, but now comes the difficult second album – how will he deal in car subpar compared to his undoubted skills?
Red Bull-Renault – P4, 23 points
How to read Red Bull’s future… The team’s uncompromising workflow has been thrown into disarray by an unreliable engine that demands compromise. Matters aren’t being helped by Dietrich Mateschitz threatening to withdraw his support, which would cripple the team.
If performances don’t improve, this could mark the beginning of a dark chapter for the Milton Keynes squad.
Daniel Ricciardo – P7, 19 points
The Australian is making the best of a bad situation. It’s not the Red Bull Racing he signed up for last year, but Ricciardo is seizing the opportunity to emphasise his position as team leader. If the car can improve enough to fight with the Williams cars in between engine penalties, he should provide some midfield entertainment.
Daniil Kvyat – P15, 4 points
Car troubles aside, Kvyat has done little to manifest the threat to Ricciardo’s dominance foreshadowed last season. The Russian is no stranger to the ruthlessness of the Red Bull young driver programme, and will be all too aware that Max Verstappen is making a mighty fine case for his own promotion in 2016…
Sauber-Ferrari – P5, 19 points
Survival has never been so excruciating, but Sauber is getting on with the job of racing. It has rebounded spectacularly from its zero points in 2014, but money will be the defining factor in how far it can take this season. Let’s hope Adrian Sutil’s lawyers are bluffing.
Felipe Nasr – P8, 14 POINTS
When is a pay driver not a pay driver? Felipe Nasr brings bags of Banco do Brasil money along with bundles of talent. He has an undeniable edge of Ericsson despite his Formula One experience disadvantage. If he can grow the gap, he will have place himself squarely on the sport’s radar.
Marcus Ericsson – P14, 5 points
Marcus Ericsson’s only bar for much of the rest of the season is likely to be his teammate, who has already earnt a head start. Troubled though it was, he must convert his year of Formula One experience with Caterham into something he can bring to the table in his fight with Nasr lest he fade into Formula One obscurity.
Lotus-Mercedes – P6, 12 points
It might only be sixth, but Lotus has much to be thankful for after its atrocious 2014. The team looks and sounds rejuvenated, and it is adamant that once its development schedule comes on tap it will be a match for Red Bull Racing.
Looking up and down the grid, anything less would probably be disappointing by the end of the season.
Romain Grosjean – P9, 12 points
Romain Grosjean is a man renewed by a Ricciardo-esque chirpiness. He has much work to do to re-establish the reputation he built in 2013, and the anticipated Lotus battle with Bulls will be exactly the sort of opportunity he’s craving to boost his stock.
Pastor Maldonado – P20, 0 points
Improve, improve, improve! His so far point-less season – he is the only driver outside of Manor and McLaren to be scoreless – is hurting the team, which is quietly growing restless about his position. His money bought him the seat, but it mightn’t be enough to keep it – this middle stint of the season could be make or break him at a team with grander aspirations.
Toro Rosso-Renault – P7, 12 points
The significant upgrade package brought to the last pre-season Test catapulted Toro Rosso into the midfield, but the team admits sizeable developments will be rare for the rest of the season.
Points might be harder to come by after Force India introduces its B-spec car in June, so building a buffer to Vijay Mallya’s team is the aim until then.
Max Verstappen – P11, 6 points
“Too young”, they said. Not a bit of it. Verstappen has proved that driving experience, not age, is what counts. It’s hard to be disappointed with this 17-year-old’s performances.
The underlying pace is so strong, and any minor slip-ups can be attributed to the fact that he is just four races in to his Formula One career. His aim? Red Bull Racing’s second seat. It might happen…
Carlos Sainz – P12, 6 points
Though equal on points, you get the sense the team – and the paddock – is somewhat more behind the teenage prodigy than the elderly (20-year-old) Carlos Sainz.
Only consistently beating Verstappen will remind people that he’s no less viable a driver. Toro Rosso’s intra-team battle could be the one to watch.
Force India-Mercedes – P8, 11 points
The plucky midfield squad is decidedly downtrodden. Supply chain problems meant its true 2015 car isn’t due to debut until the Austrian Grand Prix in round eight. It’s damage limitation until then, but it isn’t easy with two drivers who give the impression they don’t really want to be there.
Nico Hülkenberg – P10, 6 points
One WEC drive down, one more to go. Is Nico Hülkenberg, considered prodigious by so many, checking out of Formula One after years of being overlooked by the big teams?
Talented though he is, it just could be that his time in Formula One is coming to a close as the lure of Porsche, which isn’t forsaking his talent, grows ever stronger…
Sergio Perez – P13, 5 points
Between great flashes of speed and displays of questionable driving exists Sergio Perez. If he were less accident-prone he would be an undeniable asset, and that is exactly what he must prove by the end of the season.
With Hülkenberg’s defences down while he considers his future outside of Formula One, now is the perfect time to make a statement. Just crash less.
McLaren Honda – P9, 0 points
Two companies as cashed-up as McLaren and Honda really should have debuted better than this – and by that same token only the thick and fast arrival of effective developments can redeem this team. Points are mandatory in Spain, and anything less than podium contention by the end of the year would be an enormous disappointment.
Fernando Alonso – P16, 0 POINTS
Brave face: on. Can Alonso keep his composure if McLaren stagnates while Ferrari romps away to a title challenge?
Jenson Button – P17, 0 points
Imagine if the moons hadn’t aligned to land Button at Brawn in 2009. But then if there’s one man who can cope with woefully underperforming machinery, it’s Button. Beating Alonso has to be his only goal this season, no matter the car.
Manor-Ferrari – P10, 0 points
The minor miracle that Manor made it to 2015 at all is counterbalanced by the team signalling this car may never be genuinely upgraded at any point to a proper 2015-spec challenger.
Roberto Merhi – P18, 0 points
Merhi is driving well enough considering the circumstances, but his race-by-race contract, which is renewed based on his funding.
Will Stevens – P19, 0 points
A single race worth of Formula One experience last year with Caterham is making a world of difference for the Briton. He’s contracted for the rest of the year, which he can spend quietly whiling away to improve himself.
Follow Michael’s F1-related ramblings on Twitter: @MichaelLamonato