By Stephen Williams
Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article.
The final part of the series. Who made the top 3? Do you agree with the results?
3. Max Verstappen
Qualifying head to head - 4-8
Best result - 1st (Spain)
Points - 115
At 18 years and 228 days, Max Verstappen became the youngest winner in Formula One's history at the Spanish Grand Prix. Incredibly, this was his debut race for Red Bull following his promotion from Toro Rosso. Widely regarded as a future world champion, Red Bull's decision to partner him with Daniel Ricciardo has proved to be an inspired one. His consistency and strong performances have allowed Red Bull to jump Ferrari for second in the constructor's championship.
In the first four races of the season, Verstappen outqualified Carlos Sainz in three of them. In 2015 qualifying had not been one of the Dutchman's strengths. Three points finishes also showed again that he is the real deal, although running into the back of Sainz while trying to overtake in Melbourne. In Spain, Ricciardo had dominated Verstappen in qualifying, and went on to lead Max in the race following the two Mercedes' crash. When Red Bull split the strategies on their cars it accidentally favoured Verstappen who was running behind. Although on the better strategy, Max still had to keep Kimi Raikkonen behind in order to win. His knowledge of the Ferrari power unit, knowing where it would deploy its battery power, and then conserving his tyres, enabled him to take the victory.
The following race in Monaco was a reality check. Races would not be gifted to him like in Spain all the time. Max crashed three times in Monaco and scored his second DNF of the season. Throughout the weekend, Ricciardo had been dominant and took the pole before another error from Red Bull took the victory away from him. Max has once again showed how strong he is in wheel to wheel combat. The win in Spain was a strong drive mentally, then in Canada, he held off Nico Rosberg to finish fourth. At the British Grand Prix, he performed one of the overtakes of the season on Rosberg around the outside in the wet. However, in Hungary and Germany, his aggressive driving has been questioned by other drivers and pundits for being dangerous, especially his late moves in the braking zone.
2. Lewis Hamilton
Qualifying head to head - 6-6
Best result - 1st (Monaco, Canada, Austria, Britain, Hungary and Germany)
Points - 217
Four races into the season, a string of bad luck left Lewis Hamilton trailing his teammate Nico Rosberg by forty three points. Eight races later, Hamilton leads the championship by nineteen points after winning six of the those races. His first win around Monaco since 2008 was stunning, staying out on full wet tyres on the drying track, so that he could make up the deficit to Ricciardo, that was caused when he was stuck behind Rosberg. It no doubt made up for the disappointment that he had experienced a year before.
The overturn of points has not been without drama . Before his first win of the season in Monaco, the two Mercedes drivers collided on the opening lap of the Spanish Grand Prix, and both drivers retired. Although it was seen as a racing incident as no driver was wholly at fault, the next incident in Hamilton's third win of the season was controversial. Lewis chased Nico down in Austria and went to overtake on the outside, when Nico pushed Hamilton wide, the two collided as Hamilton took the corner. As such, it lead to a much needed win from the Brit following his off par weekend in Baku, where Lewis crashed in qualifying which compromised his race.
The wins in Canada, Britain, Hungary and Germany were vintage Hamilton, comfortably leading from his rivals whilst managing and conserving his engine. Hamilton still regards himself as chasing Rosberg because he knows he will be forced to take a number of grid penalties because of his engine reliability issues earlier in the season. This would surely be Hamilton's greatest achievement in the sport, if he is able to win the championship given the disastrous start.
1. Daniel Ricciardo
Qualifying head to head - 11-1
Best result - 2nd (Monaco and Germany)
Points - 133
He may be best of the rest in the championship standings, but the Aussie has been the strongest driver so far this season. Incredibly, Ricciardo is yet to win a race this year, but sensationally took his first pole in F1 at Monaco, beating both Mercedes. Sky Sports pundit, and ex F1 driver, Martin Brundle, hailed Ricciardo's lap, suggesting it wasn't just the performance of the car around the streets of Monaco that enable Ricciardo to take pole, but more the Aussie's skill and talent, particularly the way he danced the car through the swimming pool section.
"No disrespect to Red Bull, but I think that's Ricciardo's pole position," says Brundle.
Ricciardo should have won two races this year, the first in Spain, where Red Bull unintentionally put him on an inferior strategy to his new teammate Max Verstappen, who went on to win the race. The second was in Monaco where he lead comfortably early on, but a long delay at his pit stop as the team searched for tyres cost him the win. Ricciardo was described as looking; "gaunt, broken, and gutted as he shook his head in disbelief" according to Brundle, the man who interviewed him on the podium.
Ricciardo has outqualified both the teammates he has had at Red Bull this season 11-1. This stat undoubtedly shows the incredible skill and pace the Aussie has, especially against the young talent that is Max Verstappen. Looking forward to the second half of the season, the Red Bull should be suited to the streets of Singapore, like they were in Monaco. Can he recover from the heartbreak in the principality, to win and show that he is Red Bull's number one?