One of my initial and ambitious goals for this website was to evaluate drivers across numerous different racing series. I fully acknowledge that any such comparisons will be apples and oranges and easy to criticize. Furthermore, I know that there is no real one size fits all metric that can be used to compare different series to each other. Measuring things such as series prestige, competitive depth, and equipment strength is easier said than done although I have already made steps to do these things to some degree in past columns. All too often, I have seen rather farcical attempts at global driver rankings that do not weight series as they should. For instance, the Autosport world driver rankings have a ridiculous skew towards Formula One, IndyCar, and NASCAR drivers, with sports car drivers, touring car drivers, and drivers in any other sort of series getting seriously short shrift. Nick Tandy, who was arguably the best sports car driver in the world this year, is ranked 57th according to their list behind the likes of Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne, who were pretty average NASCAR drivers. José María López, the best touring car driver in the world is 51st, one spot ahead of Marco Andretti (I kid you not). Mark Winterbottom and Sébastien Buemi, who are both on my top ten list, barely squeeze into their top 100, while Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Charlie Kimball, and Aric Almirola are rated higher. Obviously this can't be taken seriously and most other lists like that that are calculated like that have similar flaws, so I chose to use my gut instinct regarding series prestige, equipment strength, competitive depth, and driver versatility across several disciplines of motorsport to conduct a subjective but in my opinion much more realistic list of the best drivers in the world in the 2015 season.
I had several principal objectives in mind when working on this list. I firmly wanted to have some representation from every discipline of auto racing, even if the premier league in a discipline is not all that prestigious. One can quibble with me listing drivers from World of Outlaws, NHRA, Global RallyCross (despite its name), and Trans-Am, which on a global level aren't very significant (and none of them rated highly, mind you), but I would rather list a dominant driver in a unique discipline of motorsports than a more mediocre driver in a more prestigious series. Perhaps the four main NASCAR drivers I snubbed (Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin) are objectively better because those other series are a bit too niche, but I wanted diversity rather than rewarding second-tier seasons in premier leagues, except for Formula One, because I do believe it is the most prestigious series in the world (but surely don't believe it or any other series has all the best drivers in the world).
However, I also DO want to take into account the prestige of the series and have relatively equal proportions from equivalent series. For instance, WTCC is technically the most prestigious touring car series in the world, although I know there are many fans who do consider BTCC, DTM, and/or V8 Supercars more prestigious as well (probably because the series are older). I also effectively consider NASCAR Sprint Cup the premier American touring car series (I know based on the actual definition of touring cars, Pirelli World Challenge comes closest to this, but in practice, NASCAR is the American equivalent of BTCC, DTM, and V8 Supercars, so I have set a relatively equal proportion of drivers from each of these series and a slightly higher proportion from WTCC.) I ended up underrepresenting DTM because nobody stood out and overrepresenting BTCC a bit by choosing two drivers who greatly overachieved in mediocre equipment, but other than that my proportions are relatively equivalent between the major touring series (if I'd added those four Cup drivers, I would have had to add more BTCC, DTM, and V8 drivers as well which would have ruined the diversity of the list).
I am not interested in going strictly by points standings and am most interested in what drivers did independent of the strength of their teams. I did a considerable amount of research downloading lap time data to calculate average speeds for series where such data were available to help me make my decisions to evaluate drivers separate from their equipment. Average speeds were determined in all series where complete lap data were available by including only the laps each driver scored within 5% of their fastest lap of the race. I got complete data for Formula One, IndyCar, the World Endurance Championship, the Tudor United SportsCar Championship, the British Touring Car Championship, the TCR International Series, and V8 Supercars (although since V8 Supercars's lap data do not indicate which drivers were in the car on which laps for each endurance race, I could only include the single-driver races for that series). Other series like the World Touring Car Championship, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, and Super Formula only provided fastest laps so I used fastest lap data only to calculate speeds. NASCAR unfortunately does not provide any lap data. You can occasionally find statistics on green flag speed if you look hard enough, but they are usually incomplete and do not list all drivers in each race and they also define green-flag speed differently than I do. I ended up finding NASCAR's data unusable and chose not to use it. I also for many series did research on lap leaders to determine and compared average percent led across different series and looked deeply at the lap data to determine how races were won (whether naturally, off-track, or incidentally) but I only really had time to do this in a big way for WEC and IMSA; regardless, it gave me a good idea which teammates on the championship-caliber sports car teams to include and which not to include. I did the least research on the series that are not oval or road racing touring series such as rally racing, rallycross, drag racing, and several of the minor series for which I gave little representation, so as a result, I ended up making much less detailed summaries of those drivers' seasons and was definitely less informed on these series in general, but still gave the series' drivers respect even though I acknowledge I am more ignorant about those series.
I highly rate drivers who are versatile and compete and win in multiple major racing series in the same season. I may have too many sports car drivers on this list for that reason, since it seems like sports car drivers tend to hop around and race in more disciplines and series simultaneously than most other drivers do, but I think the sports car drivers I listed definitely belonged. I am not very interested in listing minor league drivers, although everybody will disagree on what a minor league is obviously. There definitely were a few whose accomplishments were so outstanding that I thought leaving them off would be egregious. However, success in minor league series was definitely considered less important than success in major league series (I didn't use Xfinity or truck results to rank the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers on my list, for instance). This is intended to be solely based on performance in this year, not a ranking of whom I feel the top 100 drivers in the world are (if it were that, I'd probably choose Carl Edwards or Denny Hamlin over Martin Truex and Simon Pagenaud over Graham Rahal, as Truex and Rahal have still only had one year each worthy of a placement on such a list, while Edwards, Hamlin, and Pagenaud have had several such seasons but didn't really do anything to stand out this season. I do mean performance, not results, so if somebody actually performed better but got worse results because they had an uncompetitive car, I would rather list them, and if they didn't win in a strong car, I will rarely ever list them (sorry to the Kimi Räikkönen and Hélio Castroneves fans out there). I do allow myself to consider previous years in a career somewhat to help evaluate this year's performance (Fernando Alonso didn't suddenly become worse than Felipe Massa who he used to dominate just because he ended up in a far worse car), but the list itself is intended as a 2015 list.
I have edited this list several times even up to the point when I was doing the write-ups and consulted several European racing fans in the comments section of the most recent Formula One race on racing-reference.info, which led me to give drivers in certain series I was overlooking (rallycross, Super GT, Super Formula, more minor touring car series) a bit more respect and more valid positions on the list. I accepted some of the drivers these fans recommended and rejected others. While I accepted collaboration, this was by and large my own list and the result of my own research. I started writing this in 2015 but unfortunately did not finish until the dawn of 2016, so I have a lot of statements such as 'this season' which I have not edited even though they obviously refer to last year's season. Regardless, whether you agree with my list or not I'm proud at finally being able to make a more objective list than I think many European lists which would be too F1-centric and many American lists which would be too NASCAR-centric. It was so much work that I don't think I'm likely to ever do it again, but it was a fun thing to do once and did teach me a bunch about a lot of series I was less knowledgeable about. My main regret is the unequal length of the descriptions, clearly indicating I am more informed about Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, and sports cars than I am any touring car series, but I did not snub any drivers position-wise on that basis.
Vettel finished 3rd in Formula One this year in a season when Lewis Hamilton won ten of the nineteen races. So why did I place Vettel first? Simple. The Ferraris were nowhere near as fast as the Mercedes cars. The average Ferrari entry was faster than 79.00% cars in the field in 2015 while the average Mercedes entry was faster than 93.95%. Among the drivers on the three frontline teams (Mercedes, Ferrari, and Williams) Vettel was the only driver whose percentage beat was greater than the level of his equipment strength, indicating that he was outperforming the level of his equipment while Hamilton was possibly not and Nico Rosberg, Kimi Räikkönen, Valtteri Bottas, and Felipe Massa were definitely not. Additionally, Vettel managed to take the lead on track from Hamilton at the start of the race at the Hungaroring, while Hamilton never passed Vettel on track once Vettel was in the lead. Vettel also thoroughly dominated his teammate Räikkönen scoring nearly twice as many points. Before Rosberg's three wins to end the season Vettel was even holding onto 2nd in points ahead of Rosberg even though Rosberg had much faster cars. Hamilton won when he had the cars to win and Vettel managed to win even when he didn't. It was an awesome rebound after his surprisingly weak 2014. Vettel also made his case by winning the Race of Champions individual championship in London. The initial round of 16 included nine drivers on my list in addition to Vettel, and that even excludes the retired drivers like David Coulthard and Tom Kristensen who were not on my list. Vettel swept two of the drivers on my list (#14 Petter Solberg and #39 Nico Hülkenberg) in the first two rounds before beating defending Champion of Champions Coulthard in the semifinals and nine-time Le Mans winner/perennial Race of Champions runner-up Kristensen in the finals). Admittedly, Hamilton did not appear at this event, so we still don't necessarily know how Vettel and Hamilton would fare against each other in equal equipment (as Vettel's cars were much stronger than Hamilton's from 2010-2013, and Hamilton's have been much stronger than Vettel's the last two years).
Hamilton easily defended his 2014 World Drivers' Championship with a ten-win championship season. Although he managed one win more in 2014 than in 2015, he was even more consistent this year with only one retirement as opposed to three last year. While teammate Nico Rosberg heavily factored in the title race for most of 2014, he along with everyone else was pretty much a non-factor this year as Hamilton led the Formula One standings this season start-to-finish and clinched three races early. Hamilton was even unlucky not to win more races as he was the terminal natural leader for the first seven races this season but only won four of them with the botched pit stop at Monaco that handed Rosberg the lead serving as a particular lowlight. He did in some respect make up for that at Sochi after Rosberg's throttle failure handed victory to Hamilton. Regardless, the championship was a non-contest and in terms of controlling the season, he was even more dominant than he was last year. So why did I not rank him first? Because even as dominant as he was, there is a case that he underachieved. Mercedes equipment on average was faster than a staggering 93.95% cars in the field and that is even neglecting that the cars have to compete against each other which means a perfect 100% is not possible. However, Hamilton's percentage beat was only 91.48%. He came close to matching the level of his equipment but slightly underachieved, while Sebastian Vettel who finished 3rd in points for Ferrari actually overachieved.
After many years of consistent dominance in European sports car racing in general and Le Mans in particular, Audi was firmly eclipsed by Porsche in speed in the LMP1 prototype class this year. It was no matter for Lotterer however as he was still the fastest driver among anyone to make a P1 start this year, including every single Porsche driver. None of his teammates was close. Lotterer himself was on average faster than 84.59% of drivers in each field, while his closest Audi teammate Loïc Duval was only faster than 74.23%. When counting all the Audi drivers, this distinction is even more striking. Audi drivers on average were faster than 68.11% of cars in the field, still above average mind you, but considering that, Lotterer managing to be that much faster than his equipment was theoretically capable of is astounding. He also matched this pace in the race results, with his Audi entry beating on average 85.07% of cars entered in the Prototype class, winning the opening two races of the season, being one of only two drivers along with Neel Jani to be the terminal natural leader in two separate races, and being overwhelmingly the best passer in the class at Le Mans, even though Audi lost out to the faster Porsche in the end. Although I was actually more impressed by Nick Tandy's performance in sports cars in general considering what he did in several different classes, I have still ranked Lotterer higher because he also simultaneously once again competed in the Japanese Super Formula open wheel championship, where he led the series with three wins, was still alive in the championship battle entering the final race, and and finished 3rd in points. While Tandy may have been more versatile in sports car racing alone, Lotterer's versatility in competing and winning in two very different series put him ahead. If you wanted to put him in first place, I wouldn't argue with you.
Even despite how much André Lotterer surpassed his slightly inferior Audi equipment this year, I think I was more impressed with Tandy when considering sports car accomplishments in all series this year. Tandy competed in three different classes in two different series based on two continents all simultaneously and showed dominance in each. While Porsche clearly had the most dominant equipment in the World Endurance Championship LMP1 class this year, Tandy was not a regular driver in the class yet managed to lead his team to Le Mans victory despite making only two LMP1 starts this year. He had the third highest speed and highest of all Porsche drivers (including all six full-time drivers) at Le Mans and the highest average running position by far, but amazingly enough, that might not have been his season highlight. Competing in the IMSA Tudor United SportsCar Championship in the United States in the very different GT Le Mans class, Tandy won four of the last five races in class in effect winning the championship for his teammate Patrick Pilet (Tandy missed two races so did not share in the championship, but he was faster than Pilet and the linchpin of the team regardless). Amazingly, at Road Atlanta in the Petit Le Mans, despite driving a GT car, he took the overall lead on track in heavy rain from Prototype driver Eric Curran, driving for Action Express Racing (whose other team car won the Prototype Championship) to win the race. This was the first instance of the GT cars winning an American sports car race in which the prototypes also competed since the 2003 24 Hours of Daytona, and that event came down more to attrition than on-track performance. Admittedly, as was noted in the broadcast, the GT cars' tires were much more suitable for racing in the rain than the Prototype cars' tires, but still, GT cars passing championship-caliber Prototype cars on track should not happen, but Tandy made it happen. He also competed for KCMG in an Oreca in the World Endurance Championship LMP2 class where he won a mere one race in five starts but still had electrifying performances, most notably Shanghai, where although he did not win, he had an average lap time of 1:57.64, 2.4 seconds faster than the next fastest Tom Dillmann. No other driver in any WEC or IMSA class dominated a single race like this. Tandy did spin out in the race causing the team to only finish 3rd, but nobody, not even the Mercedes F1 drivers, dominated in lap times in any race in any series quite like this. Despite picking and choosing races and not running anything full-time, he simultaneously contended in three very different sports car classes and is absolutely worthy of his top five spot.
Ogier won his third consecutive World Rally Championship, winning eight of the thirteen Rallyes for the second consecutive season and leading the championship start-to-finish. While his dominance has been truly impressive not to mention the wildly varying road conditions that Rally drivers face, it is worth noting that Volkswagen had the only cars capable of winning on a regular basis and he and teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen managed to win all but one Rally in the season, that being at Argentina, where all three of them found trouble. If the competition level were higher, I would be willing to go even higher. Still, the arguably all-time greatest rally racer Sébastien Loeb returned for the season opening Monaco Rally and only managed an 8th place finish in a Rally that Ogier won so that does give some measure of the caliber of Ogier's performance this year. Because rally racing's different structure makes my fairly one size fits all statistical categories not truly applicable, calculations such as average percent led and equipment strength wouldn't really have the same meaning or definitions, so I can't contribute as much detail about the Rally and Rallycross drivers, but he is still worthy of a truly high placement.
The Citroën driver continued his absurd level of dominance in the World Touring Car Championship to claim my top touring car position in this ranking. Despite having two all-time legendary teammates in Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb, he continued to beat them thoroughly as if they were nothing. In the twelve races for which the starting field was determined on speed rather than by a grid reversal, López won nine of them. Only two international circuit racing drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Sébastien Buemi, had a higher average percent led than López's 38.28%. However, one can argue he was even more dominant than either, as all Formula 1 and Formula E race starting grids are determined by speed, while half the WTCC races have reverse grids. If every single WTCC starting grid was determined by qualifying, I have a feeling López would have easily exceeded Hamilton and Buemi in dominance, and he did so with teammates who arguably have a greater reputation than Nico Rosberg and certainly over Nicolas Prost. López also did win one of the reverse grid races as well to earn ten wins over the entire season, matching his 2014 total. Obviously Citroën had the fastest cars on track, but López still easily outperformed them, beating 85.31% of cars on track on average and having a higher average speed than 86.09% on average, despite the team itself only being faster than 77.88% of drivers on average. Muller and Loeb pretty much matched the level of their equipment, but as strong as the equipment was, López greatly exceeded it. Nobody came close to dominating any form of touring car racing like he did. By winning once each in 10 of the 12 rounds, he managed to win in every country holding a race once except for Russia and Slovakia. Imagine what he could do if the reverse grid gimmick was scrapped. López also made a one-off in the Stock Car Brasil season opener where he finished fourth co-driving with perennial championship contender Cacá Bueno.
Buemi failed to win the 2014-15 Formula E championship, yes, but that doesn't mean he wasn't the best driver in the first fully electric auto racing series regardless (especially since this ranking is only including 2015 starts and not including the 2014 starts that counted toward the 2014-15 championship). Buemi won four of the eleven Formula E races held in this calendar year including two of the three since the 2015-16 season began. He was faster on average than 89% of other drivers, and nobody was even close to this. He led on average 42.83% of the laps in each race, which trailed only Lewis Hamilton among drivers in any kind of major league auto racing series this year. He was less consistent than Nelson Piquet, Jr. in the inaugural season and lost the championship by one point, but continued to keep up his dominance into this season despite the switch from spec chassis to more open and individualized chassis, which rendered some of last season's championship contenders like Piquet uncompetitive. For Buemi to dominate as much as he did last season considering the chassis were spec is impressive, and while you may scoff at the idea of an electric racing series with mid-race car changes, and scoff even more at the idea of Fanboost, where fans vote on which drivers get to receive extra push-to-passes in a given race, the field is an impressive mix of a lot of top international drivers and recent F1 washouts. With his dominance against this field, Buemi is certainly making a very strong case that he shouldn't have been an F1 washout. Additionally, he simultaneously competed in the World Endurance Championship prototype class full-time to defend his 2014 championship for Toyota. However, the Toyotas were nowhere near as strong as the Porsches or the Audis this year. On average Toyota drivers were only faster than 39.68% of the field on average, however Buemi himself was much faster than any other Toyota driver as he on average beat 53.78% of drivers on speed. He outperformed his equipment by nearly as much as Lotterer did and like Lotterer, also threw in a championship-caliber open wheel season on the side. He is unquestionably worthy of a top ten placement and I do not regret putting him over all but two Formula One drivers.
Just as in 2013, Dixon was kind of an afterthought for most of the IndyCar season before taking control of the championship very late. In fact, this season Juan Pablo Montoya led the IndyCar points standings for the entire season until the season finale where he lost to Dixon on a tiebreaker. This continues the general trend of the past half decade where consistently a Penske driver leads the points standings for most of the year before finding any way to lose to either Dixon or former teammate Dario Franchitti. Four different Penske drivers have now arguably choked championships in the past seven years: Ryan Briscoe, Will Power, Hélio Castroneves, and now Juan Pablo Montoya, and Franchitti and Dixon have consistently been there to capitalize no matter how down-and-out they may have seemed midway through the season. A critic will easily complain about the idea of double points races (I hate them myself and wish that they would stop doing them), but the fact remains that Montoya and Dixon each won one of the two double points races with Montoya winning the Indy 500 and Dixon winning the season finale at Sonoma. Yes, Montoya would have scored 4 more points than Dixon without a double-points finale, but if this year had awarded qualifying points like the previous years did (which I also hate) Dixon would have won the title anyway since he won the pole and Montoya did not qualify in the top nine. You can second-guess anything to death (even moreso the deplorable Mid-Ohio race where Sage Karam may or may not have intentionally spun out for Dixon, where nothing was ever proven) but regardless of whom you feel deserved to win the title, Dixon was the stronger performer as the Penske cars were significantly faster than the Ganassi cars. Interestingly, Montoya himself was slower than all three of his teammates in terms of average speed, indicating he was probably cautiously points racing to protect his points lead while his teammates out of the championship were not, but this is seriously worthy of criticism when he did not actually come through with the championship. The Ganassi cars were much slower than the Penske cars and Dixon had little support from his teammates yet still once again won the championship and led the series in wins in a year when the four-car all-star Penske armada of Power, Castroneves, Montoya, and Simon Pagenaud was expected to dominate everything and only ended up with three wins, the same number Dixon won by himself. While his season and Montoya's were pretty much equivalent based on the stats, when you consider the equipment difference, Dixon's season was greatly superior. Among his season highlights, Dixon earned his long-overdue first Grand Prix of Long Beach victory, tying him with Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Castroneves for the most consecutive winning seasons with eleven, he became the first driver to win the IndyCar championship and the 24 Hours of Daytona in the same season since Scott Sharp in 1996, he managed to win once on all three track types (oval, road course, and street course), and he led the most laps at the Indy 500 for the fourth time (he is now rather unlucky to have only won it once at this point). The only blemish is that he did not take the lead on track in any of his wins, but Dixon's signature style has always been to beat drivers out on outlaps rather than risk getting into trouble in on-track battles, so it is hard to fault him for this.
After being regularly chided by fans for being obnoxiously aggressive and a choker for many years, Busch completely went against his historical reputation this season in finally winning his long-overdue first NASCAR Sprint Cup title. While his championship rivals Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and Matt Kenseth couldn't resist playing bumper cars in the second half of the season, Busch, who was generally overlooked in comparison to them for most of the late summer and early fall, capitalized big time by running his own race and not letting other drivers get to him. After the infamous Martinsville Chase race where Kenseth intentionally wrecked Logano out of the chase, I predicted a Busch championship on a racing-reference.info forum post because this situation eerily reminded me of the 2013 Fontana race when Denny Hamlin and Logano took each other out on the last lap of the race handing Busch the victory. Busch may crack under pressure, but he always does best when no one is paying attention to him or expecting him to do well. The Kenseth/Logano brouhaha along with Harvick arguably intentionally causing a last lap wreck at Talladega took all attention off Busch and allowed him to quietly perform, but it wasn't even that quiet. Many people want to criticize Busch's championship because he failed to run the first 11 races of the season due to his injury in the Daytona Xfinity race. While I am irritated that NASCAR has devised a championship format that such a driver can win a championship and agree that in a championship format I would want that Harvick or Logano would have been the champion by being the best driver over 36 races, that doesn't mean you have to run all the races to be the best driver. Despite recovering from a broken leg, Busch had the highest winning percentage in both Sprint Cup and Xfinity, showed a level of consistency that he has never shown before, was unbelievably clutch (winning all four times in which he was part of the final lead change of the race, including the championship-deciding finale), and managed to do it cleanly without wrecking other drivers. Additionally, in recovering from his injury he still had to reach the top 30 in points AND win a race in order to make the chase in the first place, and he did both in spades when many fans did not expect him to after he only won one race last season. I agree that Logano and Harvick were better over 36 races, but if NASCAR wants playoffs, and it views NASCAR drivers recovering from injury as the equivalent of NFL quarterbacks recovering from injury and leading their team to a Super Bowl, Busch's championship was truly deserved. Harvick had greater consistency and race pace, yes, but he gave too many wins away.
Winterbottom snapped Jamie Whincup's streak of four consecutive championships and six in the last seven years in grand style with an incredibly consistent season in the V8 Supercars series. He led the season with nine victories; in one stretch he scored two wins in four out of five rounds at Barbagallo, Winton, Townsville, and Queensland. He also earned an endurance victory winning his second Sandown 500 alongside co-driver Steve Owen, finished in the top ten 30 times in 36 starts, and finished every race in the season. After years of championship contention (he had nine consecutive top five championship finishes prior to this season without winning a title, usually being not too far off Whincup's pace), his Fords finally had consistently more speed than Whincup's Holdens, and his equally dominant (but less consistent) teammate Chaz Mostert was sadly eliminated by an injury at Bathurst. Winterbottom's marks of beating 81.80% of the cars he competed against and an average percent led of 21.36% would be good enough to win most international circuit racing championships and he was clearly one of the premier touring car drivers this season, especially when compared to other series like BTCC and DTM where no driver stood out like he did in V8 Supercars.
There is no question Harvick was the fastest driver in NASCAR this year just like he was last year. Even though Joey Logano led NASCAR in wins, I do still think Harvick had the better season. In terms of winning races he should have won, he was rather unlucky. Although he only won three races this year, fewer than four other drivers (Logano, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth) did, he was tied with Busch and Johnson and ahead of Logano and Kenseth in terms of terminal natural leads. He did lose several races through no fault of his own just as he did last year, but unlike last year, this year he usually still got good finishes in those races and showed a level of consistency that would win most titles and would have won this title with a 36-race points system (however, if Logano had not been intentionally wrecked at Martinsville, he would have led the non-chase standings instead). I must note however that this is the driver whom the media has nicknamed 'The Closer' when he has been anything but. Just as Kyle Busch, previously renowned for choking, was the best clutch performer in 2015 in NASCAR, Harvick has continued to defy this reputation his entire tenure at Stewart-Haas (based on the level of dominance he had he should have won 14.56 races based on his level of dominance but only won 8. That is staggering underachievement when you have the best cars in the field. I realize based on equipment strength statistics that the Gibbs, Penske, and even Hendrick teams come out better than Stewart-Haas, one could say that he did not have the best equipment, but at this juncture, thoroughly beating Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick does not matter much. His consistent outperformance of Kurt Busch does, but it isn't enough to rank him over Kyle. I say his level of dominance relative to everybody else the last two years still indicates that he did have the best equipment and he clearly should have won the championship both years, but he did not. Additionally, while there is room to argue this point, I believe he intentionally caused a wreck on the final lap at Talladega to advance to the next round of the chase and was not penalized for it. What he did in my book (not to mention attempting to spin out Logano on the last lap after he ran out of gas at Watkins Glen as well) is way worse than anything Kenseth or Logano did in the chase, as both of them had some justification for what they did, while he had none, yet they had to pay for their Two Cats of Kilkenny routine while he did not. That was despicable, and enough reason to keep him out of the top ten, regardless of how dominant he was, not to mention that his winning percentage was way lower than any of the top ten in their main series as well.
Ekström remained one of the most versatile racers in the world simultaneously competing full time in DTM German touring cars and nearly full-time in the World Rallycross Championship. Although he won neither championship, he won races in both, and there is a significant gulf between the two series. His Rallycross season was arguably even more impressive than his DTM season even though DTM is a deeper series talent-wise because he drove a self-owned independent Audi for a team he only started in 2014, the inaugural season of the championship. This is Ekström's first season as a full-time owner in this series but he managed to win his home event in Sweden for the second consecutive year and his teammate Anton Marklund only beat him in two races. Admittedly, to be fair, most stars in World Rallycross drive for self-owned or family-run operations, but Ekström's team was newer than any of theirs so what he has done in so short a time is impressive. Although Ekström came up short in his main series DTM he was still the fastest driver in the series, being faster than 70.94% of other drivers on average. In addition to leading the series in speed, he also outperformed his equipment on DTM by more than any other driver did (meaning that he beat his teammate Miguel Molina on speed by a greater margin than any other DTM driver did. These speed calculations differ from many of my other calculations as DTM only provides data on fastest laps, not all the laps, so the data is likely less accurate. The relatively low percentage beat on speed for a driver leading that category indicates that DTM had incredible depth this season and no one truly stood out but he won as many races as champion Pascal Wehrlein did and wasn't too far off in terms of consistency either. Admittedly, the main reason he distinguished himself from all the other DTM drivers was because he had another simultaneous accomplishment on the side.
Ishiura competed simultaneously in the Super Formula open wheel series and the Super GT sports car series as many top Japanese drivers do and won the Super Formula championship. This is especially notable considering André Lotterer, my #3 ranked driver, competed in this series and won the most races but did not win the championship. He was one of the only drivers who seemed to seriously have anything for Lotterer this season, although he definitely benefited from the fact that his teammate Kazuki Nakajima failed to start the race at Okayama (had Nakajima finished 2nd there as he did in four of his seven starts, he would have claimed the title from Ishiura). Ishiura was extremely consistent finishing in the top five in every race and was faster than Nakajima on speed (again, based on fastest laps rather than all laps because Super Formula, like DTM, only provides fastest laps for each driver). Ishiura was faster than 77.62% of drivers on average in his eight starts, which I will take over Nakajima being faster than 70.40% drivers on average, even though Nakajima's consistency was even more impressive. Ishiura simultaneously competed in Super GT, where he failed to win but did finish fourth in points and earn two second place finishes at Fuji and Suzuka alongside teammate Yuji Tachikawa.
Although I slightly took Mattias Ekström over him due to his greater versatility, it was Solberg who won the World Rallycross Championship for the second consecutive season. Like Ekström, he drove for a self-owned operation, but unlike Ekström, he had considerably more experience as a car owner in years prior. This year he shared ownership with his teammate Liam Doran, who only managed a 16th place championship finish, only beating two other drivers who entered most of the races, so that definitely says a lot for Solberg's performance, especially considering the fact that Doran has won events in European Rallycross, Global RallyCross, and an X Games gold medal as well. As the only driver to win world championships in both rallying and rallycross, he easily matches Ekström on the diversity front, although he is lower on the list because he competed in rallycross only and did not make any rally starts this year.
Although he finished second in points and was the second most dominant driver in the Formula One season to his teammate Lewis Hamilton, the domination of the Mercedes equipment was such that that would have to be a disappointment. As I noted in Hamilton's section, the Mercedes cars on average were faster than 93.95% of other cars, yet Rosberg only beat 84.66% of cars on track, largely due to his retirement at Sochi and his classified non-finish at Monza. He was a much bigger threat in 2014 when he led the championship for much of the first half of the season and was still alive in the championship battle entering the final race than in 2015, when Hamilton dominated from start to finish. His season ended up looking better than it was for most of the season because he finished it with three consecutive victories to end the year, primarily because after Hamilton clinched, Rosberg became the entire focus of the team to make sure he beat Sebastian Vettel for 2nd in points, and he himself was also intensely motivated, leading all three races start-to-finish except for pit stop exchanges. In terms of speed, his season didn't look far off of Hamilton's, and his win total of six ended up not being far off Hamilton's win total of ten as well. However, when Hamilton and Rosberg were competing at an equally intense level before Hamilton clinched the championship, he outwon Rosberg 10-3. As a result many F1 reviewers rate his season much lower than 3rd overall, and I am being arguably politically correct in putting him here based on his standings finish, but I just did not see anyone else who did enough in weaker equipment to surpass his much greater level of dominance in much greater equipment (yes, somebody like Fernando Alonso would certainly do better in this car, and Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Pérez, Jenson Button, and/or Max Verstappen might, but we don't actually know that, and I will still marginally take his season over any of theirs). However, it remains supremely disappointing that when one team nearly wins all the races (which is actually fairly atypical in Formula One history, where usually 2 or 3 teams split the races rather evenly, or more evenly than this) that the drivers are not nearly evenly matched.
For a while I toyed with rating Logano first among all the NASCAR drivers. After all, he did lead Sprint Cup with six wins, including winning three races in a row during the chase (which would have been four in a row had he not been wrecked at Martinsville; of course, since that was in retaliation for him spinning Matt Kenseth at Kansas, the second of those four races, he arguably shouldn't have won four in a row anyway). He also showed great versatility across the different types of racetracks, becoming the first driver to win on a restrictor plate track, an unrestricted superspeedway, a short track, and a road course in the same season since Jeff Gordon in 1999 (Mark Martin is the only other driver to do this since restrictor plate racing began). While I am not a fan of restrictor plate racing for the crapshoot element that gives theoretically anyone a chance to win (when anything can happen it's hard to care when something unusual like Trevor Bayne winning does happen) not to mention the big wrecks that NASCAR loves to promote to the crasser members of their fan base, I was unusually impressed with Logano's Daytona 500 win this year. Hendrick Motorsports easily had the fastest cars on the restrictor plate tracks all year long, with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson in particular having by far the fastest cars in the race. The Fords by contrast were largely uncompetitive in comparison, and even Logano's past champion teammate Brad Keselowski was not particularly competitive in the race or much of a help to Logano in the draft. Logano almost singlehandedly fought the Hendrick cars by himself, passing Earnhardt, Gordon, and Johnson, who all had faster cars, with minimal help, then took the lead for good based on a three-wide pass of Johnson and Denny Hamlin after an extended duel. It was definitely one of the most impressive restrictor plate wins in years, as usually they come down to luck or equipment strength, but he willed himself to that one like is rarely seen (although Keselowski also did to stay alive in the chase at Talladega in 2014). After years of struggling for Joe Gibbs's team Logano became a consistent threat every single race and has clearly taken over the Penske team from Keselowski, who insisted Roger Penske hire him, reminding me a great deal of the way that Gordon's protege Johnson and Martin's protege Kenseth took control of their teams and fast. I do think in some ways Logano's season was a little overrated, but just a little. Although he led the season with six wins, he was only the terminal natural leader two times, implying he was very lucky in several of his wins. He put himself in position to win those races by week-in, week-out consistency, but Kevin Harvick definitely had more speed and Kyle Busch was more clutch (Busch took the lead on track more while Logano took the lead on pit stop exchanges more). His spinout of Kenseth to win at Kansas was a cheap shot. Although Kenseth did block him the lap before, he wasn't blocking Logano at the time of the spinout and I did feel it was unjustified, but Kenseth's retaliation at Martinsville was much, much worse to the point I actually felt sympathy for Logano. Everybody knows they probably should have been in the Championship 4 instead of Martin Truex and Gordon, but their focus on taking each other out rather than being smart and steady (historically a Kenseth trademark) bit them both.
Mostert exploded into superstardom this year as the teammate to Mark Winterbottom for the factory Ford Prodrive Racing Australia team and was even slightly more dominant, as he led 22.74% of the laps on average to Winterbottom's 21.36%. Running a fairly close second to Winterbottom in points entering the endurance races which could have led to a big swing in the championship standings (especially if Winterbottom had had poor races at Surfer's Paradise just as he did in reality), Mostert injured his wrist and leg in a qualifying crash for the Bathurst 1000 and missed the rest of the season. Prior to the crash, he had won five races and was on a massive hot streak having earned six consecutive podium finishes including three wins at two different rounds (Queensland and Sydney) before a second at the Sandown 500, the first endurance race of the season. Regardless, just as with Kyle Busch, I'm not going to dock him for not having run all the races. He had the second best season in V8 Supercars this year clearly even though he fell to 11th in points considering the races he missed. Just as Marcos Ambrose saved Ford in Australian racing in the early 2000s at the time of Mark Skaife's domination for Holden, Winterbottom and Mostert seem to be doing the same against the historical domination of Craig Lowndes's and Jamie Whincup's Triple Eight Race Engineering team.
While Sebastian Vettel was the only driver on a premier team to actually perform above the level of his equipment, no driver in Formula One outperformed his equipment more than Sergio Pérez. While his teammate Nico Hülkenberg was expected to be the lead driver on the Force India team, Pérez took control of the team late in the season particularly with his surprise podium at Sochi, even though he obviously benefited from Kimi Raikkönen and Valtteri Bottas crashing on the last lap shortly after both passed him. To be fair, Pérez did have Mercedes engines and they were thoroughly dominant, but the Force India team certainly was nowhere near as dominant as the Mercedes factory team was. Indeed they were actually slightly below average on speed, on average being faster than 46.14% cars in the field but Pérez beat 56.25% on average. That is a staggering overachievement for any series and it makes it clear why F1 Fanatic ranked him 3rd. I think he was a bit fortunate this year and the podium is a good example of that and it's not enough for me to quite want to put him above Nico Rosberg who was much more dominant in much stronger equipment, but underachieved in his strong equipment while Pérez overachieved in his relatively weak equipment. Regardless, it was a stellar season for one of the top Formula One up-and-comers.
Among the full-time drivers in the World Endurance Championship, Sam Bird dominated his class more than anyone else did. While you can argue the LMP2 class is not as prestigious as the LMP1 class and I would agree, the class did include some very strong drivers such as Nick Tandy, Nicolas Lapierre, and Richard Bradley (who admittedly all spent time in the same car). A large part of the reason why I rate Bird this highly is because I rated Tandy so highly. I thoroughly believe Tandy deserved that top five position (and think it's not even a question really), yet one of the few blemishes on Tandy's record this year was that Bird actually passed him on track twice to give his team control of the race. If I think Tandy was the best sports car driver in 2015 (and I do), Bird certainly wasn't far off and shouldn't be docked because he wasn't in the premier class. Bird was not the fastest driver in the LMP2 class, but he was the fastest to compete in the majority of the races, as he was faster than 83.60% of drivers on average while Tandy was only faster than 79.97%. He was the fastest driver in his class in three races, which tied him with Mark Webber in the premier LMP1 class and Earl Bamber in the GTE Am class for the most number of races with the highest average speed. He was the only driver who had anything for Tandy all season and he dominated his class like no one else in the WEC, winning half the races and averaging 20.19% led (no full-time driver in any other class was close to that, and considering three drivers share cars in this series, his level of domination looks even more impressive when you consider that). He also competed in Formula E, where he didn't come close to what Sébastien Buemi was doing by any means, but did win two races in the 2014-15 season, although only one of them (the season finale at London) actually took place in this calendar year.
Plato very narrowly lost the British Touring Car Championship to Gordon Shedden, but was the dominant driver of the season, winning a series-leading six races and crushing Shedden in terms of average percent led (Plato led 20.29% on average to Shedden's 10.06%), which was enough for me to rate his season slightly higher. Plato also had by one argument significantly weaker equipment as his independent team BMR was faster than 65.34% cars on average while Gordon Shedden's factory Honda Yuasa Racing Team was faster than 76.31% cars (of course, the Honda team also had stronger drivers on average, and since he and Colin Turkington both had higher average percent led statistics than Shedden did, that implies that the lower apparent equipment strength is solely due to Plato and Turkington having inferior teammates while Shedden and Matt Neal did not). All things considered, his season in my view was slightly - very, very slightly - better than Shedden's even though Shedden won the championship, but that hardly means Shedden's season wasn't deserving. Mat Jackson's season was much more flashy than either Shedden's or Plato's. He would have led every statistic if he had sustained his pace in the second half of the season over the entire year. However, BTCC adjusted the amount of ballast weight added to the car so that drivers high in the top ten in points had to add more weight to their cars while drivers outside the top ten (like Jackson, because he started mid-season) faced no such limits, which is why I decided not to rate Jackson highest even though his level of dominance trumped everyone else.
He hasn't yet been able to turn KV Racing Technology into a championship-caliber threat, but that doesn't mean Sébastien Bourdais is not still a championship-caliber IndyCar driver. The team in its lengthy 13-year history has only won six races and has only won with drivers who won championships for other teams. Cristiano da Matta, Will Power, and Tony Kanaan all won once for the team in its earlier iterations and now Bourdais in his two years for the team has matched all their other drivers combined. He might still be the best IndyCar driver if he ever gets a Penske or Ganassi ride to prove it again and finally give him the Indy 500 winning shot he deserves. Most amazing was his drive at Milwaukee where he astonishingly had the field lapped for a few laps before he made his final pit stop shortly before a caution came out; he then easily led the rest of the race. Unfortunately, his car was found to be underweight after the event which spoils things somewhat. I personally think the amount of the infraction did not nearly match the level of his dominance, and penalty or not, for that team, it was still impressive. In a spec series such as IndyCar, no one is supposed to dominate like that. When also considering his win at Toronto, he became the first driver for KV to win multiple races in a season and he did so on both an oval and a street course, but he lacked consistency in most other races, proving that he alone cannot carry this team yet, but he is certainly trying. Despite his car not being as fast as the Penske, Rahal, or Ganassi cars, he himself was faster than every other driver in the field except for three of the Penske drivers (the three who didn't contend for the championship as Juan Pablo Montoya was actually the slowest). He outperformed his equipment in terms of speed more than any other driver, as he was faster than 71.71% cars on average, while teammate Stefano Coletti was faster than only 41.11%. Bourdais was actually faster than both principal title contenders Scott Dixon and Montoya with a car that should not have been capable of that, but one can possibly argue that he overdrove too much which led to the mistakes and poor results that Dixon and Montoya didn't have. Regardless, it was a great season, especially if you consider that he was also very impressive in sports cars, where he was the fastest driver among all drivers to compete in the Prototype class in all North American Endurance Championship events, as he was faster than 81.90% of cars (the championship contenders Dane Cameron, João Barbosa, and Jordan Taylor weren't even close, as they were in the 74-75% range). He led his team to a win in the 12 Hours of Sebring to complement his 24 Hours of Daytona win last year, and he added a class win in the #3 marquee race, the Petit Le Mans to end the season, but lost the overall to the unstoppable Nick Tandy juggernaut.
The BTCC champion parlayed steady consistency to slightly win the championship over Jason Plato, but as I said just earlier in Plato's section, I was more impressed by Plato being more dominant than Shedden being more consistent, but people are free to agree or disagree about this. Both Shedden and Plato faced strong championship-caliber teammates with Shedden teamed with Matt Neal and Plato teamed with Colin Turkington. While Plato was more dominant than Shedden, it's worth noting that Shedden dominated Neal (10.06%-1.78%) in average percent led to an even greater degree than Plato dominated Turkington (20.29%-13.20%). Shedden beat Neal by 31 points; Plato beat Turkington by 34. Turkington has been slightly hotter lately than Neal though, even if Neal did slightly beat him in points. Really it's a tossup between Shedden and Plato. Either would have deserved the title. Shedden certainly is deserving enough to win it. While BTCC does have a few gimmicks to its credit (the success ballast and reverse grid races), compared to what we Yanks do to corrupt racing with double-points races and playoff formats, I guess it's nothing, even though the BTCC certainly had egg on its face when Rob Austin intentionally cheated to give himself the pole position for the Brands Hatch reverse grid race. I'll take any champion in any series where all the races scored the same number of points at this point.
The Formula One rookie arguably brought more excitement to the series than any other driver with his series-leading 49 passes for position in 2015 despite being the youngest driver to ever start a Formula One race at age 17 at the start of the season. While his results for the Toro Rosso junior Red Bull team certainly did not approach what Sebastian Vettel did there, Verstappen was certainly still very impressive earning two fourth place finishes at the Hungaroring and Austin, the best finishes for that team since Vettel's win in 2008. Drivers as great as Sébastien Buemi, Sébastien Bourdais, and Daniel Ricciardo all were unable to finish better than 7th place for this team (even the year before Ricciardo beat Vettel at the senior Red Bull team in 2014) so clearly Verstappen did something truly special. He beat his fellow rookie teammate Carlos Sainz, Jr. by the largest ratio amongst all team pairings in points. Toro Rosso was faster than 46.69% of cars entered but he only beat 45.17% of cars in the race results; however, his speed was much better, as he himself was faster than 52.71% of cars, which is much better than what Sainz did, clearly indicating that he was faster, but just didn't have consistency to match, which is understandable for a rookie driver battling for position more than anybody else to make errors and have inconsistent finishes, but regardless, he clearly has a world of potential.
Nakajima finished second to teammate Hiroaki Ishiura in the Super Formula series, and unlike many drivers in that series he simultaneously competed in the World Endurance Championship instead of Super GT. However, unlike the obvious comparison to his WEC teammate Sébastien Buemi, who also drove the same underpowered Toyota and finished second in a major open-wheel championship, Nakajima did not outperform his equipment like Buemi did. While Toyota drivers on average were faster than 39.68% of drivers in the field, Nakajima was below average among his teammates with an average speed percentile of 37.05%. Buemi clearly carried him in the WEC, but Nakajima's strong Super Formula performance (where he was more consistent than even his championship teammate Ishiura, beating on average over 90% of cars, which is fairly unheard of for most series that major) is still easily enough for high placement on this list.
Although he failed in Formula One and largely failed in NASCAR, Piquet is still one of the most versatile race car drivers in the world and has shown a willingness to try anything like few others. In this year alone, Piquet won the inaugural Formula E championship by a mere point over Sébastien Buemi (in a slower car), competed in the Global RallyCross Championship full time and won an event in Washington, DC en route to finishing 4th in points (for one of the only two single car teams, no less), and also made cameos in Stock Car Brasil and Indy Lights where he won poles in both series although he didn't get the finishes to match. None of those series really has very much in common yet he ran them all simultaneously with some success. People really shouldn't criticize drivers like him for occasionally failing in high-profile series because he truly has had more success in more different types of race cars than most drivers on this list. Formula E was his primary series and he was actually faster than Buemi in speed in his 2015 starts in the 2014-15 season, with Piquet beating 86.84% on average in speed in those races to Buemi's 84.87%. However, since the series went from spec cars in the inaugural season to cars designed by the teams in this current season, he has struggled, which alone marks the difference between his relatively underfunded team and Buemi's powerhouse. I do think Buemi is the best driver in the Formula E field, but Piquet isn't as far behind as it looks.
Ricciardo came down to earth this season after thoroughly demolishing Sebastian Vettel in Vettel's final year for the Red Bull team in 2014, but he still provided one of the Formula One season's most exciting moments as he took the now-barely-above-average Red Bull into the lead at Austin actually overtaking champion Lewis Hamilton in the rain. However, that along with a 3rd place finish at the Hungaroring and 2nd place at Singapore were the only real season highlights (he did set three fastest laps at those two events and also Monaco, where he placed 5th), and he was surprisingly beaten by his youthful teammate Daniil Kvyat in points. However, even though Kvyat was more consistent, Ricciardo was slightly faster and not as lucky as his teammate.
Oliveira, like Hiroaki Ishiura, competed in Super Formula and Super GT simultaneously despite Oliveira not being a Japanese native himself, and like Ishiura, he performed strongly in both series, finishing 2nd in the Super GT points standings and 4th in Super Formula. Like Ishiura, he went winless in Super GT but won in Super Formula, although he only won one Super Formula race to Ishiura's two. In Super Formula, he did outperform the level of his equipment by a comparable amount to both André Lotterer and Ishiura, as he was faster than 70.63% of cars yet his team on average was only faster than 52.45% on average, but regardless, I have rated Lotterer and Ishiura both higher because they were more prolific winners.
The former Formula One championship contender finally earned his long-overdue first racing championship as leader of the championship-winning LMP1 Porsche entry. He and his teammates Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley combined to win four of the season's eight races. Bernhard was the slightly faster driver (84.05% speed percentile to Webber's 81.19%) but Webber was much more dominant leading 14.99% of each race on average while Bernhard only led 9.02% of each race. Webber and Bernhard were each the terminal natural leader of a WEC race once, while Hartley did not achieve this at all. Additionally, Webber had the fastest average speed in three races, while Bernhard only did so once, and Hartley not at all. I slightly prefer Webber's profile, but if you prefer Bernhard's, I can't argue with you. Hartley was the slowest of the three drivers and although more dominant than Bernhard, he failed to take the terminal natural lead on track himself so I narrowly left him off.
Just because the McLaren cars were completely uncompetitive doesn't mean Jenson Button suddenly became a bad driver. Indeed his performance versus his all-time legendary teammate Fernando Alonso says a great deal for him. With their vast experience, both drivers actually did outperform their equipment, which most of the championship contenders could not say. The McLaren car on average was only faster than 25.1% of cars in Formula 1 this season, yet Button managed to beat 32.04% of cars on track, an overachievement nearly on par with Sergio Pérez's, but although Alonso was slightly slower than Button, he still beat a higher percentage of cars than he should have based on the speed of the cars. Most fans likely would have expected the opposite with Alonso overachieving considerably like Button did and Button overachieving marginally like Alonso did, but that's not what happened this season. Regardless, Alonso was ahead of Button on track in several races before he retired, which makes things murkier.
I placed Button and Alonso right next to each other because their seasons were largely inseparable. Teams with multiple champions on them are extremely rare, and for such a team to be wasted on such dismal Honda engines is truly sad. Alonso did the best he could and got the best finish for the team (a 5th at the Hungaroring, even beating Lewis Hamilton) but Button had more points-scoring races. Admittedly, Button was certainly more lucky as he only had five retirements to Alonso's seven, but how much of that was because Alonso was indeed trying to drive harder while Button was only taking what the equipment would give him? You can endlessly debate these two seasons but they were essentially equivalent and regardless of how poor their points finishes were, there really wasn't much they could do to overcome the struggle of the Honda engines. Alonso did outperform his equipment slightly beating 26.04% of cars even though McLaren was only faster than 25.1% of cars.
Jackson dominated the second half of the BTCC championship season with four wins and eight podiums in the last fifteen races of the season and was easily the fastest driver in the BTCC season. He thoroughly annihilated his teammate James Cole as well in both the standings and in speed (he was on average faster than 82.03% cars while his Motorbase Performance team was only faster than 58.73% cars on average due to Cole's struggles). Jackson's average percent led of 35.11% was particularly staggering and was considerably higher than any of the full-season championship contenders. So why did I end up taking Jason Plato and Gordon Shedden over him? The Motorbase team skipped the first half of the races which allowed Jackson the opportunity to not have to have success ballast on his car leaving him as essentially the only championship-caliber driver with a lightweight car which I feel played a large role in his dominance.
One of the few drivers who might have shown even more diversity in the sports car world than Nick Tandy did, Estre competed in the following (are you ready?): World Endurance Championship (P2 and GTE Pro class), Tudor United Sports Car Championship (GTD class), Pirelli World Challenge, Blancpain Sprint Series, and Blancpain Endurance Series. Although his WEC and IMSA results generally weren't good, he was faster than 88% or more drivers on average in all three classes and his equipment wasn't close to that. He managed to compete full-time in the Blancpain Endurance Series where he and teammates Rob Bell and Shane Van Gisbergen led the series with two wins and finished fourth in points and nearly full-time solo in Pirelli World Challenge where he matched series champion Johnny O'Connell with four wins. There aren't too many drivers who manage to win the most races in two different series on two continents in the same year.
Hansen finished second to Petter Solberg in the FIA World Rallycross Championship for a team owned by his father Kenneth Hansen. He matched Solberg with three Rallycross wins and was the only driver to win back-to-back events (Norway, where he denied Solberg a home country win, and France) and like Solberg he had no finishes worse than 8th, but Solberg's one additional podium and three more 2nd place finishes explain the difference in the championship. Hanssen beat his teammate Davy Jeanney (who won two events to win the tiebreaker for 5th place over Mattias Ekström) by much less than Ekström or Solberg beat their teammates, indicating Hansen's team is probably stronger in general. After all, his father's team dates all the way back to the early '90s, while Solberg and Ekström's teams are much newer. Regardless, while I think Solberg and Ekström outperformed their equipment more, Hansen certainly at least matched the quality of his.
The all-time series win leader has racked up solid season after solid season despite being continually overshadowed by his younger, more dominant teammate. Regardless his longevity may still make him the more important figure historically even though his teammate has passed him in almost everything except wins. Wait, is this about Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup or Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson? Either way, it's an incredible parallel. Just as Gordon finally beat Johnson in the championship in 2014 and 2015 after being consistently beaten by him prior to that, Lowndes finally beat Whincup in the championship for the first time since 2006. Lowndes certainly benefited from Chaz Mostert's season-ending injury, as Mostert almost certainly would have been second in points (at least) instead of Lowndes if not for that. A lot of Lowndes's higher placement is down to luck, as Whincup remained more dominant with an average percent led of 20.54% to Lowndes's 16.21% and with Whincup winning eight races to Lowndes's six. Lowndes got lucky that he had good finishes in the endurance races that score more points, while Whincup struggled in the races that were worth more points (there's another parallel with Gordon and Johnson!) To be fair though, before Whincup finished the season with nine podiums including five wins to end the season, Lowndes had more wins and many more podiums. Unlike Gordon, however, Lowndes actually deserved to finish higher in points than Whincup for once, and it was a long time coming.
Despite the Lotus team's severe financial instability where they had no tires at the start of the Hungaroring weekend due to unpaid Pirelli bills, had their cars impounded at Spa-Francorchamps after a lawsuit from former reserve driver Charles Pic, and were unable to use their hospitality unit at Suzuka due to unpaid bills from the previous year's event, Grosjean actually improved on his 2014 results considerably, scoring points in the majority of the races (ten) and even earning a podium at Spa before his car was seized post-race. While he was lucky to inherit third place as a result of Sebastian Vettel's tire failure on the last lap of the race, he still qualified 4th before a penalty for a gearbox change (ahead of both Ferraris, both Red Bulls, and Felipe Massa's Williams, not to mention many other well-funded cars) and passed the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Massa in much more well-funded cars in the race. Although his teammate was Pastor Maldonado, widely considered one of the worst winners in Formula One history, he still nearly doubled him in points (only Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, and Felipe Nasr showed a similar level of dominance compared to their teammate). Grosjean was faster than 43.16% cars on average this season, a considerable gap over teammate Maldonado's 36.24%, although Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, and Verstappen outperformed their teammates by a greater margin in terms of speed.
The four-time World Touring Car champion narrowly eked out 2nd place in the championship this year by a single point over his teammate Sébastien Loeb by virtue of his win in the final race at Losail. While neither he nor Loeb had anything for their impressively dominant teammate José María López, Muller was second-best as he was the only other driver besides López to win two races with grids based on qualifying results rather than reverse grids, and he also led all drivers with an additional four wins in reverse grid races, although Loeb, who had two fewer race wins, was slightly more consistent. López's dominance was so extreme that even though Muller and Loeb finished 2nd and 3rd in points and combined for ten of the season's twenty-four races, they actually both underachieved in terms of their results relative to the level of their equipment, although it was still only barely.
You could easily argue that Bottas either overachieved or underachieved in his Williams this year depending on which argument you choose to make. In terms of speed, he was way faster than teammate Felipe Massa, by a margin of 71.13%-61.12% (only Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen had larger advantages over their teammates), he managed to have almost identical speed to Kimi Räikkönen (71.16%) who drove a much faster Ferrari and led him in points entering the season finale, and he and Massa blew past the Mercedes teammates at the start of the Silverstone race, to that point in the season unprecedented. However, Bottas's previous season in 2014 was much stronger in general as he had six podiums last year and only two this year, he did have in theory the same power unit as the Mercedes drivers and was nowhere near them, and although much faster than Massa at the start of Silverstone, he was unable to pass him early in the race, which might have given him the win after the Williams and Mercedes drivers competed their first pit cycle, and despite his much greater speed than Massa, he only barely beat him in points. His season was still good but seems to have had a number of missed opportunities, although he also had bad luck, such as at Sochi, where Räikkönen wrecked him out of third place in the very late stages with an ill-advised move. Assessing his season was one of the hardest decisions to make for Formula One, because it all depends on which comparisons you make. I believe it averages out to a good, not great season, but considering I still do believe F1 has the highest average field quality, that is still worthy of a good position on the list.
Lietz won the overall championship in the World Endurance Championship GT class and led the class with three wins alongside his teammate Michael Christensen (since Christensen did not start at Spa, Lietz won the championship single-handedly). He was also the terminal natural leader in one of those events, where he passed Toni Vilander on track to win at Shanghai, and he had the fastest average speed at Fuji, where he did not win. He also crossed over to compete in the European Le Mans Series, where he had the fastest average speed at Imola (but did not win a race in four starts in the GTE class), and the United SportsCar Championship, where he shared in the overall win at the Petit Le Mans with Porsche factory teammates Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet, although Tandy obviously had the most impressive drive. However, although he only made three IMSA starts, he was the fastest of all drivers on average beating 88.89% drivers on average on speed, greater than even Tandy's 80.38% so while Tandy was clearly the best factory Porsche driver, Lietz definitely wasn't all that far behind.
Definitely one of the most underrated drivers in the world this season because he competed in several series that don't quite get the attention that they deserve based on their overall talent level, Chiyo won the Blancpain Endurance Series championship alongside teammates Alex Buncombe and Wolfgang Reip, but judging by what these drivers did elsewhere, he was clearly the team leader. Additionally, he competed in the Japanese Super GT series where he finished 2nd in points in the GT300 class to his teammate André Couto solely because Chiyo missed two races, but I would say he was clearly the leader of that team as well regardless of Couto's championship because Couto had not won a race in that series since 2004 until this season. Moreover, he scored a win at the Bathurst 12 Hour endurance race driving from 3rd to the lead on a restart on the next to last lap passing Matt Bell and Laurens Vanthoor in the final four minutes of the race (and Vanthoor also made my list). His touring car prowess across several series probably does not get the respect it deserves because the Bathurst 12 Hour was not part of a series (although it will be starting in 2016), the Blancpain Endurance Series is overshadowed by the World Endurance Championship, and Super GT does not get enough press outside of his native Japan, but his season definitely should not be overlooked.
Hülkenberg became the first active Formula One driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall since Johnny Herbert and Bertrand Gachot in 1991 (I don't really think Yannick Dalmas in 1994, Alexander Wurz in 2009, or André Lotterer in 2014 count, although you can argue the point). Unfortunately, he didn't do much else. While expected to be the leader of the Force India F1 team and a hot prospect for the premier teams, he ended up being clearly eclipsed by his teammate Sergio Pérez. He beat 43.41% of drivers on track while the Force India equipment was on average faster than 46.14% cars, Pérez earned a 3rd and three 5th place finishes while Hülkenberg could do no better than 6th, and he finished twenty points behind Pérez. The versatility he showed by winning Le Mans as a full-time Formula One driver is amazing, and he did live up to the billing by being the most prolific passer on his team (although a distant second to Lotterer in passing in the LMP1 class), but Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber on average were faster and both of them had much higher average running positions, so he was probably the least important driver on his team. Regardless, just to be able to do that was an incredible accomplishment. Apart from that, however, his season had little else of note.
The perennial V8 Supercars champion had an unusually weak season this year, but that is only by his standards as almost any other driver would dream of having such a season. He had eight wins, only one fewer than the series champion Mark Winterbottom, and his average percent led of 20.54% was very close to Chaz Mostert's 22.74% and Winterbottom's 21.36%, the only two drivers who were more dominant than him on average. His legendary and all time win leader teammate Craig Lowndes beat him in points for the first time since 2006 due to greater consistency, and he was also slightly faster than Whincup in speed (81.27%-79.34%) although this excluded the four endurance races because V8 Supercars' timing data did not indicate which driver was in the car on each lap so I was unable to use the timing data as a result. For Whincup that might be too bad, because he did have a stellar drive at Bathurst where he led by as much as 35 seconds in the rain and might have had the fastest average speed (it was still one of the most impressive drives of the season). Whincup was snakebitten at the four endurance races which scored more points, where he finished 15th, 18th, 24th, and 7th, which took him far out of the championship battle and 8th in points after that portion of the schedule concluded, although he recovered to 5th place after finishing the season with nine straight podiums including five wins, indicating he probably still will be the prohibitive favorite to win next year's championship again in spite of his bizarrely weak summer and early fall results.
He led the most laps in IndyCar this season in the Carpenter/Fisher/Hartman car. Let me repeat that for you. He led the most laps in IndyCar in the CFH Racing car! This is not something that is supposed to happen in a series where the Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti teams historically dominate and leave all other teams feasting on scraps. Despite driving a car that was sponsored by his car owner Wink Hartman's company Hartman Oil for all but two races (the Indy GP and Indy 500, where he did have outside sponsorship from Century 21), he won his first two races at Barber and Toronto, led the most laps in both of those races as well as at Pocono and Iowa, where he eventually finished 2nd (and leading the most laps on all four track types in one season: a road course, a street course, a short oval, and a superspeedway is extremely impressive), and he also dominated the first half of the Milwaukee race after winning his first pole before Sébastien Bourdais went off pit sequence allowing him to eventually lap the field (but even at that, Bourdais never passed him on track, and Newgarden's car wasn't ruled illegal either). While you can argue that CFH really is one of the top teams considering Fisher and Hartman (Newgarden's previous car owners) now have the benefit of Ed Carpenter Racing equipment, which won three races in 2014 with Carpenter and Mike Conway, Newgarden was much more dominant than either were that year and also had a track-to-track consistency they lacked (Conway may have won two races in 2014, but those were his only top tens in the entire season, while Newgarden was a constant threat, especially in the second half of the season). Admittedly, the many laps he led at Milwaukee and Iowa skewed his average as he was 3rd behind Will Power and Scott Dixon in terms of average percent led but still, that way outstrips what this team is supposed to do, and they actually had slower cars this year than they did last year. Carpenter, normally a threat for high-speed oval wins, was nowhere to be seen this year (and indeed, Newgarden's one main weakness was high-speed oval racing, itself implying his equipment did not match his talent, but he still got a 2nd at Pocono where he led the most laps and a top ten at the Indy 500), and his once-hot-F1-prospect teammate Luca Filippi had few good runs on the road courses at all, merely a 2nd at Toronto (and Newgarden won that race anyway). Newgarden was particularly strong at the start of races, especially Barber where he qualified 5th and passed Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon on the track on the first lap in their much faster Penske and Ganassi cars, then passed Castroneves later in the race to win, and at Pocono, where he qualified 4th and quickly took the lead at the start despite a much weaker car than the three Penske cars he passed. CFH this season was actually the weakest Chevy team in IndyCar this year (although they were faster than all Honda teams except Rahal) yet you wouldn't know it from Newgarden's performance, which in my opinion was better than any Penske/Ganassi drivers managed except for Dixon.
Hendrick Motorsports was a little down on power this year, which is strange considering how Kevin Harvick did in the sister Stewart-Haas car. While Hendrick definitely without question had the fastest cars on restrictor plate tracks, they seemed to be a little lost relative to Stewart-Haas, Penske, and Gibbs on the intermediate "cookie-cutter" tracks. The six-time Sprint Cup champion had his least dominant season since 2005, only leading 6.75% of the laps on average, but easily outstripping Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon, who were largely only threats for victory on restrictor plate tracks. Somehow however Johnson still managed to win five races, only one race less than series leader Joey Logano, and won two races more than Harvick, even though Harvick was incredibly faster. Johnson, the driver who really deserves the closer title, not Harvick, was involved in the final lead change of the race seven times and won four of them despite cars that weren't as fast as they are usually, and took the lead at Dover (from Harvick) and Texas (from Brad Keselowski) on track even though they were both much faster throughout the season. The way he quietly followed Keselowski until making his move with four laps to go (after Keselowski had led 312/334 laps) to knock him out of the chase (and provide likely less competition for his teammate Gordon) was a move of brilliance. He had a lot of weekends where he was kind of invisible, more than most seasons, but when he had the car to match, he certainly did the best he could and even though his cars were nowhere near as fast as Gibbs's in the second half of the season, he was still second to only Kyle Busch in terms of clutch performance this year, and that's still impressive.
Despite this being Kvyat's first season in top-tier Red Bull equipment, which unfortunately for him was nowhere near as top-tier as it had been in previous seasons, he still managed to just barely outscore his teammate Daniel Ricciardo in points despite not starting the first race of the season. Considering Ricciardo last year blew out Sebastian Vettel who had won the previous four World Driver Championships prior to that, this was impressive. He and Ricciardo were the only drivers to manage to achieve second-place finishes outside of Mercedes and Ferrari cars, but it was clear Red Bull no longer had anything resembling championship-caliber speed this year. Ricciardo was slightly faster beating 58.39% of cars this year while Kvyat only beat 55.54% so I think their results this year were mostly down to luck, as Ricciardo had two podiums to Kvyat's one, but Kvyat ended up outscoring him because he had five finishes outside the points (including his DNS) to Ricciardo's six. Regardless of who you think had stronger performance (and I would say Ricciardo mainly because he took the lead on track from Lewis Hamilton at Austin), for Kvyat to be this close to somebody who thoroughly dominated my #1 driver in 2014 is absolutely impressive.
The onetime greatest driver in the world when he was in the World Rally Championship has now become the third wheel for Citroën's World Touring Car Championship team. José María López and Yvan Muller are clearly better touring car drivers than him, although it's still impressive that he has been able to win fairly prolifically at two extremely different disciplines. While he had nothing for López, Loeb was more consistent than Yvan Muller and only lost 2nd place in the championship standings in the finale at Losail, which Muller won. Loeb managed four wins, only two fewer than Muller but six fewer than López. However, three of Loeb's four wins came in reverse grid races, which isn't very great when you have championship-caliber equipment, but at least he did win one of the races from the pole at Circuit Paul Ricard. Loeb also had a bit of success as a car owner with his driver Mehdi Bennani actually beating him in the first Losail race with a 2nd place finish. He also made a cameo appearance in the Rallye Monte Carlo but only finished in 8th.
The V8 Supercars veteran had an impressive season finishing 4th in points for a team that was only 8th fastest (excluding the endurance races, which I did not count since I could not discern which drivers were in the car for which laps based on the V8 Supercars lap data) and he beat Jamie Whincup, James Courtney, and Scott McLaughlin in points even though they were all faster than him. Admittedly, he did not outperform Whincup but merely got lucky that he had good finishes in the endurance races which scored more points while Whincup did not. But still, considering how much weaker his equipment was, in some sense one could say he did come very close to Whincup, and his V8 Supercars performance was not the only thing of note for him this season. He also competed full-time in the Blancpain Endurance Series, where he and teammates Kevin Éstre and Rob Bell led the series in wins and finished fourth in points, and he additionally made an appearance in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship where he was faster than 94.44% of drivers in the 24 Hours of Daytona in the GTD class even though his car was not nearly that good; at Daytona, he even took the lead from Kuno Wittmer late in the race on-track but Wittmer passed him three laps later to take the natural win. Van Gisbergen also won a race alongside Klark Quinn in the Australian GT Series as well further proving his versatility.
Despite driving in the World Touring Car Championship for the independent single-car Zengő Motorsport, Michelisz managed to beat all the factory-backed entries in the series except for the four Citroëns and Gabriele Tarquini's Honda. He was also the only driver in the series to win a race for a non-factory-backed entry winning the second race at the Hungaroring. While this was a reverse grid race, Citroën's advantage was such that this is still extremely impressive, since José María López, Yvan Muller, and Sébastien Loeb had so much faster cars to the degree that they still won all but three of the reverse grid races, so him managing to hold them off is still worthy of praise. Perhaps his most impressive race weekend was actually at Motegi however where he actually won the pole straight up outqualifying López, Muller, and Loeb on speed with a car that was much, much slower (indeed, the average Citroën entry was faster than 77.88% cars in the field, while Michelisz's team was faster than 55.82%). López managed to pass Michelisz at the start of the race, but Michelisz still claimed second place in a very impressive performance without even the benefit of the reverse grid gimmick. One does easily wonder what he could do if he had a Citroën. Unfortunately, he will never get that chance because Citroën is withdrawing from the series after 2016.
I have the DTM champion lower than you might expect because nobody really stood out in the series. The series had considerable parity this year with no drivers having any kind of massive advantage in terms of dominance or speed. Wehrlein, who was the most consistent driver and second fastest (behind only Mattias Ekström) only beat 72.85% of the cars on track and was faster than 68.16% of cars, very low marks for the champion of almost any kind of circuit racing series, but the flip side of that is that this means that the series was obviously the most competitive from race to race, so a championship may mean more when a staggering thirteen different drivers managed to win races in the 18-race season. Wehrlein and Ekström (who won twice each), and Jamie Green, who won four times, were the only drivers to win multiple races. Despite winning the championship, Wehrlein only had three podiums in addition to his wins, but despite the parity, he did manage to clinch the championship one race early, one day prior to his 21st birthday, when the final race was held. Considering he is one of the youngest champions of a major series ever and clinched early despite facing a ridiculous level of parity, he was certainly very impressive, but the fact that there was so much parity to the point that few drivers stood out has caused me to downrate most DTM drivers. Regardless, Wehrlein himself is clearly a hot up and comer and worthy of his status as a Formula One test driver.
Bernhard, the FIA World Endurance Championship LMP1 co-champion, was faster than either of his teammates Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley on average, but Webber hit the higher peaks as he was the fastest driver in three separate races while Bernhard only managed this once. Both of them were the terminal natural leader once, but Bernhard was the only one of the three drivers to win a race naturally, as he passed Neel Jani, one of the other most dominant drivers in the class this year, to win at Shanghai. It is your call whether Webber or Bernhard should be ranked higher, but I choose Webber because he hit higher peaks, which I prefer to Bernhard's steadier consistency.
Quintarelli won the Super GT championship in the premier GT500 class alongside his teammate Tsugio Matsuda, winning his fourth championship in the past five seasons in this series. Considering Matsuda had a long string of seasons with wins but wild inconsistency in prior seasons and was rarely a championship factor while Quintarelli has been the dominant championship factor in the series, it's safe to say Quintarelli was the team leader here. Because the Super GT series does provide fastest laps for each team but does not indicate which driver set each fastest lap, coming up with much more detail here as I did for many other drivers is difficult, but regardless, his continuing series dominance is still worthy of placement on the list.
Nick Tandy may have carried him in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship GTE Pro class, allowing him to win the championship solo because Tandy did not start two races despite being the more important contributor to their wins, but don't try to argue based on this that Pilet's season isn't deserving of considerable recognition in his own right as well. At the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, Pilet drove from 5th to 1st in his class on the opening lap taking the lead from Jan Magnussen which he would not relinquish until lap 37. Pilet also won the pole at Austin and he and Tandy protected the lead for the entire race, and the pair also controlled the entire race at Mosport and VIR (albeit with Tandy winning the pole on those occasions). In the second half of the season in IMSA, they were almost untouchable in their class, and Tandy couldn't have done that if Pilet wasn't holding up his end of the deal as well. Additionally, Pilet also won at Bahrain in the FIA World Endurance Championship season finale and scored three second place finishes alongside teammate Frédéric Makowiecki (this time without Tandy's help, because Tandy only drove prototypes in Europe), and Pilet did win the race naturally via a pass of Toni Vilander. Pilet was faster than all other regulars in this class except for Gianmaria Bruni, although some part-timers like Nicki Thiim, Kevin Éstre, and Jordan Taylor were faster yet in their limited starts.
Most people may find this ranking shockingly low because Montoya led the season-opening IndyCar race at St. Petersburg, drove from last to first on track to win the Indy 500, and led the series in points for the entire season until losing on a tiebreaker to Scott Dixon after the season-ending race at Sonoma, not to mention all the things Montoya has done across other series including F1 and American sports cars, but admittedly those do not apply to evaluating his performance this year. However, as I see it, all four of the Penske drivers underachieved this season (actually, all the Penske drivers in any series with the exception of Joey Logano and possible exception of Ryan Blaney). The four-car Penske ensemble of Montoya, Will Power, Hélio Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud was hyped as one of the greatest teams in IndyCar history but they combined for only three wins and weren't even the best four-car team in the US (Joe Gibbs's Kyle Busch/Matt Kenseth/Carl Edwards/Denny Hamlin team was easily better). With the four Penske drivers qualifying 1st through 4th at St. Petersburg, most fans expected the whole season would go like that for them, but it didn't come close. Dixon alone matched the Penske drivers in wins, while drivers in weaker equipment like Sébastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, and Graham Rahal matched Montoya in wins. Even more oddly, while Montoya was the best Penske driver this year (except for Logano), he was the slowest of the four Penske IndyCar drivers this year, as even his winless teammates Castroneves and Pagenaud had higher average speeds. Montoya's average speed of 68.37% was slower than Bourdais and Dixon as well and barely faster than Tony Kanaan. My only conclusion is that for most of the season Montoya was playing it extremely safe to protect his points lead, but this is seriously worthy of criticism when he did not actually win the championship despite having the best cars. Among the drivers in elite cars, Power and Dixon had a much higher average percent led and even Newgarden (despite driving a barely-sponsored car) was more dominant as well. Most of the races he did run up front weren't all that impressive either. He won the season-opener at St. Petersburg by beating Power out of the pits, not passing him on track. At NOLA and Detroit, he led the most laps but was gifted the pole on both occasions because qualifying was canceled. At Mid-Ohio, he only led because a caution came out before Dixon got an opportunity to pit. His comeback at Indy from 30th to the lead was truly amazing, but truthfully, there wasn't much else. He led races more often due to circumstance rather than taking the lead on track elsewhere, and his decision to play it safe ended up backfiring. One may argue the Indy 500 means more than the IndyCar championship does, which is probably true, but when you play it so safe in the fastest car that you are slower than two winless teammates and lose out on a championship you controlled all season, that's not too good.
The young American second-generation sports car star earned his biggest credential by leading his GTE Pro Corvette team to a 5-lap victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the first win for Corvette at Le Mans since 2011, and despite being a full-time Prototype driver in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship while his teammates Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner were full-time GT drivers (competing in GT Le Mans, essentially the same as GTE Pro), Taylor was actually faster than his teammates despite his relative lack of experience in GT Le Mans cars compared to them. His full-season IMSA Prototype performance wasn't bad either, as he and his brother Ricky Taylor still led the series with two victories, tied with Dane Cameron/Eric Curran, Richard Westbrook/Michael Valiante, and João Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Sébastien Bourdais for the most in the class. Taylor himself was third fastest among the regulars in the class behind only Cameron and Barbosa, but despite that, he had the highest average percent led among any regular in the class, narrowly pipping Cameron (15.30-15.10%). Both of his wins in IMSA were rather impressive, as he made an impressive outbraking maneuver on Joey Hand to win at Long Beach and held off a much faster Cameron to win at Mosport in one of the most exciting finishes this year; he also was the terminal natural leader at Laguna Seca before his brother Ricky got beaten out of the pits by Westbrook. The only blemishes were at Daytona, when he got beaten by Scott Dixon on a pit stop exchange and then his team was dropped to a last-place finish after it turned out Taylor had violated the drive time rules by driving too much in too short a time period, and Detroit, where he got passed by Cameron and was penalized for spinning a lapped car later in the event. However, if Angelelli or Ricky had been in the car and they had finished 2nd at Daytona (where they were running before the drive time penalty), that would have been enough to give team Taylor the championship. I still think he was just as good as Cameron in the IMSA Prototype class (although I think Cameron was definitely better in IMSA in general counting what he did in the GTD class as well) and most of the team's issues that led to them losing the championship were not his fault.
di Grassi was one of the most impressive drivers in Formula E in 2015, where his consistency was only barely behind Sébastien Buemi and Nelson Piquet, Jr., with Buemi beating 72.77% of drivers on average, Piquet 72.28%, and di Grassi 72.27%, and the only reason di Grassi wasn't even more consistent than them is because he was disqualified from the Berlin ePrix, which he won in dominant fashion before being penalized for a wing adjustment. Ignoring that race he has finished 6th or better in his last nine starts including a win at Putrajaya and four second-place finishes. He finished a close third in the 2014-15 season and is now only one point behind Buemi for the championship lead in 2015-16. Additionally, he competed in the World Endurance Championship full-time simultaneously just as Buemi and Sam Bird did, but he did not distinguish himself there like they did. He was slightly faster than his equipment, beating 69.21% of drivers on average, while Audi drivers on average beat 68.11%, but he was outperformed by his teammate Loïc Duval and the team went winless while teammate André Lotterer managed to be the fastest driver despite Audi's horsepower disadvantage to Porsche and fought for the championship. Nonetheless, his Formula E consistency is worthy of placement on the list.
Bamber showed nearly the versatility of the likes of Nick Tandy, Kevin Éstre, and Katsumasa Chiyo this year, showing strength in three different classes on two continents (WEC P1, WEC GTE Am, and IMSA GTLM) but I have slightly docked him relative to them because he only won once. If you're going to only win once though, winning overall at Le Mans is definitely the one you want to win. Although he was slower than Tandy at Le Mans, he was faster in their other P1 race at Spa-Francorchamps which was enough for him to beat both Tandy and Hülkenberg on speed for the season in that class (barely). In GTE Am, despite not winning a race, he was still amazing as he had the fastest average speed in all three races. In the US, he wasn't as successful going winless despite Porsche's general level of dominance with Tandy and Patrick Pilet in the other car. He did still score three second place finishes in the IMSA GT Le Mans class and won poles at Road America and Road Atlanta, but it wasn't quite on par with what Tandy was doing. Regardless, considering this was his first season in both WEC and IMSA, he was easily one of the most impressive rookies anywhere, maybe second to only Max Verstappen in that regard.
The NASCAR driver who once dominated the likes of this year's champion Kyle Busch to win a Busch Series title finally had his first Sprint Cup season to match his minor league potential. Truex became the first driver for a single-car team to finish in the top five in NASCAR Cup points since Dale Earnhardt in 1996. You can argue that he didn't really belong in the Championship 4 at Homestead and you can also argue that Furniture Row Racing is really a Richard Childress Racing satellite and not a true independent team therefore it should be considered as RCR equipment, but not so fast. None of the official Childress drivers came even close to winning a race this season or were week-in, week-out threats like Truex was. Truex won and dominated at Pocono, but was actually the terminal natural leader in three other races (Kansas, Charlotte, and Watkins Glen) before being repeatedly beaten out of the pits, which is not really his fault. He led the most laps in four consecutive races, scored over 20 top tens, and had an outside championship-caliber season in all respects (really, his season compares pretty nicely to Matt Kenseth's 2003 except that there was much more competitive depth that year, and also, that wasn't Kenseth's best season). Whether you consider his team a technically single-car or de facto multi-car operation, the point is none of the Childress drivers did anything similar to what he did so he was still impressive either way. While yes, Jimmie Johnson was unlucky, and Joey Logano certainly should have been in the Championship 4 until he and Kenseth took each other out, Truex wasn't that undeserving (Jeff Gordon was the undeserving one). Furthermore, this is the best season overall Furniture Row Racing has ever had. Past champion Kurt Busch also had effectively RCR backing when he drove for the team in 2013 and did not do nearly this well. For Truex to achieve what he did a mere two years after Michael Waltrip nearly ruined his career by trying to "help" him into the chase is remarkable, and Waltrip being forced to shut down his team this season is an even greater comeuppance. Truex didn't deserve a championship, but did you really think he or anyone else could have done what he did in this car at the start of the season? No, I didn't think so.
Easily one of the most versatile drivers in the world this season, Thiim competed in the World Endurance Championship GTE Pro class, the new TCR International Series, the Blancpain Sprint and Endurance Series, the ADAC GT Masters tour, and Porsche Carrera Cup Germany. In the most prestigious of those series (WEC), he was the fastest driver on average among all GTE Pro drivers, beating 97.78% of drivers on average in the three races in which he competed. Despite winning none of those three races, he had the highest average speed in that class in both the races at Silverstone and Le Mans and was the best passer in his class at Le Mans as well. In the inaugural season of the low-cost WTCC spinoff TCR series, he competed only in the Algarve round but certainly dominated, winning the pole and the first race and setting the fastest lap in both races. At the 24 Hours of Spa, he led his teammates Christopher Mies and Christian Mamerow to a 3rd place finish. In the Blancpain Sprint Series, he only competed in the final round at Zandvoort but earned 2nd and 3rd place finishes alongside teammate Frédéeric Vervisch. Additionally, Thiim competed full-time alongside teammate Jordan Pepper in the ADAC GT Masters season, where they won the season finale at Hockenheimring, and also competed full-time simultaneously in the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany series where he finished 5th in points and swept the races at Norisring. He may not have dominated many series, but he was competitive all over the place and in arguably the most prestigious of those series (WEC and TCR) he had his best performances.
It would be a shame if Kenseth's entire season were reduced to his feud with Joey Logano and eventual suspension because Kenseth did show a significant level of dominance during the regular season. He tied Jimmie Johnson and his teammate Kyle Busch for the second most wins with 5 in NASCAR Sprint Cup this year, but Busch admittedly managed to do it in 25 starts, while Kenseth needed all 36. He easily outperformed teammates Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards this season even though his suspension during the chase ended up making it look otherwise in terms of his championship points finish. His wins at Michigan and Richmond were among the most dominant wins scored by any driver this season in NASCAR, but there was a very hit-or-miss quality to Kenseth's season which is uncharacteristic of him. He dominated several races but was out to lunch in many others. Busch was more consistent throughout all his starts, and Edwards and Hamlin were more consistent from race-to-race even if they didn't quite hit Kenseth's peaks. However, there is no getting around the only thing his season will likely be remembered for. I definitely think Logano was out of line to spin Kenseth out of the race lead at Kansas. Yes, Kenseth blocked Logano and nearly pushed him into the wall on preceding laps, but he wasn't blocking Logano at the time of contact, and while there might be some justification for contact when the leader is actively blocking, I'm not sure I think contact is legitimate to retaliate for blocking. But by the time their little brouhaha was over, I was totally on Logano's side of the matter. Kenseth running into Logano entering the pits at Talladega was pathetic (of all places, do you want to do such a thing like that at a track where you could cause a multi-car crash?) and running Logano into the wall at Martinsville while Logano was running away with the race and Kenseth was running nine laps down was even more pathetic, especially when he actually pretended the contact was not intentional in his interview (at least Logano pretty much admitted why he did what he did, although I'll also admit his smugness was a bit much to bear). The main problem with this feud is that it totally destroyed Kenseth's reputation as one of the clean drivers and what did he get out of it? A suspension, a historically low points finish, both he and Logano not getting the points finishes they deserved, and disturbingly hearty applause from some of the more disturbingly bloodthirsty elements of the NASCAR fan base. I never thought Kenseth was a clean driver (he made his name by knocking Tony Stewart out of the way to win a Busch race at Rockingham, after all) but I still thought he wouldn't descend to that sort of level. I was shocked and pleased that NASCAR actually suspended somebody for intentional on-track contact in a Cup race for once considering how much they seem to historically tolerate, but considering Kevin Harvick made the Championship 4 as a result of intentionally causing a wreck to advance at Talladega, which is to my mind even worse than anything Logano and Kenseth did, NASCAR still has a major consistency problem.
The 2014 British Touring Car Champion failed to defend his championship and was definitely outperformed by his teammate Jason Plato, who won six races to Turkington's four, but when you ignore reverse grid races, it was a bit closer (4-3). I think Plato and Shedden had virtually identical seasons, and Neal finished just as far behind Shedden as Turkington did behind Plato in points essentially, so Turkington vs. Neal is also likely a tossup. However, I definitely prefer Turkington's season, as he was a lot more dominant leading 13.20% of the laps compared to Neal's 1.78%. Turkington was actually closer to Plato in dominance than Neal was to Shedden, although both Plato and Turkington were actually more dominant than Shedden, implying they had stronger cars. Additionally, it seems that Turkington was a bit unlucky this year as his average percent led (13.20%) was greater than his winning percentage (11.11%), while Neal was extremely lucky to win 3 races when he didn't even manage a single cumulative race led. Turkington may not have led his team this year, but he is still one of the best drivers in the series.
In a DTM series where 13 drivers won 18 races and only three drivers managed to win more than once, Jamie Green managed to win four times en route to second in the championship. However, Green failed to beat Pascal Wehrlein for the championship for a reason. Wehrlein only failed to score points in three races all season, while Green was incredibly hit or miss and failed to score points in nine races. While normally I rate dominant drivers who came close to the championship higher than more consistent drivers, DTM does have a points system that properly awards performance by awarding the same number of points in each race (which is sadly becoming increasingly rare in major league racing series these days) and Wehrlein did clinch a race early, and Green wasn't really close to him. He did win three of the first four races winning at Hockenheim and sweeping at Lausitzring before DTM started adding success ballast to the faster cars to increase the competitive depth of the field. This is probably largely responsible for the 13 different winners in the last 14 races with only Wehrlein winning more than once after that point and may have unfairly handicapped Green versus Wehrlein but DTM was largely a tale of two seasons, the four races before the performance weights were introduced, when Green dominated and several other drivers were consistent, and the last 14 races, when the performance weights continually adjusted and nobody except Wehrlein stood out. I'm marginally more impressed by Wehrlein winning two races in the second period when no one else won more than once than I am by Green winning three times in the first four races before the performance weights were added.
Vanthoor primarily competed in the Blancpain Sprint Series with his teammate Robin Frijns, where they together won five races. Vanthoor missed the Zandvoort round which Frijns started, allowing Frijns to claim second in the championship to Vanthoor's third, but I have rated Vanthoor higher because he led his team to victory in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring as well without Frijns as a teammate. Additionally, Vanthoor competed in the Blancpain Endurance Series where he and Frijns finished 3rd at Monza and 2nd at Silverstone in the first two races but Vanthoor's 21st at the 24 hours of Spa prevented him from posing a serious challenge to Katsumasa Chiyo's team's Blancpain Endurance Series championship. Vanthoor also competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans where he was faster than 92.73% of all drivers in the LMP2 class proving his general versatility in the sports car world.
Cameron was the only driver to win in two different IMSA classes in 2015. The defending IMSA GTD class champion in 2014 made a smooth and seamless transition to Prototype racing where he had the fastest average speed among any of the full-time drivers (75.72%) narrowly beating João Barbosa's 74.60%, Jordan Taylor's 74.15%, and Richard Westbrook's 73.95%. He was also one of the most dominant drivers in the Prototype field, with Taylor only barely being more dominant. Cameron also passed Taylor on track for the lead to win at Detroit, arguably his season highlight, and additionally at Mosport Cameron took an additional pit stop but built up a massive lead over Taylor before Taylor just barely beat him out of the pits. Cameron made a furious rally and came about a second from winning but couldn't quite make it. He and teammate Eric Curran finished in the top five in class in every race in the season, which only Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook also did. Like Taylor, Cameron did not merely have success in prototype racing, as he made a cameo in a GTD race race at Lime Rock, where the Prototypes did not enter and he won the race alongside teammate Michael Marsal, who went winless the rest of the season. With the exception of Nick Tandy, Cameron was probably the best driver in IMSA this season, and all the other drivers I've rated higher (Patrick Pilet, Earl Bamber, Richard Lietz, Taylor, etc...) were rated higher for what they did in IMSA and WEC combined, while Cameron did not get to make any international starts this season, although he definitely deserves to have the opportunity.
Truth be told, as far as Porsche LMP1 drivers are concerned, I originally did have Brendon Hartley on the list but decided I wanted Jani instead. While all three drivers on the #17 championship Porsche entry were faster than Jani, Hartley himself was the slowest driver for the #17 car, while Jani was the fastest of the three #18 car drivers beating both Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb in speed, and he matched André Lotterer as the only other driver to be the terminal natural leader twice in the WEC LMP1 class this season, doing so at Spa-Francorchamps and Nürburgring, neither of which he won, but he partially made up for it by winning a race that he did not win naturally at Bahrain (but that was only because Marc Lieb had already made the winning pass and all Jani had to do was maintain the lead, which he easily did). Jani was also the most dominant full-time LMP1 driver with an average percent led of 15.27% to Mark Webber's #17 team-leading 14.99%, and since the #18 was not as fast as the #17 in general, this is very impressive. However, his team's inability to close out race wins is why I have him behind Webber and Timo Bernhard.
Chevrolet had a monstrous advantage over Honda particularly in qualifying but also in many races (although Honda generally improved in the races towards the end of the year). The only two regular-season drivers who had above average speed in Hondas were Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay, but Rahal himself was much faster than any other Honda driver. Rahal on average was faster than 64.05% drivers per race while Hunter-Reay, the next fastest regular was only faster than 50.67% drivers on average per race. Rahal was faster than several Chevrolet drivers including Charlie Kimball, Josef Newgarden, Sebastian Saavedra, Luca Filippi, Sage Karam, Stefano Coletti, and Ed Carpenter, but only Newgarden of those was truly impressive in general. Interestingly, because of how slow Kimball, Karam, and Saavedra were compared to their Ganassi teammates, the Rahal team was actually the 2nd fastest of all teams and faster on average than any Chevrolet team except for Penske, and that is the main reason I have Rahal lower than you might expect. While his team was way faster than any other Honda team (the next fastest Honda team Andretti Autosport was faster than 42.70% of other cars), how much of that is his driving and how much of that is that they happened to nail the engineering setups, especially when you consider how dismal Rahal's preceding seasons were? I personally think more of it came down to the engineering. No other Hondas were anywhere near him in speed, even those with clearly superior drivers like Hunter-Reay (although I was more impressed with Rahal than RHR this year). That's not to say Rahal didn't have brilliant performances though, but I think Newgarden deserves the hype Rahal has gotten, because Newgarden was more dominant for a much more poorly-funded team despite having slower cars than even Rahal did. Just because the Hondas in general were slower doesn't mean he himself was (only the Penske cars, the two premier Ganassi cars, and Sébastien Bourdais were faster than him). There's no getting around the fact that both of his wins were a little dodgy, with him not being penalized for dragging a fuel tank onto the track at Fontana and benefiting from extremely lucky pit stop timing at Mid-Ohio, but both of his second-place finishes were way more impressive than his wins. Despite taking one more pit stop at Barber, he was much faster than anyone else at the end of the race and made numerous exciting passes in the late stages of that race to work his way up to 2nd place (with only about two more laps he clearly would have gotten around Newgarden); however, he was still off-sequence which is the reason he was faster than the drivers on the regular strategy. I think his most impressive race was easily the Indy GP where he started mid-pack but worked his way all the way up to 2nd and was consistently between 1-3 seconds behind winner Will Power, who dominated the race start to finish and was the fastest driver this year. He finished about 30 seconds(!) ahead of the next-highest Honda driver Takuma Sato which is an unreal gap and although Power was never really threatened by Rahal, he never pulled away either. In my mind, that performance was much more impressive than either of his wins, but he clearly did deserve some wins for his overachievement in other races regardless. I think his season is a little overvalued by many, but it's still impressive he took a car that was slower to the Penskes and stayed as close in the championship to Juan Pablo Montoya as he did even though they both ended up losing.
The perennial British Touring Car Championship contender played second-fiddle to eventual champion Gordon Shedden and he was a little lucky to do as well as he did. He won three races in 2015 (a winning percentage of 10%) but his average percent led of 1.78% was actually really low (this amounts to only 0.534 cumulative races led), so one can argue either that he was really clutch or really lucky. I tend toward lucky. First of all, all three of Neal's wins came in reverse grid races, while none of Shedden's wins did. Second, he was greatly aided by dominant rookie Josh Cook and Áron Smith making contact and going off-track while battling for the lead to win at Donington, and that win did not come without controversy for Neal, as he got a verbal warning for contact with Andrew Jordan but was not penalized even though Jordan appealed. Neal was still very fast (in fact, his average speed was faster than 78.04% of other cars, while Shedden's was only at 74.58%), but Shedden clearly had better racecraft if he won more often despite being less lucky (i.e. not winning any reverse grid races) and was a lot more dominant as well. Regardless, Neal is still one of the leading threats in BTCC, but this wasn't a great season for him.
The LMP2 driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship was easily faster than his full-season teammate Matthew Howson but nowhere near as fast as his alternating teammates Nick Tandy or Nicolas Lapierre. Regardless, Bradley did play an important role on his team as he was the terminal natural leader in three of the eight races, leading his class in this category, even over Sam Bird, who edged out Bradley's team for the class championship. Although Bradley ended up only winning one of those three races, it was the biggest one, as his on-track pass of Tristan Gommendy early in the 24 Hours of Le Mans gave his team control of the rest of the race.
The McLaren prospect demolished the GP2 field by nearly doubling the point total of second-place driver Alexander Rossi who has already debuted in Formula One. He won seven times in 21 starts, but he won seven out of eleven races in races decided via qualifying, as the other ten races were reverse grid races. Despite that, he made his way back quickly up through the field when forced to start in the back. Even though he didn't win any of the reverse grid races after winning the first race, he did finish second four times which is better than many other GP2 drivers have done. He finished all 21 races in the GP2 season and only finished out of the top five twice - an eighth and a ninth, the latter of which was the only race in which he did not score points. No driver, not even Lewis Hamilton, has come even close to dominating this series like this. He is ready to move up to Formula One but considering how bad the McLaren team is maybe he is well-advised to wait until whenever Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso retire.
Eng, who competed simultaneously in Porsche SuperCup and the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany, managed to win both championships in the same season. Although there is a lot of crossover among the drivers who compete in these two series, neither field was a pushover, as several other drivers on my list ran full-time (Nicki Thiim) or made cameos (Daniel Cammish and Colin Thompson) yet did not come close to his level of performance. In Porsche SuperCup, his strength was his consistency as he won two races but had no finishes worse than eighth, which was enough to overcome Sven Muller who won four races and six podiums to finish the season but could not overcome his earlier weak results. In the Porsche Carrera Cup, he truly dominated the series even with the presence of Thiim and Muller there, winning nine of the seventeen races. His consistency was also staggering in both series as he beat over 90% of the cars he competed against in both.
The Swede won his third consecutive Scandinavian Touring Car Championship in 2015 but did not dominate quite as much as he did in 2013. This time he won only five of fourteen races, while he won eight of twelve in 2013. Regardless, he was more dominant and more consistent than in his 2014 championship season, and he only finished worse than 4th twice. You could say the field is generally small as it usually had only about thirteen drivers, but he still had quite good consistency, and his performance has been rewarded in a big way as he and his runner-up STCC teammate Fredrik Ekblom are bringing Volvo back into the World Touring Car Championship for the first time since 2011.
The Stock Car Brasil veteran won his first-ever series championship in one of the most highly competitive series in the world. Among the 21 races, the series had 13 different winners and Gomes was the only driver who managed to win more than twice. Gomes also led the way with five pole positions, and this was no weak series with plenty of ex-Formula One and IndyCar veterans competing in it (Rubens Barrichello, Max Wilson, Ricardo Zonta, Antônio Pizzonia, Luciano Burti, Raphael Matos), but his main threat was Cacá Bueno, the five-time champion who finished 2nd in points and finished in the top four in points for the fourteenth consecutive season. Once again, the reason for this parity is the series uses the reverse grid gimmick, which essentially prevented any drivers to win both races in a round, but to his credit, Gomes won all three of his races completely on speed.
Massa had one great moment at the British Grand Prix when when he and teammate Valtteri Bottas shockingly passed the dominant Mercedes drivers on the opening lap and Massa managed to continue to hold Bottas at bay until the first pit stop, but it wasn't enough for either of them to beat Lewis Hamilton after the pit cycle was concluded and they eventually dropped to 4th and 5th. Massa's pass was one of the relatively rare challenges anyone made to the Mercedes dominance, but besides that and his two podiums at the Red Bull Ring and Monza (the latter being very fortunate after a late Nico Rosberg engine failure), he had few other season highlights or lowlights. He had a steady consistency that made his season look decent, but he underachieved considerably compared to the level of his equipment beating 56.82% of cars even though Williams was on average faster than 66.13% of cars. However, he still did better relative to the level of his equipment than his onetime Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen did, which is why I have Massa on the list and have left Kimi off.
The #2 driver for the Volkswagen World Rally Championship team claimed three of the five race victories that his championship-winning teammate Sébastien Ogier did not win, and did manage to beat him in two rallyes they both finished in Portugal and Finland, but he nor anyone else (not even Sébastien Loeb in his one-off at Monaco) was a match for Ogier this season.
Although he failed to win multiple races for the first time since joining Penske full-time in 2010, and he unquestionably had a worse season than a Penske teammate for the first time (I think Power vs. Hélio Castroneves in 2013 was about even really, but Juan Pablo Montoya definitely had the edge over him this year), he was still somewhat impressive. He had the fastest average speed in the IndyCar field, albeit only barely over Castroneves, who was perhaps surprisingly second. He also led the field in dominance with an average percent led of 16.60%, which no one was very close to, although he slightly trailed Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden in actual laps led. His dominant performance at the Indy GP which he controlled start to finish was arguably the most dominant performance of the year, and he also was the terminal natural leader at three other races (St. Petersburg, Toronto, and Sonoma) implying he consistently dominated from pole until he got burned on pit stop exchanges which has been a running trend for him. The main problem is unlike Scott Dixon, he can't seem to recover when he gets buried in traffic, and with the crapshoot that so many road and street course races have become due to closing the pits, qualifying as well as Power does is almost a liability. It was a disappointing season for Power but he is still one of the best IndyCar drivers in general and he has seriously stepped up his oval game finally being a legitimate threat to win the Indy 500 for the first time in 2015, even though he did not win it.
Arguably the second hottest Formula One prospect to Stoffel Vandoorne, Rosenqvist won 13 out of 33 races to win the European Formula 3 championship, his fourth championship in a Formula One feeder series in the past eight years. Many might criticize the fact that it took him four years to win a junior championship, but he has been a dominant force the entire time, winning 28 of 116 races in this series and his 24 podiums this season are particularly staggering. Additionally, he won the Macau Grand Prix all-star race for junior open wheel talent for the second consecutive season winning the pole, the qualifying race (where he also set the fastest lap), and the main race, perfectly repeating his 2014 performance, although he was beaten to the fastest lap in the main race by the unheralded Sérgio Sette Câmara after the now-famous Max Verstappen beat him to the fastest lap last year. Perhaps he is rather old for a development driver, but at the same time, I do find it strange how a lot of fans will hype younger drivers who don't do as well in feeder series solely because they are younger (this reminds me of how Scott Speed ended up winning the Red Bull Driver Search for the best American F1 prospect because the more experienced drivers who beat him didn't beat him by as much as they were 'supposed to'). Regardless of whether you think he is the best prospect or a much younger driver like Charles Leclerc is, Rosenqvist is ready to advance.
The 2012 World Touring Car Champion has been stuck in an uncompetitive Lada for the past two seasons, and although he was not able to carry the car to victory this year, he scored more points this season than he did in 2014 despite a lot more retirements. Huff, who spent most of 2014 in mid-pack besides his two reverse grid wins, was much more hit-and-miss in 2015 as he failed to finish nine races last year as opposed to 2014's five, but only failed to score points in one of the races he finished. Obviously, this heavily implies he is getting the maximum out of his relatively weak car. On average the Lada was faster than 38.25% of cars in the field based on fastest lap times (average lap times were not available), but he himself managed to be faster than 44.12% of drivers although one of his Lada teammates who also made the list was not far behind. Huff still managed two podiums, a 2nd in Moscow and a 3rd in Motegi in 2015. Huff also crossed over and won the first Guia Race of Macau, the former WTCC event which switched to the TCR International Series in 2015, although he retired from the second race.
The veteran rally driver won the Dakar Rally for a second time (although the pedant in me wishes they'd rename it now that it is regularly held in South America instead of Africa) and also claimed the championship in the WRC-2 class of the World Rally Championship. Al-Attiyah won five of the thirteen stages in the Dakar and led the general classification from the second stage on. While he won the 2014 WRC-2 championship only narrowly, he dominated this time, winning three of the seven Rallyes he competed in and finishing worse than 5th only once. His overall 7th place finish in Rally México including all the top tier WRC drivers was his best overall finish since 2013, and this time (unlike then) he did so with a self-owned team.
Comini was the inaugural champion of a brand new series, the TCR International Series, which is a reduced-cost World Touring Car Championship spinoff. Despite this series consisting of reverse grid races just like the WTCC and a lot more parity than that series has, Comini still had a stellar race-to-race consistency and was usually able to get good results in both races each round. He led the series with five wins (albeit admittedly three of them were reverse grids) and had the fastest average speed of any regular driver (beating 76.56% of the field on average) although the series does have a bit of a second-rate feel to me considering Nicki Thiim and Rob Huff both did one-off cameos and both won from the pole in each of their first starts (Thiim had the highest average speed in the field in both of his starts), but if drivers of that caliber are competing it probably says a good thing for the series' future, especially because the WTCC will likely be in a world of trouble after Citroën withdraws after 2016 and José María López likely races somewhere else.
Suspended by NASCAR for the first three races as a result of a Delaware investigation into domestic violence charges against his girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, Busch was quickly reinstated when the charges were dropped and for the first couple months after reinstatement he was almost as dominant as teammate Kevin Harvick leading 659 laps in an eight-race span and completely dominating the spring Richmond race (although since he actually beat Jamie McMurray out of the pits to ultimately take the lead in that race, he technically did not have any terminal natural lead in 2015). However, not long after he had essentially ensured his Chase spot with his Richmond victory, he largely fizzled out over the last two thirds of the season and became more of a consistent top ten threat than any threat for victory. He was clearly motivated to prove himself after his suspension leading to his best run of consistency at Stewart-Haas, but was unable to keep it up over the long haul unlike Harvick. Regardless he had a pretty good season, winning twice, having the fifth best average finish, and being sixth in average percent led, but just as the truly odd situation with Driscoll fizzled out quickly, so did his season. His brother Kyle is unquestionably better, both now and historically.
The last Scandinavian Touring Car Champion before Thed Björk who also won the International Superstars Series championship in the same season (2012), Kristoffersson was a full-time rookie in the FIA World Rallycross Championship this season and finished third in the championship while driving for his father's Volkswagen Team Sweden. Kristoffersson won the season-opening event in Portugal and earned four other podiums but he did not quite match either the dominance or the consistency of Petter Solberg and Timmy Hansen, but he did clearly outperform Mattias Ekström which takes some doing as Ekström is one of the best drivers in the world (although similarly inexperienced in rallycross). Additionally, Kristoffersson won the Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia for the third time in the last four years, but that is obviously a relative footnote since that series is not as famous or celebrated as the British, German, or Australian versions.
The DTM driver had a relatively undistinguished 4th place season in the championship and won only one race, but he seems to have been clearly affected by the success ballast performance weights added to the cars as he had four top five finishes to start the season and was wildly inconsistent for the rest of the season. However, for as much parity as DTM had this year, his six podiums are impressive as he and Mattias Ekström were tied for the most in that category, while the two drivers who beat them Pascal Wehrlein and Jamie Green only had five each (but Wehrlein made up for it with consistent points scoring and Green with more wins). Mortara did relatively stand out versus the drivers behind him in points, beating 5th place in points Bruno Spengler by nearly an entire race's worth of points.
The NHRA Pro Stock driver led drivers in all the major classes with nine wins, the most wins in the four main classes since Eddie Krawiec in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class in 2012, allowing her to successfully defend her 2014 championship, becoming the first back-to-back champion since Jeg Coughlin in 2007-2008. She also broke Shirley Muldowney's record for the most NHRA event wins for any female driver and Angelle Sampey's record for the most in a single season. She was consistently dominant both in the regular season, when she won six out of eighteen races and the Countdown, where she was even more clutch, winning three of the last six. She also claimed her first victory in the most prestigious NHRA event, the U.S. Nationals.
Catsburg claimed victory in the 24 Hours of Spa alongside teammates Lucas Luhr and Markus Palttala and did so without being a Blancpain Endurance Series regular, which is rather impressive. He was a regular in the related Blancpain Sprint Series where he was not as successful, winning only one of twelve races, the qualifying race at Moscow, alongside teammate Albert von Thurn und Taxis. Perhaps more impressive than either were his performances in the World Touring Car Championship, where he made his debut in a Lada as teammate to past champion Rob Huff but didn't do much worse. Because of his inexperience in the WTCC, he retired from eight races but his two fourth place finishes were very impressive for that equipment, particularly the first race at China because he managed to achieve that in a race that did not have a reverse grid and he was only beaten by the three main Citroën drivers in much faster cars. Huff was faster than 44.12% of cars and while Catsburg was much less consistent than Huff, he nearly matched his speed (42.64%), although for 2016, he returns to sports cars, racing in the GT Daytona class of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Alongside teammate Laurens Vanthoor, Robin Frijns won a series-leading five races in the Blancpain Sprint Series and finished second in the championship. He also earned podiums in the first two races of the Blancpain Endurance Series, also co-driving with Vanthoor. More recently, he has crossed over to Formula E where he earned his first podium in only his second start at Putrajaya and he currently sits a solid 7th in points in that series. His 24 hours of Spa was disappointing as he retired from the race, but his season in general was good.
Hunter-Reay drove Andretti IndyCars that were well below average (faster than only 42.70% of cars on the track on average), but outperformed his equipment like no other driver in the field, as he was faster than 50.67% of cars and beat 59.41% of the cars on the track, winning two races. Although the first half of his season was truly invisible as he was a non-factor almost everywhere, he was clearly doing the best he could with the equipment he had. Once Honda and Andretti improved in the second half of the season probably no doubt due to the late Justin Wilson's technical knowledge, Hunter-Reay finished the season with two wins and a 2nd place finish in the final four races to earn a fairly laughable 6th place points finish (laughable only because of the skew created by the double-points Sonoma finale). Although he only won Iowa because he beat Josef Newgarden on a pit stop exchange, he did win the Pocono race naturally, and winning any races with that level of equipment is definitely reason to celebrate.
Keselowski had a disappointing season in the sense that the driver who was historically until this season one of the most clutch drivers in NASCAR who has a history of winning when he needs to win (for instance Talladega in 2014) missed out on so many opportunities where he had a chance to win, most notably the fall Texas race, where he led over 300 laps before being passed by Jimmie Johnson in the final ten laps, knocking him out of the chase. However, he has always been snakebitten versus Johnson (he is 1-6 vs. Johnson in the final lead change of the race), so this is not a surprise. Furthermore, he had bad luck in a lot of other races where he had a chance to win, most notably Darlington and Homestead, in each of which he got burned on a fairly late dubious caution. He was still 3rd in overall points scored over 36 races and his consistency was good in general, but he just didn't get the wins while his teammate Logano did, even though all their other stats besides wins and top fives were pretty close (they were tied for two natural wins apiece and Logano only beat him in terms of average percent led 12.34-10.66%). Logano definitely did a lot better at getting consistent high-level performances but Keselowski wasn't as far off as it often looked on the surface. He was a little unlucky, even despite lucking into his one win this season in Fontana, but I have marked him down this much for letting too many wins slip away, although I sort of respect that he sacrificed his own race at Homestead to make sure Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick started on the same side so the championship didn't end up being decided on whether the inside or outside line was faster on the "shootout style" restart.
The perennial Stock Car Brasil championship contender finished second behind Marcos Gomes this year but was still only one of four drivers to win more than once in the major series that had more parity than any other except for DTM. Despite being suspended from the Curitiba round, it probably wouldn't have affected the championship much because he lost the title by 28 points and there were only 24 points available in each two-race weekend. Bueno also competed in the Blancpain Sprint Series alongside teammate Sérgio Jimenez. They earned four fourth place finishes, but were outperformed by not merely the championship contenders but also their teammates Átila Abreu and Valdeno Brito, but Bueno's Stock Car Brasil results are still worthy of mention.
O'Connell went on to win his fourth consecutive Pirelli World Challenge championship in the GT class but it was another series where nobody stood out in a major way (granted this particular class was massive and usually had around 28 cars in it). O'Connell swept the races at Mosport and Miller Motorsports Park, winning the pole and leading the most laps in each, and was tied with Kévin Estre for most wins in the series, but Estre did it in two fewer starts. Similar to the TCR International Series, one of my reservations about the Pirelli World Challenge this year was how frequently drivers who only cherrypicked a single race or two won, with TomáŠ Enge winning once in three starts, Renger van der Zande winning once in two starts, and Alessandro Balzan winning in his only start. To some degree it implies the best drivers are somewhere else (WEC and IMSA) and causes me to devalue the Pirelli World Challenge title a bit although I know most racing purists much prefer the PWC racing, but O'Connell is absolutely one of the legends of American sports car racing in the past couple decades regardless, and he did have stiff regular-season competition from great road racers like Olivier Beretta, Ryan Dalziel, and Estre.
The Australian World Rally Championship factory driver for Hyundai came closer than anyone else to challenging Volkswagen's utter domination of the series in general and Sébastien Ogier's in particular. Sure, Kris Meeke won Rally Argentina for Citroën, but that was only because all three Volkswagen drivers found trouble with Ogier finishing 17th and Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen retiring from the rally. Paddon in the Italian Rally led most of the way taking the lead with his win in the second stage, proceeded to win the next two stages as well, and held the lead until stage 17 when he did spin out and hand the lead and the win to Ogier. While he didn't manage to sustain his lead, no one outside his Volkswagen teammates came even close to snatching a win from Ogier when he did not have trouble. Additionally, Paddon drove most rallyes (including his breakout Italian Rally) for Hyundai Motorsport N, considered a second-tier operation and not as strong as the main Hyundai Motorsport operation, yet he essentially had the same caliber of results as Hyundai's premier team drivers Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo did. No WRC driver did more with less than he did.
The young British Touring Car Championship driver drove for a self-owned independent team and only averaged the 11th fastest speed but managed to finish 7th in points and 5th in average percent led, indicating that he was punching well above his weight in the series this year. Admittedly, he only led reverse grid races, but he was still one of the only two drivers (alongside Jack Goff at Snetterton) to lead one of the ten reverse grid races start-to-finish and hold off the faster drivers behind him, and he nearly did so twice leading the first 23 laps at Knockhill before Matt Neal got him in the end. Lest you think all his season highlights were artificially created by the reverse grid gimmick, also note that he did earn a second place in the second race at Snetterton and four third place finishes in the twenty races for which the starting grid was determined by speed, and he did manage to beat some full factory-backed drivers such as Rob Collard, Andy Priaulx, and Goff in points, and was only 7 points behind Andrew Jordan, the 2013 BTCC champion in a factory-backed car, for fifth place. Morgan was also the only full-time driver who finished every race in the BTCC season (Mat Jackson also had no retirements, but only ran half the races). While he only finished third in the Independents' Trophy, behind Colin Turkington and Jason Plato, Turkington and Plato and Jackson (who was also listed as an 'independent') certainly had far more well-funded equipment than Morgan did, so calling them independents on the same level is a bit of a joke.
The young American sports car driver had about as good a year as anyone can have in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship in only four starts. Despite only competing in the North American Endurance Championship (the four most prestigious IMSA endurance races of the year), he won all three of the most prestigious races: the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, and the Petit Le Mans in the Prototype Challenge class and finished 2nd in the fourth, the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen. Although that class usually only had around eight cars in it, this is still impressive as his percent beat was 96%, which is hard to beat regardless of the field size (although admittedly likely easier in a class that small). Despite only being a part-time hired gun, Palmer was easily the leader of his team, winning two races (Sebring and Road Atlanta) naturally and having a much higher average speed than both of his full-time teammates (Tom Kimber-Smith and Mike Guasch), and it was not close, with Palmer being faster than 74.68% drivers in the class on average to Kimber-Smith's 51.22% and Guasch's 35.59%. Additionally, Palmer was also successful internationally winning the season-opening race in the Blancpain Endurance Series alongside teammates Fabio Babini and Jeroen Mul.
Bruni finished second to Richard Lietz in the World Endurance Cup for GT drivers and won at Silverstone and Fuji with co-driver Toni Vilander. He also tied Patrick Pilet for the most terminal natural leads with Patrick Pilet among drivers in that class with three, and his Silverstone win was natural as a result of a pass of James Calado. However, he failed to win his fourth consecutive championship in the World Endurance Championship and his crossovers outside WEC were not as successful as usual either. Regardless, he was still one of the dominant threats in the class, and leading 10.03% of the laps on average in each race and his high number of terminal natural leads was enough for me to place him on the list.
Beretta finished second to Johnny O'Connell in the Pirelli World Challenge GT class and while he only won three times to O'Connell's four, he came very close to matching his consistency. Unfortunately he failed to capitalize on O'Connell's relatively poor 12th place finish in the season finale at Laguna Seca to claim the title, as Beretta retired from the race with an even worse 28th place finish. However, Beretta did have his best finish at Le Mans since leaving the Corvette Racing team, finishing 2nd with co-drivers Davide Rigon and James Calado for the AF Corse team.
Brown earned his second NHRA Top Fuel title scoring precisely six victories for the third time in the past four years, but he easily had his most dominant Countdown ever, winning the first three rounds of the NHRA 'playoffs' to easily put the championship out of reach, and he even managed to dominate the Top Fuel class in the Countdown to a greater degree than Erica Enders-Stevens did in the Pro Stock class as Brown finished the season with an even larger margin of victory in the championship than any of the other three NHRA champions. I still rate Enders's entire season higher though.
The World of Outlaws driver won his seventh title in the past ten years and his ninth Knoxville Nationals and this year was his most dominant ever. Schatz's 31 wins in one season were the most earned by any WoO driver since Steve Kinser in 1992 who earned the same win total in that year. His season peak came in the months of June and July when he managed to win nine out of eleven A-mains between June 13 and July 11.
Rowland claimed the Formula Renault 3.5 Series championship with seven poles and eight wins, scoring nearly three times as many points as his teammate Jazeman Jaafar and winning the championship by nearly three full races worth of points despite the season itself only having 17 races. He won at least once on every circuit on the schedule except for Monaco. He finished in the top ten in every single event and finished on the podium all but four times. Still, I'm a little less impressed than I am with Stoffel Vandoorne because he dominated to an even larger degree in a series that also has reverse grid races, while the FR3.5 Series thankfully avoids that particular madness. However, this does mean I would expect a driver to dominate FR3.5 by a larger margin than GP2 because GP2 has competition gimmicks like reverse grids yet FR3.5 does not, but Vandoorne still dominated much more regardless. Rowland has since crossed over to compete in Formula E replacing Nick Heidfeld but results are at this point inconclusive. Rowland also competed in GP2 in 2015 himself but managed no better than 7th in seven starts for two teams and was no threat to Vandoorne.
I know his Formula One and NASCAR careers, which he will remain most famous for due to the popularity of those series, were dreadful. However, he has finally found a niche for himself in the Global RallyCross Championship, where he won the championship, sweeping both races at Los Angeles and finishing on the podium in eight of his ten starts, also winning a non-points event at X Games Austin. While the field depth is nothing compared to the FIA World Rallycross Championship, the series still featured Nelson Piquet, Jr., a highly versatile driver who also made my list, as well as other drivers who are household names among American off-road and rally fans like his Andretti teammate Tanner Foust and Ken Block, and part-timers such as Jeff Ward and Travis Pastrana. The series also has solid TV coverage and increasing participation from IndyCar team owners, with Michael Andretti, Chip Ganassi, and Bryan Herta all regularly entering two cars. He also drove for Andretti's Formula E team, where he earned an impressive 2nd place finish on his debut at Miami, but he struggled in his other three starts.
Cook, the British Touring Car Championship's top rookie, was not somebody who was particularly on my radar until several fans of European motorsport who were more knowledgeable about touring cars than I am strongly recommended his inclusion, but upon review, his accomplishments were indeed notable. Despite being a rookie and driving a three year old chassis in the BTCC, he dominated the 3rd race at Donington Park (albeit in a reverse grid race where he was gifted the pole, but still, he held onto the lead longer than many other drivers did in reverse grid races who had stronger cars), claimed a legitimate 3rd place finish at Rockingham in a race where the starting grid was decided on speed, and scored points in the final race of the season when he had a dislocated shoulder. He also finished higher in points and was faster than his veteran teammate Dave Newsham, a two-time winner on the circuit. He thoroughly annihilated his fellow rookies to win the Jack Sears Trophy, as he was the highest-finishing rookie 22 out of 30 times. While I thought his objective statistics (finishing only 15th in points) were likely a bit of a stretch, and I fear this is creating a bit too much of a Brit bias, I do still acknowledge there is a solid case for him and it's a more interesting choice than alternatives like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or David Reynolds would be anyway, as they were good in great equipment while Cook was great in equipment that was slightly below average.
Cammish's historical level of dominance has been particularly staggering, as in 2013, he had an almost unheard of undefeated season winning all 24 races in the British Formula Ford series (although he sat out the last six races of the season having already clinched the title). This season, now competing in the Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain, he faced a much larger field of about 25 cars per race including Michael Meadows and Josh Webster who won the previous three championships but wasn't much less dominant, winning eleven of his sixteen races and earning 2nd place finishes in all of the others! Meadows and Webster only managed one win each. Cammish's success was noticed outside of England as he also got a start in Porsche SuperCup and four starts in the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany, where he was nowhere near as successful, but it would be a pity if this 26 year old were considered too old to truly be one of the hot up-and-comers in motorsport. Somebody get this man a BTCC ride pronto.
Although the Trans-Am Series was once one of the premier road racing series in the United States from the late '60s to late '90s and was dominated by professional drivers, the series fell apart in the 2000s and went defunct in 2006 before reemerging in 2009 as a more semi-pro class. However, it is in the midst of a bit of a resurgence with 60+ car fields across all four classes, consistently 10+ cars in the premier Trans-Am class, a return to popular venues, and the first television coverage in years (albeit on the little-watched CBS Sports Network). Ruman driving for her family operation had the most dominant season in the series since Scott Pruett in 2003, winning eight out of twelve races and leading on average 41.26% of the laps. Just as with Thompson, even though the series is more of an amateur tour than it used to be, I felt this level of dominance was worthy of recognition. Additionally, Ruman to the best of my knowledge became the first solo female champion of any auto racing series outside drag racing. She claimed wins at several historic venues including Sebring, Road Atlanta, Brainerd, and Daytona.
The young American driver who won the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge championship in 2014 thoroughly dominated the new GT Cup class in the Pirelli World Challenge with thirteen wins in eighteen starts winning at least once on every circuit on the schedule in 2015. He also won sixteen pole positions, led the most laps thirteen times and set the fastest lap of the race fourteen times. Although the class was not the premier class in the series, was just introduced in 2015, and featured three rookies among the six full-time drivers, I still thought that level of dominance was worthy of distinction. Thompson also crossed over to compete in Porsche SuperCup and the Tudor United SportsCar Championship with little success.