Top 10 FIA WEC LMP1 drivers of 2015

Motorsport.com's endurance racing correspondent Sam Smith picks out his top 10 LMP1 full-timers from the World Endurance Championship in 2015.

Top 10 FIA WEC LMP1 drivers of 2015
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
Marc Lieb, Porsche Team
Marc Lieb, Porsche Team
#18 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport Team Joest
#8 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis
Romain Dumas, Porsche Team
#18 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
Marcel Fässler, Audi Sport Team Joest
Marcel Fässler, Audi Sport Team Joest
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer
Benoît Tréluyer, Audi Sport Team Joest
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer
2015 champion Mark Webber celebrates
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
2015 champions Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard, Porsche Team
Neel Jani, Porsche Team
#18 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
Brendon Hartley, Porsche Team
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
André Lotterer, Audi Sport Team Joest
Andre Lotterer, Audi Sport Team Joest
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer
Timo Bernhard, Porsche Team
Fritz Enzinger, Head of Department LMP1 Porsche Team with Timo Bernhard, Porsche Team
#1 Toyota Racing Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima, #2 Toyota Racing Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway
#1 Toyota Racing Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima
Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis
#8 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis
LMP1 podium: class and overall winners Porsche Team: Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber celebrate
#47 KCMG ORECA 05: Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley, Nick Tandy
LMP1 podium: class and overall winners Porsche Team: Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber, second place Porsche Team: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley, third place Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer

10.  Marc Lieb

Porsche #18

As technical and understanding of these amazingly complex cars as any driver on the grid, Marc Lieb was a vital component in the incredible steps of development that Porsche took from 2014 to 2015.

There are those that suggest he is not an out-and-out racer. They obviously didn’t see his superb recovery drive through the field at Shanghai after tangling with Lotterer.

He wasn’t as quick as Romain Dumas and Neel Jani for most of the races, especially at Le Mans, but that was relatively inconsequential compared to the other precious attributes he possesses.

9.  Lucas di Grassi

Audi #8

The cerebral Brazilian is, on paper, the complete endurance driver. In the car, he has the capacities to cover everything off and he usually does.

His impressive performances this season have been masked slightly by poor luck in terms of reliability but also having to play rear gunner for the #7 car from Nurburgring onward.

LDG is a class act and, when all the stars are aligned, the rest of the grid had better watch out.

8.  Romain Dumas

Porsche #18

Not far away from teammate Jani’s benchmark pace, Dumas had perhaps his best season for many years in 2015.

His experience and pace are vital for Porsche and his technical understanding and ability to think on the limit are perhaps the best of his peers.

Dumas’ pole lap at Nurburgring was a highlight in a year where he performed brilliantly, but where his and his teammates’ efforts were not always rewarded.

7.  Marcel Fassler

Audi #7

Still quick, still brilliant and a thoroughbred racer. The Swiss ace’s partnership with Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer probably ascended new heights in 2015.

Fassler’s input in to the ’15-spec R18 e-tron quattro was immeasurable and his application at the wheel as good as ever.

Fassler’s battle with Jani at Silverstone and then Lieb at Fuji were among the most entertaining racing ever seen at this level, and almost works of art in itself, especially in terms of spatial judgement. It was an unforgettable dice, one in which both will be remembered for their excellence in combat.

6.  Benoit Treluyer

Audi #7

The Frenchman was back, and bang on form in ’15 after a slightly patchy 2014 season. His heroics at Spa on old tyres defending the lead from Porsche made for one of the most thrilling pieces of driving of the season, and one of the most brilliantly executed too.

Anyone thinking that Treluyer was cruising into the last few years of his top-line endurance career in 2014 can take a back seat now. His race craft was exquisitely firm but fair and he revelled in the heat of battle, particularly with Lieb at Bahrain.

It was super difficult choosing between Treluyer and the man who eventually beat him to the fifth spot in this list - and, in all honesty, they should probably be sharing it.

5.  Mark Webber

Porsche #17

Webber’s qualities as an elite racing driver and all-round good bloke have been praised from the heavens for many a year and rightly so.

What was more interesting in 2015 was to see him settle in to a role as a senior commander of the #17 team, and thus forge a wide ranging remit in developing the ’15-spec Porsche 919 Hybrid to an impeccable and unbeatable standard.

The title garnered in Bahrain was as deserved as ever could be for a driver who brings so much more than just star quality, humility and a solid sporting ethic.

Yes, there are still nagging questions about his outright pace at Le Mans, but this campaign showed that Webber is enjoying his racing more than at perhaps any other stage of his magnificent career.

4.  Neel Jani

Porsche #18

The quickest driver in the #18 Porsche, Jani was just as good as he was in 2014 – his annus mirabilis. This season was stymied by nagging reliability issues and playing the team game for #17 from COTA onward.

Jani was mighty at Le Mans, taking a ‘sonic boom’ of a pole position which will be remembered for a very long time. He’ll be super hungry in 2016 and, when he and his team mates get the rub of the green, the opposition will need to work extra hard to keep in touch.

The win in Bahrain was the very least that the #18 crew deserved from a difficult season.

3.  Brendon Hartley

Porsche #17

Hartley was fantastic in 2015. A small error while leading at Spa apart, he had a season straight from the top drawer.

Pace-wise, the Kiwi was probably the most consistently excellent, and his opening stint in Shanghai, in difficult conditions, was a career highlight.

The New Zealander is humble and affable out of the cockpit and a firm favourite with media and fans alike. He is rapidly growing into an endurance driver that could achieve and win whatever his limitless talent will allow.

2.  Andre Lotterer

Audi #7

He’s the standout performer of his generation and a fully paid up member of an exclusive club that includes the true greats of endurance. Andre Lotterer was as good as ever in 2015, and Audi needed him to be, after Porsche's advantage became painfully clear.

Waxing lyrical about Lotterer’s peerless raw speed and sensational ruthlessness through traffic has been done many times before. Quite often what people don’t see are his development cues and the detailed and committed manner in which he operates with the Audi engineers.

He’s not only a driving force behind the wheel, but also in the debrief and evaluation process too. An invaluable asset to Audi and sportscar racing in general.

1.  Timo Bernhard

Porsche #17

Cut him and he’ll bleed Porsche. The lynchpin of the success of 2015, Bernhard’s easy manner and likeable approach out of the car belies a dedicated and multi-faceted driver in it.

His season was sublime, illustrated with superb pace, laser-precision/risk analysis through traffic and remarkable consistency. He may not have been quite as quick as Hartley on most occasions, but he wasn’t far away.

It was the aggregated wisdom, racing nous and behind-the-scenes commitment that make him the must-have LMP1 driver in 2015.

The rest

Toyota’s travails have been well documented this season. They made a jump from their stellar 2014 but it wasn’t as ‘Bob Beamon-esque’ as the giant leaps made by Audi and Porsche.

Therefore, as they were effectively competing in their own sub-class in 2015, it is somewhat difficult to gauge its drivers fairly and adequately. What goes without saying is that all six of them were still the same excellent, quick pros that we saw in 2014.

They would have been forgiven for losing an edge as the season progressed but intra-team rivalries and contract renewals soon put paid to any heads going down.

Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson were again magnificent, while Kazuki Nakajima came back from his vertebrae-cracking Spa shunt emphatically.

We waved goodbye to Alex Wurz, while Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin provided adequate back-up in a season which was effectively over in terms of outright prospect by the end of qualifying at Spa.

Conway had a challenging but eventually solid first full season and deserves another crack with Toyota in 2016.

Fellow Brit Oliver Jarvis, meanwhile, had a sound debut season with Audi, showing flashes of the abundant ability we know he possesses. But if there was one area Jarvis took time to adapt to, it was carving effectively through traffic. He should mature in to a very good top-liner in 2016.

With the brunt of the reliability problems and being de facto number two, as the Lotterer/Fassler/Treluyer Audi fought tooth and nail with Porsche, Loic Duval somewhat unfairly misses out on a top 10 place.

The Frenchman was as quick as ever in 2015, although slightly off his team mates at Le Mans, where he fell foul of an extraordinary set of circumstances with the accident he suffered early on.

Elsewhere, Duval’s pace was stellar and he remains a key part of Audi’s potent arsenal of driver talent.

Last but by no means least are Nick Tandy, Nico Hulkenberg and Earl Bamber. All three were sensational at Le Mans and reaped the rewards of a faultless display.

Tandy, in particular, has been a revelation to all bar those who saw some of his extraordinary performances in his early career.

It would not be fair to include them in this evaluation but all three richly deserve to have their names etched in to the history books after an astonishing weekend at Le Mans in June.

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