As winter is well and truly upon us and the team’s settle into the comfort of their factories, it is that time of year where fans and commentators assess the year just passed. The title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will quite rightly be remembered as a classic dice, filled with spectacular racing and controversies which even Hollywood scriptwriters would struggle to envisage. The season ended with Lewis Hamilton as World Champion and while he was the favorite to take title glory back in March, the road to Abu Dhabi was certainly a bumpy ride.
|“Lewis Hamilton 2014 Singapore (Before Restart)”
By Morio (photo taken by Morio) [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
A Duel To Savour
In a season where one team has a dominant package, it takes the culmination of a number of factors to provide an entertaining championship battle. As early as the first winter test, it was obvious that Mercedes had a clear advantage over their rivals. In truth, the early mileage merely confirmed what was already assumed – when Lewis Hamilton took the plunge to leave McLaren in favour of the out-of-form squad, it was touted as a move with the new regulations in mind. As such, it was common knowledge that Mercedes had invested significant funds to make a serious tilt at both 2014 titles and the early signs were that this was money well spent.
With an advantage which appeared to be as vast as two seconds a lap at times, it was obvious that the W05 would take Mercedes to their first ever Constructors Title and would more than likely see the outfit scoop a drivers crown. Despite most pre-season predictions siting a Hamilton walk-over, Rosberg played a key role in making 2014 such a memorable campaign. If one driver had demonstrated a clear advantage over the other, the season would suddenly become a disappointment. Instead it was a two horse, gloves off, inter-team duel, likened to Hill and Villeneuve in 1996 and the famous Senna and Prost saga in 1989.
Meanwhile, we have Mercedes to thank for a year where the championship battle captured the attention of the world. The team were within their rights to relieve the tensions by placing restrictions on the tussle, and enforcing team orders. However, even during the fierce battle in Bahrain, the pit-wall stood by their policy of permitting their men to race. Later, the events of Spa posed the greatest threat to this policy and yet we continued to see Hamilton and Rosberg dice for the title, with wheel to wheel racing in Japan, Russia and the USA. Reliability woes may have blotted their copybook in 2014, but this campaign has justified Mercedes’ involvement in the sport and led to rival manufacturers wanting to buy into the formula.
A New Bull Emerges
With Mercedes power proving to be the way forward in 2014, Red Bull were left facing a tough season. With Renault’s powertrain proving to be the donkey of the grid, a troublesome winter in which the reigning champions managed just 1500 miles compared with Mercedes’ 9000, appeared to spell a season in which finishing races would become the main aspiration. Upon reflection, Red Bull Racing have demonstrated the attributes of true champions in 2014, even if they lost their crown to prove it, with a comeback yielding three unlikely victories.
Unquestionably, the pre-season dyno test, completed by Renault and Toro Rosso was a huge aid. It allowed the French manufacturer to arrive at Melbourne with a far greater understanding of how to minimize reliability woes and the fact that three Renault propelled runners finished is testament to the quality of development work they managed to complete between the final pre-season test and the opening round of the season.
It was however an opening round in which Daniel Ricciardo had his first Formula 1 podium snatched away from him. The Aussie sensation suffered an unfortunate fuel flow irregularity which resulted in his disqualification – somewhat of an inevitability at a time when the stewards could ill-afford to be liberal in regards to how fuel restrictions were enforced. In retrospect, this was the only disappointment in an otherwise peerless season for Daniel, which has seen him take three stunning victories, perform awe-inspiring overtaking maneuvers and arguably force the quadruple champion to head to pastures new. His years at Toro Rosso may have been mediocre, but 2014 has seen Ricciardo burst onto the scene and swiftly establish himself as one of the sport’s elite. Unquestionably, my driver of the season.
|“Daniel Ricciardo 2014 Singapore FP2”
By Morio (photo taken by Morio) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Stragglers Turned Challengers
In terms of 2014 success stories, Daniel Ricciardo is perhaps the first name which springs to mind. However, the ever-popular Williams enjoyed an incredible campaign following a 2013 which was nothing short of disastrous. Buoyed by the presence of Pat Symonds at the helm of the technical team, the FW36 was their best entrant in years. The proof of the pudding is in the statistics.
Williams finished third in the constructors standings, gaining significant ground in the final stages of the season where they clearly possessed the second fastest car behind the all-conquering Mercedes. Their final tally of 320 points was more than double their tally from the past four seasons combined. In addition, their double podium finish in Abu Dhabi was the team’s first since Monaco 2005 and Felipe Massa’s Pole Position in Austria was the only occasion across the course of the season where Mercedes failed to take the spoils on Saturday.
Valtteri Bottas was also a figure who emerged from midfield obscurity this season, proving to be Mr-Dependable for the team. Never, has the term old-head on young shoulders been more justified. His drive to a career best second place in Germany was a perfect showcase of Valtteri’s composure. Despite the advances of Hamilton in the closing stages, Valtteri drove faultlessly and equipped with the infallible straight line speed of the Williams, Bottas maintained his position. It is therefore no surpirse that Ferrari are reportedly talking to the young Finn as a potential replacement for a potentially soon-to-be-outgoing Finn in 2016.
Previous Power-Players Left Floundering
Ferrari and McLaren, two of the sport’s most evocative and successful names, will certainly not look back on 2014 with fond memories in years to come. Both had hugely disappointing seasons – for the latter it was their second in succession, despite a promising start which saw them claim a double podium finish in Melbourne.
McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen followed in the footsteps of Sergio Perez in being ejected from the team after just one season and following his exciting exploits in Australia, Magnussen was decidedly average throughout the season. Perhaps he set the bar too high too early on, but the Dane failed to live up to the billing. Where he did show signs of his potential was in qualifying, with his performances in Germany, Britain and Italy all highlighting this raw speed. However, scoring just 55 points compared to Jenson Button’s 126 was surely a factor in McLaren’s decision to move the youngster to a reserve role. He has been beaten quite conclusively in 2014, yet Magnussen is definitely deserving of another season at some point – whether he will get another chance remains to be seen, with both Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries knocking on Dennis’ door.
Meanwhile, Ferrari have also suffered another disappointing season – one which made their 2013 campaign look like a success. Evidently, issues within Maranello facilitated the underwhelming F14T – a car named by the fans and one which ultimately frustrated the Tifosi all year long. During the winter, reports suggest that the aero department advised the powertrain department to place the battery closer to the floor in order to allow them to achieve better air-flow around the car. It was assumed that the aero benefits would compensate for any power deficits, yet this was not the case. Both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen struggled throughout the season with an erratic power-delivery, coupled by an engine which was decidedly thirstier than its adversaries. While a number of high profile names within the team have paid for the 2014 failures, it remains to be seen whether Ferrari can turn their fortunes around in the near future as homologation regulations will restrict their development potential. Their fate, in the present at least, lies in engine politics.
|“Fernando Alonso 2014 British GP 002”
By Jake Archibald (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Lotus’ Limp Through 2014
The Enstone based outfit also suffered an underwhelming 2014 season, as the team who previously enjoyed two race winning campaigns in 2012 and 2013, were brought back down to earth with a bang. The financial issues upon which the squad ended 2013, evidently hampered their winter programme and as a result, the E22 arrived late and never really recovered.
The twin-tusk nose design was certainly unique and as such, stole the pre-season headlines. What it lacked in aesthetics, Lotus hoped it would make up for in aero benefits, but ultimately the concept was a failed one and the team ended development on it early in order to concentrate on the 2015 nose regulations, which will see all teams adopt the design pioneered by Mercedes and Ferrari this season. Lotus seem to be ahead in terms of development as they brought a prototype of the new nose to FP1 in Austin.
However, the nose design was not the only issue with the car. Powered by the flawed Renault unit, Lotus suffered reliability failures aplenty, throughout the season, starting with the double ERS failure in Australia and culminating in Maldonado’s turbo failure in Abu Dhabi. Meanwhile, the E22 was also plagued by brake-by-wire issues, which were particularly poignant in Italy. Neither Grosjean nor Maldonado had any confidence on the brakes and this was clear to see. The light at the end of the tunnel for Lotus is that they await Mercedes power in 2015.
Despite the nature of the title fight and the thrilling wheel-to-wheel action, 2014 was not without its dark days. Marussia’s Jules Bianchi remains in everyone’s thoughts as he continues his recovery from a diffuse axonal injury sustained in an accident during the Japanese Grand Prix. Bianchi’s crash put the sport into perspective and has prompted an investigation into safety procedures, to ensure that such an incident will never happen again.
Prior to his accident, Bianchi brought joy to his team by securing their first ever points, after he battled hard to secure P9 at Monaco. The scenes following the triumph were unrivaled, with even Mercedes’ celebrations looking minor in comparison. It was a glorious moment for a team who have suffered agony in the past. Unfortunately, Bianchi’s accident and falling into administration has cast a huge shadow over 2014 and now, both Marussia and fellow stragglers Caterham are likely to become the 136th and 137th names on the list of F1 teams to depart the sport.
Driver of the Year
What more needs to be said about the Aussie sensation. His race craft this season has been hugely impressive, with his maneuvers in Hungary being particularly impressive – overtaking two of the sport’s most highly esteemed drivers in double quick time to literally take the win. The race oppitimised Ricciardo’s first season at Red Bull.
Team of the Year
Many fans would place Mercedes ahead of Williams in regards to this accolade and there is unquestionably justification for doing so, but in my opinion, the transformation of Williams in the past 12 months has been remarkable. The recovery began at the end of 2013, highlighted by Valtteri Bottas’ heroics in Austin, yet no-one could have anticipated that they would enjoy such a successful 2014 on the back of a season which yielded just two points scoring finishes and a measly five points. P3 in the constructors standings and possessing the second fastest car by the end of the campaign, Williams will be strong contenders in 2015 if they can maintain their rate of improvement.
Overtake of the Year
FERNANDO ALONSO vs Sebastian Vettel at Silvertsone
Not just one of the overtakes of the season, but one of the best overtakes I have ever seen. Battles between Alonso and Vettel are always full of dogged determination and superb skill, yet the battle which they served up for the British fans was a blockbuster. While it was full of awe-inspiring overtakes, Alonso’s move around the outside of Vettel at Copse is my overtake of the season, as it took supreme bravery and ingenuity to pull off. There are few superlatives which could be used to do the move justice.
Start of the Year
Lewis Hamilton at Abu Dhabi
In terms of coping with pressure, Lewis Hamilton is surely an expert after this season and his start at Abu Dhabi demonstrated his raw nerve and focus. It was one of the best launches I have ever seen and in the circumstances, well worthy of the accolade. Felipe Massa’s start in Bahrain is worth a notable mention, but Hamilton’s title defining launch in the showdown set the benchmark for those looking to hook up the perfect start in a high pressure situation.
Moment of the Year
Daniel Ricciardo winning the Canadian Grand Prix
Heading into the Canadian Grand Prix, it looked as though the unstoppable success story that was Mercedes would not be usurped from the top step of the podium for an entire 19 race campaign, but as they faltered, Ricciardo had other ideas. In a race which came down to the wire, Ricciardo took his chance and delivered Red Bull their first win of the season and his first ever Grand Prix victory.
Comedy Moment of the Year
“I’m A Driver”
It seems a long time ago now, but back in March, it seems that Lewis Hamilton was not as well known as he is now. Following his early breakdown in FP1 at Australia, a frustrated Hamilton made his way back to the paddock, only to be stopped at the turnstiles by an overzealous security guard who asked for his paddock pass. Lewis’ response of “i’m a driver” was comedy gold. However, in hindsight, we should praise the security guard – after all, he was doing his job properly.
Its now New Year’s Eve and 2014 is coming to a close. It has been a year of spectacular racing and a championship fight which would not look out of place on the big screen. Hamilton has ended the year as champion of the world once again and becomes one of an elite four British drivers to have won the championship on multiple occasions.
I hope you have all enjoyed reading my content this year and I look forward to analyzing this incredible sport again in 2015.
Happy New Year everyone.