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F1 2014 mid-season report: The story so far and the story to come

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2014 was supposed to be the year that everything changed. Following an overhaul of the technical regulations and the downsize from the V8 engines to V6 turbo power units, Formula 1 was meant to be turned on its head following Sebastian Vettel’s domination of the past four world championships.

However, we still have one team dominating proceedings once again, and a German driver leads the world championship. Forget Red Bull and Vettel though; this year has been all about Mercedes.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have been given a car fit for a king, taking them to a total of nine wins and ten pole positions in eleven races. The Mercedes drivers have pulled clear of the field at the top of the drivers’ championship, but with just eleven points separating them, their championship battle looks set to rage on until the final round in Abu Dhabi.

It’s been an eventful season so far, featuring civil wars, winning smiles, flying and floundering Finns, barrel rolls, fallen champions and days for the underdog – to name but a few.

In the third and final part of MotorSportsTalk’s mid-season F1 review – find part one and part two here – we take a look at the storylines that have defined the season so far and consider what may dominate the headlines over the next four months.

THE STORY SO FAR

New year, new regulations, new order?

When the new season got underway in Australia, there were big questions about the reliability of the new cars after a difficult winter. The FIA even had to confirm what would happen if all 22 cars retired from the race. Thankfully, we’ve only seen a marginal increase in technical problems (as to be expected with a regulation change), and the new formula – whilst splitting opinion in areas such as sound – has been good. There hasn’t been a truly ‘dull’ race so far this year, so does the sport really need changing?

Does Formula 1 need fixing?

This has been one of the most annoying storylines of the season so far. Following the big change in the regulations, a number of figures within the sport – most notably, Luca di Montezemolo – have called for further action to be take. To quote the Ferrari president, we need to “correct this wrong turn”. He rocked up in Bahrain and said that the sport had been reduced to taxi cab racing, only for the drivers to put on a show under the lights. He left before the race finished.

So now attention has turned back to a possible cost cap – or, more accurately, an impossible cost cap. There is still a great gulf between the rich and the not-so-rich in F1, and it only looks set to remain. The focus on ‘improving the show’ has yielded controversial ideas such as double points in Abu Dhabi and standing restarts for 2015. Shouldn’t we let the racing speak for itself?

Mercedes dominate, but civil war comes close

As touched upon in the introduction, Mercedes has been the omnipotent force in Formula 1 so far this season thanks to the imperious W05 Hybrid car. It looks certain to win the constructors’ championship, and either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg will most likely be crowned world champion come the end of the season.

However, tensions boiled over in Monaco when Hamilton accused Rosberg of deliberately ruining his qualifying and said they were no longer friends. Then, they were friends again. Now, things appear to be bubbling under after Hamilton ignored team orders in Hungary to stop Rosberg from passing him.

Red Bull’s title defence falls apart as Dan shines

Red Bull’s hopes of a fifth straight championship double appeared to be over before we even got to Melbourne, so it comes as little surprise to see the team battling to even finish on the podium. The RB10 car itself is pretty sound, but the Renault power unit has been well down on power compared to its Mercedes and Ferrari counterparts.

As Sebastian Vettel has struggled, Daniel Ricciardo has flourished, winning two races in Canada and Hungary. The Australian may have the best smile in F1, but he is quickly establishing himself as a driver to keep an eye on as a future champion.

Ferrari flounders; Williams soars

Talk about a tale of two seasons. 2014 was meant to be the season of the works team: a straight fight between Ferrari and Mercedes. Mercedes kept its end of the bargain, but Ferrari has been anonymous for much of the season. Fernando Alonso continues to fly the flag for the team, dragging the car to two podium finishes so far this season, yet Kimi Raikkonen’s form has kept the team from battling against Red Bull; that, and the F14 T car.

As for Williams, it could not have gone much differently. The team has leaped up the standings. After Hungary last year, it had one point; this time around, it has 135. Valtteri Bottas has shone for the team, and Felipe Massa would be a lot higher up the standings had it not been for some bad luck. The team is perhaps the most likely to challenge Red Bull for second place in the constructors’.

THE STORY TO COME

Will it be Lewis or Nico?

It’s pretty clear that one of the two Mercedes drivers will be crowned world champion come the end of the season, but the question is who? Rosberg has an eleven point lead with just eight races to go, although Hamilton appears to have the momentum after his comeback drive in Hungary. As we saw there, team relations aren’t 100% happy, either; will it end in tears for Mercedes, or will the best man truly win the 2014 Formula 1 world championship?

Double trouble in Abu Dhabi

When it was confirmed that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would be a double points round, the F1 community cried out in pain. It was ridiculous; an abomination; a joke. However, it is happening. The race at Yas Marina at the end of November will see the winner claim 50 points for a race win.

Given how closely Hamilton and Rosberg have been matched so far this season, it’s likely that double points will settle things. However, it remains to be seen just how scandalous it is up and down the championship. If a driver were to win the world title because of double points alone, it would be a great shame for the sport.

The fight to be best of the rest

Mercedes may be on track to finish as top dog in 2014, but there is an enthralling battle developing just behind the Silver Arrows. Red Bull, Williams and Ferrari are all battling to finish second in the constructors’ championship, whilst Force India and McLaren look set to scrap over fifth and sixth place. All of the teams have looked impressive at one point or another this season, and it could be another battle that is settled under the lights at Yas Marina.

Marussia, Caterham and Sauber fight for the small points

P9, P10 and P11 may not appear to mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it could in fact mean the difference between millions and millions of dollars in prize money for the bottom three teams. Marussia currently leads the way after Jules Bianchi’s charge to ninth in Monaco, but Sauber has the quickest car and needs to record a top ten finish in the next eight races to avoid its worst ever season in F1.

For Caterham, the fallout following its change in ownership looks set to continue, but upgrades have been promised for Spa. It could prove to be a masterstroke or an expensive error for the new backers. Either way, the fight between these three teams is only set to continue.

Silly season should sort itself out

The driver market for the 2015 season isn’t close to being sorted just yet, but there are plenty of rumors to get your teeth into. Alonso to McLaren? Vettel to Mercedes? Bottas to McLaren? Who knows. What we do know is that by next March, we will be sure of who will be on the grid for the 2015 F1 season, although we should hopefully see how it unfolds in the coming few months. Keep an eye on the seats at Ferrari and McLaren; they’re the keys to next season’s driver market.

Raikkonen: P4 in Russian GP qualifying ‘better than nothing’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen says that qualifying fourth for the Russian Grand Prix is “better than nothing” after struggling to get to grips with his Ferrari SF16-H car at the Sochi Autodrom.

Raikkonen finished fourth in Saturday’s Q3 session, and will move up to third place on the grid for tomorrow’s race thanks to Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty.

Despite being in a position to lead the Italian marque’s charge against Mercedes and make the most of Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalty, Raikkonen was far from jubilant after qualifying.

The Finn had been set to take third in Q3, only to make a mistake on his final qualifying lap that meant he was unable to improve his time, leaving him P4 at the checkered flag.

“The whole weekend has been tricky: for whatever reason, I struggled all the time to put one decent lap together,” Raikkonen said.

“In qualifying it was a bit better, but I was still fighting with the front end in a few places. It could have been good enough for a second or a third place on the grid, but on my last lap I completely missed the last corner and slid away.

“Obviously I’m a disappointed with what happened, but considering how difficult it has been, this result it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing.

“At least we are in third place at the start, we’ll see what happens tomorrow, I think in the race it’s going to be better.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Williams’ updates take Bottas to P2 on Russian GP grid

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Valtteri Bottas’ hopes of ending his difficult start to the 2016 Formula 1 season were given a boost after he qualified third for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday in Sochi.

Bottas scored just seven points in the opening three races of the year, but said earlier this week that he was confident that an upturn in fortunes was not far away.

Williams brought a number of new parts to Sochi for the race in a bid to get back in front of Red Bull in the pecking order, and they appear to have the desired effect in qualifying on Saturday.

Bottas qualified third with teammate Felipe Massa finishing fifth, but both will gain a place on the grid by virtue of Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty.

“Very good qualifying, really pleased how it all went,” Bottas said.

“This weekend has been very positive. We have some new bits on the car and the car has been feeling better. It’s also a good track for us.

“I’m glad we could maximise the qualifying today. Pleased with that, but it’s tomorrow what counts.

“So far my Sundays haven’t been so great, but I’m sure tomorrow we have a chance to have a good one.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Vettel: No frustration over Ferrari’s lack of reliability

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel does not feel frustrated about Ferrari’s reliability problems at the start of the 2016 Formula 1 season, saying “it’s part of racing”.

Ferrari entered 2016 hopeful of mounting a serious challenge to the all-conquering Mercedes team, only for issues on its cars in Australia and Bahrain to limit it to a one-car finish.

Vettel’s plight continued on Friday in Russia when an issue forced him to stop out on track during practice, ultimately resulting in a gearbox change and a grid penalty.

Vettel qualified second at the Sochi Autodrom on Saturday behind pole-sitter Nico Rosberg, but will drop back to seventh for the start of the race.

“Of course I would have liked the gap in the end to have been a bit smaller but we saw in Q2 Nico in particular was very strong getting the lap in,” Vettel said.

“I think for us it was the maximum. We benefitted from what happened to Lewis [Hamilton]. I’m not sure what exactly it was, but it allowed us to go P2 which helps tomorrow with the penalty.

“We’re a bit closer starting on the clean side of the track. I think we can have a good race from there. It should be quite exciting. The car feels good. I think all weekend has been quite strong. We lost some time, but I think we made it up this morning so it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Vettel said that he does not feel frustrated about Ferrari’s reliability issues, saying that there is still a long way to go in the season.

“Not frustrated at all. Obviously it’s not nice if these things happen because they don’t make your life easier,” Vettel said.

“But equally it’s part of racing. These things can happen. They didn’t happen on purpose, they weren’t planned. We’re been pushing very hard to try and catch up which I think especially in race pace we’ve proven already this year.

“Obviously we didn’t have a properly clean race yet this year. Maybe we’ll have tomorrow, you never know, it’s a long race and a long way especially around here. There’s a lot of things that can happen.

“I think we have to wait and see. It’s still April, tomorrow is May, and there’s a long, long way to go. It’s a long championship. It’s important to do your best to get the maximum points every single time and the rest you’ll find out anyway.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton set to start 10th in Russia as luckless run continues

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Lewis Hamilton’s run of bad luck continued in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday as an issue on his power unit prevented him from taking part in the final session.

Hamilton has slipped 36 points behind Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg after the first three races of the 2016 season, with an issue on his power unit forcing him to start last in China two weeks ago.

Hamilton arrived in Sochi hopeful of cutting the gap to Rosberg, and looked set to run the German close for pole position on Saturday afternoon.

After lapping almost half a second slower than Rosberg in Q2, Hamilton was sent back out by Mercedes later in the session despite not being at risk of losing his place in Q3.

It soon unfolded that Hamilton was in fact heading out to test his power unit, and he soon reported a loss of power similar to the one that prevented him from taking part in qualifying for the Chinese GP.

As a result, Mercedes had to bring Hamilton into the pits and end his day after Q2, leaving him 10th in the final qualifying classification.

While Rosberg was able to ease to his second pole position of the season, Hamilton was left deflated, telling reporters: “I went out at the end of Q2 to get a feel and I lost the same power as I lost in China.

“There’s nothing I can do. I never give up.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday.