With just seven races to go, the end of the 2014 Formula 1 season is closer than you might think. It has been a sensational year so far, and with Lewis and Nico set to go toe-to-toe until the very last round in Abu Dhabi, the title race could be one of the closest we have ever seen.
Just behind the duelling Mercedes drivers, though, a number of interesting subplots are developing. Red Bull’s rise from off-season no-hopers to three-time race winners has been very impressive, made even more so by the fact that Daniel Ricciardo has been the man to lead the team’s charge – not Sebastian Vettel. The defending world champions look set to finish second in the constructors’.
For Ferrari and Williams though, things aren’t so certain. Both teams are pushing to finish the season in third place, and must balance this bid with the diversion of resources to next year’s campaign. It’s a common trade-off in F1: do you finish the season strongly or stand a better chance of winning next year?
As things stand, Ferrari leads Williams by ten points (160 plays 150) for P3, but you would be forgiven for expecting a reverse result following the Belgian Grand Prix. In fact, I even contemplated the idea of Williams finishing ahead of Red Bull over the summer break. However, the team missed a big opportunity at Spa which, coupled with Daniel Ricciardo’s superb win, appears to leave that thesis dead in the water.
Williams’ big strength comes on the straights thanks to the grunt of the Mercedes engine and the design of the FW36 car. Valtteri Bottas passed Nico Rosberg twice at Spa because of this (although he did trail the championship leader home at the flag). The track also played against Ferrari, and when Fernando Alonso began to drop back through the field, the team looked resigned to lose position in the constructors’ championship once again.
In the end, it was Kimi Raikkonen – a man many thought had given up – who came to the rescue, finishing fourth to minimize the damage of Bottas’ podium finish. Alonso brought home a small haul of points down in seventh, while Felipe Massa’s race was ruined when debris from Lewis Hamilton’s car got caught in his Williams. He limped home in 13th place. If Lewis thinks he’s been unlucky this year, he ought to see what Felipe has been contesting with!
So Williams’ net loss at Spa was three points. Considering where the team was in 2013, it is remarkable that it even has Ferrari in sight, but this does put some extra pressure on the team for the race at Monza next weekend. The circuit is the fastest on the calendar, and should be a very happy hunting ground for those with a Mercedes engine. Bottas and Massa know that they must leave Ferrari’s home turf with third place in the constructors’ tucked under their arm.
As for Ferrari? Finishing fourth would be a great shame for the team that was expected to be Mercedes’ closest rival in 2014. However, it could have even bigger implications: rumour has it that Fernando Alonso has a get-out clause in his contract if the team finishes lower than P3 in the standings. With McLaren sniffing, Ferrari has a lot to fight for if said speculation is indeed true.
Just like the fight for the drivers’ title, you can expect this battle to run until the end of the season.