As part of MotorSportsTalk’s review of the 2014 Formula 1 season, we’ve decided to pick out some of the big stories that dominated the headlines – for better or for worse – across the course of what was a memorable year.
Last weekend in Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton clinched his second world championship, winning what looks set to be the only double points round in F1 history as title rival Nico Rosberg was hit with an engine issue.
As the curtain was drawn on their bitter fight for the championship, a number of other scores and stories were also settled in Abu Dhabi, all playing a part in one of the most dramatic, emotional and tenuous F1 seasons since the turn of the century.
Here are some of the big stories in Formula 1 this season.
Mercedes’ domination from the very beginning
Heading into 2014, it was widely reported and assumed that Mercedes had produced the best power unit and would be the team to beat. Said reports and assumptions turned out to be true, but few could have predicted the level of dominance that the Silver Arrows would enjoy this year.
New records were set for the most pole positions and wins by a team in a single season, as well as a record haul in the constructors’ championship. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg arguably should have enjoyed a perfect season, only for minor blips in Canada, Hungary and Belgium to spoil that record.
However, this will still be remembered for years to come as one of the most dominant performances F1 has ever seen.
Hamilton versus Rosberg – an all-time classic title fight
Sure, it wasn’t a Senna/Prost, but it was still a sensational fight between the two Mercedes teammates for the world title. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg battled to the last for this championship, with all of the typical emotions and drama that come with a scuffle like this cropping up across the course of the season.
After racing as teammates in go-karts, both drivers dreamed of racing together in F1 and fighting for the title. This year, it became a reality, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. The intra-team relationship was tested on a number of occasions, boiling over at Spa when the two made contact.
Come the end of the year, it was Hamilton who was victorious, but Rosberg acted with great dignity and grace in accepting his title defeat. It was a clean end to the season – thankfully, it did not have the Senna/Prost element in that regard. The best part of it is that they’ll both be back for more in 2015.
The emergence of Ricciardo and Bottas
From the first race of the year in Australia, it was clear that both Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas would enjoy a very different season in 2014 to their rather difficult 2013 campaigns. Come the end of the year, they finished third and fourth in the drivers’ championship respectively, with only the Mercedes duo ranking higher.
Ricciardo’s three victories were sensational, picking up the pieces from Mercedes’ problems in Canada and Belgium, with his win in Hungary coming as a result of good strategy and some classy driving. Arguably, Bottas should have also won a race this year, running the Mercedes drivers close on a number of occasions but never quite reaching the top step of the podium.
Keep an eye out for both of these drivers next year. If their teams produce the goods, we could be seeing F1’s two biggest breakout stars standing on the top step of the podium many more times.
Sebastian Vettel’s tame title defence
Few would have predicted that Sebastian Vettel would put up such a tame and lifeless defence after winning four straight world championship. The German failed to get to grips with the RB10 car, scoring just three podium finishes and leading just a single lap across the course of the year – down from 684 in 2013.
As Ricciardo flourished across the season, Vettel continued to struggle, dropping the ball in both Canada and Belgium when there was a chance of winning. He just didn’t seem to be comfortable at any point in 2014.
Next year will see the German move to Ferrari, following in Michael Schumacher’s footsteps and giving him the chance to build a team around him. Although he may have been anonymous for much of 2014, he is a four-time champion for a reason. Don’t go writing Seb off just yet…
Reform and revolution at Ferrari
2014 was supposed to be a year that favored works teams – that is, those who make their own engines – suggesting that if any team could put up a fight to Mercedes, it would be Ferrari.
Instead, the Italian marque recorded its worst season in 22 years, scoring just two podium finishes as its internal change overshadowed its on-track efforts.
The regime that had been set up in the post-Schumacher/Todt/Brawn years was dismantled across the course of the year. Team principal Stefano Domenicali left in April, making way for Marco Mattiacci. On Monday though, it was confirmed that Mattiacci had been fired after just seven months in charge, with Maurizio Arrivabene taking over.
Perhaps the two biggest departures were those of Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo – after over 20 years at the top – and lead driver Fernando Alonso, who is set to move to McLaren after five title-less years at Maranello.
The Ferrari that exits 2014 is a very different team to the one that entered it. With Vettel now leading its charge and the first James Allison-designed car set to run in 2015, a new era is beginning at Maranello.
The shadow of double points
Ever since the FIA confirmed last winter that it would be awarding double points for the final race of the season in a bid to keep the title race alive, the F1 community has been shaking its head in dismay. It was, to quote John Surtees, a “commercial gimmick”. It was purely designed to help boost TV ratings that had only dropped because of the sport’s decision to move away from free-to-air broadcasters in France and China.
In the end, double points had no say whatsoever in the title race, nor did it keep it alive for longer. It didn’t do what it set out to do, aiding just two drivers – Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez – in the final standings.
Thankfully, this rule is set to be canned for 2015 along with the standing restarts proposal, but it was still a big story and concern for the season that has been.
F1’s governance and the financial crisis
According to Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn, double points was an idea that came from the F1 Strategy Group, a ‘big boys’ club consisting of the major players in the sport: Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and Lotus.
And after its first full season, the Strategy Group appears to have caused many problems, with the refusal to cut costs putting F1 into a major crisis that saw the loss of both Caterham and Marussia towards the end of the year.
Although Caterham did manage to get back on the grid for Abu Dhabi, the damage had been done. Jobs had been lost and the very future of F1 as we know it – that is, a grid with 11 teams of two cars – appeared to be at serious risk, with three-car teams being proposed by many.
Entering the winter, this story is one that is ‘to be continued’ – we still don’t know what the future holds for Force India, Lotus and Sauber, nor do we know if Caterham can, in a new guise, get back on the grid for 2015. However, it is a very grave issue, and one that the sport does need to sit up and take note of.
This is a story none of us could ever have envisaged nor wished for. Jules Bianchi’s horrific accident towards the end of the Japanese Grand Prix in October put a cloud over the 2014 season, with the Frenchman suffering severe head injuries that left him fighting for his life in hospital.
As per the latest update, Bianchi has been moved to a hospital in his native France and is no longer in an artificial coma. However, we continue to send all of our thoughts, prayers, love and support to Jules and his family.
Tous avec toi, Jules.
Of course, these are just some of the biggest stories we’ve seen this year. Honorable mentions must go to:
- Michael Schumacher’s continued recovery from his skiing accident.
- Gene Haas’ successful bid to join the sport with his own team in 2016.
- Max Verstappen’s arrival on the F1 scene ahead of his debut next year.
- Difficult years for Sauber and Lotus both on and off track.
- The successful return of the Austrian Grand Prix.
- Caterham’s supposed sale by Tony Fernandes
- Susie Wolff’s successful F1 weekend debut in the summer.
- A solid first running of the Russian Grand Prix under difficult circumstances.
- Bahrain’s reinvention as a night race.
It’s been a big year for F1. Let’s hope that 2015 is just as memorable, only this time, for all of the right reasons.