F1 2014 Review: Stories of the Season

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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.

Forza Jules

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.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Formula E team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – McLaren Racing

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”