F1 2014 Season Review: MotorSportsTalk’s Driver Rankings

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As part of MotorSportsTalk review of the 2014 Formula 1 season, we’ve compiled a complete ranking of the drivers that raced this year, following on from our mid-season review after the Hungarian Grand Prix. Who has moved up and who has dropped in the second half of the year?

We have decided to omit both Will Stevens and Andre Lotterer from the final rankings given that they only took part in one race each (and, in Lotterer’s case, one lap).

Without further ado, here are the driver rankings for 2014 – let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes

We must start with the champion. Hamilton called his title win in Abu Dhabi “the greatest day of my life”, and rightly so. Whereas some may have doubted whether he was truly the best driver in 2008, this year, there was no question about it. 11 wins and never finishing off the podium when he saw the flag, Lewis was the undisputed king of F1 in 2014.

Season Highlight: Fighting back from P4 to win the Italian Grand Prix at Monza – an important psychological victory.

2. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull

Few could have predicted Daniel Ricciardo’s incredible first season with Red Bull that saw him claim three opportunistic wins at Mercedes’ expense. The affable Australian brought a sense of fun to the paddock once again in 2014, leading Red Bull’s charge and outclassing Sebastian Vettel across the course of the year.

Season Highlight: Dominating the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa after Hamilton and Rosberg clashed.

3. Valtteri Bottas Williams

After a difficult rookie year, his sophomore season brought Valtteri Bottas far better things. Six podium finishes and running the Mercedes drivers close on a number of occasions, the flying Finn led Williams’ revival in 2014, and has marked himself as a possible future world champion.

Season Highlight: Finishing second at the British Grand Prix after dropping out in Q1.

4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes

Given that he ran Hamilton close for the title, it may seem harsh to rank Nico Rosberg down in fourth place. He did unquestionably enjoy his best season in F1 to date, but after cracking under pressure at Spa, Hamilton was allowed back into the title race. A fighter to the end, his demise in Abu Dhabi was a sad end to the title race, but Rosberg will be back for more in 2015.

Season Highlight: Soaking up Hamilton’s pressure to win the Brazilian Grand Prix.

5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari

Yet again, Fernando Alonso spent his season dragging the sub-standard Ferrari car up the grid, but could only score two podium finishes in 2014. It proved to be enough to force him out of Maranello for next season. The Spaniard did all he could this year under difficult circumstances, proving once again that he is one of the most naturally talented drivers in the sport.

Season Highlight: Finishing second at the Hungarian GP, losing the lead with three laps to go.

6. Felipe Massa Williams

After joining Williams at the beginning of the season, Felipe Massa rediscovered his former self in 2014. Away from the pressure of Ferrari, Massa was unlucky not to match Bottas in the final standings due to a number of incidents, but did manage to pick up three podium finishes and one pole position across the course of the season. If Williams can make another step forwards for 2015, expect Massa to flourish again.

Season Highlight: Finishing 2.5 seconds shy of a double points race win in Abu Dhabi.

7. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull

How the mighty have fallen. Sebastian Vettel’s title defence in 2014 was, speaking generously, tame, as he failed to win a single race. In fact, he finished on the podium just four times, leading only one lap across the course of the year. Seb struggled with the new Red Bull RB10 car, and will be hoping for better with Ferrari next year.

Season Highlight: Finishing second in Singapore ahead of Ricciardo.

8. Jenson Button McLaren

A difficult year for Jenson Button following the death of his father in the off-season, but the Briton rallied to finish eighth in the final standings for McLaren. His podium finish in Australia was the obvious highlight, yet his end-of-year flourish with four top five finishes in the final four races gave McLaren quite a dilemma for its driver line-up for next season. Your move, Ron.

Season Highlight: Coming so close to an emotional podium finish at the British GP as Silverstone turned Pink for Papa.

9. Jules Bianchi Marussia

Under difficult circumstances, Jules Bianchi kept Marussia’s flag flying high through the first half of the year, claiming an incredible ninth-place finish in Monaco – the first ever points in F1 for both the driver and the team. Further excellent displays at Silverstone and Spa followed, reaching Q2, but his racing season ended when he suffered severe head injuries at Suzuka. The F1 community continues to send its love and support to Bianchi and his family – #ForzaJules

Season Highlight: Points at Monaco – a remarkable achievement.

10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India

After a sensational start to the year, Hulkenberg’s form tailed off towards the end of the season, finishing in the points just five times after the summer break. Nevertheless, he led Force India’s charge to its best-ever season in F1, picking up 96 points. That long-awaited podium still eludes the German, though.

Season Highlight: P6 in Abu Dhabi with a quietly confident performance.

11. Sergio Perez Force India

Much like his teammate, Perez had a solid if unspectacular year, but he did manage to claim just the second podium for Force India since it entered the sport in 2008. That result in Bahrain was the peak for Perez, though, with a last-lap crash in Canada costing him a possible podium, although a solid final race in Abu Dhabi saw him sneak into the top ten of the final standings.

Season Highlight: Finishing third in Bahrain behind the Mercedes duo.

12. Kevin Magnussen McLaren

K-Mag’s season started so brightly in Australia with a second place finish, but that would be the pinnacle of the Dane’s rookie season. He would finish in the top five on just one more occasion, failing to match Button in the sister McLaren, but he is yet to show what he can truly do in F1 thanks to the difficult MP4-29 car that made 2014 a baptism of fire for Magnussen.

Season Highlight: P2 in Australia after Ricciardo’s disqualification.

13. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari

In a year that was meant to see Raikkonen and Alonso come to blows, the intra-team battle at Ferrari quickly fizzled out. Kimi struggled to get to grips with the new F14 T car, but did have a couple of stand-out moments in Monaco, where he should have finished third, and Spa, where he came home fourth. He improved as the season went on, but it was still a disappointing return to Ferrari for Raikkonen.

Season Highlight: Fourth at Spa, a result that proved the Finn still has some of his old spark.

14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso

JEV led Toro Rosso’s charge in 2014, scoring almost triple the points of teammate Daniil Kvyat. However, it wasn’t enough to get him the promotion to Red Bull that went to the Russian, nor will he remain at Faenza for 2015. In Hungary, he ran up in second place for a while before dropping back, and was impressive en route to sixth in Singapore. F1’s loss could be IndyCar or WEC’s gain next year.

Season Highlight: Charging to sixth in Singapore with a superb final stint.

15. Romain Grosjean Lotus

In the face of adversity at Lotus, Romain Grosjean proved that he had not lost any of the maturity that he showed towards the end of 2013, even if his on-track results left much to be desired. In Spain and Monaco, he ran well to finish in the points, and although no more top ten finishes followed, the Frenchman firmly proved that he is team leader at Lotus with some impressive outings this year.

Season Highlight: Qualifying fifth in Spain before finishing eighth in the race.

16. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso

Kvyat’s debut season was good, but not great. His qualifying performances were highly impressive, starting fifth in Russia and Abu Dhabi, but a highest finish of ninth doesn’t scream quality. Nevertheless, it was enough to get a promotion to Red Bull for 2015, but he will need to quickly prove his worth after failing to turn too many heads this year.

Season Highlight: Qualifying an excellent fifth on home soil in Russia.

17. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber

While Valtteri Bottas flourished in his sophomore year, Esteban Gutierrez’s campaign proved to be the ‘difficult second album’ for F1 drivers. The Sauber C33 gave him little hope of living up to the credentials he built up in his junior years, but his best chance for points in Monaco was lost due to a silly error. He’s set to take up a reserve role for 2015, so don’t go thinking his F1 career is over just yet.

Season Highlight: Hungary when points were possible before his car stopped.

18. Adrian Sutil Sauber

Like Gutierrez, Sutil’s efforts were hampered by the C33 car in 2014, allowing the German to more than live up to his billing as the most average driver on the grid. He now enters the off-season in a legal wrangling with Sauber given that he does have a contract for 2015, but this could prove to have been an underwhelming end to Adrian Sutil’s F1 career.

Season Highlight: Coming close to points in Hungary, finishing 11th.

19. Pastor Maldonado Lotus

2014 saw Pastor Maldonado enjoy his most anonymous season to date, scoring just two points at the United States Grand Prix and, yet again, getting more recognition for his off-track excursions than anything else. There’s even a website called hasmaldonadocrashedtoday.com.

Season Highlight: Two points in Austin for ninth place.

20. Marcus Ericsson Caterham

As debut seasons go, Marcus Ericsson’s was pretty unique in the modern F1 we know as he failed to reach the end of the year thanks to his team’s demise. Caterham’s financial struggles appeared to mark the end of the Swede’s F1 hopes, but he landed on his feet, securing a seat at Sauber for 2015. He really came alive in the second half of the year, suggesting there is more to come from the Swede.

Season Highlight: 15th in Singapore, beating Bianchi at the end.

21. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham

Like Ericsson, Kobayashi stood little chance this year due to the financial and managerial mess being created at Caterham, but he’ll undoubtedly be regretting his departure from a works Ferrari drive in the WEC. A sad end to an F1 career that appeared to hold far more than his solitary podium finish.

Season Highlight: 13th in Malaysia after a gutsy drive.

22. Max Chilton Marussia

After a good start to the year, Chilton’s season faded towards the end before Marussia’s withdrawal. Again, he stood little chance, but the Briton did very little to prove he is worthy of a place on the grid. Expect a switch to WEC or DTM for 2015.

Season Highlight: 13th in Bahrain.

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment
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DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIESNewgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and six red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500