“There has been no other season like it” claimed many fans before Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the last of the 2014. With immense wheel to wheel racing in Bahrain, controversy in the glitz and glamour of Monaco’s qualifying, to the clipping of wheel by wing in Belgium, the 2014 season has been on for the history books. Mercedes have dominated not only with wins and pace, winning 16 out of 19 races (Red Bull winning the other 3) while also taking pole in all but one race, but also mechanically, with their power unit proving to be the most powerful and reliable on the grid. It was clear from very early on that for the rest of the paddock, it was going to be a long hard slog.
In what has been a titanic battle for supremacy in Formula One within the Mercedes team, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have both had incredibly successful seasons. Before Abu Dhabi, Rosberg had qualified on pole 10 times to Hamilton’s 7, Hamilton had won 10 races to Rosberg’s 5. Despite this disparity in race wins, Rosberg remained in the title hunt due to the ridiculous double points rule at the race in the Emirates.
In unfortunate contrast to the rest of the Formula One season, the championship battle fizzled out before it had the opportunity to even begin. Rosberg, sitting on pole, got bogged down off the line letting Hamilton past and almost losing his 2nd place to Massa who was lurking behind him. Hamilton took full advantage however, and pulled out a lead of 2 seconds within 5 laps, leaving Rosberg with the unenviable task of not only overhauling the most competitive driver on the racetrack, but hoping that Hamilton would then fall down to 3rd, an unlikely prospect considering when the Mercedes driver finishes a race, only finishing lower than 2nd twice all season. That was the future ahead for Rosberg for the next 54 laps.
Apart from some excellent racing between Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne and then Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, with each battle bringing the best out of all four drivers, the race itself was intensely dull. Hamilton ran away at the front with Rosberg fighting to catch up behind, while the rest of the field with little to fight for battled away for the rest of the points. On lap 25 however, Rosberg’s race went from bad to irretrievable. His otherwise reliable Mercedes developed an electrical failure, with firstly ERS (Energy Recovery System) failing which led to a drop of 160bhp in power, followed by problems with the brakes and then even more electrical problems. The mechanical ghosts that had haunted Hamilton previously in the season came round in a big circle at the worst possible race for Rosberg.
Those problems effectively ended the race for Rosberg, who quickly fell down the order before eventually being told to retire the car by his team. In a last-gasp attempt to confirm that he had done his best, Rosberg refused and instead finished the race in a lowly 14th with a car that was barely moving. Despite Pastor Maldonado’s engine catching fire in spectacular fashion, the race that was dubbed ‘The Duel in Dubai’ proved to be just a footnote to what was a spectacular season. The farce that was double points also proved to be irrelevant, and rightly so.
Looking back at the 2014 season, it’s probably safe to say that Formula One has changed era. The days of Red Bull supremacy are over, replaced by a resurgent Mercedes team, and the what seem like age-old relationships between Vettel, Alonso and Button with Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren respectively seem to be coming to a shuddering halt. Button is a major doubt for next season, with Alonso’s second move to McLaren forcing the team into a decision between the British veteran and the Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen, one they have yet to make. For Vettel and Alonso, two new teams mean two new challenges. Vettel will undoubtedly be the No.1 driver at Ferrari, and the same is to be expected for Alonso at McLaren, but both teams have completely failed in the last two years to build cars that are even remotely competitive. The arrival of the biggest names currently in Formula One to the biggest manufacturers will only increase the pressure.
Ferrari, having just fired their most recent Team Principal Marco Mattiaci after only 7 months in the job, are under huge pressure to develop a competitive car and engine unit. The view from the top of the Italian giants is that 7 years without a title is too many. McLaren on the other hand are back in the hands of stalwart Ron Dennis after the mid-season departure of Martin Whitmarsh, and are under similar pressure. Alonso, in what is likely to be his last move in Formula One, is banking on the British team to build a car that has the potential for a deserved third championship win.
Looking forward to the 2015 season, the future of F1 is far from simple. Double points will not occur, but Bernie Ecclestone’s merciless reign of whimsy will undoubtedly lead to more financial and political controversy, although the recent lack of FIA infighting has been a breath of fresh air. The future of Caterham is in the balance, with the team facing a huge struggle to get to Melbourne in March. The financial problems faced by Sauber, Force India, and Lotus will continue into next year, and with F1 no longer guaranteeing huge sponsorship deals, the possibility of 3 car teams is a very real one.
One thing that is likely however is the continued domination of Mercedes. With a lack of major rule changes and a power unit as far ahead of the rest as the Mercedes engine, it would seem illogical to look past Rosberg or Hamilton for next year. If there is another major change in the pecking order, it is likely to come from Mercedes power, with Williams looking the most likely to surprise the field next year. The Oxfordshire based team has the perfect balance of youth talent and veteran expertise in Valteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, with Bottas being earmarked as a future champion by many. For Red Bull the challenge is much tougher, but with a team consisting of Daniel Ricciardo and the immensely impressive Daniil Kyvat after only a year in the Toro Rosso car, the team don’t lack the speed and aggression of youth.
While 2014 has proved that a dominant team can create as much drama as 4 close teams, with the battle between Hamilton and Rosberg showing remarkable similarities to Prost v Senna. 2015 should be another exceptional season of racing, and with the possibility of more than just a handful of names on the podium, the drivers’ championship should be much more open and intriguing.