As Formula One takes its annual summer break, it’s time to assess the season so far. 2014 is shaping up to be a year you can’t miss as we have one of the closest title fights in years with the Mercedes pair battling it out at the front. Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are involved in an intense title fight, while Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams chase them hard. Here is how each team and driver has fared from the big four.
Mercedes are in dreamland. After four years of slow progress, they have emerged as the new dominant force of Formula One and have, so far, ruled the 2014 season. While Red Bull has taken a step back and Ferrari, again, have struggled to produce a good car, Mercedes have picked up the lead and run with it. They have the best car on the grid and, arguably, the best driver line-up on the gird. They could confirm the Constructors Championship in Singapore in a months’ time and have won nine of the 11 races.
However, as the season unfolds and the dramatic title race takes new twists and turns, it is becoming apparent that the Drivers’ Championship could be decided by the car, and not for the right reasons. Reliability has been a big concern all season and has cost Lewis Hamilton several times, most notably in Australia and Canada. It is likely that if their reliability was as strong as other teams, they would have won every race this season.
In recent races, something has gone wrong every weekend and affected one driver or the other. Mercedes have done brilliantly to create a car that is, on average, one second a lap faster than anything else, but their reliability is undermining their drivers. So far it’s so good, but their drivers deserve better than a car that breaks down.
The championship leader will enter the summer break slightly frustrated that his lead isn’t much greater than the 11 points he currently has over Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton has suffered terrible reliability issues and made costly mistakes in recent races but the German hasn’t been able to fully capitalise. Still, Rosberg has surpassed all expectations and proved his doubters wrong. He was expected to play second fiddle to the supposedly ‘faster’ Hamilton but he’s matched his great rival stride for stride.
In Bahrain and Spain, the closest on track battles the pair have had, Rosberg scared his more illustrious team-mate by proving that he can match him in a straight shoot-out. Hamilton may have won but he wouldn’t have expected to be run so close.
Rosberg has also impressed with his demeanour and he has handled the pressure admirably. There is no doubt that he has an edge in the mind games following the qualifying ‘incident’ at Monaco but how he handles his disappointment at being only 11 points clear will be key. Hamilton is, on his day, the fastest man on the grid and his reliability issues won’t continue. Who will handle the final eight races the best will win, and, at the moment, that is anyone’s guess.
It would take a hard person not to feel sympathy for Lewis Hamilton following his disastrous luck so far. His string of four straight wins in Malaysia, Bahrain, China and Spain seem a distant memory in light of recent events, where errors and car breakdowns have tarnished what could have been the perfect first half to a season.
Strangely for Hamilton, qualifying has been his weakest suit. Breakdowns in Germany and Hungary have followed driver errors in Austria and Britain. Rosberg has been super consistent and has made the most of any Hamilton error on Saturdays. But, if the car works, Hamilton has shown that he has the edge on Rosberg in terms of raw pace.
Mentally, the battle is intriguing as Hamilton tries to control his erratic emotions. What happened in Monaco clearly affected him and he let Rosberg get under his skin. Channelling that emotion in the right way is vital for the Brit to blitz Rosberg on the track. If Hamilton produces his best, he will win the championship, it’s now up to him to do so. He has been handed a lifeline by being just 11 points behind Rosberg, now he has to take it.
Despite being in a state of crisis in pre-season, Red Bull will still be a little disappointed with where they find themselves. The Renault engine is their biggest issue as it is far slower and less reliable than the powerful Mercedes. Aerodynamically, the car is arguably the best but they still can’t bridge the gap to Mercedes sufficiently to challenge. The two races that Daniel Ricciardo has won were inherited from Mercedes problems, but the emergence of the Australian has been one of the stories of the season and the highlight of Red Bull’s year.
However, there is a feeling of a new era at the team following the announcement that design maestro Adrian Newey will leave his role this season, and the rumours that Sebastian Vettel will leave after next year grow stronger. Despite these issues the first half of the season must be viewed at positively, considering where they were. Their favourite circuits mainly languish in the second half of the season and although they won’t totally bridge the gap to Mercedes, they should be able to hold on to second in the Constructors Championship. Not bad for a ‘disastrous’ year.
The four-time champion, who has dominated Formula One in a Schumacher-esque manner since 2010, will be preying that this year is a one off. His mojo has disappeared along with Red Bull’s dominance and this year it isn’t happening for Vettel. After controlling Mark Webber for five years, Vettel has been ruffled by the enthusiastic Ricciardo who has beaten him hands down. Vettel has cut a frustrated figure all season and his attitude may be the main difference between him and the smiling Ricciardo.
Luck hasn’t been on the German’s side with four mechanical retirements but uncharacteristic errors, such as his spin in Hungary, are starting to creep in. The outside world is now starting to question how good Vettel is, and although these doubts are silly for now, a few head turning displays are needed on some of his favourite tracks. Rumours about his future are currently rife but it is hard to see him getting a better drive than at Red Bull. No doubt, Vettel will win again but first he must rediscover what makes it fun.
Daniel Ricciardo has been a breath of fresh air in his 11 races as a Red Bull driver. He has outraced and outqualified Sebastian Vettel all season and capped it off with two superb wins in Canada and Hungary. Yes, he inherited those wins from Mercedes mistakes but he still showed he isn’t flustered by winning, as he snatched them both late in the race with daring overtakes. Ricciardo would be in with an outside shout of being in the title race if he wasn’t disqualified in Australia, after finishing second and is well placed to finish third this year.
He’s been fast, consistent and reliable. And unlike his team-mate he has become instantly popular with his cheeky-chappy persona. Red Bull’s driving school had, up to this point, only really produced one quality driver but Ricciardo has shown that he has the potential to match Vettel. A new and exciting era is underway at Red Bull and Ricciardo is right at the heart of it.
It is turning into a season of turmoil at Ferrari. After producing yet another poor car, President Luca di Montazemolo has wielded the axe and got rid of Team Principle Stefano Domenicali. Luca Mamorini, who was head of the engine department, has also gone as the Italian outfit continue to chase a spot at the front of the grid.
On the track, they are blessed to have a driver as talented and versatile as Fernando Alonso, who has incredibly earned over 100 points. Again, this year is a building year for the team who will start focusing on next season soon.
The second half is likely to be long and painful, with podiums hard to come by. Next year they owe Fernando Alonso a title winning car and, if they don’t produce one for the first time since 2008, he will leave. The pressure is firmly on at Marranello.
It is a familiar story that is becoming tiresome for Fernando Alonso. The Ferrari isn’t fast enough, yet he drags it round to respectable positions that it shouldn’t be capable of. The Spaniard has had another strong year and almost capped it off with, what would have been, an emotional win in Hungary. Ultimately, he fell just short but he will be happy with second.
Alonso’s consistency has been superb as he remains the only driver to have scored points in every race. The expected titanic battle between Alonso and Raikkonen at Ferrari hasn’t materialised, as the Spaniard has been so good and the Finn so poor. Alonso has proven that he is the best on the grid. That won’t be much of a consolation to him though.
This first half of the season has gone so badly that many are anticipating that this will be the last we see of Kimi Raikkonen in F1. The 2007 champion was brought back to Ferrari to push Fernando Alonso, but the only pushing that is likely to happen is Ferrari pushing him out of the door. Where Alonso has been able to deal with the car’s unpredictability and adjust to its needs, Raikkonen has struggled. He needs the car to dance to his tune, not move unpredictably under braking. His mighty crash at Silverstone is a metaphor for his season.
His sixth place finish in Hungary was a welcomed result and he looks to have bridged some of the gap between him and his team-mate. He’ll need to continue to score well in the final eight races if he is to see 2015, as younger drivers lie in wait. The real Raikkonen needs to step up.
The bold decision to switch to Mercedes engines has proven to be one of the best calls Williams has ever made. After years of midfield obscurity, the legendary British team are back at the front and tussling with the big boys. A huge factor of their success has been their employment of two high class drivers, as opposed to the ‘pay drivers’ they have had in recent years.
After an exciting pre-season, the year began in disappointing fashion as it looked like the results from winter testing were false hope. But since Felipe Massa’s pole in Austria, the team has been on a role. They sit fourth in the Constructors Championship and finishing third at the end of the season is a real possibility. Felipe Massa needs to become more consistent in order for that to happen, but Williams will be confident that their stellar first 11 races will help to bare plenty of fruit.
A lot of head scratching must be going on in Felipe Massa’s garage. He sits 55 points behind his team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, but that doesn’t reflect the difference between them. The truth is that Massa has suffered awful luck. Four times he has been the victim in race ending crashes. In Australia, he was taken out by Kamui Kobayashi. In Canada, he collided with Sergio Perez. In Britain, he was collected by the spinning Kimi Raikkonen, and in Germany he was flipped by Kevin Magnussen. Add to that pit-stop in Spain that went wrong and it is clear to see why the Brazilian is so frustrated.
But In Austria, he produced one of the moments of the season. With Hamilton out of qualifying and Rosberg struggling, Massa did a perfect lap to snatch pole position. It was the teams first since 2012 and his first since 2008. It was a popular result for a popular driver.
When he has got round unscathed, Massa hasn’t been as fast as Bottas. But, if he stays out of trouble, he has the platform to change that.
After an underwhelming 2013, Valtteri Bottas has emerged as the next star of F1. Three successive podiums, including a tremendous drive to second at Silverstone, have cemented his reputation. Felipe Massa may be a victim of bad luck, but Bottas has outraced him. Massa may not be the same as he was, but he’s still an 11 time grand prix winner.
Bottas’s form is red hot, but his cool manner has been equally impressive. He will be hoping to cash in at Spa and Monza, and more podiums are a possibility. Bottas, along with Ricciardo, has been the stand out young driver of 2014.