With the summer break in its second week, we’ve all had a bit of time to calm down following the drama of the Hungarian Grand Prix. The race was a classic and gave us a bit of everything. Starting from the pit lane after a minor car inferno during qualifying, Hamilton still managed to finish ahead of team-mate Rosberg, who started from pole, despite spinning out during the first lap. The changing conditions and confusing strategies also allowed Ricciardo to claim his second win after a stunning battle between Alonso, Hamilton and the Aussie towards the end of the race. Unfortunately there are still a couple of weeks until the next race at Spa, but this break offers a good opportunity to take a look at the winners and losers of the season so far.
We should get the most obvious out of the way first. As a team, Mercedes are dominating the Constructor’s Championship. The performance of the Mercedes AMG team has been outstanding and their superior speed has allowed them to get away with the continuous unreliability of Hamilton’s car and the ERS failure in both cars in Canada. The WO5 is stunning and the team’s engine has not only increased the pace of the Mercedes car, but has also boosted the competitiveness of the teams that benefit from having Mercedes as their engine supplier. Williams and Force India were pretty poor last year but, thanks to the new Mercedes engine, they have been able to take the challenge to Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull.
On top of performance, Mercedes’s approach to the 2014 season has also made them big winners in my view. Allowing their drivers to race has given a huge boost to the team’s image and has showed Mercedes’s commitment to the sport and not just the business. The minor hiccup in Hungary when the team ordered Hamilton to move over for Rosberg has predictably been blown out of proportion by the tabloids. But even if it has created some tension between the drivers, Lauda and Wolff admitted that it was an unreasonable request from the team so thankfully there is nothing to worry about for the rest of the season in terms of team orders.
Driver-wise, Rosberg is the winner so far. Like the Mercedes team not only because of his performance but because of his approach to this season. Rosberg’s doubters claim that Hamilton has the pace and would be on top if it wasn’t for his car’s poor reliability. Unfortunately for Hamilton and his supporters, F1 is the coming together of man and machine and the two cannot be separated so lightly. People regularly say how intelligent Rosberg is and how he loves the technical side of the sport. He might be slightly behind Hamilton in terms of sheer pace but the fact that Rosberg sits for hours with his engineers getting to grips with the car to find any advantage might shed some light as to why his WO5 is more effective than Hamilton’s.
Of course this is just an idea and not necessarily the case but regardless, Hamilton’s bad luck has not always been down to car failure. Several key errors, especially during qualifying where he should be most dominant, have made races more difficult for him as he has had to climb through the field to challenge Rosberg. Giving up on his lap and then allowing Rosberg past during qualifying at Silverstone was the type of mistake that a man competing for the World Championship should not be making. Meanwhile, Rosberg’s only obvious errors have ended up playing to his advantage. Stopping during qualifying in Monaco gave him pole and cutting a corner in Canada perhaps saved his breaks from completely failing like Hamilton’s. The reliability of Rosberg’s car and his ability to handle the pressure could see him claim the Championship, and it would certainly be deserved.
2013 was a year to forget for Williams after they scored only 5 points in the World Championship. However they opted to stop using Renault this year as their engine supplier and signed a deal with Mercedes (an ingenious idea after the success of Mercedes and utter failure of Renault so far in 2014). This decision has been the main reason they have been able to return to being a top team again. Williams also brought in Martini as a new sponsor, resulting in the best looking F1 car for years, and stole both Massa and Rob Smedley from Ferrari. Williams’ start to the season wasn’t great but they have managed to show us that developments brought to a car throughout the season can improve performance.
Although, Massa has had some bad luck and has been involved in some heavy crashes. Bottas on the other hand is having a stunning season and is proving himself race after race thanks to several perfect laps. Williams have also managed to enhance their image by getting Susie Wolff out in the car during two practice sessions, the first time a woman has taken part in a Grand Prix weekend in 22 years.
Daniel Ricciardo and his impressive set of teeth have caused a stir in F1. Mercedes have only lost two races this season and Ricciardo was the man to claim victory on both occasions. David Coulthard regularly reminds us during his commentary that Ricciardo displays what Coulthard calls ‘racing’. This is exactly the case as Ricciardo seems to simply get in the car and produce a fantastic drive every time. His overtake on Perez in the final laps of the Canadian Grand Prix was stunning as he managed to make his move stick despite running wide on the grass and his overtakes on Hamilton and Alonso during the closing stages in Hungary added to the belief that he is a potential World Champion of the future.
The biggest winner of the year however is the sport itself. While 2013 was a barren year with races dominated by one man, 2014 has produced several classics. The tense battle at the top has kept us intrigued and the wheel-to-wheel action throughout the whole field has merely added to the spectacle of this season.
For Bernie and his entourage to believe that the sport needs to be “fixed” they must have grandeurs of delusion as to the heights F1 can reach.
Who would have thought that Sebastian Vettel’s luck would run out. Losing to the Silver Arrows is obviously understandable in such a comparatively uncompetitive car, but losing to your team mate in the same car is not acceptable. Not as a 4-time World Champion, anyway. In the seven races that both Ricciardo and Vettel have finished, Vettel has finished ahead only once. Of course his car has been less reliable than Ricciardo’s and an impressive drive in Spain reminded us why Vettel is one of the top drivers.
Vettel’s inability however to get to grips with his car is reminiscent of what Alonso said about Vettel last season: “He is 26 years old, so when he will have a car like the others, if he wins, he will have a great recognition and be one of the legends in F1. When one day he has a car like the others and he is fourth, fifth, seventh, these four titles will be bad news for him because people will take these four titles even in a worse manner than they are doing now.”
We’re now getting used to seeing Ferrari finish outside the podium positions and this is not right. Replacing Stefano Domenicali seemed like it could do some good for the team but there have yet to be any significant improvements under Mattiaci. The car simply cannot compete with the Mercedes powered cars and is struggling to keep up with the Red Bull cars as well. In terms of the drivers, Raikkonen has had a poor season. After returning to F1 in 2012 Raikkonen put in two solid years of racing at Lotus and so the idea of him competing with Alonso in a Ferrari had everyone excited. Unfortunately, Raikkonen has struggled with his new car and is nowhere near his Spanish team mate. Raikkonen just doesn’t seem to be enjoying F1 anymore so hopefully he’ll leave after this season and Hulkenberg will get the seat he rightfully deserved this year.
I feel like the presence of a fresh young drive like Hulkenberg or even Bianchi could really help in turning Ferrari’s fortunes around. While Raikkonen struggles, Alonso has continued to be consistently spectacular in getting every inch of performance out of his Ferrari. Ultimately Alonso is not a winner though because the quality of his Ferrari team and car have let him down, a situation that we have regrettably become accustomed to over the past few seasons.
Like Ferrari, the once dominant McLaren have become a regular sight amongst the midfield runners. Strangely enough, McLaren have been gifted with the 2014 Mercedes engine but have been unable to produce a car that can keep up. They are the furthest down the order out of the Mercedes powered teams, sitting behind Force India in the Championship and therefore this makes it even more difficult to comprehend Ron Dennis’s ridiculous remark telling Jenson Button to ‘try harder’. Button is ahead of Massa, Perez and Raikkonen in the Drivers Championship, all of whom are driving in better cars.
Maybe McLaren should stop threatening the job of their star driver and should realise that it is their car that needs to improve, not Jenson Button.
Lotus finished the 2013 season in a respectable fourth place, but a lack of investment from the team’s owners has sent them to the back of the grid while Williams propelled themselves to the front. Pastor Maldonado must really regret his decision to leave Williams and sign for Lotus instead. Surely the fact that Lotus couldn’t stump up and pay Raikkonen his wages last season was a sign to Maldonado that the team was beginning to struggle financially. Maldonado’s bad luck and inability to drive has become increasingly humorous, as David Coulthard pointed out by laughing at the irony of Maldonado’s breakdown during qualifying in Hungary, just after Ben Edwards dared to suggest that the Venezuelan looked to finally be enjoying a good run. The fact that team mate Romain Grosjean has managed to score all 8 of Lotus’s points hasn’t helped the plight of Pastor Maldonado.
Best driver so far?
Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard claims this coveted title despite his absence from the list of the season’s winners so far because of his sheer talent at the wheel. While Rosberg has certainly been consistent in keeping the Mercedes on top, he has benefited from having the fastest car on the grid. Hamilton has made too many silly mistakes instead of capitalizing on the pace of his car and so cannot be considered. Ricciardo has definitely produced some stunning drives but he too has been unable to match Alonso’s ability to drag everything out of his car. Wherever there is an exciting battle taking place, Alonso always seems to be amongst the action. Be it during his wheel-to-wheel tussle with Vettel in Silverstone or during his more recent exploits with Ricciardo in both Germany and Hungary. I believe that there are very few drivers on the grid who would be able to place that Ferrari anywhere near the podium at the end of a race and that, combined with his ability to fight so hard with other drivers while leaving just enough room to avoid an incident, proves Alonso’s immense driving capabilities. Unfortunately for Alonso, we go back to the discussion of the coming together of man and machine.
It takes more than a great driver to win a championship, you need the whole package.
Lewis Hamilton may well end up understanding this concept due to the poor reliability of his car compared to his team mate’s. However, will he be able to defy Rosberg’s reliability and show that all out pace is the more important ingredient to winning a world championship? That’s what we’ll get to see after the summer break and that’s why the latter part of this season will be so spectacular.