Lewis Hamilton: World Champion

All in all, the 2014 Formula One season will be remembered as fondly – on track anyway. Despite the fears prior to the season that cars would struggle to finish and drivers would be hampered by having to conserve their fuel and energy usage, the season actually saw some very entertaining racing and a gripping title duel that culminated in a tense and controversial season finale.

As many had predicted in pre-season testing Mercedes held a huge pace advantage at the start of the season, which worryingly for their rivals, they managed to pretty much maintain as the season progressed.

In fact, if you look at the margin between the winning Mercedes and the nearest rival, things don’t look too good for those hoping to see more drivers challenge Lewis Hamilton for his world title next year.

At the first race of the season, in Australia, Nico Rosberg took victory with Kevin Magnussen 26 seconds behind. Fast forward to Brazil and exclude the Abu Dhabi finale where Mercedes ran a conservative engine mode for Hamilton, and Rosberg took a 1-2 for the Silver Arrows with Felipe Massa 41 seconds further back.

This trend, combined with the fact that Mercedes have refused to unfreeze the V6 engine regulations which effectively entrenches their rumoured 70bhp power advantage for another season, and the situations at all the other big teams, means Mercedes are likely to be just as dominant through next season.

How this will go down with the falling number of F1 viewers is unpredictable, but it is certain that Red Bull-Renault and Ferrari will grow ever more frustrated if they can’t challenge next year. Christian Horner is trying to change the rules to twin-turbo V6s with standard ERS and if a compromise cannot be found on engine rules, then it is foreseeable that either Mercedes or Red Bull leaves the sport before 2016.

For the sake of the sport, the two giants need to agree on a way forward while also considering the effects any decision would have on the smaller teams in the sport, who have had an enormously difficult year. Both Marussia and Caterham, who have both had torrid and hugely unsuccessful lives in the sport, went bankrupt, while Lotus and Sauber are having to resort to pay drivers to get them through next season.

Frustrations were also felt further up the grid, as Red Bull came down to earth after their dominance of the previous era of rules, and Ferrari made the decision to switch Fernando Alonso for Sebastian Vettel after the Spaniard finally got fed up as Maranello botched the transition to the new engine formula.

The new engine rules were a big chance for a works manufacturer to come up with a harmonious package of both power unit and chassis, as Mercedes’ success shows. However, Ferrari maintained their recent form of sometimes threatening for podiums in Alonso’s hands while his team mate, now Kimi Raikkonen instead of Felipe Massa, struggled. The team only managed two podium finishes all season, both with Alonso, as the highly anticipated battle between the two world champions turned into a midfield whitewash as Alonso outscored Kimi by 106 points.

Red Bull went into the season with an engine that had completely failed to even work during testing and which had a clear deficit in both raw power and energy recovery when compared to the Mercedes. Using that performance as a baseline, finishing second in the championship with three wins was an awesome job and a mark of how strong their aero and chassis departments are.

However the team will enter next season Vettel-less after a poor season from the German, who neither embraced or adapted to the new regulations quickly enough, and was roundly trounced by Daniel Ricciardo, Newey-less and Prodromou-less as the two genius aero men move on, Newey to his dream of designing boats and Prodromou to McLaren. It will be interesting to see if the team loses its edge as F1’s finest aero outfit.

Vettel vs Ricciardo was one of the stories of the season. Ricciardo’s speed, racecraft and consistency were phenomenal and he gained the respect of Alonso after an outstanding battle at Hockenheim, and stamped his authority on his quadruple world champion team mate with a YouTube worthy overtake at Monza. With Vettel leaving for a new challenge at Maranello, the young Australian now leads Red Bull’s efforts to catch Mercedes.

McLaren, in their last season with Mercedes, disappointed after showing great pace in pre-season testing and at the first race in Melbourne. That race was to turn into their only podium finish of the season and as the year progressed, the team looked eager to get started on the new Honda era. What this will bring is next year’s big unknown, as Alonso and whoever his team mate is, drive the new Prodromou-led McLaren with a new manufacturer of engine. Whether the new pairing will manage the instant success that the Honda engine brought in 1988 and provide the challenge to Hamilton and Rosberg the sport needs will only be answered in Melbourne next March.

In fact, the only two teams that had regular smiles were Mercedes and Williams. The Williams revival that had long been hoped for by fans with knowledge and memories of the team’s glorious past, actually happened and the team, now bedecked in Martini white, leaped from 8th in the constructors’ championship to third. Valtteri Bottas emerged as one of the future stars of the sport with a series of fine performances, and Felipe Massa ended the season strongly after a first half of the season full of bad luck and small mistakes.

But all these stories were a sideshow to the big one, the battle between Hamilton and Rosberg. The advantage ebbed between the two as Hamilton suffered bad luck and struggled to cope with not being faster than Rosberg during the middle of the season. However, the infamous crash at Spa seemed to revitalise Hamilton and he won six of the seven remaining races, meaning he left Abu Dhabi a double world champion, something which six years ago had seemed so likely, but only three months ago looked almost impossible.

Next season he will surely get the chance to become the second British triple world champion, but for now he can bask in the title he worked so hard to achieve.


Schumacher’s Greatest

This day in 1996 saw a truly magical moment in Formula One, especially for fans of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, as the German took his first ever Italian grand prix victory and Ferrari’s first at the hallowed straights of the classic circuit, Monza since Gerhard Berger won there in 1988.

The season was Michael’s first for the Maranello team and the car provided was nowhere near the quality of Williams’ FW18 or the McLaren MP4-11, suffering from unpredictable handling. However, somehow Michael still managed to take three victories with it, much to the astonishment of team mate Eddie Irvine.

“I don’t know how he took four poles with that s***box!” Irvine said in a recent interview with SkyF1. However, this weekend Michael wasn’t able to take pole position, as Williams locked out the front row with Damon Hill taking pole and team mate, Jacques Villeneuve alongside.

Michael took third, 0.5 seconds behind Hill’s pole time, and the two McLarens of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard took fourth and fifth respectively.

Michael’s team mate, Irvine gave more reason to be in awe of the German as he qualified seventh, half a second behind Schumacher.

Most pundits predicted a show of Williams supremacy on the Sunday, however when the race came both their cars encountered problems of their drivers’ doing. Immediately off the line, Jean Alesi made an awesome start from sixth on the grid to lead the two Williams into the first few corners. However as he led the field through the Lesmos he ran wide and struck the tyre barrier.

Villeneuve was the first Williams to drop out of contention as he also ran wide on the first lap while he tried to repass Schumacher, who like Alesi, had also made a good start to the grand prix. He had to run the rest of the race with bent suspension finishing a lap behind and out of the points.

It only took until the sixth lap for the other Williams to drop out completely when Hill, who was building a nice four second lead at the time, also ran wide and hit a tyre barrier at one of the chicanes. Unlike Villeneuve and Eddie Irvine, who also had a similar incident, Hill was unable to continue and this left Michael as the new race leader.

Even despite his recalcitrant machine, Schumacher was able to hold the lead for the remainder of the race, and took a historic chequered flag 18 seconds ahead of former Ferrari driver Alesi and a full minute ahead of Hakkinen in the final podium position.

Personally, this sporting event is special to me as it was the symbolic start of one the most impressive and successful sporting partnerships in history; a relationship which represented determination, hard work, and extraordinary levels of talent. Growing up watching Schumacher and Ferrari dominate their sport by winning five successive world drivers’ and constructors’ championships, was so inspirational to a young boy entranced by world sport.