2014: Review of the year

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Ah, 2014. The year of the Silver Arrows, of paddock machinations, of competition and of Jules Bianchi. Here, presents its review of the year – the categories being

Among whom will number, on the top step, Lewis Hamilton. Many in the paddock wondered whether one title would end up being Hamilton’s return from a sport to which he had given so much; a miserly return for his efforts, the lack of glory dictated by machinery firstly but also by his own mercurial nature. But we will wonder no longer. He is the world champion once again. The second title came historically the longest after the first, but it was no less deserved, and no less brilliantly won. He seems now to be a master of that vertiginous volatility that marks genius but also often condemns it. Not in this case. Hamilton sits rightfully at the pinnacle of this era with Alonso and Vettel for company as the only other multiple world champions. He was the best driver this season and so is a worthy champion.

Daniel Ricciardo is the other name which must be written in lights this Christmas. To arrive at Red Bull after what could only be described as flickeringly impressive formative years at Toro Rosso, to slot in meekly and charmingly, and then to trounce the four-time world champion in the other chair at his own game. Ricciardo has won as many fans now for his driving (the pass on Alonso in Hungary springs to mind) as he had already gained for his personality – no mean feat when you have a grin that wide. To stay in contention so long for the championship when your car is clearly second best is admirable. Whether he can lead the team as well as be the precocious upstart is a question for next season.

There are others, too – the usual suspects. Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa made excellent goes of a superb little machine made in Grove by the Williams team and entirely merit their elevated final standings. I felt Alonso had a good season in trying circumstances; Hulkenberg and Perez over at Force India could usually be seen pulling performance from somewhere. Jenson Button had a distinguished end to the season. Kvyat glowed, although he still has things to learn. Bianchi, up to his accident, was always much better than his car would permit him to show.

Winners in a different way
Nico Rosberg has to go into this category, as he did not win the championship. But his gentlemanly acceptance of defeat, and acknowledgement that he had been beaten by the better man, commends him hugely. For the record he did not deliberately obstruct Hamilton’s qualifying in Monaco – nor did he seek to damage his team mate’s car in Spa. He raced hard and fair, demonstrated ample speed and, as Hamilton noted, possessed a remarkable ability to reset at the following race and get pole. With the car as it was, Hamilton was expected to walk 2014. The fact that he didn’t is credit to Rosberg’s racecraft and ability, and also recommends the year itself, for without his efforts, it would have been altogether duller.

Sebastian Vettel did not win anything this year and seemed at times to lack motivation. (How one could, after four titles and then having a car which behaved strikingly differently from his previous darlings, plus a hungry young buck across the garage, is perhaps understandable). But this lack of motivation has been remedied by Vettel’s move to Ferrari. Everything about the move, from the recognition that it was time to go, to the timing of the announcement and the management of his leaving, has the hallmarks of the old, devastatingly dedicated Vettel.

Kimi Raikkonen was disappointing this year. He would not be the first driver to go to a team and find the car virtually undriveable or at least distinctly unsuited to his style, but you get the sense the Kimster lacks that fire to sort the problems unless he feels he has something to prove. Something about Ferrari seems to bring out the worst in the Finn – it’s almost as if he says, “well I’ve tried – what else can I do?” Other underperformers this year included Pastor Maldonado and Esteban Gutierrez. We only ever saw Maldonado crashing, and we never saw Gutierrez at all.

Others were losers because of circumstance rather than their own actions. Jenson Button won’t lose his seat at McLaren for next year, perhaps due to the lingering influence of the British media in the sport as opposed to Button’s skill. He did not excel until there was jeopardy for his seat, and that is irksome. Romain Grosjean was the driver most at sea in terms of the machinery underneath him. In his short tenure in F1, Jean-Eric Vergne has seemed to be cut more of the Ricciardo than the Bourdais cloth, and so it’s also a shame that he has been ushered out. Equally, all at the back of the grid, the Marussias and the Caterhams will be missed. It is a sad indictment of the sport that there is obscene money at the front and none at the back. Meanwhile, it’s all change at Ferrari. Pat Fry is out, underwhelming as he has been; Domenicali preceded him out the door, and even the big don – Mr di Montezemolo himself – has been ousted too. Sergio Marchionne and the ruling Agnelli clan seem to be serious about rejigging the famous old marque.

Notable moments of the year
Bahrain, oh Bahrain. Never has an anodyne oil-cash blow out of an artificial, fanless, morally questionable venue provided such fantastic racing. The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg fizzed and sparkled for three or four laps and it was simply gripping. Massa and Perez in Canada and Daniel Ricciardo’s win there also sparkled. There were gripping battles down the field, too, though it was mostly between the two Mercs that the real interest lay. As seasons go, 2014 won’t be remembered as a vintage in terms of wheel-to-wheel racing overall, though.

And the sadness
This year in F1 has been darkened by two major incidents, one well away from a racetrack, and one on it. I refer to Michael Schumacher and Jules Bianchi. They share the unfortunate damning reality of a serious brain injury and all that comes from it. Schumacher is a hero to so many, and Bianchi would have been. They are still with us, but the sad fact is that they as people may never be the same again. As the Twitter hashtags have it, though, keep fighting Michael, and forza Jules. May all the light and enjoyment you gave to race fans around the world be returned to you in the form of aid to your respective recoveries.

2014: Review of the year

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