Thank heavens for Nico Rosberg
Formula One in 2014 was far from perfect. But amid the many flaws of the season just past, one thing F1 did not fail to deliver was an exciting contest. All bar a handful of the 19 races were fiercely contested at the front of the field; almost every grand prix win this year has been a hard fought triumph.
No matter that most of the battles for victory took place within the confines of one single team. Ultimately it only takes two to make a race, and we were blessed with some good ones in 2014.
It has been an extraordinary season of dominance by Mercedes-Benz. The statistics are astonishing: 16 wins from 19 races, 18 pole positions. It rivals the 1988 allconquering McLaren-Hondas – 15 race wins and poles apiece from 16 races. But Merc’s 2014 tops Honda’s ’88 for poles, because the only non Merc team pole was set by a Williams using a Mercedes-Benz powerplant).
Lewis Hamilton claimed his second crown with a total of 11 wins. He never finished a race lower than third place; he only failed to finish on three occasions. A scorecard of this kind would normally suggest the easiest of title victories – a world championship sewn up with three, four or even five races still to go.
That might well have been the case had it not been for the guy in the other Mercedes-Benz.
The battle between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg (which we explore in depth in our Nico vs Lewis feature, starting on page 28) has been a curious one. While Rosberg was magnanimous enough to declare his teammate the best driver of 2014 once the dust had settled at Abu Dhabi, Nico can make the theoretical claim that he was the faster driver over the balance of the season.
The German’s tally of 11 poles was four more than Lewis managed in identical equipment. That’s a fair margin, and something which should have provided the perfect platform from which to launch a championship campaign. However, time after time Rosberg squandered his hard-won grid advantage. Too often Hamilton was able to get the upper hand over his teammate on race day.
It’s one thing to finish a season with five wins and 10 second places. A points haul like that’d win you a championship in most years. Not in 2014, though – because on no less than eight of the occasions when Nico stood on the second step of the podium, up there standing on top was… guess who?
That the championship was still up for grabs at Abu Dhabi was only due to the double-points final round, the knee-jerk measure taken at the end of 2013 to prevent Sebastian Vettel from wrapping up his fifth title before the last race.
So much for that. Vettel didn’t even win a race, let alone a fifth championship. Yet new Red Bull Racing team-mate Daniel Ricciardo – the only non-Merc driver to win all season – won three races. Just as Ricciardo was a revelation, who would have thought at the start of the season that the young Aussie would shade the German superstar, and to such an extent that it was a factor in Vettel’s decision to leave a successful team (with which he had literally grown up) to join Ferrari at what must be the lowest ebb in the Prancing Horse’s history?
Chances are Vettel will find the going tough next year with his new team. But then more than likely so will everyone who isn’t driving a Mercedes-Benz. Nothing that happened in 2014 suggests that Merc’s domination won’t continue, at least in the short term.
If so, we can only hope we get the kind of intra team battle such as the one we’ve just enjoyed. Sure, there’s a sameness to watching two drivers from one team duking it out race after race. But that’s got to be better than seeing it wrapped up several races from the end by a Vettel (nine consecutive wins to the end of 2013 to seal the deal three races still to run – you can see how the lunacy of a double-points final race could have seemed like a good idea at the time), a Schumacher (how about that 2004 title non-event – Michael won 12 of the first 13 rounds), or even a Mansell (nine wins from 16 races in ’92 in the Williams FW14B Adrian Newey masterpiece which team-mate Riccardo Patrese drove to just the single victory).
In a year when two teams went broke, and the newera turbo hybrid V6s – impressive technology as they are – sounded like off-key Carrera Cup cars, the season was saved by one man. Thank heavens for Nico!