Thank heavens for Nico Ros­berg

F1 Racing - - EDITORIAL - Ignition / Steve Nor­moyle / 01.15

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!

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