Ferrari and Honda, the concept has succeeded. The hybrid units are as ingenious as they are forward-reaching – even if the PR people still face the problem of how really to tell their complicated story to the public at large.
Against that, F1 received public scorn for its new, watered-down engine noise; two teams – Caterham and Marussia – missed races postSuzuka due to a lack of funds (exacerbated by the increased cost of the power units); Sauber also struggled to survive; and, most worrying of all, F1’s TV ratings continued to decline. As fascinating as the new power units are to those who take the trouble to understand them, even the German fans stayed away from Hockenheim, despite the national team being assured of victory, the incumbent champion being German and Nico Rosberg, another German, starting from the pole (and romping to yet another win). Having been proved correct on virtually all points – but powerless to do much about it – Ecclestone’s last throw of the 2014 dice was characteristically outlandish: he pushed through a motion for the double-points concept. In the face of sophisticated F1 technology – and the long-term argument about how much of F1 is ‘sport’ and how much is ‘technical exercise’ – this appeared to be nothing more than a trite gimmick. Which, given the way things had gone, was probably Bernie’s intention.
As with many new regulation changes, the 2014 season was dominated by the one team that got it right. Lewis Hamilton’s rst test run in the Mercedes W05 was characterised by a dramatic front-wing failure, but that messy problem in Jerez belied the success that was to come. The Mercs were as dominant as they had been in 1954-55 (when the F1 formula had also changed); and just as in 1955 when Stirling Moss stretched Juan Manuel Fangio to the limit, the racing between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg was spellbinding.
After a rst half-year of evenly split results, Spa was the turning point – literally and guratively. Lewis was clearly in front as they approached Les Combes, Nico a very close second. It was lap 2 of the Belgian GP. Then, in a millisecond that would induce months of anguish, Nico’s right front wing endplate slit the sidewall of Lewis’s left-rear Pirelli.
For both drivers it was a cathartic moment. Lewis was initially incensed, furious that Nico could have been so brutal. Nico, by contrast, had an hour in the car to think about what he