This year has been a slightly odd season. One team was utterly dominant, but because they allowed the drivers to compete and they were pretty evenly matched it remained closely fought until the final race (and it’s worth noting that if Hamilton rather than Rosberg had suffered the power failure in Abu Dhabi then Rosberg would be world champion right now).
From the very first race a few things which would be critical for the season were apparent. The Mercedes was fastest, by a mile. It was also a little bit unreliable. The Mercedes engine was the best, by a mile. Ricciardo would confound expectations and beat Vettel. The Williams was very fast.
We also had a red herring with a great McLaren result [something I’m considering for next year is that McLaren seem to, for some reason, punch above their weight in Australia, and the same may be true in Russia].
As the season wore on it became clear the title would be between the Mercedes’ team mates. We saw an epic duel in Bahrain (arguably the first time that circuit has produced anything interesting, so perhaps they’ll keep it as a night race), controversy in Monaco, collision in Spa, and many reliability failures throughout the season. I expect 2015 to also be very close between the two Mercedes drivers, with the team likely to dominate next year as well.
Whilst Red Bull’s whining grates, Ricciardo remained eminently likeable, and was a revelation in a top team, pulling off perhaps the best passes of the year. It’ll be interesting to see how he’ll do against Kvyat. I suspect he’ll continue to be the de facto number one driver, but given I thought Vettel would crush him perhaps my view should be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s also worth noting that despite the torrid testing time the team suffered they were the clear best-of-the-rest after the irresistible speed of the Mercedes.
Williams wins the Lazarus award for coming back from the dead. After a piffling 5 points and finishing 9th last year, they came 3rd, beating the might of Ferrari and McLaren despite having far fewer resources. Next season I expect them to do very well, but the question will be whether they can challenge for wins, and beat Red Bull.
The Ferrari pairing of Alonso and Raikkonen looked great. But it wasn’t really. Alonso was faster by a long way, the Finn never got to grips with the less than pointy front end of the prancing horse, the engine was perhaps the worst on the grid and the car was, once again, lacklustre. With James Allison having more of a hand in next season’s there’s some hope, but the team’s just lost arguably the best driver on the grid. The Vettel-Raikkonen pairing could be interesting, as they’re apparently friends. However, to beat Williams or Red Bull (never mind Mercedes) they’ll need a much faster car.
McLaren had another weak season, but it was a little strange. After (following Ricciardo’s disqualification when his team decided following the rules was optional) Australia’s double podium the car’s relative pace slid backwards, and for a long while they were under serious threat from Force India. However, they developed the car better, and strong performances from Button enabled them to retain 5th. But for a team like McLaren, the season remains a failure. Their stronger results near the end of 2014 and renewed partnership with Honda offers some hope for 2015, as does the probable yet unconfirmed re-signing of Alonso.
Force India will rue only finishing 6th after many strong performances earlier in the season. With the best engine and a good driver lineup they could’ve achieved more but went down an aerodynamic dead end in development, losing relative pace as the season wore on to McLaren. But for that, they could’ve finished a place higher. However, with the best engine on the grid and retaining both Hulkenberg and Perez (a very solid pairing, in my view) they may aspire to finish 5th or even 4th next year.
Toro Rosso had a decent season. Kvyat really hit the ground running, and Vergne performed well (very well, in some cases). I think it’s a bit rough to throw Vergne overboard and shove Kvyat into the top team, given the Frenchman outscored the Russian by 22 points to 8. With Verstappen (then 17) and Carlos Sainz Junior joining next year the drivers will have a combined age a couple of years greater than Jenson Button by himself. There’s a lot of good things being said about Verstappen. We’ll see how he copes next year.
If Williams was Lazarus, Lotus was Wile E. Coyote just as he realises he’s run off a cliff. The performance absolutely nose-dived this season. Grosjean’s a very good driver, he proved that when the car was better in earlier seasons, but this year the Lotus was very poor in almost all conditions. Next year, they’ll have the Mercedes engine which will help them on cost, power and efficiency, but they still need a fundamental redesign in order to climb up the order.
Marussia had the ultimate up and down season. The talented Jules Bianchi (often touted as destined for a top team) scored them their first points with a 9th in Monaco. Later in the season he suffered a tremendously heavy crash, and although he can now breathe unaided he remains in a very serious condition. The team subsequently went into administration and, despite having tens of millions in prize money heading their way if they can find a buyer, things look bad for them entering the sport in 2015.
It was a dreadful season for Sauber. Sutil’s a decent but not outstanding driver, and Gutierrez’s main asset seems to be his wallet. It’s unsurprising the team, which suffered its first pointless year in the sport, has axed both. They’re being replaced with Felipe Nasr (apparently it’s now being pronounced Nasir, which will at least reduce commentator confusion) and Marcus Ericsson. Those heady days of Perez and Kobayashi getting four podiums in a year seem a long way off.
Caterham again finished last, and also went into administration following a complex and unseemly contract dispute between the current and former owners (the former turning out to perhaps still be the owner). Despite this, they made the final race and may return in 2015, though that remains uncertain.
Hamilton had a very good season. The bad luck more or less evened itself out (there is a strong case to say Rosberg had it worst, as he had at least 3 effective retirements [Abu Dhabi counting double], lost 7 points to reliability in Canada and had a nightmare sequence of small misfortunes in Hungary. In qualifying, he was second best although at least part of this was due to his car occasionally exploding. In the race, his pace was the same as Rosberg, but it was his wheel-to-wheel advantage which made the difference and won him the title.
Rosberg also had a very good season, matching Hamilton on pace and beating him (with some help from good fortune) in qualifying. Wheel-to-wheel was his Achilles’ Heel, but in Brazil he showed he could keep Hamilton behind him for lap after lap, and that will help his confidence and perhaps performance next year. Rosberg is a very serious title contender for next year, and I expect the two team mates to be at it hammer and tongs in 2015 once again.
Ricciardo was a revelation at Red Bull, not only out-qualifying and out-racing Vettel by a clear distance, but also pulling off probably the best passes of the year. He’s an extremely impressive driver, and although I don’t think he’ll be able to match the Mercedes’ chaps next year (due to hardware rather than skill) he should be a world champion someday. The honey badger has teeth.
Bottas won a tight contest for 4th in the Drivers’ championship. He was good all year but not flawless. An unforced error in Australia cost him points, and at the end of the season he was starting badly. However, he did achieve a variety of podiums, was solid in both qualifying and in the races and will be aiming for a first win next year.
Vettel seemed a bit shell-shocked this season, probably due to a combination of a substantial power deficit and the removal of a lot of downforce, at which his team had always excelled. Having Ricciardo come along and outperform him didn’t help, and the final race (where they started 21-22 and finished 4-8) was a good summary of how the season’s gone. Vettel’s a very good driver but he needs to rediscover his form. This season, after four successive titles, was poor.
Alonso once again drove well, and once again punched above his weight given his car. However, it seems that he and the short-lived team principal Mattiacci fell out, and this encouraged the Spaniard to jump ship (can’t really blame him).
Massa was 7th. The first half of the season was reasonable but not outstanding, though in the second half he put in some very good performances, most notably in Brazil where he achieved a good podium finish. I would guess that much of the improvement came as he properly bedded in with the team and got used to changes in the car and team structure compared to Ferrari. With Bottas, he forms a strong driver pairing for Williams going forward.
Button won more than twice the points of Magnussen, and performed better than him in both the races and qualifying. When McLaren started out-developing the Force India, the Briton was the chap leading the charge and racking up points. I’ve been pretty impressed by Button, and hope he retains his seat.
Hulkenberg, who’ll be competing for Porsche at Le Mans in addition to racing for Force India next year, had a good but not incredible season. Perez kept him honest and he beat his team mate overall.
Perez was one place but 37 points below Hulkenberg. The Mexican’s performed well, but was hampered by some reliability issues. Whilst I do think his German team mate is the better driver the points are not a true reflection of performance this year. Perez is a talented chap, and it’s good to see both men retaining their seats.
Magnussen was disappointing, to be honest. After an initial podium finish in Australia, things looked set fair. But after that he was usually second best to his team mate on both Saturdays and Sundays, and ended up with fewer than half as many points as Button. If he keeps the seat I hope he can improve rapidly.
Raikkonen had barely a third the points of Alonso. Very poor. His only saving grace is that if the team makes a pointier front end for him next year he might roar back to life.
Vergne had a good season, occasionally putting in cracking performances and usually being solid. He had almost thrice as many points as his team mate but is being given the heave-ho. After a good season, that’s rough. Like Di Resta before him, he’s good enough to be in the sport but is leaving it anyway.
Grosjean’s a bit hard to assess because the Lotus wasn’t so much a dog as a rabid mongrel that occasionally burst into flames. He’s a very good driver, and I hope the team can offer him a car that at least gives him a chance to show off his skill next year.
Kvyat was impressive. At 19, I thought him too young, but he hit the ground running and only made a handful of errors all season. However, he was out-paced and out-scored by Vergne, which makes me think his promotion to Red Bull may be premature. Ricciardo drove for HRT and then had a couple of seasons with Toro Rosso before being promoted.
Maldonado must be wondering whether leaving Williams for Lotus was a wise move. Hampered by a car that was usually very slow and sometimes aflame, he was also beaten by his team mate and rarely troubled the scoreboard.
Bianchi’s season is defined by the horrific crash he suffered in bad weather. Whilst his condition has improved it remains very serious, and I hope he can make a full recovery.
Sutil, Ericsson, Gutierrez, Chilton and Kobayashi [as well as one-off Caterham drivers Stevens and Lotterer] scored nothing. This is down to the car more than anything else. Kobayashi has proven himself a decent driver, and we’ll see next year what Ericsson can do. It seems likely Sutil, Gutierrez, Chilton and Kobayashi will not be joining us in 2015 [unless Caterham can find a buyer, perhaps].
The betting really was a season of two halves. Really rather good in the first half, and notably poor in the second (the second half was green if you bet-and-forget and very slightly red if you hedged). Title bets, most notably the 16/1 or 24/1 (depending on bookie) on Rosberg went well, as although it didn’t come off it was very hedgeable. Other bets, the 50/1 on Magnussen for the title, for example, didn’t come off but were more than off-set by Mercedes’ dominance.
Oddly, I did better in qualifying in the second half than I did in the race (in fact, qualifying was green and racing red). First time I can recall that happening. I did decide against 3 qualifying bets late on, 2 of which ended up coming off. Mildly irked by that. The return on interest [not including title bets] was 28% with hedging and 45% without. Given how good the first half was, that’s a little disappointing, but overall I was ahead so I can’t complain too much.
Rambling about the future
The season also saw the end of two ‘nice’ team principals: Stefano Domenicali (whose successor has already been replaced, allegedly for the crime of considering F1’s needs above the financial self-interest of the Ferrari F1 team), and Martin Whitmarsh, who was deposed by a resurrected Ron Dennis. We also saw, although this was known about beforehand, the departure of Ross Brawn, which was a great shame. Without him the Mercedes would not be so dominant right now. There are rumours about his return, possibly including in a few years as an Audi team principal. Whether that’ll happen or not I can’t say, but it’d be great to see him come back.
I’ve put a small sum on Betfair for Rosberg to win the title at 4.7, hedged at 3. I think it’ll be a two horse race, and he came very close this year. Even if he fails in 2015, the bet may very well be hedgeable.
My expectation is that Mercedes will again be dominant. Williams may beat Red Bull (Kvyat may struggle at the sharp end and at the end of 2014 the Williams was the better car). Ferrari and McLaren will be interesting to watch for personnel as well as engine reasons. Likewise Lotus. Sauber is hard to predict, with two new drivers (although Sutil has raised a contract dispute with the team).
It’s unclear whether we’ll see Caterham again, but Marussia appears increasingly unlikely to feature on the grid.
The season will be 20 races long, as we keep Austria (Williams will be pleased) and Mexico joins the calendar. Azerbaijan is, I think, set for 2016.
The next post is likely to be pre-season, around the time of the tests next year.