If there was one thing which the 2014 Formula season was not, it was boring. In fact it had a bit of everything (other than a team capable of challenging Mercedes). Lewis Hamilton came out as deserved World Champion, Nico Rosberg a worthy challenger, Williams returned to the front end of the grid, and we saw the rise of two young talents in Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas.
But it is already time to stop some of the more fanciful comments being made. Sir Stirling Moss recently claimed Hamilton has overtaken Michael Schumacher, and though I have absolutely no grounds to argue with one of the most legendary drivers in the history of the sport, I just don’t see that one. This accompanied with calls for “Sir-Lewis” is ridiculous. No sportsman should be knighted until after their career is over, otherwise what do you do if they keep winning? “We knighted him after his second World Championship, but he now has five, what do we do?! Errrm, I dunno… make him King?” Just look at Andy Murray this year. Let’s not get carried away: as Sir Jackie Stewart says, Hamilton’s not a legend yet.
We then have Nico Rosberg, who though controversial at times, only enhanced his reputation. Whatever you think of Rosberg, credit to him, in his first ever title scrap he out-qualified Hamilton: took him to the wire, and ultimately displayed great humbleness and humility in defeat. Rosberg is capable of being World Champion: and if one thing is for certain, he will come back stronger next season.
So there is no question that Hamilton was better than Rosberg, but was he the best driver in 2014? Most people will say yes, and you can see why: 11 victories and a second World Championship in what was a tumultuous year at Mercedes is hugely impressive. The mental adversity Hamilton had to overcome throughout the entire season has to be noted as his coming of age in Formula 1; and I think he will win Sports Personality of the Year because of this. He has finally answered the long-lasting critics about his psychological strength and race-craft. He is no longer relying solely on his natural talent.
However, despite Hamilton’s triumphant season, there are a few reasons I don’t believe he was the most impressive driver on the grid. Notable though his comebacks were, there were certain facts that Hamilton could always use to help strengthen him, and they were nearly all bred out of being in one of the most dominant cars in the history of Formula One.
In the Mercedes, reliability aside, there was very little doubt of who would come first and second. It was nearly always a straight fight between Hamilton and Rosberg, and this is where Lewis had the edge. Coming into the season he had to his name: one World Championship; 22 race victories; and he’d beaten Rosberg in 2013. Then, as the season progressed, he had the comfort of knowing Rosberg had yet to pass him on track. Without detracting from Hamilton, it became apparent that so long as there were no issues with his car, more often than not, he would beat Rosberg. Such a reality would have made things easier than they could have been.
My driver of the season then? I think it has to be Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo was by no means a certainty to even get the Red Bull drive, yet he ended up as the only non-Mercedes driver to a win race in 2014, and effectively ousted the youngest ever Quadruple World Champion. Before the season started Ricciardo had never won a race, was fully expected to be dominated by Sebastian Vettel, and there was little doubt that he had the most difficult seat on the grid. But nothing could have been further from the truth. Ricciardo was the stronger from Australia to Abu Dhabi and was frequently one of the most entertaining drivers: regularly engaging in some of the best wheel-to-wheel scraps. Not only this, but good ol’ Danny Ric is a great example of what you want from a driver off the track too. There are very few people who don’t like him, and if he goes onto one day become World Champion he will be a credit to the sport. He may not have had to deal with a truly intense inter-team battle, but I think Ricciardo’s domination at Red Bull was the most impressive feat of 2014.
The V6 Turbo era did not only bring fresh entertainment on track, but also caused a tumultuous ripple throughout the paddock and forced the hands of key players off it, most notably at Ferrari. “I’m not here to make Fernando Alonso happy” were the ill-advised words of Marco Mattiacci: and although that obviously wasn’t his only charge, the reality is, yes you were. You were supposed to bring in positive changes: not lose the best driver on the grid and the man who has been responsible for maintaining Ferrari’s reputation over the last five years. Alonso’s departure was down to the car of course, but it’s hardly surprising that this U.S. car salesman got the chop after only a few months in charge.
This led onto the Alonso/McLaren saga and the disrespectful treatment of Jenson Button by Ron Dennis and those in command at McLaren. To hang a former World Champion and one of the most popular drivers on the grid out to dry, is just wrong. Ron Dennis can come out with whatever verbal diarrhoea (or “Ronspeech” by its politically correct name) he wants, but the reality is he has mistreated a driver who has consistently delivered and been a true professional. If this was to be Button’s last season, he did not deserve to go out in such unbefitting circumstances.
But still, that’s motorsport. Jenson will be fine wherever he goes, and Ferrari will endure, despite their inability to progress under the new regulations. The escalating cost of which, has only highlighted the structural flaws in Formula One. Small teams may come and go, but change is needed. Bernie Ecclestone has done little this year other than sully his already controversial reputation. You want to know what young people want Bernie: entertaining racing, drivers that aren’t corporatised and mind-numbingly boring, and a healthy sport which allows for fair competition. It’s pretty simple really: we want the same as what every other Formula One fan wants. Not double points and pole trophies.
Despite the sport being close to a state of crisis, this has been largely rectified by a number of fantastic races and along with a constant source of controversial talking-points and debates means the 2014 season has been highly entertaining.
How long Hammer-time will last is yet to be seen, and this is one of the most frustrating things for Hamilton fans: because with Lewis you never know, just look at what happened after 2008. But, if he keeps progressing the way he has this season, and behind the wheel of the Mercedes, Hamilton could be looking at a substantial haul of Championships before he retires.
Ultimately though we must end on a sombre note, as Hammer-time is not the most important message broadcasted in 2014; but the two messages of support for Michael Schumacher and Jules Bianchi: Keep-Fighting-Michael and Forza-Jules.