After four years of one-team/one-driver domination, the Formula 1 world was keen to see a new champion being crowned in Abu Dhabi. It had become clear a few races back that it would be a Mercedes driver claiming the 2014 title, but with double points on the cards for the final event of the season, everyone expected a fight to the finish line between two team-mates.
However, such is the unforgiving nature of sport, the final battle reached an anti-climax with reliability issues spoiling some of the excitement – but not all of it.
Now, two weeks on and numerous championship celebrations later, not only the title deal is well and truly sealed, but also some driver career ones. Let’s take a look at the how their Abu Dhabi performance affected (or not) the drivers’ prospects in 2015.
Although Lewis Hamilton held the upper hand ahead of the last race of the season with a points advantage over his team-mate, Nico Rosberg proved in Saturday qualifying he had nothing to lose and all to gain by qualifying in pole position. But it became clear right at the start he wouldn’t have an easy time trying to climb to the top of the leaderboard in the last, deciding race, as his team-mate stormed well ahead of him by the first turn to build a strong 1.5sec+ advantage over the rest of the field at the end of the first lap. That gap was only to increase – first gradually, before a dramatic speed-trap difference between the two cars mid-way through the race indicated Rosberg had hit trouble. The German experienced an energy recovery system (ERS) failure, meaning he would miss out on around 161 bhp per lap available to the rest of the grid – which quickly became apparent as the Mercedes started dropping back behind its competitors. As evidenced in radio messages between Rosberg and his team, the German was desperate to hold on to the last viable position that would still hand him the champion’s trophy if Hamilton were to retire – but the 5. place finish was well out of his reach.
“Box this lap, there are too many problems with the car,” Rosberg was told by his mechanics a couple of laps before the finish, just as his team-mate was about to lap him on his final stint for victory.
“I want to finish,” the German replied – and crossed the line in 14. place.
In light of his team-mate’s woes, Hamilton tried to restrain his fighting spirit, well aware that similar issues could hit his own car; but no such thing happened and the Brit completed the race and the 2014 season in superb style, to claim his 33. career win and second championship title.
“I’m a bit lost for words really,” Hamilton said off the top podium step.
“I think one thing I want to say is a big, huge thank you to all the fans coming out all this way, all the flags, all the caps, everything, it made such a difference this weekend.
“I can’t really explain how much this means. It means even more than the first one. It feels like it’s the first time.”
Despite the disappointing result for one half of the Mercedes garage, the team also reaffirmed their dominance by edging even further ahead of the competition in the constructors’ championship, already decided in Russia . And although the overall Formula 1 community would like to see the rest of the paddock up their game in 2015, the expert opinion is that the Silver Arrows are most likely to further grow in strength next season.
Out of all constructors on the 2014 grid, Williams emerged as the only true potential competitor to Mercedes’ outright speed – and Abu Dhabi just served to prove that. The team scored their first double podium since Monaco 2005 as well as – courtesy of the double-points set up – the largest amount of points ever claimed by a team in one race. And although the added 66 points was not enough to edge the Grove team ahead of Red Bull in second in the constructors’ standings, they still had plenty of reasons to celebrate at the Yas Marina circuit.
Following a brilliant performance in Brazil, which continued Felipe Massa’s reemergence from the shadows of his junior team-mate, the Brazilian got as close to a win as possible in Abu Dhabi, leading the race between laps 32 and 44, to eventually finish in second.
“… It was an incredible race for us. I didn’t expect to have that pace,” Massa said from the podium.
“Unfortunately, Lewis was a little bit too far but I wanted so much that victory. We were close and I hope that’s just the beginning for next year.”
In the meantime, after a difficult opening lap that saw him drop back a number of places, Valtteri Bottas worked his way back to his starting position in the course of the afternoon to eventually secure his 4. place in the drivers standings in 2014, ahead of the four-time F1 champion, Sebastian Vettel.
It was a bitter start to the German’s last race with his four-title-winning team after his and his team-mate’s qualifying results were annulled when stewards concluded the cars’ front wing design breached sporting regulations. The two drivers were allowed to start the race but only from the pitlane – despite that, they both managed to deliver some last 2014 points to the team.
Daniel Ricciardo put a final stomp on his “best of the rest” title and third championship place finish by taking his car home 4. across the line. Vettel’s swan song was not as impressive but still meaningful, as he snatched a tiny bit of glory off the man he will be replacing at Ferrari next year, finishing just ahead of Fernando Alonso, in 8.
“I think the last six years have been an incredible journey, obviously we didn’t expect that when we started working together – you can never expect four driver titles and four constructors’ championships in a row,” Vettel said after that race.
“You go through happy days and sad days, you go through them together and I think I learned a lot. I’d like to thank Red Bull and the team for everything they did and I will miss them. I feel ready for the next step.”
Red Bull’s disqualification from the Saturday session opened a window of opportunity for McLaren, who originally qualified in average for the team but disappointing to its drivers 8. and 11. places – and Jenson Button made the most of it on the day to eventually finish in 5. place. He, too, fought a gripping battle with Alonso mid-way through the race, which demonstrated the masterful skills of both champion drivers.
The Abu Dhabi result was viewed as hugely important towards Button’s career, as the Brit is yet to find out whether his McLaren contract will be extended for 2015, allowing him to race Alonso as a team-mate, as the Spaniard’s incorporation into the team, even if not officially confirmed, is already considered a fact.
The 2014 tally would speak in favour of Button, who completed the season 71 points ahead of his current team-mate Kevin Magnussen; but the pundits suggest his seniority level – or old age in respect of the Dane – might mean this was the Brit’s final Formula 1 outing; but the final decision, due last week, had been put off once more. The wait continues.
It was a disappointing afternoon for the whole junior Red Bull team, but the decisions that followed the crowning of the champion were particularly bitter for one of its drivers.
Only 16 laps into the race Daniil Kvyat’s car broke down on track due to an electrical failure, cutting his final 2014 appearance short; however, that was not really a reason for despair for the Russian, who had already been promoted to the coveted Red Bull seat for next year a few weeks back.
His team-mate, in turn, despite finishing ahead of Kvyat in the championship standings is now officially without a 2015 drive, as both Toro Rosso seats have been given out to complete rookies over the course of recent weeks.
“Nothing has made any sense,” Vergne told Autosport.
“They [Red Bull] always say points matter; they know I was 5kg overweight compared to my team-mate, so I had at least two tenths [disadvantage] that no one knew about in qualifying – they know all the technical issues I had that didn’t allow me to score points.
“I think I’ve made a really strong season compared to last year and I think it’s been really unfortunate that I’ve had so many [technical] problems, because I would have had a lot more points and things would play a different role for me.”
The new-look Toro Rosso will feature Formula Renault 3.5 champion Carlos Sainz Jr. and Formula 3 driver Max Verstappen next year, while JEV is yet to learn whether he will be racing in Formula 1 at all.
It was a painful sign of difficult economic times to see two empty garages in the US Grand Prix, and then in Brazil also, where Marussia and Caterham should have been; however, the latter did not give up on their racing pursuit and a crowd funded campaign had brought the team back for their final 2014 appearance in Abu Dhabi. Alongside similarly funded Kamui Kobayashi, who only raced this season thanks to financial support from his friends, Caterham ran a complete F1 newbie, Britain’s Will Stevens, in place of its other rookie Marcus Ericsson who terminated his contract before the last race.
In aid of the team’s efforts to remain in the sport, the Formula 1 body, the FIA, agreed for Caterham to run its 2014 car next season, providing that they find a buyer who will pull the team out of administration – time will tell whether they will be joining the 2015 grid, however.