2014 saw F1 in a new avatar - New Regulations, New Engines, New Designs, New Tracks.. it was a complete overhaul!
The Contenders to the crown should have been the same but the Rules of the Game have changed and so have the contenders!
The Teams return to racing at Spa - Francorchamps ( Belgium ) in a Week's time after the 4 week Summer Break.
It might not be right to title this post as the Mid Season Review as we have already completed 12 rounds out of 19 for the season but no better a time to write one.
So how have all the teams fared this season?
Mercedes AMG Petronas :
The Silver Arrows are in a class of their own! 2 Years of hard work finally bearing fruit. The Mercedes Power Unit has left its Ferrari and Renault counterparts gasping for breath and has been a revelation this year.
The Duo of Rosberg and Hamilton have dominated the proceedings with everyone playing catchup. Rosberg leads the championship by 11 points and it seems to be a close fight with Hamilton who is second. Hamilton's season has been riddled with problems and retirements. 2 retirements compared to Rosberg's one and 3 bad qualifying sessions ( due to reliability issues ) compromised his races and chances at victory. However Hamilton's 5 wins to Rosberg's 4 could be pivotal in the title race.
Conspiracy theories have been circulating in the media about Rosberg getting preferential treatment and the more reliable equipment. I think such allegations and assumptions about the team are misplaced.
Lewis Hamilton was recruited by the team with one objective in mind - to propel the team to greatness. The Team was aware that they can mount a serious challenge only from 2014. Lewis Hamilton too has enjoyed preferential treatment - 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix ( Rosberg was denied the chance to overtake Hamilton as the team wanted both cars to come home ). Some even suggested post race that Lewis might have a clause in his contract, something that we shall never know. I haven't seen any instance which would authenticate this conspiracy theories doing the rounds. One must also understand that these cars are machines at the end of the day and they are prone to failures. It is quite unfortunate for Hamilton to be on the receiving end more often than Rosberg. Rosberg whose been with the team since 2010 has seen his fair share of disappointments. A Good Car and a Championship is long due for him, so I choose to be more considerate towards the German.
The Constructors' Championship is going to end up at Brackley thanks to the Team's Exceptional performance. They are on top with a comfortable lead but the car does has chinks in its armour. I wont be surprised to see the Silver Arrows lift the crown way before the season ends and with the resources that they have, reliability issues should be addressed fairly quickly.
Infinity Red Bull Racing ( Red Bull - Renault ) :
Red Bull Racing enjoyed 4 years of success but the plethora of Rule Changes unsettled them. The Team struggled to bring itself up to pace with this year's demands and that has allowed Mercedes AMG Petronas to gain a sufficient advantage over them.
Daniel Ricciardo who joined the Team from Toro Rosso has outclassed his Championship team-mate Vettel so far. Ricciardo is 3rd in the Championship with 131 points and clearly the best amongst the rest. Ricciardo notched up 2 victories - Canada and Hungary ( the only winner other than Rosberg and Hamilton ) and three 3rd Place finishes. He faces stiff competition from Fernando Alonso who is only 16 points behind but the Australian should be able to hold onto his position with the ever improving car.
Sebastien Vettel suffered 3 retirements this season and his best finish is 3rd ( at 2 races ) this season. The Torquier motor and the Drive problems of the power unit has troubled the German. He is trying to get the most out of the car and is slowly getting to grips with the rule changes this year. Vettel is currently 6th in the standings with 88 points. He should finish higher up in the Championship eventually but outscoring his immediate rivals is paramount.
Red Bull has already lost its crown to Mercedes and finishing 2nd is the best that they can manage this year. The Lack of power and unreliability of the Renault Power Unit has cost them dearly. Christian Horner, Red Bull's Team Principal issued an ultimatum to Renault to address these issues on a war footing or the team would consider other options. Some reports even suggested that Red Bull might start building their own engines but Horner wrote off such rumours clearly stating that Red Bull are good chassis designers and not engine manufacturers.
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team ( Ferrari ) :
The Most Decorated Team in F1 History has had a rough ride so far. The team has the Best Driver Line-up on the grid in Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. The world was eager to see how the 2 Ex-World Champions would match up and the contest has been pretty one sided. Alonso, a pilot since 2010 has felt more at home both with the rules and the car, scoring well and even bagging 2 podiums - 3rd at China and 2nd at Hungary. He is placed 4th in the Championship with 115 points. Its no surprise that the Spaniard has performed well beyond the car's capabilities and has made the most of the mistakes and retirements around him. Fernando Alonso still is the Best Driver on the Grid according to me and knows how to maximize results with the resources that he has.
Kimi Raikkonen has had a disappointing season so far and hit a really bad patch after the highs of 2012 and 2013 with the Lotus F1 Team. He has scored only 27 points and is placed 12th in the Standings. His best finish is 6th which came at the recently concluded Hungarian GP.
Many People have questioned Kimi's Motivation for this season and some have even suggested that the Finn has lost interest in F1.
I am a die hard Kimi Raikkonen Fan and its true that its extremely hard to see the Finn struggle this year. There are various factors that have troubled him this year.
The Rule Changes for 2014 don't suit Raikkonen's Driving Style. Ex-Team Grosjean who observed him closely in 2012 and 2013 has authenticated this fact. The Biggest Troublemaker - the new Braking system called the "Fly-by-wire" and Raikkonen is still getting to grips with it. The F14T hasn't been the most reliable for him with various problems cropping up regularly on Fridays and Saturdays hampering his preparations for the weekend. Ferrari has been working frantically to make the car as friendly as they can with regular updates. Team Principal Marco Mattiacci is confident that Raikkonen will hit top form soon. Double World Champion and Compatriot Mika Hakkinen has also been supportive of Raikkonen and warned rivals not to write off the 2007 World Champion yet. I can't wait to see Raikkonen on the top step of the podium! Belgium isn't too far..
Ferrari have struggled in comparison to the benchmarks they have set in the past and the primary reason for failure has been the Power Unit. The Engine isn't as powerful as its Mercedes counterpart causing the F14T to struggle in straight line speed. Updates have been coming in but rivals haven't been sitting on their laurels either and competition is fierce. Ferrari have the right personnel on board to help them return to their winning ways and the time to start concentrating on their 2015 contender is nearing.
Ferrari are 3rd in the Constructors with a slender lead of 7 points over Williams Martini Racing, whom they leapfrogged at the Hungarian GP. It will be difficult catching Red Bull Racing who have a considerable lead and a 3rd place finish seems a more realistic possibility. Both the Team and its Drivers will have to dig deep and ensure that their current position isn't threatened from here on.
Williams Martini Racing ( Williams - Mercedes )
Williams has been in F1 for quite a long time and has its fair share of history. The team reemerged this year in a new avatar and with a fresh resolve - to reclaim their rightful place. Williams hired the services of Felipe Massa who joined Valtteri Bottas and both have done a marvellous job for the team. Williams FW36 has been the strongest of the Mercedes Powered Customer Teams and has mounted serious challenges to the Factory Team, even beating them on a couple of occasions. Bottas, a revelation this year bagged 3 podiums for the team. 2 consecutive 2nd place finishes ( Silverstone and Hockenheim ) helped him leapfrog Sebastien Vettel into 5th Place and the Finn has 95 points to his name. Massa has had good qualifying sessions including a pole in Austria but unfortunate incidents ( 2 on the first lap ) have compromised his campaign. The Retirements hurt him bad and he is currenty 9th with 40 points.
Williams is 4th in the standings with 135 points and lost 3rd position to Ferrari at the recently concluded Hungarian GP. If the Team can ensure that both cars make it to the chequered flag at every race and continue to score consistently as the have done so far then 3rd position in the Constructors is a possibility but one cannot write off the chances of its traditional and well funded rivals in Ferrari and McLaren who will leave no stone unturned to eke out the best possible results from the remainder of the season.
Brilliant performance though by the team till now!
Sahara Force India F1 Team ( Force India - Mercedes ) :
Force India had an amazing season so far. The Superiority of the Mercedes Power Unit has helped the team to propel itself to the sharp end of the grid. The Team sits pretty in 5th on 98 points leading McLaren by just one point. Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez have performed well this season. Hulkenberg has been the more consistent one with 5th being his best finishing position. He is 7th in the Championship with 69 points. Perez bagged a podium for the team in Bahrain where he finished 3rd and the team finally got on the podium after 5 years. Perez could have snatched another Podium but a collision with Massa on the last lap of the Canadian GP denied him the chance. Perez is 11th in the standings with 29 points.
Force India will have to continue bringing in upgrades and produce good results in order to maintain its advantage and slender lead over its higher spending rivals and the team knows the importance of having a higher position in the Constructors' at the end of the season - More money to fund the development of the 2015 contender. Its a tough ask this, but not impossible
McLaren - Mercedes :
McLaren have been the 2nd most successful team in F1 after Ferrari and their performances this season have been mercurial. The Team is running the Mercedes Power Unit for the final time this year before switching to Honda who make a return in 2015.
Jenson Button has scored 60 points and is 8th in the Championship with Kevin Magnussen scoring 37 and is placed 10th. Button and Magnussen scored a double podium ( 2nd and 3rd respectively ) in the opening round in Australia this being the team's best finish so far.
McLaren's association with Mercedes has been pretty successful and a long standing one but McLaren is the weakest of the Mercedes Customer Teams this season. The Team are struggling with this year's car inspite of recruiting talented personnel. Updates are trickling in and the team is trying its best to maximize results this season. They are trailing Force-India Mercedes by a single point and I believe a shot at 4th is a good possibility by the end of the season.
Scuderia Toro Rosso ( Toro - Rosso Renault ) :
Toro - Rosso, Red Bull Racing's B-Team switched to Renault Power Units ( from Ferrari ) this year and they have had a decent season. One might argue what would have been had they not switched to Renault. Jean-Eric Vergne stayed with the team and although his team-mate has seemingly done better, the Frenchman leads with 11 points to his name. Nevertheless, F1 Rookie Daniil Kvyat fared well so far and his total of 6 points don't suggest his true potential. Vergne 's best finish was 8th while Kvyat hasn't gone better than 9th.
Challenging the ones above them seems highly unlikely. The team has a contender for 7th place in Lotus F1 and keeping them at bay should be their top priority.
Lotus F1 Team ( Lotus Renault ) :
It is pretty disheartening to see my old friends struggle in 2014. 2012 and 2013, Lotus F1 were a front running team and a force to reckon with. A problematic Renault Power unit and the Basic Design of the car has compounded problems for Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado. The Car has been riddled with Drive Problems and Reliability issues and the team is trying its best to address the problems. Grosjean has earned 8 points for the team this season with 8th place finishes in Canada and Monaco. Maldonado is yet to score this season.
The Team has suffered due to an exodus of personnel including the former team principal Eric Boullier to McLaren but they still have a talented bunch at Oxfordshire. Questions abound about the Financial Status of the Team, a possible reason for their struggles this year. I can't wait to see the team return to their glory days!
Marussia F1 Team ( Marussia - Ferrari ) :
Marussia comprise of a team whose members have a racing history and the team has done really well this season with the resources that it has had. Jules Bianchi finished 9th in Monaco and the team earned 2 vital points. Max Chilton's record run of 25 consecutive classified race finishes came to an end at Canada when he collided with his team-mate Bianchi.
Marrusia might not be able to score again this season but staying ahead of Sauber and Caterham could earn them vital finances for 2015! The season is just getting better and better!
Sauber F1 Team ( Sauber Ferrari ) :
Sauber had quite a productive 2013 with Nico Hulkenberg leading the charge. 2014 turned the tables on the team and they are yet to score a point this season. Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez both came close to scoring the first points of the season. Problems have riddled the team and its a pity to see such a talented bunch struggle. The Weight of the car is the Achilles' Heel.
Peter Sauber is a brilliant leader and he will be working hard with Monisha Kaltenborn to turn things around. What follows, only time will tell.
Caterham F1 Team ( Caterham-Renault ) :
Caterham had a tough run into the season, are last in the championship and haven't scored a point yet. Marcus Ericsson came close to scoring a point at Monaco when he finished in 11th. The struggles of the team have been very stressful for its previous owners.
On 2 July 2014 Tony Fernandes and his partners announced that they have sold the team to a consortium of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors. The Problems of the Renault Power Unit and the financial situation makes chances of improvements bleak. It seems that the team will struggle to score points this season.
2014 is being dubbed the "Silly Season" by experts and many fans have been critical of the lack of noise and power of the cars this year. The Lap Times have increased by a couple of seconds and F1 seems to have lost its sheen according to some.
Personally, this is one of the best seasons in a long long time. The Field has been shaken up, new contenders are fighting for the crown and racing has never been so exciting. Overtakes have become more common and drivers have learnt the art of being quick yet frugal. People were tired of the Red Bull Dominance for the last 4 years and the rule changes levelled the playing field; fans should have no reason to complain. The Engines are pretty loud, although not as loud and melodious as the 2.4 L V8.
One mustn't forget that this is only the first year for the new power units and the teams will slowly master the rule changes too.
F1 has turned a new chapter in its history and I am loving it! Can't wait for the Racing to resume.