Mid-season review: Part One

By on Saturday, August 2, 2014
Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

With Formula 1 currently on 'shut down' mode for the summer break, we take a look back at how the 11 teams have fared across the first half of the year, starting with the front runners.

Mercedes AMG Petronas (1st, 393 points, nine wins)

Many expected Mercedes to be Formula 1’s leading outfit in 2014 but their advantage has frequently been monumental. In Bahrain, when both drivers were racing hard after the safety car period, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were pulling away at over two seconds per lap. Their advantage is such that it’s impossible to envisage them not being the pacesetters for a few more years. Reliability has not been bulletproof and the fear is that luck could decide the title – can the squad run two cars to the limit on a consistent basis? Mercifully, Mercedes is allowing its two drivers to race and credit must go to the team for trusting its pairing to deliver. The issue will come when the title fight gets down to the business end of the year – to what extent can they maintain the harmony, and will they cope into 2015? How much will the loss of Ross Brawn be felt on the pit wall - and was his departure already felt in Hungary?

#44 Lewis Hamilton (2nd, 191 points, five wins)

Hamilton has generally been the unluckier of the two drivers across the opening half of the season, with technical woes halting him in Australia and Canada, and putting him on the back foot in Germany. Wins in Malaysia and China were controlled, while in Bahrain and Spain he had to defend against Rosberg and did so with aplomb. Home win in Britain was well received and he has been quick across the duration of the year. There have been a few errors – a lock-up in qualifying in Canada meant he started second and this put him behind Rosberg, exacerbating his overheating car. Qualifying error in Austria also hindered his weekend, while his attitude in Monaco did not reflect well. But if he keeps up this current approach, Rosberg will have to step up a level to win the title.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

High point: Popular victory at home in Britain

Low point: Monaco weekend in which he did not cope well with defeat

#6 Nico Rosberg (1st, 202 points, four wins)

Rosberg has held the championship advantage for much of the season courtesy of his win in Australia and Hamilton’s retirement. But to dismiss Rosberg’s results would be foolish – he may lack the ultimate pace and racecraft of Hamilton but he collects points and knows that he can get inside his team-mate’s head. Rosberg was defeated four times in a row by Hamilton, yet in Monaco he romped to victory – and rattled Hamilton after that qualifying error. He has been the luckier of the two drivers across the duration of the season, but he’s still done the job. In Canada he was able to manage his problems and collect 18 valuable points, while he collected another win in Austria prior to his misfortune at Silvestone. A fourth victory followed in Germany but in Hungary he missed out through bad timing and indecision. Can he repel Hamilton’s advances for another eight races?

High point: Comfortable win in Monaco from pole position

Low point: Retiring from the lead at Silverstone

Infiniti Red Bull Racing (2nd, 219 points, two wins)

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull started the season on the back foot after myriad pre-season woes, largely related to the reliability of the Renault Power Unit. The RB10 is a fundamentally sound car with a strong chassis and potentially the best aerodynamic ability. But it’s being held back by the Power Unit and while Renault is making improvements, it’s too little, too late. Reliability has been an issue – as with every Renault team – and it has cost Vettel more than Ricciardo. The team remains strong, though, with an aggressive pit strategy in Canada and Hungary enabling Daniel Ricciardo to win.

#1 Sebastian Vettel (6th, 88 points, best: 2 x 3rd)

Sebastian Vettel has not enjoyed a strong first half of 2014 with just three visits to the podium and he regularly appears unconvinced by the RB10 at turn-in. It’s only a minor issue, but it naturally costs crucial lap time. Having mastered an unconventional car for several years – the exhaust blown diffuser – he has had to adapt, along with the software, and this has taken time. He has had several good drives, but he’s also been hit by several technical problems which cost him points in Australia, Monaco and Austria. Vettel’s 2014 season has not been as bad as some would like to portray – many are taking satisfaction from the new, energetic kid having the edge over the four-times champion, whose winning streak aided the pantomime villain persona. This is the problem for Vettel – people judge him on his four titles and this means he is judged differently, as Fernando Alonso forecast at the end of 2013, when he said, one day he has the car like the others and he is fourth, fifth or seventh then these four titles will be bad news for him because people will take these four titles even in a worse manner than what they are doing now. So there are interesting times for Sebastian coming.” Vettel will be back in the future, but for the rest of the year grabbing occasional podiums is likely to be the best he can achieve.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

High point: Impressive recovery drive through the field in Spain

Low point: Several, but weekend in Austria was poor

#3 Daniel Ricciardo (3rd, 131 points, 2 wins)

Those who looked closely at Ricciardo during his Toro Rosso days knew he was a rapid driver, but even his biggest supporters will have been surprised by the way the Australian has fared in 2014. His off-track demeanour endears him to the paddock, while this approach does not mean he’s a pushover on-track (hence the Honey Badger on the helmet). He starred in Australia, pre-disqualification, and put in strong drives in Bahrain and Monaco, before collecting a deserved maiden win in Canada. It was aided by Rosberg’s demise, but Ricciardo had worked his way into the right place following a ballsy pass on Sergio Pérez. His scrap with Fernando Alonso in Germany belied the fact that Ricciardo has been a ‘top’ driver for just half a season, while his surge to victory in Hungary was magnificent. One of the stars of the year.

High point: Win in Hungary was superbly stealthy and opportunistic

Low point: Disqualification from brilliant second place at home in Australia

Scuderia Ferrari (3rd, 142 points, best: 1x 2nd)

Scuderia Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari

It’s rarely a quiet season at Ferrari, but this one has seemed particularly tumultuous. The squad hired some new staff mid-2013 in anticipation of finally overhauling Red Bull due to the new regulations. If anything, Ferrari has regressed. The chassis is weak, the engine is lacking and this combined leads to a recalcitrant F14T for drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen. Stefano Domenicali fell on his sword, replaced by Marco Mattiacci. Even though he raises some pertinent points, Luca di Montezemolo’s repeated calls for Formula 1 to change highlights that Ferrari has got the regulations wrong. Recent podium in Hungary was achieved through an unusually aggressive strategy – Ferrari has undoubtedly been too conservative in recent years, so perhaps this is a Mattiacci-induced change? Nonetheless, considering their resources, Ferrari has been the biggest disappointment of the year. The Prancing Horse has been schooled by Mercedes and is perhaps inferior to Renault. It’s a long road back from here.

#14 Fernando Alonso (4th, 115 points, best: 1 x 2nd)

Alonso has performed miracles once again with a car that struggles in corners and is equally woeful in a straight line. The Spaniard has been a model of consistency and has maximised the potential of the package. That he is so high up in the championship defies logic. That Alonso has only scored one podium shows the flaws in the F14T. He’s not been completely flawless – qualifying and start errors at Silverstone – but he made amends in the race through a brilliant, if ultimately fruitless, defence of fifth place against Vettel. One of Alonso’s most impressive traits is his adaptability. Very good drivers can perform brilliantly for a period, but the very greatest do it over many years. Alonso has been a contender for over a decade. The biggest question is whether Alonso remains committed to Ferrari for next year, or whether his patience has finally run out.

Scuderia Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari

High point: Superb fight to sixth at Silverstone, in which he battled with Vettel

Low point: Being a sitting duck in Bahrain on his way to ninth

#7 Kimi Räikkönen (12th, 27 points, best: 1 x 6th)

Räikkönen, on the other hand, has had a miserable season. It’s been somewhat exacerbated by Alonso’s relentless brilliance, but the Finn has had an underwhelming time. Qualifying has been a particular weakness, leaving him on the back foot in a midfield car. That sixth place has been his best result just emphasises his problems. Tyre warm up was blamed early in the year, while Ferrari said he was having issues with the new brake by wire system, a claim which Räikkönen publicly rebuked. There have been promises of a breakthrough – he ran strongly in Monaco before being clipped by Max Chilton while he was on form in practice at Hockenheim before regressing. His accident at Silverstone was frightening but also a silly error to make. He and Ferrari are adamant that they will turn around their woes and continue in 2015, but at the moment simply scoring decent points consistently would be an achievement. For the team, and driver, it shows the challenge they face.

High point: Recovery drive in Hungary following Saturday woe

Low point: Nearly everything else, but Silverstone error was particularly costly

Williams Martini Racing (4th, 135 points, best: 2 x 2nd)

Williams Martini Racing

Williams Martini Racing

Williams has enjoyed their best season in a decade with one pole position and three podium finishes to elevate them to fourth in the Constructors’ championship. The FW36 is fitted with the powerful Mercedes engine, but the chassis itself is a vast improvement on the FW35 and has a strong front end. It was this aspect early in the season which hurt the rear tyres, while wet weather performance was also weak. A few driver errors, team problems and misfortune meant it wasn’t until the Austrian Grand Prix when Williams finally delivered on the promise which it showed pre-season. The strategic part of the team – a role which Rob Smedley is aiding with – is gradually improving, with Williams still needing to get into the ‘winning’ mode. This is a team which has not fought at the front consistently in 10 years, so becoming accustomed to their lofty position and approaching it with an aggressive strategy is vital. Using the phrase ‘Felipe, Valtteri is faster than you’, in Malaysia was also unwise and attracted unnecssary criticism. Conservatism was still prevalent in Canada and Austria. Nonetheless, the revival of Williams, complete with Martini livery, is one of the feel good stories of the season.

#19 Felipe Massa (9th, 40 points, best: 1 x 4th)

Felipe Massa has undoubtedly been one of the unluckiest drivers of the season. He was hit by Kamui Kobayashi in Australia, while a lengthy pit stop delay cost him points in China and an inferior strategy dropped him out of the top 10 in Spain. Monaco weekend was scuppered by an errant Marcus Ericsson while at Silverstone he was helpless to avoid Räikkönen’s stricken Ferrari. Conversely, potential strong results passed him by in Canada and Germany, when he was involved in accidents with rivals in which he played a part. Austria, too, passed him by courtesy of strategy and inconsistency. Recently, Valtteri Bottas has held the upper hand, so Massa needs to fight back and start scoring big points for Williams.

Williams Martini Racing

Williams Martini Racing

High point: Emotional pole position in Austria, his first in six years

Low point: Several hefty shunts – although Germany one potentially cost him a podium

#77 Valtteri Bottas (5th, 95 points, best: 2 x 2nd)

Bottas has been one of the revelations of the season, even if it was somewhat of a slow burner. His year started with five straight finishes in the points, with his storming drive to fifth in Australia somewhat masked by his clash with the wall. Drive through the field to fifth in Spain was impressive, while a mechanical problem in Monaco followed by a quiet seventh in Canada raised questions over whether the season was passing him by. Yet in Austria he was a threat for pole, until a last lap error forced him to settle for second on the grid. Nonetheless, he overhauled Massa and gave the Mercedes drivers a scare before collecting a maiden podium. More followed with a superb drive from the back of the midfield to second at Silverstone, while he defended expertly to take another rostrum in Germany. Surely, considering Williams’s straight line speed, he must be eyeing Spa and Monza as win territory?

High point: Outstanding drive through the field at Silverstone to net second

Low point: Retirement in Monaco blotted his perfect points scoring record

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