July 31, 2014 (F1plus/Katie Grimmett).- The first half of the Formula 1 circus ended on a high in Hungary as Mercedes bowed to the superior strategy of Red Bull and Ferrari at the Hungaroring. It has been a captivating season thus far, bustling with surprises and controversy.
2014 has been the year of Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton’s racing mentality has sparked a debate throughout the paddock, so too has Nico Rosberg’s sportsmanship. Whatever your opinion - and we all have one - the summer break will be crucial for each of the twenty-two drivers as ‘silly season’ takes a momentary pause.
Nico Rosberg self-proclaimed “disappointing weekend” saw him finish fourth – a position, a few years ago, he would have been more than happy to achieve. The German has been a dominant force in the Mercedes but any suggestion that his team mate would give up a top three finish was misguided and naive. No wonder Niki Lauda has vetoed any suggestion of further team orders this year.
Upon their return to racing, the Belgian Grand Prix will prove to be vital for the commanding Mercedes duo as their battles continue both on and off-track. Rosberg’s quiet and sly determination can come across as arrogant at times as his team mate wavers behind the scenes. Gathered press watch Hamilton like a hawk, ready to pounce. You can see it in his eyes, he is very aware of his actions.
The Briton’s commanding drives against the odds this year still see him sat eleven points adrift of his title-leading team mate. Therefore, undoubtedly, the champion elect has the psychological edge and frankly less to lose than his long time friend and rival at this stage. He is one who is clearly enjoying his long-overdue time in the limelight.
Meanwhile, 2014 has seen the end of the Red Bull era. The team finding themselves in an unusual position as they leave the Hungaroring with only one driver in the top three. The ripple of applause in the Hungaroring media centre reflected the nature of Daniel Ricciardo’s gripping last-minute win. His performance – particularly in the latter stages – was impressive as he charged to a second victory for the Austrian outfit. You would be hard-pressed to find anybody who dislikes the smiling Australian, a man who has silenced the critics one race at a time.
Mercedes keeps dominating.
Daniel Ricciardo has won the only two races not coming from a Mercedes. (Getty/Red Bull)
To lead Sebastian Vettel at this stage is no mean feat. The German appears to be (by his standards) struggling with the RB10 in this new V6 engine era. A notoriously private and unflappable individual, the four time world champion is no longer the dominant leader of the Red Bull brigade. Riccairdo has been the hero; his team mate the unsung star of the season. This year, Vettel is a victim of his own success. Credit has not been quick to come Vettel’s way but his experience has ensured Red Bull remain the best of the rest before Spa. As a result, not much will change for the Austrian squad this summer.
Put simply, Ferrari is not the figure of dominance it once was. Fernando Alonso appears frustrated with his 2014 challenger and Kimi Raikkonen’s expression looks even more downcast than usual. With a change in team management and just two podiums to their credit so far this year, the Scuderia may well begin to rethink their 2015 title run upon F1’s return in Spa.
One should never write off Raikkonen, the sport’s enigmatic Finn – he is a former world champion who has a greater work ethic than he would care to admit. Although Alonso’s podiums have raised expectations, Raikkonen is composed under pressure and the latter half of the 2014 season will be no different.
Alonso is doing what he has always done: pushing his car to its limits. When Ferrari has struggled to provide a title challenger, the Spaniard has taken the fight to the last round. He is the only driver to finish every lap of all the Grands Prix this year and remains a dependable and passionate force behind the helmet. But, with Fernando poised to leave at any moment, Marco Mattiacci may need to contemplate his 2015 driver line up, car and strategy in the coming weeks. We all hoped for a legendary season at Ferrari but alas, it was not to be.
Williams are a slightly more challenging team to analyse. One race they are top of the timesheets, the other outside the podium. The Mercedes engine has, somewhat unsurprisingly, contributed to their strong race pace but their consistency is questionable.
Williams seems to have found consistency. (LAT Photo)
Last year, many were sympathetic when Felipe Massa was dropped unceremoniously by a ruthless Ferrari. However, 2014 seems to tell a very different story – the Brazilian has notched up an impressive two-hundred or so Grands Prix but his attitude in press events in sometimes ill-advised. You want a story and this year, Massa will find a way to help you. What a kind man.
Valtteri Bottas, on the other hand, is a perfect example of how to nurture young talent. The Finn has remained under the protective wing of the Williams family and will remain a member of the F1 circus for many more years to come. He is typical of his nationality: shy and deceptively competitive. He has certainly come into his own this year, spraying champagne on three consecutive occasions. However, Bottas cannot afford complacency as a back-on-form Red Bull stage their comeback.
Looking further down the grid, McLaren has an awful lot to prove. Their qualifying pace is improving and the car does seem to be an enhancement on last year but, for them, consistency is vital.
A poor run of form throughout 2014 ensures Kevin Magnussen still has some work to do after the summer break. After all, his junior racing championships now count for nothing - especially with Ron Dennis back in the mix. From Spa onwards, the Dane must prove that his Australian podium was not a fluke if he is to justify such a step up so soon. So far, it has been a season of inconsistency but there is promise and a future behind the wheel of car number twenty.
Much has been said about Jenson Button’s future but the 2009 champion has a strong head on his experienced shoulders. The most experienced driver on the grid, his subsequent knowledge of developing cars cannot be understated. His mixed run of form will not cause permanent psychological damage but after the summer break, he will need to bring out the best in his team mate if McLaren are to fully prepare for Honda’s hotly-anticipated return in 2015.
Also suffering with a case of inconsistency, Force India’s dynamic duo has struggled at the hands of their VJM07. However, both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez should not feel disheartened.
Hulkenberg’s commendable seventh place in the championship sees him ranked higher than two world champions and the German can boast only one notable mistake this year in Hungary. Clearly vindicated by his Lotus rejection, he is still yet to greet the chequered flag within the top three but a reliable driver the ever-improving outfit.
I do not expect big changes to come Force India’s way as they run their strong driver line up; though Perez will need to secure some confident points finishes if he is to get the better of his team mate. For now, that should be the Mexican’s focus as he continues his fight for another top level drive.
Similarly, Jean-Eric Vergne is looking to follow in the footsteps of his former team mate Ricciardo by earning a more competitive driver sooner rather than later. His future at Toro Rosso will never be full term. After all, anything more than a one year contract at this stage would go against everything the Red Bull Junior Programme endorses. The following months will be crucial to the Frenchman’s career as he fights off strong competition from the next generation of Red Bull prodigies. 2014 is very much an all or nothing season especially with Daniil Kvyat alongside him.
Daniil Kyvat has shown his talent. (Getty/Red Bull)
Kvyat enjoyed a strong start but the reliability of the Toro Rosso has let him down at times. The Russian is the youngest driver in history and the occasional small mistake does reflect his inexperience however he can remain fairly confident of a 2015 drive. The twenty-year-old has done little to suggest that his call up was a mistake so his aim is to learn and develop ready for his second year. Red Bull’s Junior Team is so talented; Dr Helmet Marko will have a difficult choice.
Lotus is the only team to officially extend a driver contract for 2015, ensuring Pastor Maldonado’s future with the struggling Enstone outfit. The Venezuelan is not a champion in the making but he brings a stable financial future just when Lotus needs it. His team mate Romain Grosjean on the other hand, is a pivotal driver in the 2015 line up rumours. Assured of his Total backing regardless of a Renault engine, the Frenchman has remained tight-lipped about his future. Grosjean has less to prove than the team who hope to keep him, a truly privileged situation for any driver.
Sauber will perhaps provide the greatest change coming into the summer break. The team that produced Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa is enduring its worst season in history. The mix of youth and experience has not brought the right balance to the Swiss outfit. It would not be a surprise to see Adrian Sutil pushed out and reserve driver Giedo van der Garde joining the fray. Adrian should be making fewer mistakes than he is and his funding is less valuable than that of Esteban Gutierrez – especially with the Mexican Grand Prix on the horizon. Come on Sauber, sort it out.
Marussia is basking in the glory of an eighth place finish and competent qualifying pace. Though they occasionally struggle for continual performance on Sundays, Marussia earn the title of ‘breakout team’ for 2014. Max Chilton is yet to score a point but is a reliable force behind the wheel and a valuable development driver. Until the Briton secures his first top ten finish, however, he will remain firmly stuck in the shadows of Jules Bianchi. Could the Frenchman replace Alonso at Ferrari? Perhaps, he is certainly a class act.
Caterham has suffered many changes so far, in ownership and management. (LAT Photo)
In stark contrast, Caterham’s new owners are known for all the wrong reasons. Suing and counter-suing, it is not a happy time for the Oxfordshire outfit. Their drivers are no longer the talking point but Kamui Kobayahsi is perhaps their best driver this year. He has received warnings about his future but with no one in the running to replace him (yet), the Japanese driver can enjoy his last moments in F1 for a little longer.
Marcus Ericssonshould also survive the new, harsh realities of Caterham life but will remain a largely anonymous figure on the grid after the summer break. Changes are in the water at Caterham but surely they would be foolish to change their line up before the new bosses have found time to place a new name sign on their office doors?
Formula 1 will return to action at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps next month where the title battle, driver rumour mill and Hamilton conspiracies will continue in full swing.