Something a bit different to mark the half way stage of the 2014 Formula One season; a review of the drivers who have stood out the most, in what has been a spectacular beginning to the hybrid turbocharged era of F1.
Pre-season fears of the cars becoming ‘too quiet’ and ‘too artificial’ have almost been forgotten about thanks to an unprecedented amount of overtaking, wheel-to-wheel racing and drama. Criticism of new rule changes including double points for the final round at Abu Dhabi, now look set to be a masterstroke in levelling out the field and keeping viewers tuned in, unlike previous seasons.
From lights out in Australia to the chequered flag in Budapest, there have been many twists and turns. Mercedes’ domination, growing team-tensions, the resurgence of Williams, Renault’s demise and the uncertainty surrounding Caterham’s future – the list goes on. To date 2014 has proved to be a remarkable year, and one which has seen drivers capabilities tested to the limit, highlighting those who have outshone the rest of the field.
Here are my drivers of 2014 so far:
Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull
The ever smiling Australian has taken no time at all in settling into a Red Bull team who had previously been centred on the four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel. It has been Vettel’s younger team-mate however, who has grabbed the limelight, having lived up to and surpassing expectations.
Ever since his disqualification at the season opening Australian Grand Prix due to a breach in fuel regulations, Ricciardo has gone on to take every opportunity available to him, achieving two victories at both the Canadian and Hungarian Grand Prix – the only two races that Mercedes have failed to win.
Having stormed through the field at Montreal aided by Mercedes’ reliability woes to take his maiden win, Ricciardo went on to master the Hungaroring in difficult conditions, dispatching both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton along the way in a determined and hard earned win.
Add to that three more podiums at the Spanish, British and Monaco rounds as well as points at every race bar the aforementioned Australian Grand Prix and a single retirement at Sepang. As a result, Ricciardo sits third in the drivers’ standings, 71 points adrift of leader Nico Rosberg but impressively 43 ahead of Vettel.
When comparing the team-mates head-to-head, Ricciardo not only has an advantage in qualifying at 7-4 but has finished ahead of the defending World Champion in six of the seven races in which both cars have finished. Team Principal Christian Horner fully believes Red Bull have a champion in the making with Ricciardo, who has also drawn plaudits in the shape of World Champion’s Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton – who have both admitted how impressive the former Toro Rosso driver has been in his debut season with the Milton Keynes outfit.
Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes
Perhaps surprising for some to be selected ahead of his team-mate, given that Hamilton is currently behind Nico Rosberg in the Championship. However, the standings alone do not tell the whole story of 2014. The season could not have started any better for Hamilton with a pole in Australia, before pre-season reliability fears were acknowledged when the Brit was forced to retire from that same race with engine failure.
That spurred the 29 year old on to achieve four consecutive victories in Malaysia, Bahrain, China and Spain, bagging four out of five possible pole positions from the first five events along the way. The only time pole was not achieved was in Bahrain, where Mercedes team-mate Rosberg took the honours. This was short-lived come race day, when an epic fight between the Silver Arrows duo culminated in Hamilton coming out on top.
One of the main reasons that Hamilton has made the cut is due to him out-racing Rosberg and finishing ahead of him when the pair have had a fair fight. Hamilton has largely been on top, that is, except for the Monaco Grand Prix where overtaking is almost impossible. With that in mind, each of his four wins have been classic examples of where he has prevailed.
Since recovering from his early 25 point deficit, Hamilton had gone on to lead the Championship heading into Monaco. This was before suffering his second DNF of the season at the Canadian Grand Prix. Qualifying has been the 2008 World Champion’s downfall in which a large amount of poor reliability has played dividends, coincided with mistakes in the Austrian and British sessions.
Despite dropping back to his team-mate in the standings once more, Hamilton has recovered from 9th to 2nd in Austria, 6th to his fifth win of the season at Silverstone, 20th to 3rd in Germany and from the pit lane at Hungary to take the final podium place. These drives have all highlighted his overtaking abilities, something we have yet to see at large from Rosberg. Hamilton has reduced the gap between himself and Rosberg to 11 points and sits second in the Championship standings.
Valtteri Bottas – Williams
A quiet man of the Formula One paddock, now in his second season with Williams following a turbulent 2013, which was spent making the most out of a poor car.
2014 has been a different story altogether. Backed with Mercedes power Williams have risen back into the competitive order, providing Valtteri Bottas with the opportunity to shine, and he’s taken it. The 24 year old has finished in the points at every race so far this season, apart from a single retirement in Monaco.
Three eighth place finishes, two seventh’s and a fifth at the opening round in Australia have seen Bottas become one of the most consistent drivers of the year so far, showing maturity beyond his age and raw speed. The Finn qualified in a career best second place in Austria and converted it into his first ever podium in F1.
This led to a run of three podium finishes on the trot, with an impressive second at the British Grand Prix despite starting a lowly 14th on the grid, followed up by a solid drive in Germany where he went on to claim another second place after equalling his career best efforts in qualifying. He is another driver to have shown a natural ability in overtaking with countless efforts, notably at Silverstone and Albert Park.
Bottas lies fifth in the Championship standings on 95 points, a full 55 ahead of his Williams team-mate Felipe Massa. Bottas has out qualified and out-raced his more experienced team-mate on seven occasions this season, hitting the kind of form that has led to constant praise from his team of him having a spectacular future in Formula One. Williams may well have a future World Champion on their hands.
It was a tough call to select three drivers, with the likes of Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg and Daniil Kvyat all coming close and worthy of a mention. But on consideration I have chosen the drivers who I have been most impressed by so far this year and who have made the biggest impressions in the first half of the season.