x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Formula One mid-season report: A few surprises and also some disappointment uncovered

Graham Caygill takes a look at what we have learnt from the opening 11 races of the 2014 Formula One season and what is in the forecast before the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Jules Bianchi of France and Marussia drives during final practice ahead of the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at Hungaroring on July 26, 2014 in Budapest, Hungary. Drew Gibson/Getty Images
Jules Bianchi of France and Marussia drives during final practice ahead of the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at Hungaroring on July 26, 2014 in Budapest, Hungary. Drew Gibson/Getty Images

A look at what we have learnt from the opening 11 races of the 2014 Formula One season:

Vettel is mortal

Given his past four seasons of dominance with 34 wins from 77 races, the opening 11 races of the 2014 season have been a big reality check for the world champion Sebastian Vettel.

The Red Bull Racing package, for the first time since he joined the team in 2009, is not the fastest on the grid and two third-place finishes are not the results we have come to expect from Vettel.

For the track guides, team profiles and the latest standings see our interactive F1 2014 graphic here

There is no disgrace in being beaten by the dominant Mercedes cars, but Vettel is not even the fastest driver in his team and that must be hurting him.

Daniel Ricciardo has been consistently quicker in qualifying and in races. To rub salt into the wound it has been the Australian who has won the two races not won by a Mercedes this year. This is abnormal for Vettel and he needs to raise his game in the closing races of the season if he is to dissuade the public of the notion that his four championships were not just won because of the car beneath him.

Hamilton holds edge

So who has done the better job of the Mercedes-GP drivers? The scoreboard says Nico Rosberg, with a 11-point lead, but he has benefited from greater fortune with mechanical reliability than Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg has been superb and has hardly made a mistake of note in a race. But we have seen it all from Hamilton. Dominant win. Check. Win when your teammate was faster thanks to some great defensive driving. Check. Come from the back of the grid and finish on the podium. Check.

Hamilton has made more errors, particularly in qualifying, but he has shown the flashes of brilliance of a man at the top of his game.

The Mercedes is the faster car this year so charging through the field should be possible, but to do it quickly and without crashing into other cars you need to have skill.

Rosberg has been consistent – his driving in Monaco to defend for 78 laps from Hamilton was impressive – but he is yet to reach the high points of his teammate.

Bianchi’s top drive

There have been many contenders for best individual performance of the season, Hamilton’s drives from the back of the field and Ricciardo’s victories, for example, but the best drive of 2014 to date belongs to Jules Bianchi.

The Frenchman scored Marussia’s first F1 points when he finished ninth in Monaco. That race had not got off to the most auspicious of starts as he had lined up in the wrong grid slot and earned a penalty, but that was to be his only mistake.

He drove superbly in the second slowest car in the field, not putting a wheel wrong as others around him did, and those two points could well be the financial windfall that the British team need to remain in F1, given prize money is awarded depending on where you finish in the constructors’ championship position, with higher being better.

Bianchi’s points have Marussia ninth, above Sauber and Caterham, and a good payday is on the horizon.

Rain equals more fun

This may seem like a bit of bandwagon jumping, given it only just happened on Sunday, but the race in Hungary had something for everyone and was the best of the 11 races in 2014, just beating Canada and Bahrain. The Hungaroring is normally one of the dullest races because of the lack of passing opportunities the track normally offers that leads to an almighty procession.

But add some rain just before the start and the scenario changes to have the leading four cars all on different strategies and all with reasons to believe they could have won.

There was anger at Mercedes, spins, crashes, overtaking moves and some excellent exhibitions of defensive driving, led by Fernando Alonso, who kept faster cars behind him in the closing laps on bald tyres. It is a shame to have to wait four weeks for the next bit of F1 action, but the Belgian Grand Prix has a tall order on August 24 to match the fun of Hungary.

Alonso continues to impress

It is almost becoming a cliche to throw platitudes at the Spaniard, but the fact he is fourth in the championship is remarkable.

The Ferrari F14T is not a good car, the chassis lacks aerodynamic grip and the engine is down in power.

At best it is the fourth fastest car on the grid, yet Alonso has consistently made the most out of every opportunity.

The fact he has only finished outside the top six once this season shows just how hard he has pushed, while his teammate Kimi Raikkonen only made it into the top six for the first time this season on Sunday.

His performances have made the floundering Raikkonen look ordinary and to do that to the 2007 world champion is impressive work as the Finn is no slouch.

Alonso came within three laps of winning in Hungary, which would have been arguably the best win of his career, given the machinery he had underneath him.

The double world champion deserves better and hopefully he will get a car fitting of his talents some time soon. He is too good to be fighting for fifth places.

Disappointment at Lotus

This was the team, through Romain Grosjean, that came closest to ending Red Bull Racing’s run of dominance in the second half of the 2013 season.

But the money problems were publicised, then came the loss of Kimi Raikkonen to Ferrari and then team principal Eric Boullier, which were bad signs. Following that was being late to testing, which was an even bigger red flag that things were not going to be good for the British team.

Being lumbered with the Renault engine was not a good thing, either. For a team that scored 315 points in 2013, to have just four points this far into the season – and those scored in one go with Grosjean’s eighth-place finish in Spain – is a considerable fall from grace.

It is hard to see things getting better with the car remaining unreliable and only Grosjean looking capable of getting near the top 10, while Pastor Maldonado, who does bring the team sponsorship funds to justify his existence on the grid, remains wayward in the other car.

Chilton’s mistakes

It can be hard at the back of the grid to get people to notice you when you have machinery that sees the leaders only at the startline and then when they are lapped.

Max Chilton has managed to make his presence felt at Marussia, but for all the wrong reasons.

In Monaco he crashed into Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari – while, believe it or not, behind the safety car, the period when everyone drives slowly with caution flags out everywhere.

Yet, Chilton hit the Finn as he tried to unlap himself – lapped cars are allowed to unlap themselves, safely, during a safety car period – and wreck both their races.

In the next race in Canada, on the first lap he misjudged his braking into Turn 3, lost control of his car and crashed into his teammate Jules Bianchi, taking both of them out of the race.

To cap things off, Chilton then tried to blame Bianchi, who appeared to be minding his own business, for not giving him enough room.

Neither incident resembles Chilton’s finest hour and Marussia are likely to remember them when it comes to thinking about who drives for them in 2015.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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