Formula 1

Formula 1 season review: Few will forget Lewis Hamilton's triumph

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2014 wasn't one of the all-time greatest year's in Formula 1 history but with heated rivalries and heartbreak it had plenty of moments that won't be forgotten in a hurry.

Therefore, as the world settles into 2015, let's take a final look back at the events of last year and see how hard an act this year has to follow.

The rise of Mercedes

Of course the obvious place to start is the story that dominated 2014 which was the rise of and subsequent battle at Mercedes.

As the sport embarked on a new era with the introduction of 1.6 litre V6 turbo hybrid engines, the German carmaker made their early start on development and huge investment pay off as they took over from Red Bull as the team to beat and would go on to win 16 of the 19 races last year.

Without the Brackley based team having two quite evenly matched drivers last season would have been incredibly dull indeed perhaps surpassing what F1 had had to endure as Sebastian Vettel began setting a standard nobody could match, not even his team-mate, and therefore reeled off victory after victory without breaking much of a sweat.

But last year was different because we knew heading into every weekend that at least two drivers would be battling for the top step of the podium.

Yes that wasn't much of an improvement on the Vettel/Red Bull era but at least it kept us watching wondering whether Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg would get the upper hand.

Contrasting personalities

What made the Hamilton and Rosberg battle so much more intriguing was the complete opposite way both men go about their day jobs.

Rosberg has the brain and the technical knowledge to set up his car exactly how he wants it and when problems hit he knows exactly how to try and operate around them. While Hamilton has the brawn, he's the pure blooded racer who seemingly has the speed in whatever he drives but can be left wanting if everything isn't quite how he wants it.

Then there was the extra dimension of the pair off the track, Rosberg is very much known as just an F1 driver but Hamilton with his celebrity lifestyle and rockstar girlfriend was the much more popular among casual fans.

Despite all the 'distractions', as some see them, of Hamilton's off track life he was still seen as the overwhelming favourite in a straight battle between he and Rosberg given his status as one of the top drivers on the grid.

A friendship put on hold

So it was with great shock that Rosberg would lead the championship at all but one of the first 14 races as unreliability blighted Hamilton's challenge at different stages of the season.

Indeed over the season the pair, who have been friends since they were karting team-mates as young teens, saw their friendship tested over the battle to be crowned 2014 world champion.

The first cracks appeared in Monaco after Rosberg caused a yellow flag on his lap in qualifying guaranteeing he could not be beaten for pole position.

Still to this day Hamilton has his reservations over whether his team-mate's actions were deliberate or not but Rosberg's lights-to-flag victory on Sunday stopped Hamilton's four-race winning streak and reclaimed the lead in the championship.

A team orders spat in Hungary was seen as a catalyst for the most controversial moment of the season as Rosberg and Hamilton made contact as the German tried an overtake on lap two in Belgium.

The incident would eventually cause Hamilton to retire and Rosberg would take second behind Daniel Ricciardo to increase his championship lead to 29 points.

Hamilton shows his class

It would have been very easy for Hamilton to have buckled at that point but instead, the 29-year-old funnelled the frustration from Spa and began to find the form he has been missing for the last few years.

The unbeatable Hamilton had returned as he reeled off five wins of his own from Singapore to Austin and, despite a brief glimpse of hope in Brazil, had ultimately knocked Rosberg down for the count and finished off in style with one of the best starts maybe in history in Abu Dhabi to lead and win his 11th race of the year and claim his second world title.

A battle for the ages?

That was the story of how the Hamilton/ Rosberg scrap played out but I fear when it is remembered in 20 years from now it could be seen much differently to how it really was.

When Hamilton had a clean weekend he won and won comfortably and his 11 wins actually tie Vettel and Michael Schumacher for the second highest in a single season by one driver.

Therefore you would think it was a season of dominance for Hamilton when really it was a small swing in Lewis's favour at certain parts of the race where he earned those victories.

So the gap between the two was certainly closer than the statistics suggest and when the nature of their rivalry is remembered it will be more a story of reliability altering the course rather than on track fighting albeit the battle of Bahrain will live long in the minds of fans everywhere.

F1's next top Finn leads Williams revival

The fact the topic of Mercedes has taken up this article so far highlights how bigger part the team played in defining 2014 but there will be a lot more last year is remembered for than just two Silver Arrows with a far superior engine.

Indeed should Williams continue their revival in 2015 and beyond then last year's switch to Mercedes engines will be seen as the major turning point for the team who scored their last championship success in 1997.

While much of their revival can be put down to have the right power unit, they also formed the ground work for a prolonged period of success as young Finn Valtteri Bottas took the lead and put his name on the list of potential future champion's.

Six podium places in just his second season and largely out-performing a veteran team-mate in Felipe Massa certainly mean there will be plenty of expectation for Bottas to continue his rise in 2015 but should he continue to climb the ladder and make it all the way, 2014 will be seen as the year it all began.

Changing of the guard at Red Bull

The other major non-Mercedes story was the arrival of Daniel Ricciardo at the front of F1. The Australian appeared to have an impossible task partnering Sebastian Vettel after four consecutive world championships but as the German proved the calibre of Red Bull's young driver program, Ricciardo kept that reputation intact facing Vettel head on and beating him.

While Sebastian may have struggled adapting to the new era of cars, Ricciardo's success wasn't about luck as he was the only driver not named Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg to stand on the top step in 2014, doing so in Canada, Hungary and Belgium.

All of a sudden Ricciardo is now the man leading the Red Bull charge as Vettel heads to Ferrari so, much like Bottas, all eyes will be on the 26-year-old Aussie to make sure last year wasn't just a flash in the pan and see if the steel behind the smile is here to stay.

F1's money problems finally hit home

As the picture at the front altered significantly at the back the picture disappeared altogether as the sport's perennial backmarkers finally succumbed in the battle to survive.

Early efforts in the year to introduce a budget cap were halted as F1's almighty Strategy Group blocked FIA President Jean Todt's initiative and as the costs from the new engines sky-rocketed Caterham and Marussia could no longer take the heat.

For Caterham the writing had been on the wall for a few months as founder Tony Fernandes sold the team to a consortium of unknown investors. However, as claims of unpaid bills began a spat arose between the two parties both accusing each other of not meeting obligations and as a result the money ran dry and the team was forced into administration after the Russian Grand Prix.

While Caterham used a crowdfunding effort to make the season finale in Abu Dhabi and continue to look for new owners in a bid to be on the grid in 2015, Marussia's fate appears sealed.

Their demise was a bigger surprise as things appeared OK on the surface, then came the shock of Jules Bianchi's horrific crash in Japan in October leaving the Frenchman unconscious with serious brain injuries, though he is now back in his hometown of Nice continuing his recovery in hospital.

The team raced in Russia with just one car, that of Max Chilton, but within days of Caterham followed their fellow strugglers into administration and have since had assets sold in an auction, the factory reportedly bought by Gene Haas, the man behind the new Haas F1 team, and the company wound up.

Despite this little seems to change among the top teams and bosses in F1 to curb spending and reduce costs and the fate of another team remains uncertain with Lotus "subject to confirmation" on the 2015 entry list.

A special day becomes a lasting memory

While Marussia may not be seen in F1 again, they did at least enjoy one moment of glory which will live on for years to come.

The team became the only one of the 2010 arrivals to score points as Bianchi finished ninth in Monaco.

The two points and subsequent ninth place finish in the Constructors' championship could be crucial to whether the team's entry, which is still on the 2015 list under the name of 'Manor Grand Prix', remains if a buyer could be found.

That day in Monte Carlo has also become what many will remember Bianchi for should the Ferrari academy driver be unable to step behind the wheel of a racing car again.

With a future at Maranello almost assured to see one of the sport's most likeable and exciting talents have his career halted by such a tragic accident really hit everyone in F1 very hard indeed, but fans and drivers alike continue to hope we haven't seen the last of Jules Bianchi.

Can 2015 surpass expectations?

Certainly then for what was very much seen as a season all about one team, there is plenty 2014 will be remembered for up and down the grid, another failure at Ferrari as well as Lotus and Sauber falling down the order are among other smaller stories the last 12 months will be known for.

But looking ahead to the upcoming 2015 season many hope that there can greater competition at the front as teams like Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari look to close the gap to those magnificent Merc's.

Then there's the stories of Vettel and Alonso settling in at their new teams and the return of Honda powering McLaren. I'll be looking at all these plus more in the build-up to the new season with car launches in January, testing in February and then it all starts again Down Under with the Australian Grand Prix on March 15th.

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