It’s safe to say that 2014 has been a positive year. A close title fight between two fiercely competitive drivers, in Williams a spirited resurgence of one of F1’s great teams, and some incredible wheel-to-wheel action and overtaking which will long be remembered – largely coming from the young prodigy Daniel Ricciardo.
As in a previous blog the Hamilton-Rosberg fight was discussed, I shan’t touch on this too much. Lewis had an exceptional year and fully deserved the crown, which was capped off over the weekend by winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year. The fact that he won this award with nearly double the votes of second-placed Rory McIlroy exemplifies that he is a good and strong ambassador for the sport. And for those who feel that the golfer should have taken the award, they are underestimating the level of skill required to be in the position to win a World title, and then actually achieving it. More likely however is that the golfing community are just very sore losers; It is impossible to rank levels of achievement across sports which is why the award is a public vote, one which Lewis won by a landslide.
Moving on, however, to the main topic of this blog – given the changes we have seen in the grid line-up, I thought it would be good to take a look at the main talking points. The biggest move we have seen has to be Fernando Alonso’s move to McLaren, if you had told anyone a few years ago that Ron Dennis would return to the team and bring in Alonso, no-one would believe you. Quite a remarkable move but for McLaren, an excellent acquisition which can only strengthen the team. Alonso had five years at Ferrari and in every one he outperformed the car, indeed he got within a whisker of winning the title on two occasions. This experience will add so much to a team which seems to be heading in the right direction, if anything is to be read into their late-season form.
But what of McLaren’s decision to retain Jenson Button and drop the young Dane, Kevin Magnussen? Well there’s no doubt it is the logical choice, it is just deeply disappointing that it took McLaren so long to confirm the decision. The team had a lot more to lose by letting Jenson go – you can always retain Kevin, as a test and reserve driver he can be extremely valuable and it is a role that he would understand and accept filling in the short-term, but a driver of Jenson’s experience is difficult to match. He outperformed Magnussen comprehensively in terms of points this year and as we all know, points mean prizes.
What is most exciting about selecting this partnership, and for me the most prominent reason to opt for Jenson, is that the Brit seems to raise his level of performance when he has a more competitive team-mate. Some of the best driving we have seen from him came when he had Lewis Hamilton as a team-mate, and before him Rubens Barrichello for Honda and Brawn GP. This dynamic between himself and Alonso will only help to push them both on.
Also changing in McLaren is the engine supplier, making the switch from the strong Mercedes power unit to a new Honda unit. This is something for us fans to get excited about – as Ron Dennis argues, it is too difficult to match up to the Mercedes team whilst running a Mercedes power unit, and it is difficult to disagree with him. You look at Williams this season, absolutely exceptional season with a really good, competitive car – but no wins. It is a big gamble to move to Honda but it is one which is worth taking, we just have to wait and see how powerful it is. We can’t expect it to match Mercedes just yet, but so long as it achieves better reliability than the Renault in 2014, and good horsepower, then signs will bode well for competitive championships in the future.
Of other movements in the driver market, Vettel’s move to Ferrari is massive. Why Seb has chosen now to move to the team which has shown no signs of improvement in many-a-year is unknown to me. Alonso left for this very reason, which is why it must be seen as unlikely that Ferrari have an ‘ace up their sleeve’ – Seb may have to endure further disappointment before things get better for him which is a shame. The decision itself doesn’t surprise me, as he has always expressed his desire to drive for the team, but for me the timing is wrong. Exciting for fans though seeing him partner Raikonnen, I look forward to it!
One last note regarding Marussia; Really saddening to see teams struggling, these back-markers make up the backbone of our sport – indeed, one of the highlights of 2014 for me was seeing Jules Bianchi pick up two points in Monaco. Marussia are an incredibly hard-working team led by Graeme Lowdon and to see this hard work pay off was outstanding, it is moments like these that our sport so special and I sincerely hope that we see them in Australia in March. My thoughts also go out to Jules Bianchi and his family, an exceptional driver and potential future World Champion – wishing him a recovery as speedy as he drives.