Rosberg hits trouble, while Hamilton makes it a championship double in Abu Dhabi

After all the build up, all the anticipation and drama of the 2014 Formula 1 season came down to one race, worth double points, in Abu Dhabi. It was a straight fight between the two Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. While Hamilton went into the race with a 17 point advantage, Rosberg had the advantage of starting on pole position.

Things were finely poised, but Hamilton knew that he only had to finish second to Rosberg to win a second world drivers’ championship. Rosberg, on the other hand, went into the race knowing that he had nothing to lose. The outcome of the title was largely out of his hands. He needed help from others or a car problem for Hamilton to take his first championship. As Rosberg frequently reminded the world, and his team-mate, in the build up to the race, the pressure was on Hamilton.

Hamilton started brilliantly and led into turn 1

Hamilton started brilliantly and led into turn 1

You wouldn’t have guessed it from the way the two Silver Arrows cars started the race, though. As the lights went out Hamilton took off, blasting past his team-mate to take the lead. It was the perfect getaway for Hamilton, who could watch in his mirror as Rosberg got a poor start and had to defend from Felipe Massa’s Williams going into turn 1.

As it turned out, Hamilton never looked back. He pulled out of DRS range immediately and built up a two to three-second advantage over Rosberg, which stayed stable throughout the opening stages of the race. It remained like that through the first pit stops until lap 23 of the race. It was at that point that things went from bad to worse for Rosberg.

The German appeared to lock up in the final sector of the lap, losing time to Hamilton. The gap expanded to around four seconds and if that had been the end of it Rosberg would still have been in with a shot. Sadly for the five time 2014 race winner, it only signalled the start of his troubles. Rosberg soon reported that he had lost power and his Mercedes team soon confirmed a hybrid system failure on his car.

It was a dreadful race for Rosberg, who finished 14th

It was a dreadful race for Rosberg, who finished 14th

The loss around 160hp from the failure of his ERS system was crippling for Rosberg. He started losing time hand over fist. Just a few laps later Massa blasted past him in his Williams, and he wasn’t the only one. As the laps ticked by Rosberg dropped further and further down the field, losing position after position as, despite his best efforts, cars cruised past his stricken Mercedes down the straight.

It is to Rosberg’s credit that he finished the race, despite his team suggesting that he should retire his car. In the end he finished in 14th positions, after being lapped by his team-mate. While it was a massively disappointing way to finish the season for Rosberg, it was very much delight for Hamilton.

A delighted Hamilton takes the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi

A delighted Hamilton takes the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi

The Briton took his second world drivers’ crown after a six-year wait since his 2008 championship win with McLaren. Hamilton survived some late pressure from Massa in the Williams, who ran a short last stint on the faster super soft tyres, to win the race by 2.5 seconds. Even without Rosberg’s troubles in Abu Dhabi, the German was never in a position to take the drivers’ championship. Had he not had his ERS failure and had somehow managed to catch and pass his team-mate – something that he hadn’t managed all season – Hamilton would still have finished in second place, which was all he needed to take the championship.

It was a great finish to a great season for Williams

It was a great finish to a great season for Williams

Thankfully, too, double points turned out not to be a factor in deciding the fate of the title. Hopefully this will be the first and only time this gimmick is used in Formula 1. Indeed, the only man to benefit was Valtteri Bottas, who took third place in the race behind his Williams team-mate Felipe Massa, and with it, fourth place in the drivers’ standings. It was an impressive end to the season for a resurgent Williams team, which took third place in the constructors’’ standings after finishing a lowly ninth in 2013.

2014 was, though Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton’s year. Mercedes finished as constructors’ champions with a record-breaking 16 race wins out of 19 and a record 701 world championship points. Hamilton took 11 of those race wins, more than double the number taken by his team-mate to deservedly take the world drivers’ championship by 67 points

It was Alonso's final race for Ferrari

It was Alonso’s final race for Ferrari

2015 will be a season of changes, though. We now know that Sebastian Vettel will leave Red Bull Racing – the team where he won his four world titles – to join Ferrari, while Fernando Alonso will leave the Scuderia for parts unknown. Presumably the Spaniard will join McLaren with their new Honda engines, but that’s yet to be confirmed, as are the futures of current McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen.

One thing that is unlikely to change, however, is the Mercedes dominance of Formula 1. Next season already looks like it might be another shoot out between Hamilton and Rosberg, but let’s not worry about that too much now. Lewis Hamilton certainly won’t. He’s busy celebrating his second world drivers’ championship, and he’ll be going into contract negotiations with his Mercedes bosses with a spring in his step.

Abu Dhabi was billed as the duel in the desert. As it turned out, Lewis Hamilton was the jewel in the desert. It was a sparkling performance in a dazzling season from the 29-year-old.

Iceman Kimi stays cool to Finn-ish first in Abu Dhabi

Well, it was certainly a dramatic and incident packed Abu Dhabi grand prix. When all was said and done after 55 laps of racing it was Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen who came out on top to take his first win since his return to Formula 1 at the start of this season, becoming the eighth different winner in an exciting and unpredictable season. Against all the odds, the podium positions were filled by the top three in the world drivers’ championship, albeit in reverse order. Few would have predicted that outcome at the outset, so how did the race unfold?

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-27
Albert Park, Australia, 16 March 2012
By parepinvr4, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m making a bit of a habit of starting my race analyses with a look back at Lewis Hamilton’s race, but I feel that I need to do so again. Things looked to be unfolding as we might have expected at the start of the race. Hamilton got a great start from pole position and looked well set to repeat his dominant performance of qualifying. Other than a mistake on the opening laps, which allowed Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a brilliant start to leap from fourth on the grid into second place – to close right up on him, Hamilton drove faultlessly.

Even when the race was interrupted by a safety car on lap eight, following a truly horrendous crash between Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg and HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan (underlining the case for some sort of cockpit protection in F1), Hamilton looked to be in complete control of the race. Following the end of the safety car period, he quickly re-established a lead of around three seconds to Raikkonen and it would have been a brave person who would have bet against him taking his fourth win of the season at that stage.

As it was, though, just five laps after the safety car returned to the pits on lap 15, Hamilton ground to a halt. McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh revealed after the race that it was a fuel pump issue that put the Englishman out of the race, and did little to help the team’s pursuit of Ferrari and Red Bull Racing in the world constructors’ championship.

Jenson Button’s fourth place will have been of scant consolation to the team who actually managed to lose ground to both of the teams ahead of them in the constructors’ championship. Sebastian Vettel passed Button for third in the closing stage of the race to take 15 points for Red Bull and Ferrari scored 24 points with second place for Alonso and seventh for his team-mate Felipe Massa. Button’s haul of 12 points for McLaren was simply not good enough.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull RB8
Sepang, Malaysia, 23 March 2012
By Morio, via Wikimedia Commons

Vettel, though, unlucky to have to start from the pit-lane after a fuel infringement on Saturday resulted in his exclusion from qualifying, had a complete turnaround in fortune in the race. Despite being involved in a few incidents in the race, notably damaging his front wing twice – once after hitting Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, then nearly hitting Torro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo under the first safety car period – Vettel benefitted massively from the misfortune of others in the race to finish in third place.

Hamilton’s retirement, was just the first such stroke of luck for Vettel. The German also benefitted from a spin by Felipe Massa while the Brazilian was racing Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber, and the incident that caused the second safety car period. That incident, for which Sauber’s Sergio Perez received a 10 second stop and go penalty, not only removed the Mexican from serious contention, but also took Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber out of the race completely. More importantly for Vettel, though, it closed the field up again, and allowed him to make full use of his fresher tyres to make further inroads at the restart, eventually passing Jenson Button for the final podium position, nine laps after the safety car returned to the pits.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F2012
Bahrain, 22 April 2012
By Ryan Bayona, via Wikimedia Commons

The German somehow managed to limit the damage to his championship lead to finish just one place behind the man who is now mathematically his only rival for the world drivers’ championship: Fernando Alonso. The Ferrari driver managed to work miracles again in his Ferrari, moving neatly into fourth place on the opening lap from his sixth place starting position, and moving steadily forward in the race, to close to just 0.8 seconds behind winner Raikkonen as the pair crossed the line.

As a result, the Spaniard now sits 10 points behind Vettel in the championship with two races left to run. While Alonso was keen to present the reduced deficit to the Red Bull driver in a positive light after the race, you can’t help but feel that the championship is heading Vettel’s way. It would surely take a huge turnaround in fortunes, and competitiveness, for Alonso to take a third drivers championship in 2012.

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus E20
Sepang, Malaysia, 23 March 2012
By Morio, via Wikimedia Commons

One man who is now out of the championship running is Kimi Raikkonen. Despite delivering the win that had eluded him on his return to the sport at the start of the 2012 season, the Finn now finds himself 57 points behind championship leader Vettel, with only 50 points left on the table. Nevertheless, Raikkonen’s return to Formula 1 is now a triumphant one. The Lotus driver drove a brilliantly controlled race to make the most of Lewis Hamilton’s misfortune and take victory. Raikkonen started brilliantly, leapfrogging both Pastor Maldonado and Mark Webber off the line, and somehow managed to keep his head during the safety car periods, stay out of trouble during the race, and resist the intense pressure from Fernando Alonso in the closing laps.

Not only that, but the Finn managed not to let his irritation with his own team affect him too badly, while also providing further examples of the personality that makes him such a unique character. Twice we heard team radio from Raikkonen during the race where he dismissed the instructions of his engineers. The first, on lap 24, came as his team advised him that he was five seconds ahead of the pursuing Alonso, to which the Finn replied “Leave me alone I know what I’m doing!”. The second, under the second safety car period, came as his engineer advised him to go through tyre warming procedures to get ready for the restart – Raikkonen abruptly cut him off saying “Yes, yes, yes, yes. I’m doing all of that. You don’t have to remind me every single time”.

Despite the fact that Raikkonen crossed the line first, though, I can’t help but feel that the real winner in Abu Dhabi was Sebastian Vettel. His championship lead might be slightly diminished, but he has the fastest car and, seemingly, lady luck on his side.