The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Abu Dhabi : Hamilton Takes the Deserved Title

27-11-2014

Report by Winston D’Arcy

 

So, down to the final Grand Prix of the year, and I first of all have to mention my special thanks to the website editor for asking me to contribute this report. Although a frequent GP reporter in the early days, especially when business connections meant I was often a guest of various GP teams, these days I spend too much time on my boat in the Mediterranean to get to many GPs. But I still love watching them!

Do we still all remember the beginning of this season? We watched in a mixture of horror and bemusement as these new-regulation cars popped and banged their way round the test tracks, barely able to make half-a-dozen laps at a time before stopping in a cloud of acrid smoke and perplexed faces. Pretty soon it became apparent that the Mercedes engines had figured out the complexity of the new engine regulations better than most with Renault faring the worst and the Ferraris somewhere in between. The fans were duly unimpressed, having to watch a technology that none could see, understand, and couldn’t even hear!

It all threatened to become a disaster of a season with none quite sure who to blame. Max Mosley, the architect of ‘green’ technologies, had long disappeared and his successor, Jean Todt, was keeping the FIA head well down. Bernie, as usual, was lobbing the occasional stone into the pond just to keep things unsettled as he played to his own priorities, and the teams were left to make the best of a situation not of their own making.

In the event it turned into a cracking season – but only because of the enthralling battle at the very front of the field (sometimes by over 1 sec/lap…) between the two Merc drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Had it not been for that in-team rivalry I think it would have been a dull season.

Going into the final Abu Dhabi race the wretched double points system could still have wrecked the good season by, let’s be frank, allowing the ‘wrong’ driver to win the championship. Whilst Hamilton did not produce a consistent season of Schuey-esque brilliance, he was clearly the better of the two Merc drivers. Rosberg had surprised many, including me, by his gritty performance which belied his reputation as a journeyman driver, and he kept Lewis honest throughout. Indeed in the middle of the season it looked like he had successfully unsettled Lewis to such an extent that a safe journey to the world title seemed assured. Credit therefore to Lewis for turning it around, and to Nico for taking him to the very edge.

As for the Ferraris, well, 2014 was not a good story – again. Alonso just added to his reputation for driving the wheels of a recalcitrant car and a down on power engine; Raikkonen detracted mightily from his reputation by being nowhere. Numerous personnel changes in the team unsettled things even further and hastened the departure of Luca de Montezemolo. More changes have followed in the closed season and I remain sceptical that Vettel’s dream of doing a Schuey will come to fruition. Perhaps it’s time the team went through another Anglo-Saxon era to bring it back to the top again, but who’s going to take on the job when so many changes lie ahead in the Ferrari /Fiat/ Chrysler world? I can’t imagine that Ross would touch it…

Anyway, enough of all this angst. Back to Abu Dhabi, which is all I was asked to write about.

Hamilton did everything right in the first two practice sessions, each time ahead of Rosberg, but times were reversed in P3 and, more importantly, in qualifying. Rosberg produced a stunning lap, 0.4sec quicker than his team mate which is a huge gap at these levels. Hamilton again showed his immediate despondence, looking downbeat and thus giving more encouragement to his rival. The Ferraris? Ninth and tenth, with Raikkonen for once ahead of his team mate. The Williams’ were again very quick, in third and fourth places, helped down the long straights by their slippery shape and prodigious Merc power, with the two Red Bulls next, Ricciardo again ahead of Vettel, until they were put to the back of the grid for having slightly too flexible front wings. Does this sound familiar? It just shows that the teams are constantly pushing the regulations envelope to the very extremes – and sometimes they will go beyond the boundaries and will get caught.

Hamilton got what can only be described as a dream start to the race. His Merc just rocketed forwards and left pole-sitter Rosberg way behind, just what he did not want for this race. Nico’s only hope would have been to sit it out at the front and hope that Hamilton would run into trouble and finish lower than second, in which case with the double-points he had the title sewn up. But to have Hamilton in front was a disaster for him, with no chance to jump him in the pit stops which, according to Merc policy, would be Hamilton’s call.

Massa did a great job of shadowing the Mercs but appeared no threat – until that is Rosberg’s car began to hit trouble. His ERS failed, costing him some 3 seconds per lap, and first Massa passed him, and then Bottas, and in succession they were followed by Ricciardo, Button, Hulkenberg- and just about the entire field. Even when it was clear that Rosberg could not win the title if Hamilton retired he carried on and turned down the invitation from his team to retire the car. He eventually finished 14th but earned a huge amount of respect for the way he had fought the entire season to the very end against someone who had a very fearsome reputation. I also eat humble pie and extend my congratulations and new respect to the man.

Hamilton deserved the win at Abu Dhabi to crown a tough season for him. He could not have expected to have so much opposition from his team mate and it made him wobble a few times. He is not yet the supreme driver in the Prost – Senna – Schumacher class or, it has to be said, in the Alonso class. Speaking of which, almost as a postscript, the two Ferraris finished in 9th and 10th places, marking a sad end to Alonso’s fruitless years at Ferrari.

Others who did well? There is some admiration for Jenson Button who comprehensively outdrove his young team mate Kevin Magnusson this season, and who therefore managed to keep his seat at McLaren for the 2015 season where he will be alongside Alonso. Bottas is clearly a star for the future and (we’ve said it before) Ricciardo had a fabulous season and with three GP wins to Vettel’s zero it makes you wonder whether Ferrari have hired the right Red Bull driver…?

And so, onwards to the 2015 season. The Mercs look as strong as ever, the Renault engines as weak as anything, the Ferraris with new management quite uncertain, and the whole F1 world in a financial shambles. Plenty to write about in the New Year!