2014 F1 Mid-Season Review

Sebastian Vettel leads Fernando Alonso at the 2014 German Grand Prix

Red Bull leads Ferrari at the German Grand Prix. Photo courtesy of Red Bull.

It’s been about four months since the 2014 Formula One (F1) season began. We are just past the half way point with 10 of the 19 races in the books. So far the action has been pretty good, especially toward the mid-field and fears of F1 dullness have proven to be unfounded. However, the cars are more expensive, complicated and uglier than ever and the racing hasn’t improved – not that there hasn’t been good racing, it just hasn’t improved.

On-Track Action

Mercedes has won all but one race. Nico Rosberg, with four wins and one non-finish (DNF), leads the championship by 14 points over teammate Lewis Hamilton, who has five wins and two DNFs. At least the team has so far let the two drivers battle it out. Daniel Ricciardo, who managed to win one race for the formerly dominant Red Bull team, lies third in the points.

At this time last year there were five different winners from four different teams. Granted after that Sebastian Vettel won all nine of the races in the second half of the season, but what this year has shown is that these new regulations and technologies haven’t made a hill of beans difference in the quality of the action that a far less expensive rules package couldn’t have made.

Further, a lot of the action has been wrought through the continued use of the Drag Reduction System (DRS), which artificially gives a following car much more straightline speed since the leading car can’t use its system in that situation, and the appearance of the safety car at several races (most notably Bahrain), which also bunched up the field.

Other than Williams-Mercedes driver Felipe Massa securing pole position in Austria, the Mercedes team has claimed pole at the nine other races – five by Rosberg and four by Hamilton.

With three podium spots for each race there have been a number of non-Mercedes drivers on the rostrum, albeit most of them driving Mercedes-powered machinery: Kevin Magnussen, Jenson Button, Valtteri Bottas (3), Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo (4), Sebastian Vettel (2) and Fernando Alonso.

Ricciardo would have have had five appearances count but was disqualified at the season opener for a technical infringement with his car’s fuel flow meter.

Another driver to watch is Alonso. The double world champion only has one podium finish to his credit but is fourth in the standings and has finished every race in the points while comprehensively outperforming his world champion teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who currently lies twelfth in the championship.

2014 F1 Cars

Back to the cars and their aesthetics. The FIA is rewriting the rules that will hopefully provide better looking cars next year, cars that won’t crack TV screens on which they are shown.

In racing form tends to follow function. But somehow Caterham managed to create arguably the ugliest  and slowest car on this year’s grid. No surprise then that team owner Tony Fernandes just sold the team to Bernie Ecclestone’s minions to maintain the number of cars on the grid an unnamed group of “investors” after nearly five years without scoring a point.

Less offensive to the eye but still curious is the Marussia‘s (Mother Russia?) appearance. At first glance it appears normal yet somehow comes across as out of place as a limousine – its wheelbase seems excessive and accentuates its simple, slab-sided lines. Unlike the Caterham (and Sauber), it has scored points.

The other big issue this year is the dramatic change in engine sound. I still prefer the previous high revving V8 soundtrack though the muted growl of the new engines has grown on me somewhat.

Political Machinations

As usual with F1 there’s been a lot of off-track intrigue and machinations drawing attention to the sport.

Most incredible is the complexity of the rules now with respect to penalties. Grid penalties, stop-and-go penalties, time penalties, penalty points infractions and which painted lines drivers can and can’t put their tires over and how many… it’s much too complicated.

The decision to award double points at the year’s final race in Abu Dhabi to help ensure the title battle goes down to the wire is a questionable gimmick. I can understand doing so in a championship which includes the Indy 500 or the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But in F1 all the races have the same duration and format. Therefore they should count equally in the championship.

The unanimous removal of FRIC (Front and Rear Inter-Connected) suspension systems by all the teams had almost zero impact. The storm in a teacup about its legality was a whole lot of nothing, totally invisible to spectators.

And of course there’s a corruption trial involving a certain Mr. Ecclestone to round out the soap opera that is Formula One.

The Second Half of the Season

To summarize the year so far, the rule changes put in place by the FIA have certainly reshuffled the pecking order. But that order is now more clear than ever before. In doing so F1 has become such a gimmick and technology-dominated spectacle that it’s lost on many fans.

After only half a season, it’s already obvious what the outcome will most likely be. As long as Mercedes can maintain their present reliability and keep the drivers from each others’ throats, and the FIA doesn’t dramatically upset the apple cart, they will win both the constructor’s and driver’s championship.

Leave a Reply