The Last Act

2014 TITLE SHOWDOWN

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Weighing in at Abu Dhabi. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

The opening statement from the Daimler brand website reads: Like no other trademark in the automotive sector, the Mercedes star stands for an unparalleled combination of fascination, perfection and responsibility.

Like its acclaimed road cars, the Mercedes AMG F1™ team has delivered, too. And more precisely, stayed true to the brand’s ethos. The W05 Hybrid has had no parallel on track this entire season wrapping up the Constructors Championship with a huge gap to second-placed Red Bull Racing.

Their drivers, who are the lead characters in the title showdown this year, have played the roles to perfection. Being true brand ambassadors they’ve adhered to the brand’s guidelines like a dream.

Looking back at their rivalry through the season, they’ve provided top notch drama and entertainment on the motorsport’s greatest stage. Through retirements, misjudgements and colossal mistakes they’ve still come through to set up a grand last act. An unparalleled combination indeed.

Fascination
Before the lights went out at Melbourne, it was interesting to anticipate who Mercedes would prefer as their Champion for the new millennium. Lewis Hamilton’s outright pace and star quality was evident. He is listed among the Top 10 most recognisable sporting faces in the world. He has finished 2013 with more points than Nico Rosberg. But Nico is German. And has been with the team since its inception in 2010. Though he out-performed the great Schumacher for three consecutive seasons, would he have the same effect the seven-time world champion had on the brand in worldwide markets?

Hamilton snatched pole at the very first Saturday of 2014. But on race day, he retired with a misfiring engine. Rosberg began with a head start.

In Sepang, Hamilton claimed pole again but this time with no gremlins, ran away with a win. At Bahrain a fortnight later, it was Rosberg who reigned supreme on Saturday. But Sunday gave us the best race of the season so far with Hamilton proving he hadn’t lost any of his race craft from those sensational karting days!

At Shanghai it was the same story with the momentum strongly on Hamilton’s side of the garage. A lights to flag finish was recorded in Spain, too. And just when the season began to tilt Hamilton’s way, a twist occurred at Monaco.

After claiming provisional pole on the earlier lap a questionable lock-up by Rosberg at Mirabeau, brought out the yellow flags and destroyed Hamilton’s attempt. More than the drivers and team themselves, the world of F1™ fans fell apart. One side crying foul and the other maintaining it was a normal racing incident. Importantly though, for the sport it made the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry fascinating!

Perfection
This rivalry now moved to Canada, a Hamilton favourite. Nico stole pole from him with a near perfect lap. This was a huge blow for Hamilton and things only got worse during the race when a brake issue led him to retire. Rosberg continued a psychological attack on the Briton with a successive pole and victory in Austria, the next round. He was now 29 points ahead.

A bit of good luck swept by Hamilton in his home race when Rosberg pulled over with a mechanical issue. His first retirement of the season. But Hamilton’s flawless drive saw him bite back into the title chase. It was down to just four points now and at Hockenheim, Rosberg was perfect again. Claiming all 25 points. A German winning his home grand prix in a German car.

Everything seemed perfect for Mercedes with their drivers dictating the pace all season but at Hungary neither driver won. Hamilton disobeyed team orders to hold back Rosberg. It may have cost them the win but the team later accepted it was best for the championship. A brave acceptance that maintained a perfect connect with race fans.

Again at Spa, neither driver won. This time, Rosberg let the team down with an unnecessary collision on Lap 2 ending his teammate’s race and a possible 1-2 scenario for Mercedes. Senior management woke him up to the responsibility of the Constructors Championship that was paramount to the returning German marque.

Responsibility
It was clear that Mercedes would allow both their drivers to genuinely race against each other. This by itself was a huge victory over other teams and manufacturers who don’t accommodate this. The dressing down that their German star received behind closed doors and the subsequent booing from fans in the following races began to affect Rosberg’s performance on track. Hamilton stuck to his racer’s instincts and won five races on the trot!

Monza, Singapore, Suzuka, Sochi and Austin. At Singapore though, Rosberg suffered his second DNF and this turned the championship on its head and back in favour of Hamilton.

Rosberg has returned to his perfect weekend form just in time with a storming display in Brazil, and a few hours ago taking pole at Abu Dhabi for the final round that will decide who will be champion.

The responsibility for a clean and fair fight lies solely in the hands of the two contenders. Will they continue to fascinate with a show of Mercedes perfection? It’s their last performance of the year for their fans and the brand.

A brand that demands – the best or nothing.

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Rosberg clinches Brazil

Nico Rosberg drove a clinical and calculated near perfect race to set up a grand showdown at Abu Dhabi in a fortnight. He led FP1, FP2, FP3, Qualifying and almost every lap of Sao Paolo to record his 5th win of the season. With this latest pole he also won the FIA Pole Trophy a new introduction this season.

An amazing comeback by the German!

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Lewis unstoppable at Austin

AUSTIN REVIEW

“Epic drive mate, epic drive” said Lewis’ race engineer over the radio. The epic drive was faultless and fearless. It didn’t seem to bother him that he was starting from the dirty side of the track in P2 nor that he would be trailing his team mate for the first half of the race. He knew he was going to be lethal on prime tyres in the second stint.

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Peace out! Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Pulling off a commanding win from P2 on the grid, Lewis Hamilton seemed at ease in Austin, Texas – home of the USA Grand Prix. Losing pole to Nico Rosberg earlier on Saturday in Qualifying he worked his race craft to attack an unsuspecting team mate on Lap 24 at T12. Rosberg was caught napping. He was rudely woken up outside the racing line over the kerbs.

Nico later confessed he hit the wrong button whilst looking in his mirrors. Somehow these confessions in recent times don’t help in portraying him as a strong title contender. If he is taking the consistency route hoping for another technical failure on his rival’s car he might just end up being crowned world champion. But surely not a very popular one.

For Formula 1™ it would be destructive PR. To have a champion crowned because of a questionable double-points system introduced by the commercial rights holder to spice up the show will only add to the negative headlines the sport has attracted of late.

Behind the all-conquering Mercedes duo, a race was on.

Firstly between the Williamses of Valterri Bottas and Felipe Massa. Bottas lost out to Massa at the start. Massa should have gone on to take the final podium spot with Mercedes power. But yet again a slow-thinking Williams pit wall had him lose out to a fast-thinking Red Bull team that has the most sensational driver of the season strapped in. Daniel Ricciardo drove the wheels of his underpowered Renault RB10 to come home a fighting P3. He had an exciting dice with Ferrari’s Alonso en route and nearly clipped Bottas in a late braking manoeuvre at T1.

Sergio Perez though, was unsuccessful in a similar dive into a hairpin in an attempt to overtake Kimi Raikkonen who ultimately endured a lack lustre afternoon. Nudging the Ferrari from its original line the Force India careened into Adrian Sutil’s Sauber. The clash took out both cars from the USA Grand Prix on Lap 1! And brought out the Safety Car.

Behind the Safety Car at the restart Rosberg simply disappeared leaving Hamilton almost 2s behind. At this point, it seemed the German-polesitter had the race in his bag, in total control. But Hamilton’s smooth and confident pass showed that he had Austin covered in his game plan.

Sebastian Vettel, the only other driver to have won the USA Grand Prix in Texas, was having a horrid time initially with an erratic RB10, but after his fourth pitstop on Lap 49 he made up six places in six laps on fresh tyres to come home in P7 very nearly beating Alonso to P6. His was an aggressive strategy that the Williams team should study closely.

Lewis Hamilton is now the most successful British driver of all time. He has 32 wins. The same as Fernando Alonso. In equal machinery in 2007 he amassed the same number of points as him. And he is most likely to win the title again this year. Which will draw him level there too with the Spaniard. Fernando as we know is considered the hottest property in the F1™ market.

So that makes Lewis’ achievements till date even more special then.

PODIUM

Hamilton –  Mercedes AMG Petronas 1hr 40m 04.785s
Rosberg – Mercedes AMG Petronas
Ricciardo –  Red Bull Racing

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Hamilton cruises at Sochi

SOCHI REVIEW

Champagne for the champions. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Champagne for the champions. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Consider it a 19 round bout by knockout in the World Heavyweight Championships. Rounds 1, 6, 8 and 10 have gone to Nico Rosberg – 7, 11 and 12 to Daniel Ricciardo – 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 13, 14, 15 and 16 to Lewis Hamilton.

He’s the one throwing the maximum punches. The one with the most effective combinations. And his rivals seem to have no answer. Red Bull aren’t helping Dani with radical strategies anymore. The RB10’s lack of outright pace means he isn’t going to surprise-leapfrog any of the Silver Arrows soon. And their refocussed approach towards getting those 1-2 finishes means the best he can aim for is a podium. Which of late has been William’s territory.

Nico, seems to have dug himself into a psychological pit. One that Hamilton frequently visited post-Monaco. But has successfully climbed out of recently!

When the lights went out at Sochi, the Black Sea resort venue of the Russian Grand Prix, Rosberg had Turn 2 covered. He thought. But instead of turning in earlier than his team mate, he got mixed up adjusting his safety harnesses and braking so late that his front wheels locked up making for spectacular photography! It’s going to be a lasting image in everyone’s memories of Sochi. Two Silver Arrows in formation…one sliding out in trails of thick smoke.

So severe was his lock up that he flat spotted both tyres which led to vibrations so extreme that he had to pit immediately. On Lap 1.

“What’s our strategy now?!” yelled Nico on the radio. “We’ve to race on the mediums till the end Nico” was the reply.

It was a combination of Rosberg’s smooth driving style, Sochi’s new non-abrasive surface and Pirellis super-conservative approach to tyre construction that saw the Championship contender drive the rest of the race without a pit stop! What his drive did underline was the supremacy of the 2014 Mercedes W05 Turbo Hybrid. And it was only fitting that with both cars taking their 9th one-two finish – they sealed the Formula 1 World Constructors Championship. With three rounds to spare.

Lewis Hamilton won in cruise mode. Making him the most successful driver in Britain. He now has 31 wins like Mansell, with a few more to come his way this season for sure.

Barring a few dices between Daniil Kvyat and Nico Hulkenberg, Sebastian Vettel and his team mate Daniel Ricciardo, Jean Eric Vergne and Kevin Magnussen the race was quite a disaster on the entertainment front.

On Lap 32, Rosberg flew past a bewildered Valterri Bottas to reclaim P2. The Williams pit wall reassured their Finn that Mercedes #6 was bound to have degradation issues sooner or later and that “we’ll get the position back…!”. They were playing chess with their estimations of the wear and tear of Mercedes’ Pirellis. They were not alone in their thinking. Jenson Button in the McLaren in P4 was also intrigued about Rosberg’s medium compound pace and durability. To his surprise and to many around the world, the second W05 tucked in behind race leader Lewis Hamilton who was now about 13s ahead to finish in P2.

It’s a wonder that both Williams and McLaren hadn’t taken the Mercedes radio discussion seriously! Rosberg was always one-stopping.

When asked if he liked to party the Russian way by the podium interviewer, Lewis said he loves Vodka. So why not. He’s now joined an elite group of greats who have won 9 or more times in a single season. But that won’t do for Hamilton to sew up championship number two. He has to ensure he keeps the pressure on Rosberg to make more mistakes right till the end.

From what we’ve seen so far, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

PODIUM

Hamilton –  Mercedes AMG Petronas 1hr 31m 50.744s
Rosberg – Mercedes AMG Petronas
Bottas –  Williams Martini Racing

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Lewis conquers Suzuka

SUZUKA REVIEW

Formula 1™ and the FIA have come under close scrutiny after a dramatic Japanese Grand Prix began and ended behind the Safety Car on Sunday. The race was red flagged on Lap 44/53 after both the Medical Car and the Safety Car were despatched.

Initially, only Adrian Sutil’s stricken Sauber was visible on the live FOM feed as it was hauled out by a JCB tractor. Moments later it was evident from bits of body work being removed – that the crash site had witnessed another accident. Jules Bianchi’s Marussia had aquaplaned in an almost identical fashion to the Sauber. Only he wasn’t as lucky.

The Frenchman, is believed to have submarined into the rescue vehicle at speeds in excess of 100mph! An ambulance was on the scene quickly and he was soon shifted out by road to the Mie University Hospital, where he is currently declared to be in a critical but stable condition. [Updates from Marussia F1]

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When the Japanese Grand Prix did get underway, pole-sitter Rosberg pulled away cleanly from the rolling start behind the Safety Car. Hamilton kept the gap down to under two seconds from his team mate ducking out of Nico’s spray every time he could. Jenson Button pitted first for intermediate tyres. A choice which almost rewarded him a podium in the end. He had to settle for P5.

LH#44 signs off at Suzuka. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG Petronas

LH#44 signs off at Suzuka. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG Petronas

The Williams team watched their Mercedes power advantage disappear as the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo made short work of them in the span of a few laps. Christian Horner remained quietly confident post-qualifying on Saturday – both his RB10s were set up for a wet race. This thinking paid off against the superior Mercedes-powered teams who qualified in higher positions. And they ended up P3 and P4. Fernando Alonso suffered his second DNF in three races with the F14T shutting down all systems on the formation lap. With Kimi Raikkonen finishing down in P12, Ferrari recorded their first non points-scoring finish in 82 races!

In stark contrast the Mercedes factory team with their massive downforce advantage this season, were in a race of their own. And Hamilton, a cut above that. After a failed DRS attempt on the earlier lap he then found some extra grip on the outside line passing Rosberg going into T1 on Lap 29 never to look back again. He built up a gap of almost 10s to car #6 before the Safety Car was deployed again. This time for the Marussia crash.

By winning in Suzuka for the first time Hamilton joins 7 other Formula One greats after taking his 30th career win. It was his 8th win this season, Rosberg’s 8th second place and Mercedes’ 8th one-two of the season! Next up is the inaugural Russian Grand Prix at Sochi.

With three consecutive wins now, Hamilton is back firmly in command on top leading Rosberg by 10 points. He has double the number of wins than his German rival. But with the FIA’s new double-points being awarded in the final round this year, there’s everything to race for till Round 19. At this point it might be worth looking back at Nico’s father’s title winning year – 1982. Keke Rosberg registered just a single victory the whole season but was crowned champion for his consistency.

Lewis will be wary of that stat!

PODIUM

P1 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 1hr 51m 43.021s
P2 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG
P3 Vettel  – Red Bull Racing

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Typhoon Phanfone

Rosberg in the Suzuka sun. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Rosberg in the Suzuka sun. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

In the slow motion replays onscreen, his front left wheel lock-up created a miniature ‘typhoon’. For himself. It disrupted a clean lap until then, but he was outside Nico’s time through the entire mid-sector anyway. So pole may have been out of the question for Roscoe’s master in the Japanese Grand Prix qualifying sessions.

Rosberg’s superb lap he said, was thanks to the unbelievably-quick car Mercedes have strung up this weekend. The only piece of news that overshadowed team Mercedes’ 8th front row lock-out this season was from their countryman.

Sebastian Vettel.

The quadruple & defending world drivers champion announced today that he’s not planning to continue with Red Bull in 2015! It was long rumoured that he would eventually  replace Fernando Alonso at Ferrari. Who in turn is rumoured to be moving to McLaren/Honda next year. But no other details were revealed – so for the moment everyone is certain about Phanfone and its furious arrival but nothing is certain about the German and Spaniard’s future team identities.

Drama in Suzuka. A storm that could affect the whole race. World Champions who are being cagey about their drives next season. And teammates, who may just replicate a ‘Senna-Prost-Turn-1-incident’ to influence the 2014 world championship.

You cannot afford to blink.

P1 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 1m 32.506
P2 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 1m 32.703
P3 Bottas –  Williams Martini Racing 1m 33.128

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Hamilton’s 7th heaven

SINGAPORE REVIEW

If your title rival, your nearest threat, your intra-team nemesis, your thunder-stealer begins to suffer your share of bad luck will you feel satisfied? Will you feel the world and it’s populace isn’t really on your case? Will you rediscover the real you?

It appears that Lewis Hamilton has begun to rediscover his genius. The genius that brought him into this massive spotlight called F1™. At Singapore a few nights ago his stride had a bounce in it. A proper fashionista swagger. Alighting from his shiny chauffeur-driven AMG he walked unescorted towards the Paddock gates and responded to a fan’s ‘you all right Lewis?’ with a ‘Yeah I’m great, thanks!’.

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Hipster Hamilton arrives at the Marina Bay. Image Copyright © Ajit Devadason

Fresh from the feisty conquest at the temple of speed, Hamilton revelled in another completely dominating weekend leaving Rosberg trailing by 3 points in the Championship.

Rosberg suffered a start-line nightmare when his steering wheel all but failed. He couldn’t engage the clutch and his paddles were double-shifting. While the rest set off on the formation lap Mercedes #6 was wheeled away into pit lane.

When the lights went out, Hamilton floored it to perfection taking T1 well before the chasing pack. Behind him Alonso jumped both Red Bulls from P5 with no real intention of braking to make the corner! He went off but came back onto the racing line holding onto P2. Which he decided to give back to a fast-starting Vettel who in turn capitalised on Rosberg’s empty Mercedes grid slot ahead of him.

On Lap 4, positions 1,2 and 3 were held by champions. All past winners of all the Singapore Grand Prix. Meanwhile the pit-lane-starting Championship leader Rosberg, was making no impression on the Caterhams and Marussias running ahead of him. His MGP W05 was truly in a lot of pain and woefully out of pace. The street circuit notorious for lack of overtaking space wasn’t helping either.

Between him and the leading trio a train of battles ensued between Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Massa, and further back Button, Bottas and Magnussen. The Toro Rosso team mates duelled too – Vergne getting the better of Kvyat while on Lap 10 Rosberg was still in P20. Three laps later Vettel, Alonso and Ricciardo all pitted in succession. Hamilton, by this time had built a large enough gap to Vettel that he exited ahead of the German after his first pit stop.

On Lap 14 Rosberg came in for his pit stop but the steering trouble was terminal.
A big moment for the Championship shoot-out had just unfolded at Singapore! Mercedes’ boss Toto Wolff was later quoted as saying “…we have built a missile but we must make it more reliable”.

In the next successive laps Ricciardo, Hamilton and Alonso traded fastest laps with each other and Alonso, closed in rapidly on Vettel. It was soon time for the second round of pit stops and Alonso, Vettel and Raikkonen dived in for fresh rubber. This left Hamilton out in front ahead of Ricciardo by 17 seconds. By the time he and Ricciardo made their second stops the gap to P2 was down to 7 seconds.

An incident between Force India’s Perez and Sauber’s Sutil wrecked the Mexican’s front wing and strewed debris all over the track. Considering how the Pirellis can shred nowadays, the Safety Car was deployed as is inevitable on a street circuit.

The race wasn’t going to remain as straight forward as it initially appeared. The long Safety Car period meant tyre strategies needed re-thinking! Red Bull and Williams believed they could stick with a two-stop strategy to catch Mercedes whose big lead was reduced to nothing. Mercedes however required to pit again for prime tyres! This meant Hamilton had to build a gap of over 27 seconds to Vettel. He did so. Lapping almost 2 seconds faster than anyone else at times, he began a relentless chase to the finish line. He stopped and exited just behind Vettel on fresh tyres. In the space of a lap and a half he overtook the German aggressively through T7 and secured a deserving win for Mercedes amidst spectacular fireworks.

For the seventh time this year.

PODIUM

P1 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 2hr 00m 04.795s
P2 Vettel  – Red Bull Racing
P3 Ricciardo – Red Bull Racing

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Turn around time

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LH44 is wheeled in for fresh tyres in Q3. Image Copyright © Ajit Devadason

The momentum is firmly back with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. Out-qualifying his team-mate after locking up and losing time into Turn 1 Hamilton showed tremendous commitment and self-belief in slicing Rosberg’s potential pole lap by .007 secs!

All through FP3, Q1 and Q2 the Silver Arrows weren’t the fastest cars leading us to believe that Ferrari first and Williams were in with a genuine shout. Felipe Massa hung on to provisional P1 for a while.

Earlier on, in Q1 Nico Rosberg ran straight off and into an escape road in a very similar-to-Monaco incident but it was of little significance. The ultimate trio have taken the top three Qualifying positions. Will they finish like that or will the streets of the gorgeous-by-night Marina Bay, throw up a surprise winner?

The only occasion Hamilton has won here in Singapore was in 2009. And he started on pole. Maybe it’s ‘Hammer time’ once again. Coded or not!

P1 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 1m 45.681
P2 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 1m 45.688
P3 Ricciardo –  Red Bull Racing 1m 45.854

 

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