Andrew Davies looks at the outstanding race performances this season, not always by drivers who made it onto the podium…
Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, Australian GP
Position: 3rd on track
Magnussen dodged a bullet in qualifying for his debut grand prix by putting in a faster lap in Q2 despite passing the stricken Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen at the side of the track under a waved yellow. That said, to qualify the car where he did, in the conditions that prevailed on the Saturday, were astonishing from a rookie (and the same for Kvyat too). In fact Saturday was more impressive than Sunday, when the cards fell into place. As debuts go it was mighty impressive – Hamiltonesque – to score a podium in your first ever grand prix. It didn’t get better than that all season. Ron Dennis gave him a great big hug afterwards. No better example of aversion therapy could you get…
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain GP
Lewis Hamilton won the race of the season, and certainly one of the best races between two equal team-mates in the history of F1. This duel was up there with Villeneuve versus Pironi at Imola. Lewis held at bay the clearly faster Nico Rosberg with some combative racing and set a marker for the rest of the season. It also dispelled the notion that having a dominant team would give us a boring season.
Jules Bianchi, Marussia, Monaco GP
A historic day in the tax dodgers’ principality. Jules Bianchi had to do some robust overtaking en route to his ninth place, but was able to fend off Jean-Eric Vergne (who nerfed him in the rear wing at the hairpin) for a time and finished in front of a McLaren and a Ferrari. He found a unique place to overtake rival Kamui Kobayashi, lunging up the inside into the Rascasse, then banging wheels three times on the way through. At the time I wrote ‘This might be the only two points that Marussia ever score, so, an event not to go unmarked.’ Sad to say, it came true.
Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Austrian GP
Position : 3rd
Valtteri Bottas delivered the kind of race performance that showed that Williams were capable of taking the fight to Mercedes on certain circuits. Bottas may have lost out by 0.01 in qualifying to Massa, as Williams locked out the front row, but he put that all behind him in the race. Rosberg grabbed second place going into Turn 1 and then Bottas calmly cruised back past him into Turn 2. What’s more, he didn’t make any kind of mistake under pressure from Lewis Hamilton later in the race who couldn’t get past him on track and had to overtake him in the pit-stops.
Sergio Perez, Force India, Canadian GP
Perhaps a controversial choice, given Checo’s post-race penalty for causing a cvollision with Massa, but I’m still of the belief he was hard done by. Perez started from P13 on SuperSoft tyres and made them last all the way through till Lap 34. He got a good start, too and was up to P11 on the opening lap. He made a non-DRS pass on Jenson Button down the back straight on the re-start – not many of those were going on. Daniel Ricciardo had to pit as early as Lap 13 – with the Safety Car laps subtracted that’s only six racing laps for what would be the race winner. Checo’s first stint was remarkable.
He held it together almost to the end when Massa dived up the inside into Turn 1 (an incredibly difficult place to pass without a huge speed advantage). Even if he’d let Massa past into Turn 1 and settled for fifth place, it would have been an amazing result from where he started. For all his efforts he got a 27G impact, a DNF and a mandatory trip to hospital for a brain scan.
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Hungarian GP
The term ‘future World Champion’ is often bandied about at the first sign of promise from a driver, but with Daniel Ricciardo it’s not a glib assertion. And he showed his true potential at the Hungarian GP. He was lucky in that the top four drivers sailed past the pits just before the Safety Car was brought out for Marcus Ericsson who went off at Turn 3, and so everyone else could pile into the pits before them. And it was handy that Jenson Button and the McLaren team pulled the pin on their self-destruct grenade when they thought it was going to rain again, but the rest of the drive was down to hustling.
Daniel’s win was down to two perfectly executed overtaking moves. Round the outside of Lewis Hamilton into Turn 2 and a more conventional, but very smooth, run up the inside into Turn 1, past Fernando Alonso. His win in Canada had relied on both Mercedes hitting trouble, but this was Daniel putting one over the Silver Arrows.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Italian GP
Lewis’s slow getaway from the line on the warm-up lap was replicated by a disastrously slow launch when the red lights went out, with the same software glitch. Given that Monza is one of the longest runs to the first turn, his amazing afternoon started with a heroic recovery to lose only three places. Ending up in P4 through the Rettifilo chicane was a major result in itself.
Magnussen was fairly easily dispensed with but he made the most brilliant of passes on Felipe Massa into Turn 1 on Lap 10 and from then it was game on. The degree of precision to get the car stopped, take the corner and not hit the Williams was impressive. Just one lap earlier Rosberg had failed to take the corner at all, opting for the escape road and getting a derisive cheer from the tifosi for this troubles.
From then on Lewis showed his intentions by putting in a series of fastest laps and fastest sectors, whittling the gap down to 1.5 seconds on Lap 15. Given that new tyres were going to be faster, the advantage was still with Rosberg who had the luxury of pitting first and guaranteeing his place in front, thus when Lewis emerged behind Rosberg he was 2.2 seconds down and his team advised him to hold that kind of gap and wait till the closing laps of the race to make an attack. So would he listen to them?
No, of course not, Lewis knew he had the balance just as he wanted it and went on the attack slicing 0.5 a lap off Rosberg’s time. On Lap 29 the pressure got to Rosberg and he missed the first turn again accompanied by more cheering from the tifosi and Lewis Hamilton whistled through for the lead. It was devastating display of grand prix driving.
Jenson Button, McLaren, Japanese GP
If ever McLaren needed a stark reminder of the benefits of an experienced driver, then they had it from Jenson Button on Sunday. His audacious early move to Inters had all the hallmarks of the Hungarian GP fiasco, where the McLaren team got the weather prediction badly wrong and threw away a handful of points. Was it going to pay off? Yes. Because this time it was Jenson Button making the call, and as the most experienced driver on the grid, he got it right.
He tried his best to keep the Red Bulls at bay and resisted the irresistible Daniel Ricciardo for as long as he could, but in the end he had to give best. It was the perfect performance to highlight his skills to the Honda management present at the race, on a day when his rookie team-mate was getting in trouble.
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Brazilian GP
After the USGP in Austin it was vital for Nico Rosberg to respond to pressure and ‘stop the rot’. And this he did. From the moment he got an immaculate getaway from the line, Rosberg made few mistakes on his way to a fifth win of the season. The win crowned an almost perfect weekend; fastest in all free practice sessions, pole position and the win. The only thing he failed to pick up was the fastest lap which Lewis put in on Lap 62 (but not by much).
Felipe Massa, Williams, Abu Dhabi GP
As Rob Smedley said after the race, “not bad for an old guy”. Given how far behind Williams had dropped behind the Silver Arrows in the last few races of the season, this was a real star turn from Felipe. And what made it really close at the end of the race was Felipe’s ability to preserve his Soft tyres in the middle stint, so that he could switch back to the SuperSofts and pursue Hamilton to the flag. Had he not run so long, or preserved his tyres so well, then he would have been back onto the Softs and it would have been a cruise to the line for Lewis. As it was, Felipe made the ‘World Champion elect’ work for his win. P2 on the podium was a fitting result for the resurgent driver and team of 2014.