1. Daniel Ricciardo
238 Points (3rd), 3 wins, 8 podiums, 0 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. 9th in 2013 Top 10
2014 was always going to be a free hit for Daniel Ricciardo, pitted against a reigning four-time World Champion who had been funded by the team owners since his early teenage years, little expectation was placed on the 26 year-old Australian. Ricciardo had earned his spot at Red Bull Racing, but few expected him to compete with Sebastian Vettel. After 19 rounds, 3 wins, and 5 third-place finishes few could doubt that the Aussie had taken his opportunity and knocked it out of the park. Faced with the superior machinery of Mercedes AMG Petronas, it was immediately apparent to all in the paddock that victory would only be attained on those days when the silver arrows failed to fire. On each of these three occasions it was Ricciardo at the ready, taking victory in Canada, Hungary and Spa-Francorchamps.
Against Vettel the statistics are hard to ignore 8 – 4 in podium finishes, 13 – 10 top 5 finishes, 10 – 9 in qualifying, across the board Ricciardo was the superior driver which, to his credit, Vettel openly conceded. Much in the way that Vettel’s career has thrived on good timing, Ricciardo’s arrival at Red Bull was equally fortuidous. The new regulations plunged Red Bull into the mechanically unknown, and forcing the team to focus on reliability more so than producing a car that would’ve suit Vettel’s driving style. As is the case with Mercedes and McLaren, Red Bull always aim to provide its drivers with equal machinery and as much as they would have wanted the Vettel dynasty to continue, the drinks giant’s philosophy is never far away from the future.
Beyond the three victories claimed in 2014, it was hard to ignore Ricciardo’s class on those days when victory was half a lap ahead. His overtaking manoeuvre on Vettel at Monza harked back to the ’80s, selling the dummy to the outside only to grab the inside line at the last minute, in the days when the art of getting ahead meant more than being within a second behind.
In short, what secures Ricciardo’s position as the best driver of 2014 was his ability to not only shade the reigning four-time world champion amidst the glow of his garage but to do so consistently at the front of the field with minimal error. A truly superb season.
2. Lewis Hamilton
384 points (1st), 11 wins, 16 podiums, 7 pole positions, 7 fastest laps. 4th in the 2013 top 10.
From the very first session of winter testing at the Jerez circuit in February, the performance of the Mercedes W05 was scarily ominous. Where the pursuit of determining the relative performance of the field is routinely shrouded amidst low fuel, soft tyres, and all the tenths of a second in between, 2014 was far different. The Mercedes were clearly the team to beat, not because they set rapid times, but because they were able to set times at all. Not since the days when Mercedes were last in the sport, had a car held such an obvious mechanical advantage over its opponents. I have little doubt that Mercedes failure to win every race of the 2014 season still irks the top brass in silver. It is in this context that Lewis Hamilton’s season must be viewed.
Hamilton is second on the list because of his performances on Sunday, or to put it another way, Hamilton is not first on the list because of his performances on Saturday. Regarded by many as the fastest driver over the course of a lap, few anticipated Hamilton would receive the pasting his team mate gave him. But while Hamilton’s qualifying may not have been up to scratch, his racing was and then some, winning 11 races to 5 in a car that deserved to win them all. Outside of the car and Hamilton appeared a changed man, gone were the days when post-race interviews revealed the performance of his car relative to the performance of his current relationship. Nevertheless, remnants of Hamilton’s mental fragility still appeared to threaten his championship campaign.
With Mercedes set to retain its performance advantage over its rivals for 2015, Hamilton looks assured to claim his third drivers championship title.
3. Fernando Alonso
161 points (6th), 0 wins, 2 podiums, 0 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. 3rd in the 2013 top 10.
How do you tell whether the performance of a team is attributable to the talent of their driver or the innovation of their car? Well in the case of Ferrari, when you hire Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, failure to succeed rests solely with the car. Over the 19-race Formula 1 season, it wasn’t that Ferrari was unable to record a victory in 2014, but more so that Red Bull was, that emphasised the struggles at Maranello. For a season rumoured to have been commencing with an under-performing power unit, a rumour that gained strength in testing and materialised in Australia, Alonso’s persistence with another nag was impressive. To Ferrari’s credit it made it very clear that a failure to succeed in 2014 would be the fault of the team, so that once it became apparent that success would not materialise, the door at Maranello swung wide open for those on the inside. By April team principal Stefano Domenicalli was gone, in July head of engine and electronics Luca Marmorini left, and by September Ferrari president and chairman Luca Di Montezemolo resigned.
Aside from the F14T, Alonso faced one of his greatest challenges in 2014 in the form of Kimi Raikkonen. Never known to welcome a competitive team mate, the manner in which Alonso dismantled one of the greatest drivers of his generation was incredible. As Daniel Ricciardo displayed at Red Bull, the new regulations provided the perfect opportunity to any new driver within a team, but by years end few were in doubt that Alonso had brilliantly adapted his driving style to the new 2014 formula, much in the way we had seen him adapt his style from the 2005 – 06 Renaults which required aggressive turn-in on the apex. Raikkonen embarked on a season-long escapade to change the car to his style, Alonso time and again has the capacity to change his style instead.
As for the results, well they weren’t pretty. In 19 races, Alonso’s best finish was 2nd in the rain-affected Hungarian Grand Prix, finishing on the podium only twice, accumulating 161 points to finish 6th in the drivers standings, his lowest position since 2009. But if Alonso’s results were poor, Raikkonen’s were bankrupt, the Finn completing the season with 0 wins, 0 podiums and a best qualifying of 5th, on the way to 12th in the championship with 55 points. For a driver re-knowned for his qualifying prowess a 16 – 3 victory in favour of Alonso speaks volumes of the Spaniards class.
After a truly demoralizing year and with little hope for any driver not in a works Mercedes for 2015, there’s little surprise that Alonso has sought to resume his mid-field fight behind the wheel of the new McLaren Honda.
4. Nico Rosberg
317 points (2nd), 5 wins, 15 podiums, 11 pole positions, 5 fastest laps. 5th in 2013 top ten.
It may seem harsh to place a driver that took the Formula 1 title fight down to the final round in fourth, but the reality is, had it not been for his remarkable qualifying performances, Nico Rosberg would have been far lower. It’s with that statistic in mind however that places his 5 wins in 2014 under the greatest scrutiny. Only 5? Of these, his win in Australia came while Lewis retired with a mechanical failure, his Monaco victory was as much down to his mistake in qualifying that ensured he claimed pole, while his wins in Germany and Austria came while Hamilton fought through the field following mistakes in qualifying. Now there is certainly no doubt that Hamilton’s errors in qualifying were a result of brilliant qualifying on the Germans part however, if one is to assess who was the better racer between the two Mercedes drivers then Hamilton wins comfortably. Only in the penultimate round of the season in Sao Paulo, much in the way Damon Hill beat Michael Schumacher in the wet at Suzuka to force a showdown in 1994, did Rosberg beat Hamilton in a straight out fight. Driving what was arguably the most mechanically superior car over any of its opponents in a Formula 1 season, that Rosberg continually failed to convert pole into victory was disappointing for the German. In 2015 the Mercedes will only improve in its reliability record, which will prevent Rosberg relying on those particular days.
If the rumours are anything to go by, 2015 will be much of the same as 2014, which means that the role of entertaining the fans around the world will once again rest solely on the shoulders of the Mercedes drivers, and importantly, on whether Rosberg can come to terms with his less than impressive race performances.
5. Jules Bianchi
2 points (17th), 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. 10th in 2013 top ten.
In my comment on Bianchi’s inclusion at 10th on the Racefans 2013 top ten list I’m reminded of my final line which read “Bianchi will score their [Marussia’s] first points and ensure a lengthy career that may well lead to a Ferrari seat”. The Frenchman didn’t let me down, his brilliant 9th place around Monaco’s streets, the oft determiner of talent, would’ve vindicated the second part of my prediction. Alas time was not on Jules side. His horrific accident at the Japanese Grand Prix left the motor racing world in shock at the immediate end to the shy and charming Frenchman’s career amidst avoidable circumstances. A driver who’s talent behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car surpassed that of his earlier racing career. Whoever replaces Raikkonen at Ferrari in 2016 should surely view themselves as Jules’ stand in. Still fighting for life in a French hospital, Bianchi’s injuries are a constant reminder to all in the sport that the higher the risk, the higher the price. Tous Avec Jules.
6. Valtteri Bottas
186 points (4th), 0 wins, 6 podiums, 0 pole positions, 1 fastest lap. Did not make 2013 top ten.
With Kimi Raikkonen languishing in an uncompetitive Ferrari, the tag of the “The Flying Finn” must now surely be held by Valterri Bottas. Having not quite done enough with the FW35 to make the top ten last year, Bottas cemented himself as a possible champion of the future, out-performing Felippe Massa all season with 6 podiums, including two back-to-back second-place finishes in Britain and Germany. What prevented Bottas from making last years top ten, and being further up the list this year were the occasional mistakes that robbed the Williams team. Tagging the wall in Australia and dropping from third to tenth off the grid in Monza both surrendered podium positions, by the end of the season Bottas finished ahead of Massa 10 – 9 and while the Fin was not immune to unreliability his consistent dominance over his teammate was not as prevalent as the majority of those drivers above him. Had Bottas claimed the pole in Austria and reduced a few of the errors in his game a top 5 position would’ve been assured.
There is little doubt that if Williams are able to further refine their chassis to adapt to the tighter, higher downforce circuits on the calendar, Bottas may well stand as Mercedes AMG’s greatest threat in 2015.
7. Nico Hulkenberg
96 points (9th), 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. 2nd in 2013 top ten.
Towards the end of this season Autosport’s Jonathon Noble ran an article entitled ‘Hulkenberg’s modesty is hurting him’, such is the belief that the German does not appear to talk up his talents while out of the car, that such a headline was not posed as a question! Where Hulkenberg may not appear to bring leadership out of the car, he certainly brings it from within, scoring points in the first ten races of the season although still unable to capture that illusive first podium position. Carrying his remarkable late season form with Sauber into this year I think it was expected that Hulkenberg would out-class his last minute team mate Sergio Perez. As it was though, Perez put in a very good season, scoring the team only its second ever podium position after Giancarlo Fisichella’s miracle weekend at Spa in 2009.
While Noble stressed the need for Hulkenberg to display leadership qualities out of the car, I believe the German is more than aware that if he continues to outscore his team mates, the offer from a top team will come. Should Hulkenberg perform as expected in 2015, then a seat at Ferrari would almost certainly be assured. Formula 1 is a fickle game, and the opportunity to move to a front running team powered by an engine other than a Mercedes could well have proven disastrous. After all its not hard to find the silver lining at Force India could well provide the German with that much deserved first podium position in 2015.
If Hulkenberg is able to steer the Force India in a similar manner as this year then a seat at Ferrari replacing Raikkonen would almost certainly be on the table, outside of that however, the German may look to the possibility of replacing Massa at Williams should the Brazilian have another erratic season of results. Either way it looks almost certain that Hulkenberg will have one more year in the wilderness that is the Formula 1 mid-field before he earns a much needed promotion to the Formula 1 front end.
8. Sebastian Vettel
167 points (5th), 0 wins, 4 podiums, 0 pole positions, 2 fastest laps. 1st in 2013 top ten.
It’s rare to see a titan of sport fall in the way that Sebastian Vettel did in 2014. The records will forever show that a driver who claimed 38 race wins from the previous 5 seasons was unable to compete against a teammate with 50 previous race starts. Few could deny that the cars of 2014 were a different beast, but that Vettel was unable to adapt to their brand of drive is somewhat remarkable. At the end of 2013 Mark Webber commented ominously that the torquier V6 turbo power units would probably favour Vettel’s driving style even more, the German renowned for being very sparing on the Pirelli rubber.
As with Raikkonen, perhaps the dilemma lies in the way Vettel tackled his problems with the RB10. Faced with a faster team mate, Vettel chose not to adapt his style to suit the car, but try to adapt the car to suit his style. It is undoubtedly the most unique challenge of motor sport to that of its counterparts, in that so vast are changes to the sports rules, the talents and abilities of the sports stars can fluctuate greatly. Unlike other sports, no matter what material may be substituted, the shape of the ball rarely changes. What Vettel may well discover is that you can’t drive a V6 turbo hybrid like you can a normally aspirated V8 and be offered champagne at the end.
For Vettel, the goal of 2015 is clear, to bring Ferrari back to its winning ways and remind his critics that he was not the champion of a given formula but is indeed a genuine Formula 1 world champion.
9. Jenson Button
126 points (8th), 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. Did not make 2013 top ten.
Driving for McLaren is the dream of many, a team behind the intellectual property to some of the most iconic and evocative scenes in the sports history, but who still remain unashamedly tied to their sterile, business suit, corporate efficiency. The return of Ron Dennis to the helm of the Formula 1 operations in 2014 did nothing to change that cult-ure. For Jenson Button, partnered alongside Formula Renault 3.5 champion Kevin Magnussen, the judge of the better driver at McLaren comes down to the science of the computers and while they don’t yet talk, those reading them found that over the course of 2014 Magnussen was the quicker driver. However, while Formula 1 may be born out of a plethora of numbers, there is only one number that counts at the end of the year and that’s points. By season’s end Button scored 126 points to Magnussen’s 55, single-handedly ensuring McLaren retained fourth position in the constructors championship with fifth at the final round Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, effectively earning the team approximately 4 million dollars in extra prize money, a language that even Ron can understand.
While the Racefans top ten doesn’t look too strongly towards subjective considerations to a drivers performance, the passing of Button’s father John at the beginning of the season would’ve tested even the strongest of temperaments, a podium at the opening round in Australia was a brilliant result. Coupled with a very temperamental MP4-29 Button’s finish to the season was very impressive, scoring 4 top 5 finishes in the final five races.
Button will race again in 2015 as McLaren usher in a new era of competition alongside Honda. While Button will compete in 2015, you can’t help but feel that every additional year in Button’s career is like the release of another Star Wars episode; sure everyone’s going to watch it but you can’t help but feel that it’s taking the gloss off a once great franchise. Let’s just hope that if 2015 doesn’t go really well, Button will walk away from his F1 saga.
10. Daniil Kvyat
8 points (15th), 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. Did not compete in 2013.
At the beginning of the season Daniil Kvyat was an immensely exciting prospect for Formula 1, a driver from an enormous and previously uncharted market. That both Kvyat and the inaugural Russian Grand Prix emerged in the one season should have been a great story for Formula 1 and its emergence within the Russian Federation. That was until the downing of flight MH-17. With all reports suggesting that Russian fighters had shot down the passenger airline in the conflict zone between the Ukraine and Russia, and with little response from Russian president Vladimir Putin, many questioned whether Formula 1 should compete in a nation, so grossly out of step with the global community. While the Grand Prix should never have gone ahead, Red Bull’s surprise choice of driver was vindicated with the Russian displaying genuine talent far beyond his 20 years.
While Kvyat was unable to outscore teammate Jean-Eric Vergne over the course of the season, his qualifying performances left few in doubt that the Russian had the necessary speed, making Q3 on nine occasions, the highlight being 5th on the grid at the new Sochi venue. For Kvyat, it was his race performances that proved the most disappointing with three ninth place finishes being his best results. In contrast, team mate Vergne, who would’ve been 11th on this list, was able to claim one sixth and two eighth place finishes.
Next year will see the Russian face another massive challenge as he replaces Sebastian Vettel alongside Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull Racing. Not only will Kvyat have to provide the team with consistent points finishes, he will also have to gel with the mostly British born team personnel who are no doubt already used to the infectiously friendly personality of Ricciardo.
Why is Massa not there?
Perhaps the biggest omission from this years top ten list is Felipe Massa. For 2014 the Brazilian moved to Williams to partner Valterri Bottas. Massa’s omission from the top ten list is not so much a reflection of how bad he drove in 2014 but how so much better he could have. Pole position in Austria, the only driver not in a works Mercedes to achieve such a feet was a brilliant result. But that highlight was marred by a number of errors that just should never have occurred for a driver commencing his thirteenth season in the sport. 5 finishes outside the top ten in a car that claimed pole in Austria was just simply not good enough.