Eleven Down, Eight To Go

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The end of F1’s summer break and the return to racing is typically seen as the start of the second half of the season. The three-week gap between the previous Grand Prix in Hungary and the upcoming Belgian Grand Prix includes a two week period where all staff members in F1 teams must take a mandatory break, meaning even those on the phones and emails get rest which doesn’t come often in a sport which is rarely resting from January to December.

As the sport gets going again this weekend, it is sure to deliver more exciting action in the second half just like it did in the first. It may have been dominated at the front by Mercedes with an occasional threat from Red Bull, but all the way through the grid, there has been plenty to be entertained by.

Lonely On The Leading Front

Mercedes have been arriving here more than anyone else this season

Mercedes have been arriving here more than anyone else this season

Mercedes have been relentless in their march on the championship as they have taken 9 wins from the first 11 races of 2014. The battle has mainly between the two team-mates of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. It was Rosberg who took the opening round of the year thanks to Hamilton’s car suffering from engine problems and retiring in the early laps. Hamilton came back to win the following four races in a row and entered the weekend of the Monaco Grand Prix as championship leader, leading Rosberg by just three points. The slender lead despite having won three more races than Rosberg was due to Hamilton not scoring any points in Australia, compared to the 25 points Rosberg got for winning the opening round. Since then it was all catchup from Hamilton until his win in Spain, his fourth of the season, took him past his German team-mate in the Driver’s Championship.

In the final few minutes of qualifying, Rosberg appeared to make a mistake on his final lap of the session and stopped his car on the track. With such a narrow track, yellow flags denoting drivers slow down and little time left in the session, Hamilton missed out on pole position to his team-mate who was fastest in the session at that time. The timing of Rosberg’s error led many to speculate that Rosberg, under pressure from seeing his team-mate win the previous four races and needing a strong result, had in fact made the error on purpose to ensure that he would start on pole on a track which is very difficult to be overtaken on. In interviews after the session, Hamilton said that him and Rosberg were not friends, a line with particular significance as the two men have known and been good friends with each other since their early teens as they raced each other in a number of different racing categories. Rosberg denied he had made the mistake on purpose and continued to protest his innocence. The German went on to win the race, his first race win since Melbourne, five races earlier.

Montreal, Canada, was the scene of Mercedes’ first serious reliability troubles. Shortly after half of the 70 laps had been completed and with a strong lead over the rest of the field, both Mercedes drivers reported a loss of power which was losing them two seconds per lap. This started to bring their rivals into play for the win. Hamilton retired on lap 48 as his rear brakes suffered a complete failure. Rosberg, with his ailing brakes,  was able to hold on until the final few laps when he was passed by Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull for the victory.

Austria hosted it’s first Formula One race since 2003 at the Red Bull Ring, Spielberg. The same venue was host of the racefor many years until 2003 and it’s return to the calender was universally welcomed. The first non-Mercedes pole position of the season was taken by Felipe Massa, leading his team-mate Valtteri Bottas in a all-Williams front row. Rosberg started behind them in third but Hamilton started ninth after failing to get a valid lap in on either of his two efforts. When the race started Hamilton jumped up to fifth and soon after passed Alonso for fourth while Rosberg passed both Williams cars at the first pit stops and Hamilton did the same at the second round of stops. This cleared the way for a straight fight between the two men which Rosberg won, leading Hamilton home by under two seconds.

 

Hamilton won his home race for the second time in his F1 career

Hamilton won his home race for the second time in his F1 career

It was a home win for Lewis Hamilton at the British Grand Prix, the Briton keeping close behind his team-mate in the early stages but then taking full advantage of the German’s first retirement of the season to cut the points gap between the two from 29 points to just 4. In the build-up to the German Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton remarked that Rosberg wasn’t really German. Being born to a Finnish father of 1982 F1 world champion Keke Rosberg and living in Monaco for most of his life, Nico said he wasn’t really fussed by the comments and showed just that in the race by winning and undoing the work Hamilton’s win did in Silverstone.

The final race before the summer break in Hungary looked like it could be Rosberg’s to lose, only for two Safety Car periods to ruin his chances. The Mercedes team told Hamilton to let Rosberg through as both men were on different race strategies to each other and so that Rosberg would not be held up by his team-mate in a race where rival teams had a rare chance to win. Hamilton refused the order and went on to finish third, one place ahead of Rosberg. Daniel Ricciardo won his second race of the season for Red Bull.

The Bulls, The Horses, And The English

Red Bull had a pre-season of struggle

Red Bull had a pre-season of struggle

Red Bull had a disastrous pre-season as their car did not get much running on track due to the new internal parts failing consistently. While Mercedes and most of the teams racked up many miles, Red Bull were often back in their pit garage, trying to figure how to do laps without their Renault engine or other parts giving up. The team even left the first of three pre-season test sessions early, such was the scale of the issues. It looked as though the team who had won both the Drivers and Constructors championships in each of the previous four years would have a tough start to 2014.

The first race in Australia saw a retirement on lap 3 for reigning champion Sebastian Vettel, with his engine failing. His new team-mate who replaced the out-going Mark Webber, enjoyed a much better race as Daniel Ricciardo finished the race in second position, the Australian delighted to finish on the podium in front of his home fans. After the race however, Ricciardo was disqualified from the race results as the FIA discovered that Red Bull had been using their own fuel flow meter that had not been approved by the FIA, which governed how much fuel could flow into the engine in accordance with 2014’s rules and regulations which placed even greater emphasis on fuel efficiency. The team appealed the verdict but lost the case at a hearing three weeks after the initial exclusion.

Ricciardo has outshone Vettel and been the revelation of the season so far

Ricciardo has outshone Vettel and been the revelation of the season so far

Vettel got Red Bull’s first official podium finish of the season in Malaysia despite a retirement from Ricciardo and both drivers finished in the points in Bahrain, something which was kept up for the following races. Both men took a podium each in Spain and Monaco but it was Ricciardo who took the glory of the team’s first win of the year in Canada as both Mercedes’ ran into brake problems. It was a low-key performance at the team’s home race in Austria, with Vettel retiring and Ricciardo finishing in the points but in a lowly eighth place. Both drivers finished high in the points in Silverstone and Ricciardo took another race win in Hungary to keep his fantastic first season at the team in good form.

It's been another year of disappointment for Fernando Alonso at Ferrari

It’s been another year of disappointment for Fernando Alonso at Ferrari

Ferrari have endured a tough season so far. While two-time champion Fernando Alonso has secured consistent points finishes, his Finnish team-mate has often complained of being uncomfortable with the car and being unable to extract the same level of performance from it as Alonso. The team have not been in consistent contention for wins or podiums on a normal day, their only shot at victory fading in the final laps as Alonso could not hold on to his lead in Hungary with tyres which faded in performance.

Despite the team’s failure to provide him with a winning car, Fernando Alonso has been playing the now-familiar role of optimist, saying that the team can and will improve.

Williams have had a much more fruitful year than many thought possible

Williams have had a much more fruitful year than many thought possible

Williams have been having a strong year, with the English team benefiting from the decision to switch to Mercedes engines from 2014. The Mercedes engines have been by far the best choice compared to its Renault and Ferrari counterparts, easily leading the way in power and efficiency. They have had strong drives with a strong partnership of Bottas and Massa. Bottas has been the better racer, scoring more points and a podium while the Brazilian Massa has had a number of crashes in races, especially on the opening lap. Despite this, it is Massa who has taken the team’s only pole position of the season.

Lower And Below

McLaren have not moved on from their dismal 2013 season and remain some way from competing for high places. A podium in the first race for McLaren new man Kevin Magnussen was a false dawn and the team from Woking have not been on the podium in the ten races since. While the team has scored some points, they have been stuck battling the Force Indias and Ferraris instead of Mercedes and Red Bull.

Force India and McLaren are within one point of each other in the Constructors' Championship

Force India and McLaren are within one point of each other in the Constructors’ Championship

Force India have been a staple of F1’s points positions for a few years and they have remained so in 2014, scoring a good points haul similar to McLaren and achieved the second podium finish in their seven-year history, Sergio Perez finishing a strong third in Bahrain. Nico Hulkenberg has been the better racer and has scored 69 points to the Mexican’s 29.

Toro Rosso have had a year of difficulty, with different problems getting in the way of points scoring. When the team has scored, it has been Jean-Eric Vergne who has 11 points to new young Russian driver Daniil Kvyat’s 5. Lotus and Sauber have both had abysmal seasons, with Lotus suffering a heavy fall from 2013 race winners to 2014 race finish failures. The team has finished outside of the points more often than inside, with its meagre two points finishing coming from Romain Grosjean in Spain and Monaco. Sauber have been having their worst season since joining the sport in 1993, with the Swiss squad yet to score a solitary point across the first 11 races of the season.

At the very back of the grid, Marussia have been have faster than Caterham across the season and it was Marussia who beat Caterham to scoring their first ever Constructors’ Championship points in Monaco. Jules Bianchi finished 8th but this was later changed to 9th in the official race result due to not serving a penalty properly in the race.

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