Coming into the 2014 season, everyone was discussing about the engineering challenge in designing the new power units. However, it soon became clear that drivers too had a big job in their hands. With four times the torque and far lower downforce levels, 24 men faced a major challenge in adapting their driving style to the new generation of Formula 1 cars.
As the sport ushered into a new era, even the championships struggled while two young drivers in particular flourished. Then there was a certain Spaniard who continued to make headlines with his driving, despite another year in in-competitive machinery. And this list would be incomplete without those two drivers who gave us one of the best intra-team battle in recent history.
5) Fernando Alonso
One is left with few adjectives to describe what Fernando Alonso managed this season in the Ferrari F14 T - one of the worst cars designed by Scuderia in decades. Twice in the season, the two Ferraris finished ninth and tenth - a result normally scored by a lower midfield team.
While fellow world champion Kimi Raikkonen managed only one top five finish all season long as he struggled to get to grips with the weak front end of his Ferrari, Alonso secured two podiums.
He came close to winning the Hungarian Grand Prix before conceding his lead to Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo whose RB10 was fitted with much fresher tyres.
However, his frustration with the team grew as the season progressed and he decidedly to join McLaren despite having repeatedly vowed to win a title with the Prancing Horse. The fact that he is ready to rekindle his ties with Ron Dennis and his team shows that he lost complete faith in Ferrari and the re-organisation process going on at Maranello
4) Nico Rosberg
Rosberg was going to be blown away by Lewis Hamilton in 2014. That was the view of many so-called experts of the sport. Instead with five victories and a further 10 podium finishes, Rosberg made sure that the title duel went down the wire in Abu Dhabi.
The key to this feat was breaking Lewis Hamilton’s run of victories - not once but twice - during the 19 race season. When Hamilton took the title lead with four consecutive victories between Malaysia and Spain, Rosberg controversially came on top at Monaco. Similarly, when Hamilton won five races on a trot in the second half of the season and inched closer to the title, the German took a lights-to-flag victory in the penultimate round in Brazil.
But Rosberg deserves even more praise for beating Lewis Hamilton fair and square on Saturdays. It underlined his skills behind the wheels and indicated that he will be a tough man to beat next season, if he improves on his race craft.
However, it’s likely that people will remember him for his controversial actions during the Monaco and the Belgian Grand Prix.
3) Valtteri Bottas
Valtteri Bottas started the season with a novice error at the Australian Grand Prix. Eight months later, however, when the chequered flag was dropped at the picturesque Yas Marina Circuit, everyone was calling the Flying Finn a future world champion.
During this period, Bottas earned the reputation of a consistent driver who could score a string of podium and outshow a multiple grand prix winner in the same car(at least for the first two-thirds of the season). The 25 year stood on the rostrum at six occasions and many a times was Mercedes closest challenger.
However, in those three races when Mercedes tumbled, he failed to capitalise on it, and hence, remained eluded from that maiden victory. Conservative strategies from the resurgent Williams team didn’t help his cause either.
2 ) Lewis Hamilton
2014 saw a mature Lewis Hamilton take his second Formula 1 world championship with 11 victories in the 19 race season. With Mercedes producing one of the most dominant cars in sport’s history, it was clear that either of their drivers was going to lift the elusive drivers crown. And Hamilton rose to the occasion, beating teammate Nico Rosberg in every single wheel-to-wheel fight during the entire length of the season.
It was this race craft that won him accolades. Whether he had to defend his teammate on Sunday - as in Bahrain and Hungary, or attack him for race lead - as was the case at Austin and Monza - the Brit always came on top.
However, Hamilton struggled in qualifying in comparison to his teammate, despite having developed the reputation of the fastest driver on a single lap. Yes, he suffered from mechanical gremlins on the Saturdays of the German and the Hungarian Grands Prix, he had all but himself to blame for what happened in the grid deciding session in Austin and Silverstone.
1) Daniel Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo is a fine example of what a midfield driver is capable of, given a competitive car. The Australian dethroned Sebastian Vettel with apparent ease, capitalising on German’s inability to adapt to the new generation of Formula 1 cars.
Danny Ric was far superior than Vettel in terms of tyre management. When it came to fuel consumption, it was again the 25 year old who had the upper hand.
But what stood out the most was the way he clinched three victories in a season otherwise dominated by Mercedes-Benz. Yes at each of the three occasions, Red Bull’s German rival tumbled. But Ricciardo would have not stood on the top step of the podium in Canada and Hungary had he not made those crucial overtaking manoeuvres at the end of the race. The one on Hamilton on the outside of turn 2 particularly showed his class while his pass over Vettel on the second chicane at Monza stamped his authority as the de facto number 1 at Red Bull.
It would be wrong to completely rule out the fact that Ricciardo’s supreme pace was a factor in Vettel’s decision to jump ship and move to Ferrari. For Ricciardo though, he’s got a chance to lead the team and emulate Vettel’s success, provided Renault improves their power unit over the next few years and the Red Bull themselves can design a competitive chassis without Adrian Newey at the helm of the design department.