Taking into account the equipment they had under them, which F1 drivers put in the most impressive performances of 2014?
It’s been a year to remember for F1 fans, for both good reasons and bad. This list aims to rate the 10 most outstanding performers of 2014 in order, taking into account pre-season expectations and what they managed to achieve with the equipment at their disposal.
Not about the best, but who achieved the most
No doubt many of you who read this will disagree with my ratings, but that’s the nature of a subjective list such as this – just bear in mind that this isn’t a list of the best drivers in F1, merely who achieved the most this year and this year only. Before we get into the list proper, here are some of the names that narrowly missed out on a place in the final 10:
Nico Hulkenberg: He came very close to making the cut for the list, but what counts against the German, solid as he was in 2014, is the fact that his Force India team-mate Sergio Perez put in more eye-catching performances despite his more meagre points haul. Hulkenberg was a model of consistency, particularly in the early part of the year, but there was often little to separate him from the Mexican in terms of race pace – arguably a poor reflection on a driver many have down as a potential champion given the right machinery.
Kevin Magnussen: The rookie enjoyed a sparkling debut with a second-place finish at Melbourne, but that proved to be one of only a small handful of occasions when the Dane had the edge over fellow McLaren driver Jenson Button. Points went begging at Germany, where Magnussen was the victim of some careless driving by Felipe Massa at the first corner, and at Belgium and Italy, where the 22-year-old found himself in the stewards’ firing line, but it was clear that he wasn’t able to extract the same pace from the car as Button as the year progressed.
Jules Bianchi: The Frenchman was responsible for one of the performances of the year at Monaco, where he dragged the perennially uncompetitive Marussia to a superb eighth place finish on the road (ninth after a five-second penalty was applied) to secure what are likely to stand as the Banbury-based team’s only points in F1. Thereafter, the Frenchman managed to escape Q1 three times, taking advantage of unusual circumstances to qualify as high as 12th at Silverstone – further underlining his star credentials before his accident at Suzuka tragically brought down the curtain on his year prematurely.
10. Romain Grosjean
After getting used to standing on the podium regularly late last season, Lotus's fall from grace must have been a bitter pill for Grosjean to swallow. Although there were times when the Franco-Swiss allowed his frustration get the better of him, particularly during qualifying at Singapore, he deserves considerable credit for the way he dominated team-mate Pastor Maldonado. Nowhere was the gap between the pair more apparent than at Catalunya, where Grosjean qualified a lofty fifth, going on to finish eighth after battling power-unit problems, while Maldonado crashed out in the opening moments of Q1.
9. Daniel Kvyat
Going from GP3 champion to Red Bull driver in little over 12 months, it’s been quite a year for Kvyat, whose appointment to Toro Rosso raised more than a few eyebrows when it was first announced. The Russian made very few errors for a driver of such limited experience, his pace reflected by his 12-7 qualifying record against the more experienced Jean-Eric Vergne. He may have been outscored comfortably by the Frenchman, but frequent mechanical woes were largely to blame for that, with top ten grid positions at Monaco, Austria and Abu Dhabi all squandered by his car’s unreliability.
8. Sebastian Vettel
If not for that pesky Australian in the other side of the garage, Vettel’s 2014 season wouldn’t have seemed too shabby – after all, four top three finishes in what was often only the third-quickest car in the field isn’t bad going, with back-to-back podiums at Singapore and Japan proving the highlights. But, of course, Daniel Ricciardo’s remarkable feats in the sister Red Bull exposed the fact that Vettel came nowhere near to extracting the RB10’s potential, the four-time champion clearly failing to fully adapt his driving style following the loss of the exhaust-blown diffuser.
7. Felipe Massa
After five seasons in the shadow of Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, Massa’s move to Williams heralded a return to the sort of form the Brazilian hasn’t displayed since his accident in Hungary in 2009. Not only was he responsible for the only non-Mercedes pole of the year in Austria, but the 33-year-old was close to victory in Canada, where a fumbled pit-stop saw him rejoin behind Ricciardo before his race was ended by a collision with Perez, and at Abu Dhabi. Still, there were plenty of days when Massa simply had no answer to the speed of team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
6. Jenson Button
After two so-so years, it almost seemed as if the challenge of prolonging his F1 career helped to rejuvenate Button, who had the clear measure of his intra-team rival Magnussen. Honours between the McLaren pair were roughly even in qualifying, but it was on Sundays that the Brit's experience really told, squeezing over double the number of points out of a substandard car than the Dane. His drive to fourth at Silverstone was Button’s finest of the year, while a strategic blunder by the team at Hungary cost him his only real chance to fight at the very sharp end.
5. Valteri Bottas
We saw glimpses of his potential last year, but with a vastly better Williams underneath him in 2014, Bottas was able to show what he's really made of in his sophomore season. Often the quickest non-Mercedes driver, he outgunned the vastly more experienced Massa 13-6 in qualifying and was on the podium twice as often, his finest hour coming when he fended off Lewis Hamilton to claim the runner-up spot for the second time in succession in Germany. Indeed, only an ill-timed safety car in Hungary prevented the Finn from stringing together five podium finishes in a row mid-season.
4. Nico Rosberg
Many pundits' pre-season tip for the title, Rosberg managed to surprise and disappoint in equal measure behind the wheel of the dominant Mercedes. Few would have predicted the sheer one-lap prowess the German demonstrated, Nico duly scooping the inaugural ‘Pole Trophy’ award with no fewer than 11 poles, but all too often he had no answer to the race pace of team-mate and title rival Hamilton. Their collision at Spa in particular seemed to knock the wind out of Rosberg’s sails, handing the crucial psychological advantage to the Englishman during the title run-in.
3. Fernando Alonso
Alonso's exploits in the least competitive car Ferrari have produced since joining forces with the Spaniard will have done little to dissuade the many observers who believe him to still be the sport's finest driver. Utterly trouncing stablemate Kimi Raikkonen, who appeared a shadow of the driver that took the Scuderia’s last title back in 2007, Alonso often dragged the troublesome F14 T to positions it had no right to be in. Hungary provided the best illustration of this, as the two-time champion clung on with his worn rubber longer than anyone thought possible to capture an unlikely second place.
2. Lewis Hamilton
While Hamilton taking his second title was by no means a surprise given the pace advantage of the Mercedes, the way he overcame chief adversary Rosberg was far from expected. His success owed less to out-and-out speed (a department in which the German proved at least his equal) than to a mastery of the new regulations – Lewis was consistently the kinder on his tyres and the easier on fuel of the two championship contenders, thus giving himself an edge in wheel-to-wheel combat. 11 Grand Prix wins to his team-mate’s five stands as clear evidence of his race-day superiority.
1. Daniel Ricciardo
It's no accident that the only non-Mercedes driver to win a Grand Prix this season was Ricciardo, who can now consider himself part of F1's elite crop after putting his more illustrious Red Bull team-mate Vettel to shame. The wide-grinning Australian just about always extracted the most from the equipment at his disposal, making hardly any errors of any significance all season and seizing his opportunities in wonderfully opportunistic style. Both of his Canadian and Hungarian victories came after breathtaking round-the-outside passes, while the way he out-fumbled Vettel in battle at Monza can only be described as poetry in motion.