The month long convalescence is drawing to a conclusion with Formula One… not roaring, but humming back into life this weekend. Eight events remain, and with it, the relentless domination of one outfit is set to resume.
Appropriately, Belgium’s Ardennes forest – comprising the iconic Spa-Francorchamps, is the first race to cease the tedium once more, followed by another historic venue in Monza, to conclude the European season. The circus is then on the road until the curtain comes down under the Emirati lights at Abu Dhabi on November 23.
With just eleven points separating the title protagonists, there’s every chance that the champion won’t be decided until this date, where the polarising advent of the double-points season finale will have its’ day in court.
There are many themes to consider across the next three months, to be conducted as much in the paddock as on-track, but here are five of the most prevalent we can expect as the first campaign in Formula One’s brave new era hits top gear.
THE BATTLE OF THE SILVER ARROWS
Nico Rosberg has enjoyed considerably better reliability than his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, but the German hasn’t slipped up to date. As such, he is worthy of his status at the top of the standings.
Despite an inferior victory haul – four versus Hamilton’s five, his campaign has been a model of consistency. The 29-year old finished inside the top two at each event he completed until the Hungarian Grand Prix. There’s no reason this won’t continue when the season recommences.
The Monaco qualifying debacle is the only occasion where questions have been raised, but he didn’t let the scrutiny affect his campaign as a lesser driver would. His outing at Canada – despite failing to win, could prove vital come the final race.
Hamilton has been compromised at recent events by matters out of his control, as opposed to his team-mate’s charmed run. The Briton has done well in each instance to achieve damage limitation. That he is just eleven points adrift despite the setbacks is testament to his rugged determination.
Yet, the Briton isn’t without his faults – costly errors on Saturdays handed his team-mate the initiative when he could have turned the screws. Having triumphed on four successive occasions between Malaysia and Spain, the title appeared his for the taking. Instead, he has been on the back foot ever since.
His performances at Germany and Hungary stand out, where the 29-year old salvaged podiums from forlorn situations 24 hours’ earlier. In the case of the latter, he out-muscled his team-mate, the surest sign yet that he isn’t ready to concede defeat anytime this century.
There hasn’t been a bona-fide battle between the pair since Bahrain as a result of the 2008 World Champion’s numerous car issues – if these have finally been ironed out, it is going to be an epic sprint to the line. Should this happen, the simmering tension witnessed during the first half of the season is going to have nothing on the fireworks in store. So long as the double-points aren’t the deciding factor, both men are deserving champions.
FERNANDO ALONSO – THE DECISION
Five years of toiling has failed to deliver Fernando Alonso a coveted third title, and the dream of achieving this with Ferrari becomes more remote with each race.
Not that the Spaniard has mentally checked out – his drive to second at Hungary and epic tussles with Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo at Britain and Germany are proof that the hunger remains on his part, and he lies fourth in the standings for his troubles, all he requires is a reciprocal effort from the package at his disposal.
Despite the chequered history, McLaren looms as the logical destination if the 33-year old calls time on the Ferrari experience. That said, with recent speculation linking Vettel to a berth, a potential vacancy at Red Bull could enter the equation. Alonso infamously remarked that he wanted a Red Bull midway through his frustrating 2013 campaign, his wish could yet be granted.
The cruellest irony, however unlikely, in the form of a resurgent Ferrari in 2015 with Alonso having departed, wherever that might be, is another consideration. Any potential Vettel move might force his hand, that’s a risk he’s going to have to assess.
If Vettel goes to McLaren, Alonso to Red Bull makes a lot of sense. Then, Jean-Eric Vergne might also fancy his chances, it would be some demotion from Toro Rosso…
Should Vettel remain at Red Bull, Alonso would be wise to grant Maranello a final opportunity to get it right with James Allison’s influence finally taking effect, and to take stock of McLaren’s competitiveness in conjunction with Honda. Nothing can be ruled in, nothing can be ruled out.
SEBASTIAN VETTEL – CHAMP OR CHUMP?
The four-time champion has been humbled by his second Australian team-mate, the German looking at sea for the majority of his campaign to date.
His status means an off season is forgiveable, but considerable improvement is expected in the run home. He has had his share of bad luck, to that end, the 27-year old has spent a good amount of time bemoaning the ‘cucumber’ Renault powertrain. Yet, as Ricciardo has proven with his two victories and regular podium visits, the RB10 is an extremely competitive package.
If whispers of a switch to McLaren are realised, it would be exiting for the sport. To claim a title with a second team – as Michael Schumacher did, would enhance his reputation greatly. Yet, it would also smack of impetuousness to depart as soon as he is on the back foot , rather than sticking put and proving that he is the great driver that is associated with claiming four consecutive titles.
Vettel to McLaren would be one of the most surprising outcomes in recent history, with the persisting links to Ferrari, but this is F1, anything is possible. As is the argument for Alonso, the German should contemplate another season at Red Bull – the RB11 represents Adrian Newey’s final full-time effort, so he can expect a beauty, and to weigh up the progress of potential suitors, who knows how competitive McLaren or Ferrari will be in another twelve months?
WILLIAMS – WILL THEY TASTE VICTORY THIS SEASON?
Williams’ resurgence in 2014 has been nothing short of remarkable, from five points last season, to fourth in the standings, and regular podium appearances.
A large part of this fortune is down to the Mercedes powertrain which the outfit wisely switched to ahead of the turbo era, but there’s no doubting the FW36 is a genuinely competent package.
Valtteri Bottas is a star in the making, the Finn is shaping as a permanent fixture at the front of the field for many years to come, whilst Felipe Massa has been unfortunate with several incidents beyond his control. Even so, the Brazilian has a lot to prove during the next eight races.
For all of the progress which has been made, a race victory must be the ambition before the season draws to a close. Belgium, Italy and Japan represent golden opportunities for this to come to fruition. At the same time, the Grove outfit must not compromise their 2015 challenger, to squander the momentum gained this season would be criminal – genuine title contention could be on the cards if the FW37 is an improvement.
An extremely popular victory at one of the next two events. It would be one of the season’s great stories – and an extremely emotional one if Massa makes the breakthrough, on account of his 2009 accident and subsequent struggles at Ferrari.
WILL THE DOUBLE POINTS DIMINISH THE TITLE?
Despite the widespread criticism, it wasn’t abolished, so there is the very real chance that the double points on offer at the season finale will have a large say in determining the champion.
For the sake of the title protagonists – surely the two Mercedes drivers are the only ones who will be in contention, it would be ideal for the margin to be less than seven points heading to Abu Dhabi.
The nightmare scenario of a driver enjoying a sizeable lead – for instance, Rosberg ahead by in excess of twenty-five points – greater than a regular race victory, only to encounter misfortune at the finale and concede the title, would invite all sorts of chaos.
The double points concept is rendered useless, with the gap so close heading to the finale that it is academic, and is dropped or subsequent seasons.
As it is Formula One, and the rulemakers are so daft as to listen to a genuinely atrocious idea which is clearly a joke and run with it, it is replaced by a new rule – floating points, whereby the standings and points’ allocations can be altered at Bernie’s discretion to suit “the show.”
For example, if Rosberg wins and it means he heads to the 2015 decider with an ostensible twenty-seven point lead and unassailable claim to the title , his victory becomes worth only fifteen points, so the race is still alive. Alternatively, ten points can be granted to the driver out of contention to place them back into the hunt…
Daniel Ricciardo is probably worthy of his own segment, but he is going about his business so neatly that he flies under the radar – who knows what could happen if some misfortune befalls the Mercedes duo whilst the Honey Badger continues to accumulate points? Either way, the future is extremely bright for the West Australian.
Many drivers have points to prove, some are fighting for careers, others to make the next step, a lot remains to be played out.
As for silly season, the inevitable flurry of announcements are right around the corner, crazy times are ahead.
Roll on Belgium!