Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
The changeless weather of the desert hung over the start of the Double in the Desert as those on yachts popped champagne corks and no doubt those in the Mercedes motor home made a few extra trips to the executive washroom before heading to the pit wall.
Ambient temps of 26°C and track temps of 33°C were a perfect mirror to the day before when Rosberg proved the better man and took pole. With lots of ends to attend to, the story line was crowded in the pre-race with Button, Alonso and Vettel all worthy of attention as well as Caterham and Marussia. But there was no doubt the WDC was the story of the evening and as the lights went red it was to be the smallest of margins that provided the biggest of differences. 0.2s and the direction of the setting sun provided all the margin necessary as the race at the front was settled by the first turn. Sadly the curse of the Leprecorn reared it’s head and deprived true fans of the race at the end as Mercedes yet again suffered reliability issues that gutted one of the drivers and spoiled the much hoped for decisive end to the season.
It was to be Williams that stepped into the breach however and provided the late drama as Massa popped onto the Super Softs and did his best to catch the leading Mercedes in the last 10 laps. There were yet again battles up and down the field as well as the spectacularly appropriate visual metaphor of a Renault engine going up in a flames in the back of a Lotus, no doubt a fitting way to end their partnership. Red Bull starting from the pit lane and the chippiness natural to drivers desperate to extend their careers marked the early phase of the race before the challenging nature of Yas Marina reduced the overtaking to those who were seriously out of position from the start and gave the decided advantage to the defender.
The middle of the race saw Mercedes’ woes appear and opened the window for Williams who wasted no time in jumping on it with both feet. With Bottas and Magnussen having tied for worst start of the GP, it was Massa best placed to pounce as one of the Mercs began dropping rapidly down the order. Rapidly deciding on a bold course of action, Williams switched their strategy and held Felipe out long then tossed him onto the faster tyre and gave him 10 laps to catch the leader. Starting at more than a second a lap it was looking all too real but with 3 laps to go the bleeding was stopped as the tyres finally started to lose their performance edge. And thus it was that Lewis Hamilton crossed the line as the 2014 World Driver’s Champion with Williams locking out the rest of the podium as Bottas followed Massa home.
Fireworks, donuts for Hamilton and Jenson, the British flag on a victory lap for Lewis and generally driving about like a hooligan to celebrate followed. And a happy birthday for Ross Brawn, who was delivered an especially juicy present as Lewis acknowledged the long propounded theory that Ross was equally influential in getting him to come to Mercedes, despite what Lauda said. Classy gestures abounded in the podium ceremony and both Mercedes drivers promised to come back stronger next season.
Sauber’s worst ever season finally came to a pitiful end as Ferrari’s annus horribilis continued for a second straight year, Alonso and Raikkonen coming 9th and 10th at the end of the day. Regardless of what happens with Jenson’s career, Button singlehandedly saved McLaren from losing out to Force India in the WCC with his 5th as Magnussen was nowhere in this race, and if it was his valedictory drive, it was a good one indeed. Ricciardo confirmed his 3rd in the WDC with a keen drive to 4th despite the pit lane start and Red Bull’s season was book-ended with self-inflicted controversy as Vettel struggled home in 8th, no doubt ready for a clean slate next year.
As the lights went red, it was all eyes on Hamilton and Rosberg and as the lights went out it was Hamilton with the perfect start, reacting in 0.2s and leaving Rosberg, who had a good start himself, far behind by the apex of T1. Afterward, Sky claimed that perhaps the fact that the even side of the grid stayed in the sun much longer might have provided superior traction to Hamilton, who actually complained on the parade lap of low revs during his practice start. But the fact was that it was Lewis who won the start rather than Nico losing it, and that ultimately was all that race fans would have to hang their hats on, as Nico’s ERS failure later on would rob him of the chance to implement his comeback strategy that was evolved during the early stages of the race.
Farther back, it was Bottas dropping to 8th and Magnussen to 10th with the worst of the starts, whilst at the other end it was Button up to 4th and Raikkonen to 5th who made the best of their chances. Sutil and Magnussen traded carbon fibre as the field ran down the back straight and into sector 2.
On lap 2, Magnussen complained of Right Front damage on the radio and Hamilton had already exited the DRS of Rosberg. By the following lap Raikkonen, Alonso, Kvyat and Bottas were all looking racy as they were well within each others DRS. The pair of Mercedes drivers opened up a gap on Massa and behind him Button began to lag, well already 5 seconds behind the leader by lap 4.
The fragile nature of the Options rapidly made themselves apparent as Bottas was on the radio complaining of graining, also on lap 4. Alonso took a neat maneuver to slip past Raikkonen the following lap and it was immediately apparent why, as he ducked into the pits to ditch his rapidly degrading tyres. In his wake, Kvyat swept past Kimi as well, as the extra lap he was suddenly sentenced to did his race no favors what so ever. Farther back, Ricciardo edged by Kobayashi and Sutil as he began carving his way through the field.
Button had begun to experience Front Right graining as Alonso exited the pits and confirmed the pit delta at 21.6 seconds. Button was told to box and Hamilton extended his lead to 1.7s over Rosberg by the start of lap 7. Those with early stops, including Alonso found themselves held up by traffic as Kvyat and Raikkonen trailed button into the pits to take on the Prime tyre. Hamilton continued to edge the gap up to over 2s as the Mercedes continued to lap more quickly on the Option than the new runners did on the Prime. Alonso had a bit of entertaining dialogue on the radio as Stevens apparently held him up for longer than was considered appropriate, at least by the Spaniard. His temperament was not helped by then having to get past Kobayashi immediately afterward. The Force Indias, starting out on the Prime, had moved up to 5th and 6th as those on the Option pitted, whilst ahead, Bottas had made up for his poor start by regaining 4th, though with a significant gap to Massa.
Given the difficulty of overtaking, those stuck in traffic were rapidly seeing their race strategy go sideways whilst those who had stuck it out and managed their tyres were setting themselves up to battle at the front. Magnussen and Hulkenberg were investigated for a bit of shenanigans and as Button negotiated his way past Kobayashi and Vergne caught up to Perez, Hamilton got the call to box at the end of lap 10, having successfully gotten Bottas out of his pit window.
A quick stop for Lewis and Rosberg dialed his car up and gave it a good go, taking about a second out of Hamilton overall, but losing about 0.5s to Massa, an early sign of the William’s pace. AS Merc cycled through the pit stops, Ricciardo and Perez had a good go and by lap 13 the Colgate Kid had gotten by Sergio and taken possession of 9th, with his eyes set further up the field. Perez celebrated by having a massive lock up once he could no longer hold Ricciardo back, setting the stage for him to pit 2 laps later. Farther back, Vettel was trapped behind Magnussen, who had somehow managed to get Hulkenberg penalized for a little coming together, a 5 second stop and go that was served by the thoroughly disgruntled German at his subsequent pit stop. Massa finally stopped at the end of lap 13 and was out into 3rd.
Up ahead, Rosberg was steadily eating into Hamilton’s lead, a few tenths at a time. Perez was followed into the pits by Vergne as Vettel in 7th stacked up behind K-Mag, with Button and Alonso behind Seb. Hamilton’s start reaction time was officially announced at 0.2s as Double Waved Yellows appeared at T18 for a suddenly powerless Kvyat, who till then had been having a quite reasonable race. Quickly cleared, the race rolled on as Hulkenberg boxed to serve his time and take on new tyres.
Lap 17 saw the K-Mag train continue and Rosberg discussed a change in strategy on the radio, to run a long second stint and then take on a pair of Options for a short final sprint, which was the strategy Massa, too, would adopt slightly later in the race. Ricciardo, Magnussen and Vettel all still were on their first set of tyres, as Vettel backed off Magnussen’s DRS but Button and Alonso behind kept the pressure up. Meanwhile, Hamilton showed Rosberg a new fast lap and the game of trade the tenths was on in earnest between the two teammates.
Bottas caught up to Ricciardo lap 20, and Red Bull suggested that Danny Boy not make life too easy for the Finn, keeping in mind they were on different tyre strategies, which the Aussie gleefully took to heart. Magnussen radioed in his tyres were still good and stayed out till lap 22 as Mercedes got on with the business of lapping the backmarkers.
It all changed lap 23 as Rosberg had a sudden lock up and went off track at turn 17. Though he regained the track and carried on the gap which was hovering around 3 seconds had gone out to 5.5 seconds, putting a serious dent in his plans to chase down Hamilton at the tail end of the race. But as the subsequent laps rolled by it became all too apparent that not all was well with Nico’s car, as he continued to drop back into the clutches of Massa, 8 seconds adrift as lap 25 came around and dropping to 10 by the end of the circuit.
As frantic radio traffic began between Rosberg and his engineer Bottas finally got by Ricciardo. After a bit of trouble shooting it was the nightmare scenario for Mercedes, ERS failure for Nico and the team unable to reset the engine leaving the FinnGerMonagasque hopelessly exposed to the brutal realities of the rest of the field. With Nico’s attention rapidly turned to damage limitation, Massa, seemingly unable to believe his good luck, rapidly lined up Rosberg and for good measure took his strategy as well, opting to run long and go for the Options at the end.
Meanwhile, it was only Hamilton’s perfect start that was saving Mercedes from a PR nightmare as he was comfortably ahead of his teammate prior to the ERS giving up, saving them from the one fate they wished to avoid, reliability problems affecting the WDC result. Of course, it could be argued that the end result was affected as Nico never had his shot to take P1 back and race fans watched with bitter disappointment as they realized that the last duel was not to be.
As the laps unspooled it was Massa who provided a ray of hope for a contest at the sharp end, the Williams looking lively and it’s top speed giving a shadow of a chance. But it was Maldonado who really took everyone’s mind off Nico’s woes, when his engine burst spectacularly into flames on lap 28, a fitting end to Lotus and Renault’s last campaign together.
Following up, Button and Alonso were well into it, with the pair dragging down the straight before Button out-braked Fred and took the position into T11. AS was frequently the case this year, Alonso hung around and as Button checked his wing mirrors in the subsequent turn he managed to out-brake himself and let Fernando right back through.
Lap 31 saw Hamilton in the 1:49’s while Massa was in the 1:47’s and it was the call to box for his final stop of the season at the end of the lap for Lewis. Massa continued to push and further back Rosberg desperately plotted for a way to stay in with a chance should Hamilton encounter trouble. Hamilton came out directly behind Nico and rapidly cleared him and while Lewis disappeared up the road Rosberg continued to bleed 1-2 seconds per lap. Mercedes called Nico in lap 34 and to add insult to injury he was told it was to be a manual pull away, such a rare occurrence that even the erudite Rosberg had to be coached through it.
A bit further back Button worked his way back through traffic, having pitted lap 29 from 5th. He came out 10th, but looking up the road 5th was still a real possibility for him while back in 12th, his teammate was suffering through a miserable stint on the Options which were discarded on the subsequent lap. Button passed Alonso as K-Mag completed his stop as Raikkonen stepped up to have a crack at the Spaniard.
Rosberg’s top dropped him to 7th and as a dialogue with his engineer revealed he was still magnificently obsessed with putting himself into position to take the WDC should Hamilton fail. The only advice that was offered him was to drive flat out as the technical problems on the car were not going to be solved till it was parked in the garage.
Bottas was in lap 36 as no doubt the massive Mercedes PR machine worked out how to limit the damage from Rosberg’s failure post race. Massa continued to push as Lewis lingered in his pit window, around 15-16 seconds back, but made no effort to reel him in or even run similar lap times, perhaps very concerned about making sure his car would make it to the end of the race.
Vettel slid past Rosberg as Bottas prepared to come into range of DRS on Ricciardo yet again, a battle that should continue to entertain next season as well.
Lap 40 saw Raikkonen trying to get past Vergne as Rosberg continued to struggle with his wounded car, having an off going into T1 but managing to keep it pointed the right direction. Button continued his inexorable forward progress but with 15 laps left the shape of the race began to solidify. Red Bull decided that Ricciardo was better off in front of Bottas, strategy be damned as Valterri was told to be careful with his tyres.
Button having caught up to Rosberg, effortlessly passed him while Hulkenberg who had previously pitted lap 36 began to copy the McLaren man’s march towards the front, closing in on Alonso ahead of him after picking off Raikkonen and Vergne in the meantime having switched to the Options which provided him with a devastating advantage.
Massa boxed lap 44 for the Option tyre and emerged roughly 10 seconds back of Lewis, who still seemed to be serenely swanning about putting as little stress as possible on his powertrain. Massa began to claw back big chunks of time as the helplessness of his situation finally began to take a toll on Rosberg, belied by his increasingly short responses to his engineer. Hulkenberg, having stuck it to Alonso in T11 the previous lap, continued his relentless prowl up the road, looking for one last, good points result to redeem the second half of the season.
Two laps later he passed the increasingly disconsolate Rosberg for 7th as up the road Massa was getting the best use out of his Options, taking North of a second a lap out of Lewis. Bottas was within 3 seconds of Ricciardo on tyres half as old while back in 10th Perez on 3 lap old Options continued his hunt for maximum points.
Ricciardo bailed the end of lap 47 for his Options moving Bottas to 3rd, Button to 4th and Hulkenberg to 5th. Massa continued to hammer away and by the conclusion of lap 49 he was within 7 seconds of Hamilton. Vettel got by Alonso T12 with his new boots, following Perez. Ricciardo slotted back into 4th and the top 5 looked set, with the only question being would Massa catch Hamilton.
Lap 52 saw Rosberg drop far down the field, such that 2 laps later the team would offer to retire him before Hamilton lapped him. Rosberg insisted gracefully on finishing and with no hesitation the team came back and endorsed his decision. Massa had reeled in all but 3.5 seconds of Hamilton’s advantage, but that would be as far as his tyres would take and as the field settled down for the final laps it was an exceedingly ebullient Hamilton taking turn 21 to fireworks and the cheers of the crowd. Close behind the Williams duo crossed the line, then Ricciardo and Button having both significantly out driven their teammates in the final race of the season.
Ferrari finished 9th and 10th, with Alonso edging Kimi one last time while Vettel finished 8th, behind Perez and Hulkenberg, putting pressure on McLaren finishing 7th and 6th respectively.
It was the newly crowned champion Hamilton that stole the show with his donuts and flag waving as well as his wild swings of emotion once he parked it up, though his old teammate Jenson decided to have a go at a little celebration as well.
There will be much speculation this off season with a new engine manufacturer coming into the sport and much shuffling of personnel. Mercedes has set the bar extremely high this season and winter testing is already eagerly anticipated to see what kind of progress has been made by their competitors and with a little bit of luck we will see even closer racing next season.
Again, it has been an absolute pleasure writing these reports for such a knowledgeable audience. And yes, special thanks to those behind the scenes who help me make these reports possible. You know who you are. And if you’ve been reading and not commenting, consider giving it a go, you never know what kind of fun might result. Now go forth and speculate wildly!!
|4||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:45.846||37.100||2|
|6||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:46.468||61.900||2|
|7||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:46.820||70.800||2|
|8||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:46.881||71.700||2|
|12||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:47.546||91.400||3|
|13||Romain Grosjean||Lotus||1:49.121||1 lap||3|
|14||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||1:53.252||1 lap||2|
|15||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber||1:48.255||1 lap||2|
|16||Adrian Sutil||Sauber||1:50.874||1 lap||3|
|17||Will Stevens||Caterham||1:49.240||1 lap||2|
|R||Kamui Kobayashi||Caterham||RETIRED||13 laps||3|
|R||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus||RETIRED||28 laps||1|
|R||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||RETIRED||40 laps||1|
Word Drivers Championship
World Constructors Championship