With the 2014 F1 season in the books we're rating the drivers' performances over the course of the year. Next up we look at 7 through 4.
7. Felipe Massa
You had to feel for Felipe Massa. For much of his four years as team-mate to Fernando Alonso he was roundly beaten by the Spaniard; when he did take the upper hand, Massa was usually told move over to help Alonso’s title aspirations.
But it was all cheer this year as a clean break at Williams led to some excellent results for the Brazilian. That said he still finished behind Alonso in the standings...
Massa’s season was not perfect, particularly in the early stages when a number of errors cost him and the team valuable points. He should have led by example, but there were a few needless collisions that suggested Felipe still possesses the wild, impetuous streak he entered F1 with more than a decade ago. His huge accident in Germany, and his subsequent anger at a largely-blameless Kevin Magnussen, was especially telling.
But things did get a lot better. Massa came on strong late in the season, bagging three podiums from the final seven races. Two of those came at significant circuits for the Brazilian: at Monza, which was his spiritual home during the Ferrari years; and at Interlagos, a track that carries huge emotional importance for Felipe.
His third came in Abu Dhabi where he seemed to have a sniff at winning, but his pace was not quite enough to catch a careful Lewis Hamilton. It is tough - but not untrue - so say that some of his rivals might have converted that into victory. Perhaps a certain Spaniard he used to share a garage with…
Nevertheless, 2014 was an excellent return to form for Massa, and one most observers were glad to witness.
6. Jenson Button
After being beaten at the season-opener by new team-mate Kevin Magnussen, Jenson Button reasserted himself as the dominant McLaren driver this term. Of course, he could not have survived any other way: Button is the most experienced man on the grid and a former world champion; beating a 21-year-old rookie should have been the bare minimum.
But it became something more noteworthy than that. Button’s performances during the final five races of the campaign were nothing short of superb, but it remains to be seen whether they will be enough to extend his F1 career into a 16th season.
It is not wrong of McLaren to count the Brit’s age against him. Clearly there is more to come from Magnussen, while Jenson has only a few years left at the top. It is also significant that Kevin drives for comparatively little, while a former champ such as Button commands a fairly hefty pay packet.
Ultimately, it will be cruel for whichever driver goes: Jenson has shown he still deserves his place in F1, while Kevin has not yet had a proper chance to show what he can do. But it would be harder on the young Dane - and Button has said as much.
So perhaps it is better for JB to leave now, after a superb end to the season, and take his huge experience and skills to Le Mans. After all, there is more chance of him winning the 24 Hours next term than an F1 title.
But whether he stays or goes, Button will know he gave his all in 2014 and further enhanced his standing among the sport’s star performers.
5. Valtteri Bottas
After a challenging rookie season, Valtteri Bottas emerged as a genuine F1 star in 2014. The Finn scored only four points last term, but this year he racked up six podiums on his way to fourth in the world championship - ahead of headliners Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
Valtteri was unfazed by his experienced new team-mate Felipe Massa, and for much of the season it was the younger man who seemed more mature and experienced. He is cool under pressure and mesmerically fast - the archetypal Flying Finn.
If there is a criticism, it would be that he made a few too many mistakes - particularly on the first lap - which cost him places. In fact, he might well have won in Abu Dhabi had he not plummeted down the order early on…
But it is easy to forget that Bottas was contesting only his second season of F1 this year, because the Finn’s maturity made it seem like he’d been around forever. He’ll be back even stronger in 2015, when a maiden grand prix win will be top of his wish list.
4. Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso destroyed his world champion team-mate this term in a manner almost unprecedented in Formula One. Kimi Raikkonen was made to look extremely average; in fact, were it not for his name and the fact the team have already paid him off once, it’s entirely possible Ferrari would have sacked the Finn. That’s how good Fernando was in 2014.
Alonso’s weakness is not on the track, it is away from it. The Spaniard has shown some questionable decisions during his career - not least falling out with McLaren and Ron Dennis - and is not the shrewd political operator that past greats such as Niki Lauda, Alain Prost or Michael Schumacher could claim to be. That is why Alonso has fewer world titles than any of those men, and why he’s had to patch things up with Ron.
But in an F1 car there is arguably no one better right now. This year he took the sixth fastest machine on the grid and dragged it to two podiums and somehow fought for the win in Hungary. Meanwhile, Raikkonen hovered around the fringes of the top-10.
What’s more, Fernando beat Kimi in all but one of the races both men finished in 2014. The sole exception was Spa, where a penalty incurred by the team hamstrug Alonso. Were it not for that he’d likely have earned a clean sweep.
If next year’s McLaren-Honda is quick he’ll be at the front; if it’s a pig he’ll still find a way to get it up there. The only question is how long he and Mr. Dennis can peacefully co-exist.