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 11 through 8.
11. SEBASTIAN VETTEL
The contrast between the Sebastian Vettel who won four successive world titles and the man who was roundly beaten by Daniel Ricciardo this year was scarcely believable. Vettel had forged his reputation as a driver who never let a team-mate beat him, either on-track or in the head, but in 2014 Seb lost both battles to Ricciardo.
Supposedly a wizard in qualifying, Seb was defeated 12-7 by Ricciardo on Saturday afternoons – and it got worse on Sundays. When both drivers were classified, the Australian was ahead 11-3; he also took three wins to Vettel’s zero, while the German recorded a total of four podiums to his team-mate’s eight. Put another way, this was a real (and totally unexpected) hammering.
Vettel deserves some leeway. He would naturally have been exhausted after five years of battling for the title, and do not underestimate the effect that watching his friend and mentor Michael Schumacher fight for his life had on Seb.
Partly for these reasons, as well as the introduction of new technical regs that did not suit him, Vettel lost some of the fire that made him so difficult to beat between exploding on to the F1 scene in 2007 and securing a fourth title last year. His move to Ferrari is, in part, an attempt to rekindle that desire to win – and perhaps to emulate his boyhood hero at the Scuderia.
But it’s also about reminding the world that he is a bona fide F1 great. After the year he’s had, some have begun to question that status.
10. DANIIL KVYAT
Daniil Kvyat kicked off his F1 career in fine style by becoming the sport’s youngest ever points scorer, beating Sebastian Vettel’s record.
He continued to impress and picked up more points as the season progressed, but it was in qualifying that he really caught the eye. The Russian beat his far more experienced team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne 12-7, a mighty impressive achievement from a man who leapt straight from GP3 to F1. He was also mega in his first outing at Monaco, a circuit that gives a fair reflection of who possesses genuine talent.
The stats will tell you that the Frenchman had the edge in the races, but it is generally agreed that Kvyat is a better long-term prospect – hence his promotion to a seat at Red Bull for 2015. Perhaps he didn’t look quite as impressive this term, but there should be a great deal more to come from the youngster. Having already pinched one of Vettel’s records, he’ll now have his sights set on a few more.
9. JEAN-ERIC VERGNE
There is no doubt that Jean-Eric Vergne is a very talented driver who would find a new seat next year were the sport’s finances not in a dreadful mess. Unfortunately for the Frenchman they are, and only the very fastest survive. So, while his past two team-mates occupy the much sought-after seats at Red Bull, he will be on the sidelines. F1 is cruel like that.
2014 was undoubtedly Vergne’s best campaign. He was on for a star showing in Monaco before a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release ruined his day, and was hit by several reliability issues early in the season.
But once his departure from the team was confirmed Vergne went on a late-season charge, picking up points in a total of seven races and eventually sealing 13th in the standings – the best for a Toro Rosso driver since Sebastian Vettel in 2008.
His desperation was clear to see: JEV received several track-limit penalties in Singapore, and a time penalty at COTA for using Romain Grosjean’s car to slow himself down. Unfortunately these efforts came too late, with Toro Rosso electing to drop him for 2015. And with no sponsorship money to speak of, his chances of returning to the grid next term look bleak.
8. NICO HULKENBERG
Having long been seen as a star of the future, Nico Hulkenberg is getting worryingly close to becoming a nearly man.
His performances in the early part of 2014 were typically consistent. Hulkenberg scored points in the opening 10 races, including four impressive fifth-place finishes. As ever he was fast and intelligent without making a great deal of fuss.
But there were a few negatives, too. His team-mate Sergio Perez picked up the team’s only podium of the campaign – something Hulkenberg has still never achieved – and his consistency trailed off towards the season’s end, though that was in part down to the team as well as the driver.
And ultimately Hulkenberg’s showings this year did little to tarnish his reputation as an excellent grand prix racer – albeit without sealing him a move to a top team.
Because the German will be a Force India driver again in 2015. That means another year of giving his all to finish in the lower half of the top-10, or perhaps picking up a top-five if attrition is high at the front. These sorts of results aren’t worthy of Hulkenberg’s talents.