F1 2014 quarterly report. Spoiler alert: Vettel rant buried inside.

April 21, 2014

Engine sound aside (or lack thereof), this is shaping up to be vintage year. Yes, Mercedes is dominating right now. But unlike recent years when Ferrari and Red Bull were miles ahead, at least we have a genuine battle brewing between Lewis and Nico. Also, even though it doesn’t look likely that Red Bull will compete for the championship this year, many are eager to see Daniel Ricciardo beat his 4-time world champion team mate and put that stupid finger back in its place, which is usually somewhere up Helmut Marko’s, well, let's not stoop.

Although he may be behind on points, the forever smiling Aussie has out qualified Vettel 3-1 and out raced him in every single race. Yes, even in the ones he lost. Not his fault that he was stripped off his 2nd place in Australia. The only time he finished behind Vettel on the track was in Malaysia, and that was only due to an unsafe release from the team in which he not only was given a drive through penalty, but a subsequent 10-place grid penalty in Bahrain––which he still managed to convert into an impressive 4th. Or more importantly, two spots ahead of Vettel.

Then comes China. Vettel is once again outclassed all weekend and asked to give way to his team mate who is on fresher rubber. Vettel refuses. He responds by asking which tire Ricciardo is on and when told he’s on the same, he replies with “Tough luck.” It was the kind of arrogance we saw in Malaysia last year when he defied team orders and passed Webber.

Now some may disagree with me, but there’s a reason they have team orders.  In many cases (this one being a great example) it is silly to have your drivers ‘race’ each other with nothing to gain and everything to lose. Fact: Ricciardo was quicker than Vettel. Over a second a lap quicker. It was only a matter of time before he found a way past his bratty team mate. But time is the one thing an F1 team can afford to lose.

If you consider the fact that Ricciardo finished just 4 seconds behind Alonso in the end, there’s every chance that Vettel’s petulance cost the team a podium. Especially had they run the full race distance and not mistakenly shown the checkered flag on lap 54 of a scheduled 56. And for what?  Whether Ricciardo could have made it past Alonso is inconsequential. The mere fact that his team mate denied him that opportunity is what will be remembered by the team.

In stark contrast, Mercedes have shown us just how to manage team orders. When their drivers are evenly matched and fighting for the lead, as they were in Bahrain, they allowed them to give us one of the best shows we’ve seen since Prost and Senna. You just can’t imagine Red Bull allowing that. Multi 21 anyone?

And that, in a nutshell is why I think there’s no real love for Red Bull or Vettel in general. He suffers from the Mayweather syndrome. Yes he’s good, but he ain’t the best. Because he won’t fight the best. How is it that someone like Alonso, with half the championships under his belt, enjoys far more support from the fans and the respect of the paddock? It is because Alonso and his like fought for them in either inferior equipment or against top shelf team mates who were not contractually obligated to kiss ass.

You could argue that Ferrari did the same with Schumacher, but at least Michael built the winning team from the ground up and didn’t just show up when everything was going right. He created his own winning environment. Vettel’s was gift wrapped with a neat little bow and a card that was signed, love, daddy Helmut.

I’m not trying to pick a fight with Vettel fans, but until I see him win a championship in adversity, I will always see him as a manufactured champ as artificial as the product they’re trying to sell. But I digress.

Now that I got that little rant out of the way, back to the season.

It seems that Mercedes have the strongest pairing on the grid right now. But while many feel that Hamilton has got this one in the bag, I think it is way too early to be calling the engravers. He may have won 3 out of the last 4 Grands Prix, but he’s still up against one of the most  consistent drivers out there that could steal the championship if Lewis makes a mistake or suffers mechanical failure. Just as he did in Melbourne.  As it is now, Rosberg leads the championship by 4 points.

Ferrari seemed to have found some pace, although their podium finish was more credit to Alonso than the car. He just out drove it. Again.

The biggest disappointments for me this year so far have been Kimi Raikkonnen and the Lotus team. I never expected Kimi to challenge Fernando Alonso, but I expected him to be a lot closer. I’m sure he will have some great races this year, but overall, he just lacks the work ethic and dedication of his team mate to do any real damage over the course of a season. Oh, and don’t bring up motivation with him whatever you do.

I’ve said it before but I really think that Kimi can’t shine in places like Ferrari. They make his job feel like work. Lotus handled him beautifully and managed to get the absolute best we’ve ever seen of the Fin. Then they managed to royally screw it up.

They went from being the coolest F1 team on the grid to being the most expensive rental car company in the world. We know of their financial problems, but to screw over their test driver last year when Kimi quit on them with two races to go, and then to take on Maldonado over Hulkenberg just sealed their fate. They have yet to score a single point after 4 races. They had 93 at this same time last year.

It’s shame to see Caterham doing so poorly, but Kobayashi still manages to entertain us, just like he did when he un lapped himself in China. Also, it’s great to see Williams bounce back, but Massa needs to work on that chip on his shoulder. It’s getting old.

All in all, its been a great start to the 2014 season. We’ve got the screenplay for an absolute blockbuster. We just need a decent sound track.

About the Author

James Deakin
James Deakin is a multi-awarded automotive journalist located in Manila, Philippines. He has a weekly column in the Philippine STAR's motoring section, is a motoring corespondent for CNN Philippines and is the host of the Philippine motoring television show Drive, which airs every Sunday night at 10pm on CNN Philippines.