By Lee McKenzie
I’m writing this from a packed F1 flight that has found its way to Frankfurt instead of London. It has taken nine hours to not get to the right destination but it’s a good time to recollect and write. I was just reminiscing with Christian Horner about the last time Lewis Hamilton won the Championship in 2008, the plane went ‘tech’ then too and it took 22 hours to get back from Brazil. Even the might of Bernie couldn’t make that journey go quicker, despite him being as close to the front as you can be without flying it!
A reliability issue for us F1 people is maybe a fitting end to a dramatic season. In the end, reliability cost us a final wheel-to-wheel battle between the two Mercedes drivers. I’m not saying the result would have been any different, even without a problem – the gap between Lewis and Nico might have stayed at that steady 2.5sec – but it would have been great to see a final tussle.
On Thursday, pressure growing with every hour and every media question, Lewis described his development throughout the season like that of a plane “going through some turbulence. Eventually it levels out and becomes more steady.”
Nico, despite having never been in a championship-contending position before, came across as more relaxed and less intense. Lewis on the other hand, who has been in several showdowns, was quieter and yet more bullish.
Once again on Saturday Nico was flawless, and yet on Sunday when it ultimately mattered, it was Lewis who delivered right from when the lights went out.
Lewis is a worthy champion, with 11 victories this season, and he now joins an exclusive club of British drivers who have won more than one title: only Graham Hill, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart had achieved it until this year.
Like in a Hollywood movie, there were so many subplots on Sunday that it was difficult to remember everything as the drivers all lined up for their end-of-race, but also end-of-season interviews. With at least six drivers on the grid uncertain of their Formula 1 futures as the chequered flag fell, emotions were running high. Sauber drivers Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutiérrez are out of a seat as are Kamui Kobayashi and Jean-Éric Vergne.
Then there’s the McLaren saga, where decent rookie Kevin Magnussen and former world champion Jenson Button are left wondering about their fate. Taking into consideration their relative F1 experience both drivers have performed well with a struggling car and deserved to know their futures before Abu Dhabi. Jenson said he hadn’t been treating it as his last race and I imagine he’s thinking back to the end of 2008 when Honda withdrew and left him pondering if his days in F1 were numbered. Out of the ashes came Brawn; Button got the drive and we all know how that fairy tale ended. Jenson is a true gent and has said on numerous occasions that he feels bad for himself, but also for Kevin, who is finding out first-hand how tough it can be in F1.
Fernando Alonso will re-join McLaren after his patience wore thin at Ferrari. Despite getting close on occasion, he was never able to achieve what he wanted there and the team now seems in as much disarray as ever. Marco Mattiacci, who took over after Stefano Domenicali resigned following the Bahrain Grand Prix, has gone after just seven months. Even David Moyes lasted 10 months at Manchester United after Sir Alex!
Sebastian Vettel, who joins Ferrari for next season, was not a happy guy after the Abu Dhabi race. It was a disappointing way to sign off from his Red Bull career, the exclusion from qualifying and pitlane start as much as anything. There is no doubt that Red Bull and Vettel have fallen out of love with each other after four golden years. When I interviewed him on Sunday evening he was unusually downbeat. Maybe he’d dreamed of a final podium for the team, or maybe he was realising that even with all the problems he had over the weekend, he still finished in front of both Ferraris. And with Red Bull taking second in the constructors’ championship, in comparison to the Italian outfit’s fourth place, he has a huge challenge and some testing times ahead. The thought is that Alonso will not arrive at McLaren alone, bringing with him some talented Ferrari personnel.
So, although it’s the end of the season, the stories and intrigue continue and winter testing will start in just eight weeks.
It’s been a season of desperate lows, with the injury to Jules Bianchi shaking the sport to its core. It’s a dreadful shame too that Marussia didn’t make it to the final race of the year, a decent bunch of guys who deserved to be there to acknowledge what they had achieved this season: scoring more points than Sauber or Caterham thanks to the efforts of Jules in Monaco.
The highs for me were the resurgence of Williams and the arrival of the new guard in Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Daniil Kvyat. Mostly though, that Hamilton and Rosberg provided us with such a battle this season and the fact that Mercedes allowed them to race is what created that entertainment and for that we should all be grateful.