Sunday, 14 December 2014

New F1 Times article: McLaren's unfinished business

Photo: Octane Photography
In recent days it had become the main - almost the only - F1 matter being discussed. It being McLaren's driver line-up decision for next year. And finally after weeks of prevarication we got it last Thursday. Fernando Alonso's confirmation was expected but Jenson Button being retained alongside - at the expense of Kevin Magnussen - was not until a few hours before the official announcement. All of a sudden, we have all of the drivers in place for 2015 and it's not even Christmas. That probably is a first.

But still, it is an announcement that in certain ways gives us yet more to chew on. Was the selection of Button really a no-brainer? What now for Magnussen? And most pointedly, what now for McLaren?

In my latest article for F1 Times I look at McLaren's 2015 driver decision, what's ahead for the Woking team and in particularly for the scrutinised Fernando Alonso-Ron Dennis relationship. You can read it via this link: http://www.f1times.co.uk/news/display/09658

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

My Top Ten Drivers of 2014: The Rest...

Photo: Octane Photography
Here are my views on those F1 drivers from 2014 who didn't make my top 10 ranking that I published a few days ago.

My top 10 drivers of 2014 can be read here.

The two drivers who came closest to the top 10 but missed out were Daniil Kvyat and Jules Bianchi.

There was close to unanimity that Kyvat was rookie of the season. For all of the fears about how debutants would adapt to the sport, especially the complex variety of 2014, in the Russian's case the doubts immediately were dispelled as he didn't falter in his confident strut straight from GP3 and impressed in just about every way. His speed on show this season was superb, as was his chutzpah. Frequently he could be seen with his Toro Rosso on the very edge of adhesion, often with the tail hanging out. Indeed him finishing the Italian race without brakes for the last lap or so, at astonishing speed and mainly because he could, took the breath away. His team mate Jean-Eric Vergne is highly rated, and this year did a lot to sort his qualifying out, but herein Kvyat was ahead over the piece, and towards the end of the year often he was far ahead. Perhaps most impressive of all is that Kvyat never appeared at all cowed by his rapid promotion - observing him out of the car was like observing a veteran, and his complete assurance (but never of the excessive kind) could on occasion be astounding. And it reminds us all of the mental toughness and constructive approach that Helmut Marko said is what set him apart for the drive in the first place. There possibly inevitably was the odd example of rookie overreaching, such as qualifying prangs in Monaco, Canada and Hungary as well as being at fault for a collision with Perez in Germany. And for all of his single lap pace he didn't appear to have near to Vergne's ability to look after the tyres over a stint, betrayed possibly by him only scoring eight points to his team mate's 22. Equally though Toro Rosso unreliability cost him points in Monaco, Austria and Abu Dhabi, in each of which he was well-placed. And the big Red Bull team felt it saw enough to promote him without the slightest hesitation when Sebastian Vettel fled for Ferrari. Let's not forget either that Red Bull's judgement just lately on such things has been pretty impeccable.

Jules Bianchi
Photo: Octane Photography
As for Bianchi, this year at Marussia he managed to build on the already haughty structure he'd assembled in a debut season there in 2013. Sadly though his campaign transpired also as one cut desperately short; perhaps always to have a shadow cast over it. A lot like Valtteri Bottas did last year, Bianchi in 2014 had a crucial knack of when in a modest car seizing the rare opportunities to be noticed when they presented themselves. This was most acutely so in Monaco where he was quick throughout, famously squeezed past Kamui Kobayashi with his elbows out in the unlikely place of Rascasse, and of course finished ninth (and eighth on the road) for his team's first ever points. And all this despite a grid penalty as well as his team adding five seconds to his solitary pit stop unnecessarily. In Silverstone he was about as impressive, as in difficult conditions he qualified in P12, aided by others goofing up but the laps Bianchi banged in were excellent. While in similar conditions in Spa's qualifying he was about as effective. While Hungary's qualifying was another high point, Bianchi barging Kimi Raikkonen of all people out in Q1 with a stunning lap at the last. Ferrari's approach there can be (and was) criticised but there was the mitigating circumstance that Jules had himself pulled a rabbit from the hat. In the mid-year test at Silverstone for the Scuderia he also impressed the team and indeed set a time better than any Kimi had managed in the same machine a few days later. Naturally chat about him getting a Maranello race seat sooner or later gathered intensity. But elsewhere too when fewer were watching Bianchi got about as much as could be expected out of his car, and it was routine to see him head the B class on Saturdays and Sundays. There were a few early-race collisions - in Malaysia, Bahrain and Canada - but it was debatable how much any of them were his fault. Then of course we had Suzuka, which left matters for Bianchi, in more ways than one, hanging in the balance. It was a grim reminder that motorsport fates can have exasperating cruelty.

Romain Grosjean
Photo: Octane Photography
An honourable mention should go to Romain Grosjean. Ordinarily his would be a comfortable presence within the top 10, and indeed he remains one of the sport's most highly-rated talents. It's just that a year in the evil Lotus E22 was near-impossible to judge. Nevertheless in the early rounds he looked to be getting as much as could be expected out of his car; perhaps indeed a little more than that. In Malaysia and China he was strong and could have got points without technical problems slowing him. While in the Barcelona weekend in which the Lotus suddenly and for one weekend only worked (in a way that flummoxed the team subsequently) Grosjean stepped up, qualifying fifth and probably he would have finished sixth without his engine losing power mid-race. Still, he got points for eighth. It was a result he repeated in Monaco, and while he benefited from attrition that day his hustling of a reluctant mule around the Principality was impressive. Perhaps understandably there were a few small signs of creeping frustration later. He rather embarrassingly smashed his mount to pieces under the safety car in Hungary, then in Singapore was heard on the team radio trash-talking his Renault power unit. He also collided with Sutil in Russia. Still in Brazil he once again was excellent and unfortunate to be deprived a chance of points after yet again being hobbled by mechanical problems. But Grosjean at least can look ahead with confidence. Next year it's impossible to think that Lotus will get it as wrong again while he'll also have the jewel of a Mercedes engine in the back. And as mentioned his personal reputation has survived his annus horribilis intact.

To go through the rest in championship order brings us first to Sergio Perez. Following his ditching by McLaren at the end of 2013 this season at Force India Checo managed to steady the ship of his F1 career. Nevertheless there was a touch of more of the same about it for him, in that while there were a few high-tide watermarks there also were plenty more weekends wherein you'd hardly know that he was there. In the former category, in Bahrain he was excellent all weekend, strong on long runs, put in a qualifying lap good enough for fourth then his combative race got him onto the podium, the first non-Mercedes. In Canada too he did well, and in one of his time-honoured one-stoppers it looked for a time that he might even win, though a battery problem kicked in then he was at least imprudent in jinking in front of Massa before their collision on the final lap which put both out. In Austria though he was excellent again, again not for the first time making hay from a back-to-front strategy having started outside of the top ten. Nevertheless a number of tepid weekends elsewhere ensured that come the summer break he remained far behind his team mate Nico Hulkenberg on most measures. But in the second part of the year Perez did rather better, in comparison with Hulkenberg at least, and taking after the summer break only was ahead both on points and on the quali match up. That Force India by this stage tended to employ more stretched-out strategies played more to Perez's skills in looking after the tyres, particularly in comparison to his team mate. His race in Russia was very good, as were those in Monza, Japan and Abu Dhabi. But over the piece, and in another more of the same aspect, there were a few too many misjudgements in there too - in addition to Canada he crashed out in Hungary, collided with Sutil in Singapore while his collision with the same driver on Austin's opening lap was extremely clumsy.

Kevin Magnussen
Photo: Octane Photography
Kevin Magnussen must think an F1 existence is one with the fast forward button forever pressed. In Melbourne he started his freshman year by immediately seizing next big thing status with a flawless debut run to what became second place eventually. But not too long afterwards and almost without an intervening period he was thought by a few as a busted flush. There is a lot of the rough diamond about him; on occasion his pace was stunning and of a clip that his team mate Jenson Button had no answer for, especially in qualifying. But in many races he rather disappeared, possibly related to that he didn't have close to his team mate's ability spread the limited resource of the Pirellis over a race stint. Related to this he totalled well short of half of his stable mate's points, and only three times was he ahead in the race result when both finished (though time penalties took away two more). And for all that we rate his ultimate speed he ended up behind Button on the qualifying head-to-head too. Furthermore he was far from the finished article in how he behaved with other cars around, particularly when he really got his elbows out after the summer break - perhaps driving for his future. It all seemed to get his card marked by the stewards for a time, and while the reputation he established may have been on the harsh side the Dane did indeed a few times push the boundaries, most gaudily in running Alonso off the track at 200mph in Belgium. But with some polishing there likely is a fast, and good, F1 driver in there - Australia we've mentioned while his Austria, Germany, Russia, Japan and USA efforts were all strong as was his raw speed on show in a few other places that were for some of the reasons outlined not converted to good results. There's a lot for him to improve but equally there was enough there to convince that he's too good to be given up on just yet.

Kimi Raikkonen was another to have a disappointing season; indeed his was desperately so. And unlike Magnussen's his opening round was a portent, him binning the car in wet qualifying on an in-lap - admitting it was down to a lack of concentration - and never getting near team mate Fernando Alonso. Improvement from then on was glacial and in the main his campaign comprised more destruction by the (admittedly very good, especially in these circumstances) guy across the garage. Indeed only once did Kimi finish a race in 2014 as the lead Ferrari when both made it to the end, and Nando got a penalty that day. Only three times did he qualify ahead. He also peppered his campaign with slightly sloppy errors - in addition to Australia he spun in Canada as well as erred significantly in his big smash on lap one at Silverstone. There was the odd better day - such as on his favoured tarmac in Spa, in Monaco wherein he looked good for a podium appearance until picking up a puncture against Max Chilton as the latter unlapped himself behind the safety car (though Chilton also claimed Kimi cut across on him) as well as in Brazil where the softer than required tyres suddenly gave the Ferrari the front end he craved. But they all rather proved false dawns. We're aware of the lines of defence - that the agricultural Ferrari and its wayward front grip didn't suit his fingertip style, but is it not reasonable to ask that he shows more of a capability to adapt? After all is that not what just about all of the greats have done? Indeed, when was 'the car doesn't suit him' ever said of Moss? Or Senna? Or Alonso for that matter? Still Kimi gets an opportunity to redeem himself next year, largely you suspect because Ferrari wasn't keen to give him a second weighty pay-off.

Pastor Maldonado
Photo: Octane Photography
Pastor Maldonado though spent the year being not quite as bad as everyone said. The common associations with his season are his lairy practice mishaps especially those in China (twice) and Spa; each appearing a result of amateurish lack of concentration. His Spain qualifying crash was regrettable too as it was the solitary weekend of 2014 in which the Lotus looked competitive. But less well-recorded is that come the races Pastor tended to keep a lid on his antics - even though just as with Grosjean the awful E22 was no machine to judge him in - and proceed at least respectably until the car let him down. His rap sheet from Sundays consisted of a big misjudgement in tipping Gutierrez into a barrel roll in Bahrain (another error of his that is referenced repeatedly by his detractors), though Pastor was correct to point out that the Mexican slightly confused matters by over-running his entry into the corner. Otherwise he banged wheels with Ericsson in Spain and Bianchi in Hungary. Hardly terrible, in total. But as noted in previous years Pastor has never been one to get much benefit of the doubt from the gallery. He didn't however let that he'd timed his Williams to Lotus move badly (another fact that many didn't let him forget) get him down apparently. Neither that he seemed conspicuously to suffer the worst technical reliability out there. And as for being out-paced by Grosjean for the most part, well Pastor rarely was too far off and we know how highly-rated the Frenchman is. As mentioned the vast majority of his races were solid, and some indeed deserve to be filed under good, such as those in Austria, Germany, Monza, Singapore (where he looked good for points until late on) and then probably his best run of the year got him his first points, for ninth in Austin. Without a couple of penalties he may even have gone one better.

Adrian Sutil's continuing involvement in F1 this year was a strange one. Possibly alone he didn't fall easily into the modern sport's three prevailing categories of top-drawer talent, young up-and-comer and pay driver. And the strangeness continued with his slightly curious sideways step to Sauber for 2014. Worse for him the step proved to be one into an open trap door as the C33 was a dog, and one not in the least helped by the poor Ferrari power unit. Even so Sutil didn't impress, he almost never left team mate Esteban Gutierrez behind and indeed for much of the year was shown the way by the Mexican. Also, and in a trait that's always dogged Sutil, there seemed a few too many errors and crashes in there, especially for one of his experience. In Monaco and Japan he crashed out, in Singapore looked a little culpable in his collision with Perez and looked similar in colliding with this team mate in Russia. A number of qualifying laps were spoiled by mistakes, including sticking his car in the boonies at Silverstone when the conditions gave a rare opportunity for a high starting slot. Picking high points is near-impossible, though in getting into Q3 in Austin he was superb. But he never got close to that sort of performance elsewhere. He is out for next year, despite his claims to having a contract Sauber has had to dash for cash in its driver selection. But even without this it wasn't especially clear what Sutil was offering. His only future in the sport now is in a possible legal wrangle with his former employer.

Marcus Ericsson spent most of the year as F1's pariah of choice, perhaps even more so than Pastor Maldonado. For the first two-thirds of the season it was common to see him hanging off the back of the pack, and when he wasn't doing that he was crashing. Sometimes he was solid enough, but often the gap to Kobayashi seemed too big even taking into account their respective levels of experience. His Monaco qualifying error, taking out Massa as he did so, was noticeable, as was his big smash in the Hungary race. He also crashed in Malaysia, Canada and Britain's qualifying sessions. And then he reached his nadir when in Spa and then in Monza it seemed that whoever hopped into the other Caterham at however short notice (first Lotterer and then the returning Kobayashi) was immediately putting heavy manners on him, with best qualifying times around a second quicker than his. The instant response of many was to decry Ericsson as not good enough, but there was nothing in his GP2 record to suggest that he is an idiot (albeit not a world-beater either). But his Singapore race was something of a turning point - qualifying was difficult but in the race he battled hard, and held off Bianchi on much older rubber to for the first time top the B class. Caterham replacing its brakes/harvesting system with something more conventional from before meant the car became much more to Ericsson's taste. In Russia and Japan (despite an embarrassing spin behind the safety car in the latter) he too gave a much better account of himself; all of a sudden beating Kobayashi into the bargain. But then just when it was getting good for him Caterham left us. Nevertheless Ericsson himself will be back next year, at Sauber. It owes a lot of money, with the Swede's backing being hefty - thought to be around $18m, roughly double what Perez brings for example. But still there were also some reasons in 2014 to think that he's not necessarily only as good as his cash.

Esteban Gutierrez
Photo: Octane Photography
Esteban Gutierrez this year expanded somewhat on his iffy debut campaign. As with Sutil across the garage the evil C33 made it hard to judge him. Yet there rarely was much to choose between the Mexican and his much more experienced team mate; indeed often Gutierrez led the way in qualifying and the races. And some of his runs were genuinely good, particularly late in the season such as in Singapore, Russia, Brazil and in Abu Dhabi. He drove well too in Hungary's treacherous conditions and looked good for points before his car let him down. There were a few times when he looked a bit off it though, such as in Austria and Italy. Furthermore a self-inflicted retirement in Monaco, clipping a barrier, when on for points was a major blot, while an off in Silverstone qualifying then spearing Pastor Maldonado in the race the next day wasn't much better. But it doesn't now look like he'll get a chance to expand any further, with it being all change on the pilot front at Hinwil next year. Gutierrez is one of course whose F1 career was aided by money, thus he had a problem when two guys came along offering more of it then he. Live by the chequebook; die by the chequebook.

Max Chilton had one more year of existing rather than thriving at Marussia. Almost never was he on Bianchi's pace in the other MR03, and those fairly rare occasions when he qualified or finished ahead all owed to unusual circumstances compromising the efforts of the Frenchman. Many times Chilton failed to extract the most from his car on a qualifying lap. His races tended to be a little better but they tended to not get beyond solid. He even lost his record of finishing every time in his F1 career, and worse did it with a collision with his team mate, that the stewards blamed Chilton for. He managed to bin it in the Monza race later too. Getting P13 on the Silverstone grid before a penalty was applied was his highlight. His in-out-in again early weekend at Spa, with his management claiming unconvincingly for a time that he was vacating the seat selflessly to let the team raise revenue from it, was the lowlight.

Kamui Kobayashi
Photo: Octane Photography
Kamui Kobayashi made a welcome return to F1 this season, sealing his drive via the rather novel method of fans' funding. Sadly though he'd have been forgiven for wondering later if it was all worth it as he was merely the latest to find out that a Caterham drive is quite the modern F1 graveyard shift. Not only in a car that's not much good but also lingering in a competitive vacuum, usually far ahead of a team mate there because of cash but not close to other teams either. It's particularly ill-fitting for Kobayashi, who has based a lot of his star on dare-devil racing. It all started well though with his getting through Q1 in Melbourne, but then crashing out of the race immediately with a brake problem was something of a sign of what awaited him. He also did as much as he could in the races, executing them well and being robust but not silly in battle. But it became clear before long that he was on a hiding to nothing. Then of course he was dropped for Spa, which bewildered Kamui as much as anyone. That he jumped back in at little notice at Monza and performed superbly was to his credit. But in Russia he reached a low point, not only by now being shown the way by Ericsson who'd sorted out his car problems but suggesting in public that he'd been asked to park a healthy car in the race so to save mileage. It says a lot about the Japanese though that he helped the team out a few weeks later by driving in Abu Dhabi, when the outfit had nowhere else to turn.

Will Stevens too made a surprise appearance for the surprisingly-appearing Caterham in that final round in Abu Dhabi (though in a non-surprise reportedly he stumped up £500,000 for the privilege). And despite being thrown in with no immediate preparation and indeed modest experience of an F1 car in total, he by no means disgraced himself. In qualifying he was only around half a second off Kobayashi's best and while the pace gap was bigger in the race Stevens did better as the afternoon went on. It's a pity though that the Alonso/Andrea Stella radio exchange about him will likely go down in history as his F1 high point.

And last but far from least we have Andre Lotterer, possibly the most curious driver appearance of the year. Not because he lacks talent, more that he doesn't lack talent, as demonstrated with his WEC title and three Le Mans victories. And to add to his endangered species status for a debutant he was 32 and didn't bring money. But still he was there in Spa only in a Caterham, and moreover didn't have the habitual not-waving-but-drowning experience of those thrown in at short notice, as he right away looked like he belonged and indeed cut the beam in qualifying a full second under the similarly-equipped Marcus Ericsson's best. His race however barely got going as he lost power terminally in lap two, possibly due to running wide over a kerb. Unsurprisingly given he was in F1's ultimate dead end slot he rebuffed later efforts of the team to tempt him back.

Monday, 8 December 2014

New F1 Times article: Lewis Hamilton 2014 World Champion - not built by this season; revealed by this season

Photo: Octane Photography
In my latest article for F1 Times I pay tribute to the recently-crowned 2014 world champion Lewis Hamilton, and look at the key factors behind his latest title.

This includes him getting into the right place at the right time for this campaign as well as - more importantly - how Lewis developed into something like a complete F1 performer this season.

You can have a read here: http://www.f1times.co.uk/news/display/09641

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Saturday, 6 December 2014

My Top Ten Drivers of 2014

Here is my personal rating of the top ten F1 drivers of the 2014 season, seeking to take into account their performance in their circumstances as well as the machinery that they had access to. 

A run down of my views on the drivers who didn't make the top ten will follow in the next few days.

Photo: Octane Photography
1. Daniel Ricciardo
What do we know. A guy said by some only in a Red Bull so not to pose a threat to his world champion team mate. A guy whose skill set on display in the Toro Rosso was considered by few to be complete. There were good qualifying laps of course, a Button-like smoothness and precision too. But could he race? Yet what do we know as I said? In 2014 Daniel Ricciardo is in with a shot - straight to the top of the pile.

Throughout the campaign the perma-smiling Australian demonstrated that he is a driver without much recognisable weakness. The smoothness continued and this with his related gentle touch on the Pirelli tyres allowed him most times to employ longer race strategies than his team mate Sebastian Vettel, and usually to lap more quickly as he did them. While the quali pace proved to be stunning. Indeed he managed to beat qualifying master Vettel by 12 times to 7.

Yet even within the first few rounds of this year he squeezed in confirmation that he's good at just about everything else too. He was flawless under pressure in his run to second place (on the road) in Australia and in robustly repelling Fernando Alonso in Malaysia. He was excellent in the wet, such as in Melbourne qualifying as well as later in his Hungary win. In Bahrain in his radio communication as Vettel held him up he demonstrated just how rapidly he'd got his feet under the big team's table. This was no callow new boy.

As for his ability to race? Well his crisp overtakes, usually immediate, often creative, were virtually a race-by-race occurrence. They fall from the tongue: around the outside of one Williams then the other in the wet Suzuka esses; double shuffling and smartly outbraking Vettel in Monza and Alonso in Austin; vaulting past Hamilton on the outside exit of Hungary's turn two; his unorthodox move at Bahrain's fast turn 11 on Nico Hulkenberg, allowing his opponent to block the inside line on entry so that he could cut underneath him smartly in the corner itself..

And in a season wherein the Mercedes W05 domination was exasperating, Ricciardo and only Ricciardo beat them to the chequered flag in first. Moreover he did it three times. Each of his wins were cut from the same cloth: all pace, consistency and sympathetic tyre management supplemented by neat and timely passes, and cemented by blitzing the rest at a vital juncture.

Like all good showmen he kept his strongest performance for last; from a pit lane start in Abu Dhabi he ghosted to fourth by the end without it being immediately obvious how - all pace and other-worldly tyre longevity.

Even a devil's advocate search for flaws in his canvas doesn't give us a great deal. He binned it in Suzuka practice, but homing in on that only underlines just how rare errors from him were. Possibly the closest is that - like his predecessor Mark Webber - his race launches were rather iffy. Perhaps in a car good enough to challenge for the title this would have been punished more ruthlessly.

Maybe his perma-smile and engaging personality meant a few of us were guilty of underestimating Daniel Ricciardo before this season. No one his underestimating him now.

Photo: Octane Photography
2. Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton's F1 career, and his 2014 F1 campaign in many ways, are very distinct from Daniel Ricciardo's. But this year Lewis just like the Australian demonstrated that nobody knows anything.

You only need to go back two-and-a-bit years to when most of us were convinced he'd committed career suicide by dumping McLaren for Mercedes. Yet the silver egg he laid then hatched this season, and turned out to in fact be golden. Lewis six years on added finally to his World Championship total.

Early in the season it looked for all the world indeed like he was going to achieve that well ahead of time. His car failed him immediately in Melbourne, but then he won the next four races - imperious in two and solid in defence even though his team mate Nico Rosberg looked quicker in the other two.

But then of course we had Monaco's qualifying. And after it we were witness to the closest we got this year to what might loosely be termed the bad old Lewis. It was clear what he thought of it all, and whatever the cause and effect it preceded a run of tough qualifying sessions: two in which he pushed too hard and then one, notoriously, in which he gave up too early. Dumping salt into an open wound he then barely featured in the next couple of Saturdays due to mechanical failures. They all contributed to him spending much of the year with points ground to make up. Generally indeed, curious tying up in the final throes of Q3 was something that dogged Lewis for much of the season, with it featuring again in the final round in Abu Dhabi.

Each time however he bounced back immediately and was stunning in the race. By his own admission in previous years he would not have been nearly as well equipped so to do. Once the red light had gone out he tended to be one without equal; faulting him on a Sunday in 2014 is a largely unrewarding task. He was the habitual pace setter and mistakes were few, though his spin in Brazil was a major one. And in the late rounds when he finally allowed everything to flow he was as close as is possible to unstoppable, just like early in the campaign.

And if Monaco was where Lewis's dark cloud arrived, Spa was where it passed. It was well-concealed at the time, given the clash with Nico although the German's fault benefited Rosberg to the tune of 18 points. But it all changed the mood somehow; Lewis returned to his best and his subsequent run of wins this time totalled five. In three of them he hunted down and overturned Rosberg ruthlessly. In the other two he was in a race of one. After that the title was his barring disasters, which never arrived. And his towering total of 11 victories in the campaign is hard to argue with.

Even more generally than that, in 2014 we saw apparently the most balanced and content Lewis out of the car than we had in a while, possibly than we had ever. The occasional curious behaviour and moods appeared largely shorn. And the evidence is that it had a benign impact on his driving.

Lewis also was able to demonstrate this year that, contrary to some views, he's about much more than driving fast and making stunning overtakes. For all of the expectation that his team mate would have the wood on him in understanding the new complex cars, and in nursing tyres and fuel, there in fact was almost nothing to choose on any of these. Indeed you could make a case that Lewis was superior. These days he's close to a complete top-level F1 performer, and you suspect that 2014 was just the start of something.

Photo: Octane Photography
3. Fernando Alonso
If this list was a literal ranking of what was achieved this season with the machinery to hand then Fernando Alonso would likely be top; perhaps comfortably. But also in my rankings - and while this is no way Alonso's fault - some premium is placed on being in the fight for wins and titles. So this, combined with the sheer closeness of the consideration at the top, means that with a heavy heart the magical Spaniard is placed but third.

But what Alonso did with the F14 T this year should never be underestimated. Short on downforce, wayward on the turn-in, woefully short on power, as well as with a horrid loose rear end which had a knock-on impact of chewing its tyres. Having to be sprung stiff as a board to get any sort of lap time. Simon Arron likened it to a Routemaster bus. Calling it the fifth best car out there over the piece is probably as generous as is possible. Kimi Raikkonen - a guy supposed to really challenge Alonso - as we saw for the most part could do nothing with it, and that was shown mercilessly in results from whichever angle they were viewed. Fernando alone managed somehow to make the Ferrari look just about respectable. And how. It's easily forgotten that at the time of the summer break he was even in the mix for third place in the championship; only a run of foul luck, combined with the Ferrari seeming further away from competitiveness than ever, meant that was beyond even him. Even then he was still in the thick of the scrap for fourth come the final race. Not for the first time what he did with the red machine he was handed amounted to something close to F1 alchemy.

The fact that he can maintain such an imprint on our consciousness in a year that earned him but two podium appearances, neither a win, says a lot. Alonso, time after time on the car's very outer limits, bullied his recalcitrant red machine into halfway competitive lap times, and once again did it with almost nothing in the way of conspicuous error. His familiar blend of ferocious opening laps, extreme will and consistent pace was on show in pretty much every round. He also as usual gave us some of the season's most breathtaking wheel-to-wheel action, most notably in his desperate wrangle with Vettel in Britain.

He even damn near won a race. His effort at damp but drying Hungary was astonishing, first in his combativeness to get to the front and then to stretch out the life of a single set of softs far beyond what anyone thought humanly possible. In the late laps as he gave away near-nothing to quicker cars piling up behind it all was genuinely reminiscent of Villeneuve, Jarama and all that. Only Ricciardo sneaking past with three laps left deprived him. Still it was possibly the drive of the season.

Come the second part of the year as mentioned hard luck kicked in with a penalty in Belgium, two mechanical retirements (his first in upwards of four years) plus in Singapore he looked well on the way to second place before being mucked around by a safety car appearance. And long before the season was out his Ferrari relationship was, unofficially, officially over. Yet still it was hard to cite occasions on which he gave up, or indeed provided anything sub-optimum from his machine or in battle.

It of course is a matter of huge regret that his five-year Ferrari partnership, that promised so much, did not deliver the world title that both driver and team clearly considered a minimum expectation. But Alonso has nothing to reproach himself for. Indeed when it comes to his legacy his years of hauling his red car to places it had no right to be, and consistently, will surely ensure his place among the sport's very best ever. Alonso, in 2014, as well as before at Ferrari, made even the sport's most sober observers accept the incredible as normal.

Photo: Octane Photography
4. Nico Rosberg
It seems extremely odd now to think that for years we wrestled with the 'how good is Nico Rosberg?' question. We knew he was clever; talented too. But what of his outer edge of pace? And his ability to battle? Was he, some of us wondered, much more than a better version of Nick Heidfeld?

The reply to such questions in the thumping positive for Nico started in 2013 and had its full stop provided by his 2014 campaign, one which he oh-so nearly ended as world champion. He was once again with the same equipment able to go toe-to-toe with Lewis Hamilton, never giving him a moment's rest, performing almost everywhere, and having a knack throughout of when he looked finally down and out suddenly jumping to his feet to deliver a counter-punch. There was little to choose between him and his revered stable mate on any front, and for all of the narrative of Lewis's raw pace over a single lap it was indeed Nico that was ahead in the qualifying match-up of all things. His nursing home of a sick car in Canada is right up there among the drives of the season from anyone.

For much of mid-summer Nico looked every inch a man having his time in the sun. A year in which nothing would go wrong for him, and that it would total up indeed almost inevitably to the World Championship. Lewis was having his ill-luck of course, but Nico could not at all be faulted for driving the ball firmly into the open nets presented to him.

But things started to unravel in the Hungary race when while leading an ill-timed safety car left him in the pack, then of course we had Spa - a real turning point. While the error therein was undoubtedly Nico's (and if Lewis is correct that Nico felt the need to 'prove a point' then you really have to ask why?), the reaction of his team to what appeared merely a misjudgement was excessive. And whatever was the case Nico seemed to lose a little of his swagger after that. Being taken to the cleaners by Lewis at Monza - the pivotal point being Nico leaving the track - changed the mood. Then Singapore wherein Nico barely got started due to car woes changed the mathematics. He added another vital error at the first turn in Russia. By the time Nico rediscovered his mojo the title was as good as gone.

Perhaps though the season's latter part wasn't that much of a departure, as while Nico wasn't nearly as cruise and collect as his detractors might have it he also even before Spa wasn't quite as error-free as his defenders claimed (see Monaco qualifying, Canada, Austria and in Hungary both in qualifying and the race). The only difference in the latter part was that suddenly the mistakes started to bite him. Possibly therefore it reflected merely the law of averages catching up.

But whatever your polemic of choice regarding Mercedes driver politics this year what likely deprived Rosberg of the title more than anything was that of his impressive total of 11 poles but three were converted to race wins; but two (one at Monaco...) when Lewis started alongside. It seemed that while his qualifying pace - built up analytically over a weekend - was devastating come the race with others cars around and where improvisation was more required he seemed to lose something relative to his team mate. And he admitted as much after the year ended. While others pointed out for him that not once had he made a pass on the other Merc stick in 2014.

Perhaps the irony is that while Rosberg has demonstrated by now that he is much more than a better Nick Heidfeld, it was one of the reasons we suspected he might be so in the first place that contributed most to the 2014 drivers' crown remaining out of his reach.

Photo: Octane Photography
5. Valtteri Bottas
As mentioned the contenders at the top of this ranking were tightly-packed, more so indeed than I can remember in years. And this very much applies to Valtteri Bottas, who deserves consideration and commendation alongside any of the first five. But in a competitive field small things make a difference and Bottas's slightly slow start to the campaign more than anything nudges him down to fifth place. In most other years though a season such as his would have placed him higher. In some it would have made him a contender for top spot.

The 2014 F1 season had a lot of the changing of the guard about it, and Bottas was a conspicuous part. Indeed there were a few parallels between his year and Daniel Ricciardo's; of course both are young stars that burst into an intense light when given access to a competitive car. But in addition just as Ricciardo did the Finn demonstrated that he's a pilot apparently without glaring weakness, who belongs absolutely at the front. Indeed a Finnish colleague likes to tell all that Bottas is just like Mika Hakkinen, except more intelligent.

Many have noticed the similarity, with his understated and uncomplicated persona allied to an unmistakably steely focus as well as an ability to let all bounce off him, displayed for example in the Germany and Austria races in both of which he was utterly imperturbable under severe pressure. Then there's his stunning speed and robust abilities wheel-to-wheel - seen especially in great drives in the pack in Australia, Silverstone, Monza and Abu Dhabi among others. And as for his brain power, his ability to coax life from the Pirellis has people at Williams raving.

Bottas's campaign as intimated was a little bit of a slow burner. In the season-opener in Australia while a finish in sixth (that became fifth) from 15th on the grid looks good on the face of it, that he tagged a wall and that it cost him a podium appearance was a black mark. For a while too his efforts were mainly in the fairly good category and some reckoned that he over-drove on occasion, though he was unlucky at points also and in Spain he was excellent. But it was in Austria that things really picked up for him; as the Williams improved Bottas like all top drivers stepped up to the plate. It was the start of three consecutive podium runs, each highly impressive in their own way. And from that point on indeed in 2014 only on rare occasions was he not a factor.

And while Ricciardo finished as the first non-Merc in the table Bottas can claim possibly to be the silver cars' most consistent threat on pace all things being equal. His stellar and spirited run to third in Austria, just eight seconds from the winner, was the closest anyone came to the Mercedes this season without unusual circumstances disrupting their progress, while in Russia he came oh-so close to snatching pole from under their noses and kept them well in sight for the race's duration.

Bottas's first Grand Prix win surely is only a matter of time. And as far as a few are concerned his first championship has something like the same status.

Photo: Octane Photography
6. Jenson Button
All smooth and smart performances, with a complete lack of ostentation. And even though our attention might have been taken a few times by fireworks elsewhere he claimed a gluttonous feast of points, that far exceeded those of his fast young team mate. The 2014 campaign was more of the same for Jenson Button; at something like his best.

Unfortunately for him, and just like last season, he suffered by association with an underperforming McLaren. As was the case in the latter part of last season too for a time a vague sense of disappointment at Jenson's drives emanated from the top of the Woking squad, which Ron Dennis decided to firm up by issuing a very public shot across his charge's bows mid-year. Quite why this view was held was not at all clear to outsiders, given even then Jenson was bagging the clear majority of McLaren's points, as well as was doing a lot right and not a lot wrong. Some reckon that the Jenson-Ron relationship has been a distinctly cool one for a while.

But almost as if the criticism extracted renewed determination from him Jenson performed at greater heights as the year went on. Indeed as the grapevine got louder in the late rounds that he was out of McLaren, and by extension of F1, the affable Englishman seemed to take ever-increasing pleasure at waving two fingers at the absurdity of it all. Or perhaps it was the case that he was performing all along and it was merely that the MP4-29's improvements meant his efforts became more noticeable.

All-in it was hard to fault Jenson's year. As mentioned he well and truly trounced the young team mate in the form of Kevin Magnussen where it really matters in the points column, his advantage proportionately being not too far short of even Alonso's over Raikkonen. His advantage was aided especially by his vastly superior ability to manage the Pirellis over a race stint. Yet too he even emerged on top in the McLaren qualifying head-to-head - not these days thought of first as Jenson's strong suit.

As ever errors were close to non-existent, as were tantrums (though he was heard grumbling about his strategy in Austin). He showed his habitual speed of thought to vault several places around a safety car appearance in Australia and Japan. And despite what was said in the opening paragraph his ability to race was as sharp as anyone's, such as in plundering two places in one swoop in Canada's late laps as well as in his battles with Alonso in Britain and the USA. It does not seem hyperbole to say that this season, particularly in its latter part, he was driving as well as ever. The only major downside was his familiar over-sensitivity to handling on occasion, which contributed to days when he wasn't close to Magnussen on raw pace, relatively common mid-year.

At the time of writing his place in the sport for 2015 remains uncertain. One can sympathise with McLaren, given Alonso's arrival has left it with a classic here and now versus future potential conundrum in choosing between Button and Magnussen to fill the one remaining ride. Plus contemporary F1's warped ways means there's nowhere else for the discarded one to go. But whatever is the case it cannot be denied that if the curtain is indeed about to be brought down on Jenson's F1 time it is an act years in advance of when it should be.

Photo: Octane Photography
7. Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel is another to reflect that just as a week is a long time in politics, a year can be an age in F1. As Daniel Ricciardo's star rose Vettel's plummeted at the same rate, and the two were related as the four-time champion was for most of the season made to look a little ordinary by his new whipper-snapper team mate.

The sane statistics of the 2014 Red Bull driver match-up speak for themselves, and would in March have read like something from outlandish fiction. He who we thought the modern sport's standard bearer in pressure-on qualifying laps was beaten 12-7 by his team mate on the Saturday match-up while in races matters were even more stark, being 13-6 to the Australian (and without the Melbourne disqualification it would have 14-5). Perhaps bad luck with reliability and the like for Seb exaggerated the gaps, but with an even hand dealt it would have remained a fairly clear win for Ricciardo. Watching Ricciardo smoothly move clear in races with crisp passing and much superior tyre longevity became almost an expectation. It was exposed most pitilessly of all in the season-closer in Abu Dhabi.

As we know even as he accumulated his towering records there were those who maintained Seb wasn't all that. This year doesn't necessarily vindicate them, as what he did before then cannot be disregarded entirely, but his previously pristine image has taken a hit undoubtedly. As to what happened, the most probable explanation remains that it was his abilities with a blown floor (and in the case of the Red Bull, a very good blown floor) that set him apart. Now that in 2014 cars were more conventional his trump card was removed, just as in those spells before when the blown floor was less powerful there was in fact little to choose between Seb and his then team mate Mark Webber. Indeed Seb in 2014 appeared guilty of fighting the last war, with an aggressive turn in no longer able to be controlled by throttle blasts, and contributing to the excessive tyre wear that as mentioned was a bugbear.

For a man who'd built his haughty image in part on a cerebral and holistic approach it seems odd that he never found a way with the RB10. He nevertheless kept his calm out of the car at least and didn't bin the thing while in it, and remained even with Ricciardo's success the team's fulcrum. Next year, choosing to be the latest to try to lead Ferrari from the gloom, he'll need such characteristics more than ever. In some ways it suits too - the challenge of making sense of the Scuderia as his hero Schumi once did has enticed clearly, and Seb is one more than most mindful of his place in history. This season too there were flashes at least of the old form in there, with them happening with more regularity towards the year's end, such as his pace and battling in Singapore as well as in the Suzuka rains, him gobbling up the road late on in Austin as well as with a grid slot his car probably didn't deserve then a feisty race in Brazil.

It's worth however reflecting on what a few cynics reckoned was the main reason that he'd timed the Ferrari move as he had - as another year being beaten his his team mate would leave him likely consigned in most minds as damaged goods.

Photo: Octane Photography
8. Nico Hulkenberg
Nico Hulkenberg like his partial namesake Rosberg was another to have a 2014 campaign conspicuously divided into two.

Up until Hungary his season was one in which of all his talents that we've grown to admire were on show. Having returned to Force India one could hardly see the join as it was brilliant business as usual. He immediately was extracting as much as anyone could expect from his wheels with a series of Q3 qualifying showings and mid top 10 race finishes. He demonstrated too that he lacks nothing for a racer's spirit, with his frenzied battling with the sport's star names in Malaysia and Canada as well as a great opportunistic pass of Kevin Magnussen at Monaco's Portier - not a likely scene of overtakes. Heading into Hungary only he and Fernando Alonso had scored everywhere. Like Alonso too he always looked quick as well as was one not given to off days.

But his Sunday on the Hungaroring's perfidious surface featured him losing a load of places after running wide and then managing to slide into the side of his team mate Sergio Perez in trying to get one of them back, and thus removing himself from proceedings. This heralded a succession of mediocre drives, often far behind his team mate, and only really come Brazil did the impressive guy of before return properly (though he was pretty good at Suzuka too).

It may have been a hangover from his Hungary error, but others near-at-hand noted that for all of the Hulk's talents looking after his rear tyres is not one, and is something that he's less skilled at than Perez. And this was shown up more as Force India slid further back in the development race as the year went on, and the team as a result became more reliant on stretching out longer race strategies. But it can't have been entirely that, as Hulk only qualified ahead of Perez three times from eight in the season's second part (compared to 9-2 in the first).

Still, his early-year advantage contributed to him being well ahead of Perez on points, by a trouncing 96 to 59.

For 2015 Hulkenberg faces another year at Force India; yet another year shunned by the top teams. This omission continues to baffle many. Some say that the lack of a single stand-out result counts against him (indeed Perez took the Silverstone team's only podium finish this year); rather absurdly his relentless brilliance instead of flashes in the pan appears to be counting against him. But his not being snapped up owes much to misfortune too - him never quite being in the right place at the right time for a much-mooted Ferrari drive for one - as well as occasional odd thinking from certain team principals. You worry now though that since he's been on the shelf for so long - combined with that he's just put in a year marginally less strong than the two that preceded it - that's now he's condemned to remain there.

Photo: Octane Photography
9. Felipe Massa
Anyone who remembers Felipe Massa's qualifying lap in Singapore in 2008 knows what skill lays within the Brazilian. Indeed much of that season, particularly its latter part, likely will go down as Massa's finest time in F1. The challenge with him has been extracting that sort of thing consistently, with his biggest obstacle apparently being him believing that he can. As we headed into this season 2008 seemed both literally and metaphorically a long time ago for the pleasant Felipe.

In a new abode at Williams, confessedly relieved to be away from Ferrari polemics as well as from a stable mate put on the planet possibly to make the other guy look average, Massa improved as the season went on, both in mood and in driving, and by the time the year ended plenty could see a few creeping parallels with his balmy glow of six years ago.

It was tempting at the season's mid-part to assume that little had changed for him since his Scuderia time, other than that Fernando Alonso's name had been supplanted by that of Valtteri Bottas, but such a conclusion was on the harsh side. A series of accidents - many off the line; many not his fault - rather undermined his progress, as did a botched pit stop in China. His season's low point was in Hungary, when the repeated crashes meant he had to drive an old-spec car, contributing to yet another weekend firmly cast as the other Williams.

Still, there were some things in there that you could reproach Felipe for too. Of the accidents mentioned he looked a little careless in the one in Germany, arguably in the one in Canada too, while the latter race more generally could go down as win that got away, him looking a little timid in traffic when it mattered. At one point he forget to deploy his DRS when lining up Vettel. Indeed for the most part of Massa's career it has been a legitimate criticism of him that the odd, often slightly baffling, mistake rarely feels too far away.

As we have seen before with Massa though it appeared that a single good result heralded something of a breakthrough, and it arrived this time at his 'other' home race at Monza, where he staked third place behind the Mercs after a flawless drive. And it begat a strong end of season run. He followed his Italian result up immediately back at his former happy hunting ground of Singapore with possibly his best weekend of the season. On a track that didn't suit the FW36 he was habitually quicker than Bottas and nursed his car and tyres home in the race for a fine fifth place, leaving his team mate to hit the cliff. And he sprinted through the line at the season's end with two more podium finishes, first off with another third at home at an Interlagos track on which he's always found extra urge (though he made a couple of pit stop errors that would have cost him on other days), while in Abu Dhabi he went one better with second place. Indeed the way that he hunted leader Lewis Hamilton down in the late laps on an aggressive strategy was vintage Felipe. Without a battery problem he might even have ended his win drought - another run that stretches all the way back to his lauded 2008 campaign.

He's not quite in 2008 spec, but both in and out of the car Felipe Massa finished this season looking a lot closer to it than he had in a good while.

Photo: Octane Photography
10. Jean-Eric Vergne
For a few reasons the Red Bull young drivers' programme and its way of doing things isn't universally loved. But it cannot be denied that these days it's producing some rather good driving talent. And deserving of his place among them on the basis of 2014 is Jean-Eric Vergne.

We all know that he missed his opportunity knocks chance of a step up to the Red Bull big team last season. Probably it left him on a hiding to nothing. But while a few as a result placed him in a mental recess for this campaign Vergne himself didn't give in and this year we saw a more complete performer than at any point before in his brief stay in F1. Plenty who have worked with him rate him highly. He's a proper and willing racer; blessed with fine car control. This campaign he adapted to the demands of the new machines much more effectively than most. And while his fast young team mate Daniil Kvyat had the edge in qualifying come the races, wherein the Frenchman was far superior at managing the tyres, Vergne outscored him by close to three-to-one.

In Australia and Canada he maximised the car and bagged healthy hauls of points. And the race in Hungary was perhaps his best of the lot, him ambushing no less a figure than Nico Rosberg and staying ahead for several laps, running as high as second for a while, on the way to a ninth-place finish beaten only by quicker cars - a drive he reckoned was perfect.

Indeed his bag of points might have been even weightier. A haughty finish in Monaco was lost to the car stopping before the end (and in that case to an unsafe release too); technical gremlins struck in Malaysia, Bahrain qualifying, Spain practice (an errant wheel resulting in a grid drop) and Austria.

His reward for his fine Hungary drive was the sack; his three-year lifespan coming to its end and him being forced to make way for the fledgling Max Verstappen. But just when we suspected that he was drifting almost unnoticed out of F1 in Singapore his race was supreme, gobbling up the road and several opponents - particularly in scintillating final laps - to overcome two penalties and finish sixth. He gave a fairly good account of himself for most of then-on, including a brave effort in Japan's rain.

In the debit column however he had a few subdued weekends, such as in Austria, Germany and Brazil as well as, perhaps understandably, in the couple of rounds that followed his unceremonious ditching, in Belgium and Italy. He also had too much first lap contact - seen in Malaysia, Bahrain and Silverstone.

But what really shows Vergne in a good light is that last year essentially the only difference between him and Daniel Ricciardo paired at Toro Rosso was in qualifying in the dry. And qualifying Vergne by his own admission focussed on and sorted to a large extent this campaign, with a run of top ten qualifying slots particularly early in the year as well as rarely giving too much away to Kvyat. So, given how Ricciardo has wowed us in 2014, you do the maths. But now with the Australian riding a wave and Vergne apparently stranded ashore, another thing that we can take from the comparison is that the margins between success and failure in modern F1 are absurdly thin.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Inside Line F1 Podcast: Drive It Like You Stole It

Now that we're entering the close season you may have more time on your hands, perhaps to listen to lively chat on F1's latest matters. The regular Inside Line F1 podcast is produced and hosted by Rishi Kapoor and Kunal Shah, and is one of the most listened to podcasts in India and Asia, and they are looking to expand elsewhere.

The latest one reviews the season-closing Abu Dhabi round and Lewis Hamilton's title. In my view it's well worth 15 minutes of your time. You can have a listen below.



Kunal has been writing on F1 for eight seasons, you can visit Kunal's website at: http://www.kunalsf1blog.com/ and you also can follow him on Twitter here.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Vergne and the margins between success and misery in modern F1

Here's a challenge for you. Try to explain to someone the general logic behind which drivers get retained in F1 race seats and which get ditched. Without sounding insane.

You'll no doubt be aware that it wouldn't be an easy task. And this week we had just the latest cruel rejection of a worthy competitor, that of Jean-Eric Vergne.

The Abu Dhabi race was indeed the last we'll see
of Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso
Photo: Octane Photography
It was a slightly on-off goodbye. He was officially out way back in the summer break when the fledgling Max Verstappen was confirmed for a Toro Rosso 2015 gig. But then when Sebastian Vettel's unanticipated departure from the Red Bull big team had the domino effect of Daniil Kvyat being promoted to replace him, some started to muse that Vergne could be retained after all so to plug the resultant vacancy. Indeed Franz Tost confirmed during the Sochi weekend that Vergne was back in the running.

But no. Before we know it we're back where we started, as Vergne himself confirmed on Twitter earlier this week: 'Despite a good season and 22 points, I'll not drive anymore for Toro Rosso in 2015. Thanks for those years. Let's go for another big challenge.'

Thursday, 27 November 2014

TeamSport Infographic - F1 2014 season round up

You may recall last week in the build-up to the season-concluding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that TeamSport - UK indoor karting specialists - produced an infographic outlining the state of play heading into the vital round.

Now that the race and therefore the season has reached its conclusion TeamSport has been kind enough to produce a final end of season version, summing up the key stats for the year. This is below. Hope you like it.

More detail can be found here, and you can let TeamSport know what you think on Twitter.

#F1 2014 season
Source: TeamSport

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

New F1Plus.com article: Why Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari spell was no waste of time

Fernando Alonso said goodbye to Ferrari last weekend
Photo: Octane Photography
The season-concluding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a time to say goodbye, and the goodbyes came in a a variety of forms.

One of the most sombre though was that we finally received confirmation that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari, after a five-year relationship, are officially over.

In the latest of my articles for F1plus.com I look at why the partnership did not deliver its minimum objective of a world championship, but also argue that despite this, from Alonso's side the Maranello stint was no waste of time.

You can have a read of the article via this link: http://www.f1plus.com/en/news/item/7117-why-fernando-alonsos-ferrari-spell-was-no-waste-of-time

Monday, 24 November 2014

Mattiacci - brought down by his own fire

Divorce is rarely easy of course. Neither are goings-on within Scuderia Ferrari. Bring the two together and you have...well, you work out the rest.

And there has been a lot of Ferrari conforming to type in its latest big soap opera; the matter indeed that had smouldered throughout the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend. And today we received confirmation that as is often so there was no smoke without fire. Marco Mattiacci is out; Maurizio Arrivabene, brand manager for Marlboro Europe and one close to the Ferrari team for some time via that sponsorship, is there in his stead. The Scuderia has its third (count 'em) team principal in the space of just eight months.

Marco Mattiacci is out of the Ferrari team
Photo: Octane Photography
So - apart from the obvious - what does this in particular tell us? Well to start with there's one thing we can fairly safely conclude that it isn't. That being that Mattiacci's flying visit was always part of the plan.

When he first arrived earlier this season many indeed reckoned it was an interim appointment, particularly given his gaping lack of motorsport experience. But over time fewer and fewer felt sure on this point.

As the BBC's Andrew Benson noted by mid-season Mattiacci was 'making a good impression among senior figures in F1 as a man who means business and looks like he can deliver.' That Mattiacci reportedly was backing the highly-rated new Technical Director James Allison to the hilt looked spot on too.

But the main problem with the suggestion that today's events are simply a natural conclusion to the Ferrari strategy all along is that assumption was based on Mattiacci being a company high-flier ear-marked for a Luca Montezemolo-type role, and therefore that a bit of time at the F1 coal face beforehand would help him therein. But Ferrari's statement on the matter today made no mention of Mattiacci being moved to a new position within the company, which you'd imagine would have been confirmed simultaneously if that was the plan. Worse from Mattiacci's point of view the wording used made it sound a lot like he was out of the company altogether.

Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne was quoted thus: 'We would also like to thank Marco Mattiacci for his service to Ferrari in the last 15 years and we wish him well in his future endeavours.' And how else are we supposed to interpret that?

Adam Cooper for one thought he had the answer: 'Mattiacci fell out of favour with Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne' he said on his site, 'and his handling of the departure of Fernando Alonso - which led to a huge pay-off to the Spanish driver after the team was left with three World Champions under contract for next season - clearly did not help.'

Cooper expanded the thought on Twitter, first describing Mattiacci's 'clumsy handling of the Alonso departure' as a 'big black mark against him'. Before concluding that 'as he leaves, canny operator Alonso helps to take down the guy who pissed him off. You couldn't make it up...'.

And on top of the absurdity of paying Alonso a vast sum not to drive for you, if one is to be brutal about it - as Ted Kravtiz was repeatedly on television over the weekend - we can add also that Ferrari has ditched Alonso (arguably the best out there) and ended up for 2015 with two drivers trounced by their respective team mates this campaign. It doesn't look good.

Fernando Alonso said farewell to Ferrari in Abu Dhabi
Photo: Octane Photography
Possibly there is more to this though. Perhaps Mattiacci also underestimated the depth of feeling there is in Ferrari for Alonso. Perhaps as Cooper suggested he underestimated Alonso too.

A murmur indeed to emanate from the Maranello direction lately was that Mattiacci was wary of Alonso's power within the squad and was therefore a lot like a compressed spring waiting to be released, to face Alonso down in order to 'show who's boss'.

If this is indeed so then Mattiacci would do well to reflect on the words of the Chinese philosopher Confucius: 'Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.'

To think too that just a few weeks back there was some rather smug reporting to the effect that Alonso had been played in this, and masterfully, by Mattiacci. Make a note never to play poker with Nando.

But whatever is the case the denigration of Fernando Alonso from the Ferrari direction in recent weeks - and after everything he had put in for them - was for me by far the hardest part of this affair to take. Betraying apparently a rather grubby way of doing things.

Suggestions started to emanate a few weeks ago that Alonso was a disruptive figure in team; that he was bigging himself up too much in public at the squad's expense; that he was too old for Ferrari's new long-term project. One claim from therein moreover stretched credulity to breaking point by saying that Alonso - yes, Alonso - wasn't putting the required effort in these days. Fernando in Singapore indeed was heard to complain that he reckoned elements within the team were seeking to undermine him.

And if we had constructed a hypothesis about this we could have speculated that these murmurings were sourced from near the top of Ferrari, maybe to cover itself in order to make the loss of Alonso seem in fact noble and for the team's good, rather than Alonso himself deciding to up sticks. And, perhaps inadvertently, Mattiacci during the Abu Dhabi weekend seemed to rumble himself to this very thing.

As in his statement in which Alonso's departure and Sebastian Vettel's accession were confirmed finally he referred implicitly and at some points explicitly to the very matters that the anti-Alonso whispers had covered. Thus bringing the trail of suspicion for the mysterious negative briefings rather close to himself. It might be a (non-criminal) example of classic criminal psychology - being brought down by one's own ego. A desire for credit for the dark deeds.

Do not play poker with this man
Photo: Octane Photography
In welcoming Alonso's replacement Mattiacci said: 'In Formula 1 terms Sebastian Vettel is a unique combination of youthfulness and experience and he brings with him that sense of team spirit which will prove invaluable'. Something which Martin Brundle called 'a plain dig'.

And as if we needed confirmation Mattiacci added: 'We need to thank Fernando for all he has done for us, what we have done together over the last five years. But at the same time, it is clear to everybody that we want both to open new cycles, but it was important to do it with the utmost motivation and commitment.'

Alonso too seemed to have worked it all out.

'I heard the comments and I don't think they were very good' he retorted. 'If he tried to mean that I was not motivated, he arrived at Ferrari too late.

'He's only been here for a few months and has not seen the five years that I've spent here and how I've fought every single race.

'Probably I was too old when he tried to renew me until the Monza race, and he kept pushing, and pushing and having talks, and even in the last moment we had a lot of phone calls and e-mails that I still have in my computer.

'Probably at that time I was not so old, but when I took my decision I guess he had to find another driver.'

The last bit didn't seal Mattiacci's fate most likely, as word was already by that point that he was a dead man walking as mentioned.  But I'd like to think that the apparent attempts to trash in public by far the best thing about the Ferrari team in recent times formed part of the rap sheet. At the very least in my view it ensures that Mattiacci shuffles off from his brief spell on the F1 stage with his reputation rather sullied.