This was perhaps best summed up in the final race of the year which saw Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, with six world championship titles between them, scrapping over the minor points places.
Life was even tougher for those at the rear of the field. The like of Lotus, Sauber and Caterham were plagued by technical problems all year long which often disrupted their drivers’ attempts to practice, qualify and even race.
Separating out a driver’s contribution to the team’s performance from that of their car therefore becomes more difficult. However after spending a long time perusing all the data from 2014, I’ve decided on my ranking for all the drivers who contested the bulk of the season.
As always I’m looking forward to hearing your views, so please share your verdict on the first seven drivers below in the comments. The Driver of the Year poll will follow at the end of the rankings.
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Lotterer impressively out-qualified regular driver Marcus Ericsson at Spa-Francorhcamps, but retired after just one lap when an impact on a kerb triggered an engine shut-down. Stevens had a harder time against Kamui Kobayashi in qualifying at Yas Marina, but managed to get his car to the finish.
22. Max Chilton
Key stat: Posted his first ever F1 retirement in Canada following a record run of consecutive finishes when he hit team mate Bianchi on the first lap
|Beat team mate in qualifying||3/15|
|Beat team mate in race||3/11|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||173/701|
|Max Chilton 2014 form guide|
Chilton deserves huge respect for the way he soldiered on with Marussia under extremely trying circumstances in Russia, mere days after the horrible accident which befell his team mate Jules Bianchi.
Although his second year in F1 was little more successful than his first, Chilton was clearly trying hard and alert to any opportunities which might arise for him to produce the kind of surprise result Bianchi managed in Monaco. Unfortunately, the speed simply wasn’t there to allow him to do that.
Chilton was consistently over six tenths of a second per lap off his team mate in qualifying – further away than he was last year – and on the few occasions he lined up ahead on the grid it was because something had gone wrong for Bianchi. And even on occasions like this he wasn’t always able to capitalise – Bianchi took the chequered flag in Hungary with a damaged car with Chilton in his mirrors.
Chilton aggravated his lack of speed with some needless mistakes. The most glaring of those was in Canada, where he tipped Bianchi into a barrier halfway around the first lap. He also tangled with Raikkonen in Monaco (which inadvertently aided Bianchi to that celebrated ninth place) and spun off in Italy.
Having distinguished himself merely as a safe pair of hands in his rookie year, even that seemed beyond him in 2014.
Thoroughly outclassed by his team-mate Bianchi, Chilton had another anonymous season in Formula One.
Even with the troubles Marussia were suffering (just getting to Australia was a challenge according to a recent interview with Chilton), Bianchi showed the car could be dragged into half-decent positions, even making Q2 on three occasions. He won’t be missed from the grid next year.
21. Marcus Ericsson
Key stat: Equalled Caterham’s best-ever finish with 11th in Monaco
|Beat team mate in qualifying||4/14|
|Beat team mate in race||2/7|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||110/523|
|Marcus Ericsson 2014 form guide|
Ericsson was just starting to show what he was capable of when Caterham’s financial problems forced an early end to their season. And although they returned in Abu Dhabi, by then Ericsson had already pledged his future to Sauber and cut the ties to his former team.
It had been a tough start to the rookie’s season as he grappled with an ill-handling car and its problematic power unit. By round seven he’d crashed three times in qualifying, but also demonstrated his coolness at the wheel as he hung on to the Caterham to the finish in Monaco for the team’s best result of the year.
The turning point for Ericsson came in Belgium. Although his car lacked all the latest updates due to his latest crash in Hungary, the team had shed some weight from his chassis. He also found alterations to the braking system to his liking, and from then on he fared better compared to regular team mate Kamui Kobayashi.
He brought his car home ahead of Bianchi in Singapore, and out-qualified Kobayashi in Japan before spoiling his race by spinning while behind the Safety Car. But there is clearly potential for him to build on next year.
Generally slower than Kobayashi, but that was to be expected. Has good performances in Singapore, Japan and Russia, that weren’t down to new parts only, like many seem to know.
After Italy Ericsson urged his engineers to alter his brake-by-wire settings, which were his main problem during the season. He made a few silly errors (Monaco qualifying springs to mind), but many technical failures lessened his time in practice sessions and so on. I reckon he’ll be doing a better job at Sauber next year.
20. Esteban Gutierrez
Key stat: Gained 36 places on the first lap of races in 2014 – the most of any driver
|Beat team mate in qualifying||9/18|
|Beat team mate in race||5/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||357/747|
|Esteban Gutierrez 2014 form guide|
The Sauber drivers were extremely closely-matched in 2014 and the team appears to have drawn the conclusion they were equally unimpressive, as both have been replaced for next year. The C33 may be the worst car the team has ever produced, but they probably didn’t deserved to end the season point-less.
Gutierrez had just inherited eighth place and was on course to claim another when he clipped the Rascasse barrier on lap 60 of the Monaco Grand Prix. That ultimately proved to have been Sauber’s best chance of taking a point all year.
The persistent glitches with the car’s power unit were a constant source of frustration to Gutierrez, and in Hungary an ERS failure potentially cost him another shot at the points. By the end of the season he seemed to be taking the setbacks in his strike, qualifying 11th in Brazil despite extensive disruption to his practice sessions.
However a few moments of sloppy racecraft resulted in avoidable incidents – notably with Maldonado at Silverstone and with Grosjean at Monza.
Adrian Sutil should have been a far less formidable team mate than Nico Hulkenberg. Whilst he did just about match him, it’s nothing to write home about.
19. Pastor Maldonado
Key stat: For the third time in four years Maldonado received the most penalties of any driver – and no one collected more penalty points either.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||4/15|
|Beat team mate in race||5/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||309/714|
|Pastor Maldonado 2014 form guide|
A single points finish was clearly not what Maldonado had in mind when he jumped ship from struggling Williams to join race-winning Lotus – only to find their fortunes reversed in 2014.
Up against a fast team mate who knows the team well, this was always going to be a test. But there were days when Maldonado was conclusively the better driver, notably in Italy in Singapore.
However Maldonado’s status as the punchline to 95% of F1 jokes is not entirely undeserved, and he kept his detractors well-supplied with careless accidents and a stubborn refusal to own up to his responsibility for them. The poor handling of the E22 may go some way towards excusing them, but with the car breaking down so often it was exactly the kind of thing Lotus could have done without.
His Q1 crash in Spain was especially ill-timed, as the car was running well that day and Grosjean put his on the third row. In the race Maldonado collided with Ericsson, and by the end of the year Bianchi and Gutierrez were also members of the ‘I got hit by Maldonado’ club.
A decent drive in the USA culminating in a last-lap pass netted his first points of the year, though he picked up two penalties for speeding on the way and was running behind his team mate until Vergne hit the other Lotus.
Has improved in the second half of the season but still only scored two points compared to Grosjean’s eight. Made lots of silly mistakes throughout the season whereas Grosjean made far fewer.
18. Adrian Sutil
Key stat: Had the least number of finishes of any driver who started every race
|Beat team mate in qualifying||9/18|
|Beat team mate in race||5/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||390/747|
|Adrian Sutil 2014 form guide|
An excellent performance by Sutil at the Circuit of the Americas earned Sauber their only Q3 appearance of 2014. Unfortunately, he was taken out by Perez on the first lap, and so ended their last, best chance to score any points.
Much of the rest of his season was a tale of frustrations with an unreliable and uncompetitive car. Hungary was one of the better weekends, but he started and finished one place outside the top ten.
Sutil seemed particularly ineffective in wet weather conditions, having a couple of spins during the season’s rain-hit sessions. Those aside he usually stayed out of trouble, though as the car usually lacked the pace to get in the thick of the battle for points it was seldom an issue.
Did his job, but expected far more from a experienced F1 driver.
17. Kamui Kobayashi
Key stat: Five DNFs and one DNS due to technical failures over 15 appearances meant he had the worst reliability rate of any driver
|Beat team mate in qualifying||10/14|
|Beat team mate in race||5/7|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||454/564|
|Kamui Kobayashi 2014 form guide|
The support Kobayashi’s fans have pledged him since the end of 2012 helped him fund a place at Caterham. But he might have been more competitive had he turned up in the Ferrari 458 Italia he campaigned for AF Corse in the World Endurance Championship last year.
It had been clear from testing this was going to be a tough season for Kobayashi and that point was rammed home when he hit the brakes at turn one at the start of the Australian Grand Prix and a fault with his car’s electrics caused him to smash into Felipe Massa’s Williams. He’d failed to run at all on Friday due to car problems.
Worryingly, “scary” was a word Kobayashi applied more than once to his experiences with the CT05. That was how he described another brake failure in Spain, and the sight of his damaged suspension component in Russia being shrouded in carbon fibre instead of replaced. And yet when the call came for an 11th-hour return in Abu Dhabi, he answered it.
This was despite the team benching him in Belgium so they could bring Andre Lotterer in. Kobayashi’s return performance in Italy was inspired, beating Ericsson by almost nine-tenths of a second on a circuit with just six corners.
Better than Ericsson, but not as clearly as I expected. Didn’t really show anything special, and despite his lovely character I don’t think he deserves another season.
16. Jean-Eric Vergne
Key stat: Lost 25 places on the first lap of races in 2014 – the most of any driver (along with Ricciardo)
|Beat team mate in qualifying||7/19|
|Beat team mate in race||6/11|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||429/806|
|Jean-Eric Vergne 2014 form guide|
The Toro Rosso drivers departed the team in different directions at the end of 2014: Kvyat moving up to Red Bull, Vergne dropping out. As noted earlier this is partly a case of unfortunate timing for Vergne, and is not wholly reflective of how the two drivers performed this year.
Poor one-lap pace and unimpressive starts (the latter sometimes power unit-related) stand out as the weakest aspect of Vergne’s game. However he did improve in this area once his car had been brought down to the minimum weight limit. As with several driver, Vergne’s height was the root of the problem, and he was even hospitalised before the season began due to his attempts to lose weight.
After Max Verstappen was announced as his replacement for next year Vergne produced an excellent drive for sixth in Singapore and showed more of his wet weather flair in Japan, finishing ninth on very worn intermediates.
But Vergne’s superior scoring rate of 22 to 9 flatters him somewhat. Contrary to popular assumption, his car failure rate was not worse than Kvyat’s and his team mate suffered more grid penalties due to power unit changes.
So while Kvyat did not conclusively beat Vergne in 2014, it’s not hard to see why Red Bull consider him a better bet for the future.
Performed, in relation to Kvyat, as he’d done with Ricciardo previously, though of course the rookie had zero experience and came from GP3.
Five retirements in the first eight races halted his form, but although he may seem a little reckless when pushing hard it paid off in Singapore, and when he beat Kvyat he was usually in the points while Kvyat wasn’t, and when the opposite happened none of them scored so it mattered little.
How the rankings are produced
Among the data referred to in producing the ranks are notes on each driver’s performance at each race weekend, compiled data on car performance, direct comparisons between team mates and each driver’s form guide.
Over to you
What’s your verdict on how these seven drivers performed in 2014?
Have your say in the comments.
2014 F1 season review
- The Complete F1 Fanatic 2014 season review
- F1 Fanatic’s must-read articles of 2014
- F1’s most popular drivers and teams of 2014 revealed
- F1 defies critics as fans praise 2014 racing
- The Stats and Facts highlights of 2014
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