“You need to feel the moment when it’s time to move.”
Those words of wisdom came from Fernando Alonso, whose departure from Ferrari after a five-year stint in the scarlet cars was announced as Abu Dhabi settled into its sixth weekend as a Grand Prix venue.
In a season book-ended by new beginnings and sometimes tragic endings, two initiatives stood out, one at its start, the other at its Yas Marina Circuit conclusion, each for very different reasons.
Formula One itself had decided it was time to move away from 20th-century technology, and towards a seismic shift in the sport’s technical development. In 2014, Grand Prix cars stopped using ‘engines’ and switched to ‘power units’ whose complexity might have baffled the layman, but whose performance was staggering.
Small, turbocharged hybrid units – just 1.6 litres in the engines at their heart – were the order of the day as the front-running teams sought to harness new technology and take F1 back to the future.
Front-running teams? In truth there was only one: Abu Dhabi in 2014 saw the coronation of the first Mercedes-powered world champion since the peerless Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955, and the constructors’ title had been sewn up in Russia three races earlier.
Happily, though, the Mercedes pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had their own private fight to finish in round 19, predictably labelled the ‘duel in the desert’ as they reached Abu Dhabi with just 17 points separating the Englishman and the German who had been his friend and rival since their karting days.
That’s where the other radical initiative comes in. F1 had decided that the last race of the 2014 season should see double points awarded, an idea that threatened to artificially bias the end result of a year in which Hamilton had already won 10 times to Rosberg’s five.
Just one other driver had stood on the top step of the podium. That was Red Bull’s new recruit Daniel Ricciardo, replacing Mark Webber and instantly getting the better of Sebastian Vettel in a way his Australian compatriot rarely did.
‘Danny Ric’ and his cheesy grin won three times, the Red Bull star waning while the three-pointed star was on the rise. That performance may have been at least a small part of Vettel’s decision to leave and join Ferrari, saying “I think at some stage you want to take on a new challenge.”
When the real action began, Rosberg threw down the gauntlet with a 1:40.480 lap to take pole, but on Sunday Hamilton eclipsed his only competitor off the line. “My start was like a rocket,” he said later. “The car was fantastic, we really got it spot-on for the race.”
Rosberg’s dismay was compounded when a failure in his energy recovery system – a crucial part of the new technology – meant he was literally powerless to prevent himself from sliding back to an eventual 14th place.
Double points, thankfully, had made no difference. “This is the greatest moment of my life,” said Hamilton of his second world title, but for several others there were goodbyes to be said and new dawns – or false dawns – for some.
The latter included Felipe Massa and Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas, who finished second and third respectively. “Really, it’s just the beginning,” enthused the Brazilian. “We can do a lot more than that.”
Sadly it was momentary relief for the once-great British team, whose fall from grace sees them last in the standings as they head to Abu Dhabi in 2018. Even Alonso might look back ruefully on his farewell to Ferrari. Three-times runner-up for the Prancing Horse, Alonso added: “Now it is time to close one door, to open a new one and we’ll see how it goes.”
So badly did it go at McLaren that Abu Dhabi this year will see the great Spanish driver’s final appearance in F1… at least for now.
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