Day Ten: Mercedes

On the tenth day of Christmas, Ben Sweeney gave to me… Mercedes

Mercedes roped in Lewis Hamilton for their 2014 season to replace Michael Schumacher who ended his three-year return to the season. Hamilton was to partner Rosberg in what was seen to be a very peculiar move for the Briton – leaving his comfortable surroundings at McLaren for the struggling Mercedes outfit. Although technical genius Ross Brawn was the head man, the team was still well off a Championship fighting team, and so it was estimated that Hamilton going to Mercedes in the hopes of reaping the benefits when the 2014 regulations came into play.

This was what prompted huge surprise in Australia; Hamilton qualified a very impressive third place, while his former team-mate took tenth on the grid, and his replacement, Sergio Perez, qualified sixteenth. Rosberg was sixth. Hamilton had a good start and was running in a podium finishing position until the car began to eat up the Pirelli’s quicker than his rivals and he dropped to fifth by the checkered flag. The other Mercedes, however, failed to finish the race due to an electrical issue which saw him retire mid-way through the race.

In Malaysia, the talk of the town was on Red Bull’s Mutli-21 orders, but Mercedes also had a team-order crisis, with Hamilton third ahead of Rosberg fourth in the late stages of the race. The duo was too far back from the leaders and a good distance from those behind them, which left them running together on track. Rosberg felt he was faster but Brawn took to the team radio to keep him behind Hamilton, much to Rosberg’s frustration. Being the team player, he stayed behind Lewis who took third ahead of Rosberg.

Hamilton took pole for the Malaysian Grand Prix and led from the line, but inevitably fell behind eventual race winner Fernando Alonso with the Pirelli tyres once again to blame. Although he may have been unhappy dropping from first to third, Rosberg was left lamenting his second retirement of the season when the suspension broke on his W04.

It was Rosberg’s turn to take pole position in Bahrain with Hamilton qualifiying fourth but incurring a five-place grid penalty for an unschedueled gearbox change. Rosberg kept his lead off the line but the tyres once again proved to be Mercedes’ biggest enemy and he slipped all the way down to ninth. Hamilton started ninth but with some clever tyre strategies, moved up to fifth by the end of the race.

Rosberg was back on pole for the Spanish Grand Prix, with Hamilton joining him on the front row. By now I needn’t tell you that the tyres (yes, again) caused the Mercedes duo to drop down the order quicker than a Red Bull can accelerate, which meant that Rosberg finished sixth and Hamilton finished twelfth.

The Mercedes men qualified the same way in Monaco; Rosberg on pole with Hamilton as his wing man. Given the tight nature of Monaco, Rosberg was essentially unchallenged as he cruised to victory in the principality. Hamilton dropped to fourth. Although the tyre trouble would have been recoverable due to the overtaking limitations in Monaco, it was not needed as Mercedes seemed to have miraculously recovered from the issue. That was until Ferrari and Red Bull rose up and accused Mercedes of holding a secret tyre-test with Pirelli in the days directly following the Spanish Grand Prix. Mercedes claimed they were within the rules but both Mercedes and Pirelli were called to the FIA International Tribunal on the 20th June. In the meantime, Hamilton narrowly missed pole position at the Canadian Grand Prix and finished the race third, while Rosberg qualified fourth, finishing fifth.

Finally June 20th came around and the FIA International Tribunal met. Pirelli were allowed to have up to 1,000 miles of testing due to a prior agreement with the FIA but broke several key elements of the agreement. Firstly, the FIA were not informed that the test was taking place. Secondly, the agreement with the FIA states that a test is allowed, given all teams are given equal opportunity to test – which they weren’t as the remaining ten teams knew nothing of the test. Indeed, it was through a slip of the tongue of a Mercedes engineer who mentioned the test in a pre-race briefing at Monaco two weeks ago that the FIA discovered the test. As a result, the tribunal reprimanded both parties and banned Mercedes from the then upcoming Young Driver’s Test at Silverstone.

The team was, of course, allowed to take part in the British Grand Prix at the same venue, and Hamilton grabbed pole at his home Grand Prix. He shot away like a bullet from a gun at the start of the race and was leading comfortably, much to the delight of the local crowd, until suddenly his rear tyre exploded. The violent explosion happened a good distance from the pitlane and Hamilton was forced to crawl back to change his tyres. Although he was still in the race, he had dropped well down the order and a podium finish was now off the cards. Vettel assumed the lead until his RB9 gave up and handed the win to Nico Rosberg, who had a little challenge from Red Bull’s Mark Webber in the closing stages. Eventually, Rosberg crossed the line as the victor. Hamilton made it to fourth.

Hamilton, who had been skeptical of his pace, grabbed pole at the German Grand Prix while home-boy Rosberg was well down the order in eleventh. Hamilton couldn’t fight against both RBR’s who swamped him into turn 1, and fell to second behind Vettel, while Rosberg stayed eleventh at the start. He eventually improved, slightly, and finished ninth while Hamilton dropped down to fifth. Hamilton once again took pole while Rosberg qualified fourth. Nico went off-track several times at the start to avoid various collisions while Hamilton retained his lead excluding during the pitstops. He went on to win his first, and only, victory of the season. Rosberg had a fiery exit in the dying laps.

Coming back from the summer break, Hamilton grabbed pole, but lost his lead on Eau Rouge on the first lap when he got his line wrong and was forced to slow. It was candy from a baby for Vettel who went on to win the race. Hamilton finished third and Rosberg finished fourth. Hamilton had a slow puncture and radio problems in Italy, meaning the team found it difficult to tell him about the puncture. When he finally pitted for a fresh pair of boots, he rejoined near the back of the grid but made it up to ninth while Rosberg out-scored Hamilton with ninth.

Rosberg started alongside Vettel on the front row of the Singapore Grand Prix and, to everyone’s surprise, out-dragged the Red Bull into turn 1. The concept of a battle for the lead was short-lived after Rosberg went wide at turn 1 and handed the place back to Vettel who would remain unchallenged for the rest of the season race. Rosberg eventually finished fourth and Hamilton finished right behind him in fifth.

Rosberg was battling team-mate Hamilton for position in the Korean Grand Prix when a sudden nose-cone failure caused him to pit for repairs. Hamilton failed to pass a remarkable Hulkenberg, but kept fifth from a feisty Fernando Alonso. Rosberg finished seventh. Hamilton was caught between the two Red Bulls at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix and earned himself a puncture, which later prompted him to retire due to damage. Rosberg sixth and fell to eighth during the race.

Rosberg started and finished the Indian Grand Prix in second place, while Hamilton qualified third but, due to battles with Ferrari and Perez, dropped to sixth for the end of the race. Rosberg qualified third and finished there, but Hamilton dropped from fourth to seventh. Hamilton qualified fifth for the American Grand Prix while Rosberg was massively off the pace, qualifying all the way down in fourteenth. Hamilton moved up one during the race to take fourth while Rosberg managed to score some points, dragging himself to ninth.

And so to the final Grand Prix of the season. Rosberg finished the season by joining his country-man Vettel on the front row, but was predicatably unable to prevent Vettel from running away at the front. Hamilton qualified fifth. Rosberg, through a mixture of drizzle on the track and a downright faster competition, fell to fifth by the time the checkered flag flew while Hamilton also dropped down the order to a disappointing ninth.

Mercedes were one of the surprises of the season. Hamilton obviously brings wins to any team he goes to, as the team he left failed to score a single podium finish. It was bad luck that prevented either Hamilton or Rosberg putting in any fight for the title as race after race their Pirelli tyres were ripped to shreds and they dropped like stones. Ross Brawn has left the team and it will be interesting to see if an internal power struggle will cause the team to implode, or if the planned divided leadership will instead make them a force to be reckoned with.

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