Craig Murto: Hamilton captures F1 title

Lewis Hamilton grabbed his second Formula One World Driving Championship in grand style by dominating the grand prix in Abu Dhabi, for the 33rd win of his career.

The 29-year-old British driver controlled his own fate from the start, when he grabbed the lead from pole sitter, title contender and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. The anticipated fierce Mercedes battle for the title never materialized, as Rosberg’s hybrid power plant developed problems and he finished well down in the running order.

Hamilton — who won the F1 championship in 2008 — becomes only the fourth British racer to win multiple F1 titles, and the first since Sir Jackie Stewart did it in 1973. Stewart won three titles, and Jim Clark and Graham Hill each won two.

The six-year gap between World Driving Championships puts Hamilton on par with Hill and New Zealander Jack Brabham. Niki Lauda went seven years between championships in 1977 and ’84. Hamilton also became the first Mercedes driver to win the title since Juan Fangio in 1955.

The 11th win of Hamilton’s season started as Rosberg’s 11th pole. In most years, any driver who wins five races, as did Rosberg, would win the world title. But Though Rosberg didn’t have a championship season, Mercedes dominated.

The only other driver to win a race besides Hamilton and Rosberg was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who sat atop the podium three times and finished third in points. Ricciardo, an Australian known as “smiley” for his upbeat disposition, consistently outdrove his teammate Sebstian Vettel. American fans will appreciate that Ricciardo chose to race with the No. 3 because he admired the late Dale Earnhardt.

Vettel moves from Red Bull to Ferrari in 2015. Other than a huge paycheck, the move may be a mistake for Vettel if he wants to win more races and championships. There is a lot of prestige that comes along with driving for Ferrari, but the team has not performed well this season, even with former world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen behind the wheel.

But the mistake may also be Ferrari’s for letting Alonso go. Alonso scored more than 100 more points than Raikkonen in 2014, and consistently ran ahead of the Finnish driver. Ferrari had bought drivers out of their contracts in the past, so why they chose to let Alonso go rather than Raikkonen must be due to friction within the team caused by the cars’ lack of performance. Alonso proved that he can squeeze every ounce of performance out of a lackluster car; Ferrari will miss him, especially if they believe Vettel is up to the challenge. Vettel never seemed to get a grip on the new hybrid technology; certainly he didn’t adapt as well as Ricciardo.

It is all but announced that Alonso will end up at McLaren, which will have Honda power in 2015. That in itself is interesting if true, because McLaren boss Ron Dennis doesn’t forget much, and when Alonso left the team seven years ago it wasn’t under the best circumstances, as Alonso did not enjoy working with then rookie Hamilton, who won the world title the next season.

For that reason alone it seems likely that Alonso would prefer to have Jenson Button as a teammate, rather than 2014 McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen. But ultimately, who McLaren keeps on to pair with Alonso may depend on sponsorship. For Button, also a former world champion, Abu Dhabi may have been his last F1 race. He may take former F1 racer Mark Webber up on his challenge to join the world endurance sports car championship.

All the driver swapping may be futile, however. The 2014 season became the first since 1967 that neither McLaren, Ferrari nor Williams won a race. And of the three, Williams with driver Felipe Massa was the only team other than Mercedes to win a pole. And at Abu Dhabi, Massa came very close to snatching the win from Hamilton. Other than Red Bull, unless someone makes a breakthrough in their development, Williams and Red Bull appear to be the only teams poised to challenge Mercedes next season. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, the Finnish driver who won the 2011 GP3 championship, finished fourth in points behind Ricciardo.

The 2014 season was one of Mercedes dominance, but also one of fierce rivalry among teammates. Nico Rosberg did his best, but Lewis Hamilton is your 2014 Word Driving Champion. Come March 15 in Australia we’ll see if Mercedes domination will continue.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.