Few knew it at the time, but 2014 would be the beginning of the the Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes era in Formula 1 racing. Till that point, Mercedes had been a midfield team at best – getting the odd podium and win, but rarely mounting a consistent challenge.
However, all of that changed in 2014. The dawn of the new turbo-hybrid engine regulations in 2014 led to a changing of the guard in F1. Mercedes were better prepared than any other team for the new rules, and it showed.
16 of the 19 races that year were won by Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The season was, in many ways, the start of their rivalry too – although again, few knew it at the time.
By the time of the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, Mercedes had already wrapped up the constructor’s title – their first in F1. It was also a given that they would wrap up their first world driver’s championship too. It was just a case of which of the two drivers claimed the ultimate prize.
In the end, it would be Hamilton who won the race – and thus the title. Of course, to win his first title since 2008, he had to also navigate a new points system. The points system was so unpopular it was never trialled again.
It has now been exactly 7 years since that race took place. Let us now look back at a race that is remembered not only for Hamilton’s win, but for the birth of a new rivalry.
As mentioned before, Mercedes had been thoroughly dominant throughout the year. However, coming into the final race it was Hamilton who led the standings by a whopping 17 points.
Therefore, in normal circumstances he needed only to finish sixth and gain 8 points to guarantee the title. This is because, on countback, Hamilton had more wins. Except these weren’t normal circumstances at all.
See, 2014 was the year F1 flirted with the idea of awarding double points for the last leg of the season. Then-chief Bernie Eccelstone wanted double points for the remaining three races. In the end, it was awarded for just the final race.
And boy, did all the teams involved hate it.
F1 is, at the best of times, a sport where teams can and will do what’s best for their interests and only their own. Thus it says a lot that pretty much every team involved in the sport at the time slammed the idea.
Also, since double points were being awarded, Hamilton needed a second-place finish to seal the title. Although given the dominance of Mercedes, this wasn’t as tough an option as it would be normally.
Still, Hamilton would be on the lookout for a win and on qualifying day, he seemed primed to get pole position. He topped the charts in both Q1 and Q2, signficantly ahead of Rosberg.
However, in Q3, it was Rosberg who rose to the occasion while Hamilton put in a couple of poor laps. It was still enough to guarantee him second, but it was Rosberg who claimed pole.
Hamilton needed a quick start in order to jump Rosberg early in the race if he wanted the win. He did just that, getting a better start and overtaking his teammate into Turn 1.
Now running in clean air, Hamilton began to build up a lead. It wasn’t substantial by any means, but he was 2 seconds ahead by Lap 22. It helped that the Mercedes cars were clear of the rest of the field.
However, any chance Rosberg had of claiming even the win evaporated on the following lap. First he locked wheels and ran wide on Turn 17; by the time he rejoined, he was nearly 4 seconds behind Hamilton.
Worse, on the lap that followed, he told the team over radio that he was losing power in his engine. The effect of this was obvious; by Lap 25 he was nearly 8 seconds behind his teammate.
The cause for the loss of power was soon evident – Rosberg’s Energy Recovery System (ERS) was failing. He dropped further down the field in subsequent laps, but the team worried that Hamilton might suffer a similar fate.
Thus, he began to avoid any kerbs on the track and also asked the team to keep his engine power at a minimum.
The knock-on effect of this was that the Williams of Felipe Massa began to catch Hamilton. It helped, of course, that he had pitted late and put on the soft compound tyres.
He put down the throttle and did manage to significantly reduce the gap, but he ran out of laps on which to catch Hamilton. And it was the Brit who crossed the line first to seal his second world championship.
Rosberg, who finished the race despite being advised to retire the car, was gracious in defeat afterwards. This was even noted by Lewis Hamilton afterwards in his post-race interviews.
However, the hostility between the teammates would ramp up significantly in the next two seasons. 2015 would again see Hamilton beat Rosberg, but the German finally won out in 2016 when he claimed the championship.
He promptly retired, but Hamilton has since added a further four titles to his resume – matching the accomplishments of Michael Schumacher as the only seven-time world champion in F1.