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This was a classic campaign that came down to a four-way contest for the title at the final round in Abu Dhabi. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso arrived as overwhelming favourite that day but a poor strategy call left him mired in the midfield and handed a first world title to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing.
The Red Bull RB6 was the class of the field and Vettel a worthy champion – 10 pole positions and five victories (including winning the last two rounds) were just enough to crown the youngest champion to date. However, poor reliability and an increasingly terse relationship with team-mate Mark Webber also characterised his campaign.
The Red Bulls clashed in Turkey as Vettel moved for the lead and the parent company’s perceived favouritism for the German soured Webber’s mood despite four victories of his own. A crash during the inaugural Korean GP lost Webber the championship lead and ultimately proved fatal to his cause. This was to be as close as the Australian would come to the title. He also survived a frightening 160 mph end-over-end crash at Valencia after being launched while lapping Heikki Kovalainen.
Fernando Alonso inherited victory after Vettel retired in Bahrain on his debut for Ferrari but his challenge initially faded as the team introduced a (Red Bull-copy) exhaust blown diffuser and (McLaren-copy) “f-duct”. Already 47 points behind by Silverstone, Alonso’s German victory next time out was thanks to Felipe Massa accepting team orders despite that practice being officially banned. A run of another three wins in four races handed Alonso a last-race points advantage that he ultimately could not convert when stuck behind Vitaly Petrov’s Renault.
McLaren’s aforementioned “f-duct” allowed the driver to manually reduce drag on the straights by covering a vent. Innovative though it was, it was outlawed after just a season. World Champion Jenson Button made the surprise move to partner Lewis Hamilton in the team. Many questioned the wisdom of going head-to-head with F1’s fastest driver in what was thought to be his private domain. Two victories in the first four races helped vindicate Button’s decision. Hamilton starred once more to lead the championship before incidents at Monza and Singapore dented his hopes.
Reigning champions Brawn GP were acquired by, and re-branded as, Mercedes-Benz although there would be no repeat of the previous season’s heroics. Ross Brawn tempted Michael Schumacher out of retirement but he failed to sparkle against F1’s new generation or team-mate Nico Rosberg – being out-qualified 15-4.
Renault was acquired by Genii Capital and Robert Kubica’s three podium finishes (including second in Australia) further enhanced his reputation as a future star. Petrov clashed with Schumacher on a couple of occasions but his major contribution was holding off Alonso to hand Vettel the title.
Both Toyota and BMW had withdrawn from F1 and the latter handed its team back to Peter Sauber. A supply of Ferrari engines was hastily arranged and Toyota-refugee Kamui Kobayashi emerged as the category’s most fearless overtaker. Rubens Barrichello joined Williams-Cosworth and became the first driver to start over 300 GPs. Team-mate Nico Hulkenberg impressed during his rookie campaign, including qualifying for the Brazilian GP in a surprise pole position.
Three new Cosworth-powered teams were lured into Formula 1 on the promise of resource restrictions which were never introduced. Lotus (later Caterham), Virgin (soon to be Marussia) and Hispania Racing Team (formerly Campos) all struggled and it was four seasons before any of them scored a point. They had all closed their doors by the end of 2014.
Aside from blown exhausts and the “f-duct,” the teams agreed to drop KERS for a season and refuelling was banned for the first time since 1993.