December 19, 2014 / 8:44 PM / 3 years ago

F1 showed its best and worst in 2014

LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One entered a brave new world in 2014 but sometimes the glamour sport seemed more cruel than cool, and more determined to alienate than attract new fans.

Mercedes Formula One driver Nico Rosberg (R) of Germany offers a hand to Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain before a news conference at the Yas Marina circuit before the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in this November 20, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Caren Firouz/Files

There was plenty to savor, of course, with dominant Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg taking their wheel-to-wheel duel down to the wire in one of the great rivalries of recent years.

Amid all the flare-ups and frostiness, culminating in the ‘Duel in the Desert’ showdown also known as ‘Abu Double’, Formula One presented a compelling storyline at the start of a new V6 turbo hybrid era.

When Hamilton took his 11th win of the campaign, he became the first ‘Silver Arrows’ driver to take the title since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955 and the first Briton to become a multiple champion since Jackie Stewart in 1971.

If that recalled glories of old, with Hamilton in tears as he celebrated his second crown, the ‘cruel sport’ also revived darker memories.

Only months after marking the 20th anniversary of Brazilian Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola in 1994, Formula One endured its worst moment since that last driver fatality.

Jules Bianchi, racing for the struggling Marussia team, skidded off at a wet Japanese Grand Prix in October and slammed into a recovery tractor. The Frenchman suffered severe brain injuries and remains critical.

The tragedy hung over the next race in Sochi, the first ever held in Russia, and the remainder of a season that had started with Michael Schumacher fighting for his life after a skiing accident.

Formula One also sustained self-inflicted wounds, notably the controversial double points experiment at the Abu Dhabi finale.

Fans saw it as a needless gimmick, introduced after Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel won four titles in a row and the last nine races of 2013, and it will not return in 2015.

The man behind it, commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, was busy on several fronts.

BRIBERY CASE

Those who had written off the diminutive 84-year-old billionaire were confounded when he extricated himself from a bribery court case in Germany by paying a $100 million fee.

The Briton was loud in criticizing the quiet new engines that replaced the screaming V8s, and made more headlines by snubbing social media and suggesting the sport was more interested in wealthy 70-year-olds than the young.

There was more negativity from those whose power units were no match for Mercedes, winners of a record 16 of 19 races with 18 pole positions and 11 one-two finishes.

By year end, the noise debate had died down but the good news story of cars racing hard and fast while consuming much less fuel was lost in wild talk of potential boycotts and arguments about money.

Marussia folded after missing the last three races while Caterham sat out two but made it to Abu Dhabi in the hope of finding a buyer.

The wrangling over revenues and costs, and fears that other small teams could also collapse, contrasted to the thrills on the track.

Hamilton and Rosberg were the main men but grinning Australian Daniel Ricciardo, in his first season with Red Bull, was a revelation as he took his first three wins and eclipsed Vettel.

Vettel shuffled off without a win to Ferrari, who drew a blank for the first time since 1993 and lost Fernando Alonso as well as two team principals and chairman Luca di Montezemolo.

Alonso will hope for better at McLaren, who start their new Honda partnership seeking a first victory since 2012.

Williams, third overall, enjoyed their best season in more than a decade. Mercedes may have more of a battle next year.

Editing by Ken Ferris

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