The 2014 Formula 1 season is almost here, with the biggest regulations shake-up in F1 history set to mix up the pecking order that we saw in Brazil last November.
Red Bull Racing have dominated the last four seasons, ever since the last major rule change in 2009, but can the team make it five titles in a row? At the moment, it looks unlikely but the new cars will evolve rapidly throughout the year.
The team’s previous advantage has now been wiped away and the playing field has been levelled once again. Winter testing indicates that the team could in in trouble, particularly in the first few fly-away rounds. Adrian Newey is known for pushing the limits but this time, he looks to have gone a bit too far.
The Renault power-unit has its own issues but the Milton Keynes-based outfit’s main problem has been the tight packaging at the back of the car. A number of last-minute cooling solutions were trialled during testing but the issue of overheating still remained. It looks like a problem that could take some time to solve.
Sebastian Vettel will be as strong as ever. The way he secured his 2014 title was extraordinary and by the time the five laps go out in Melbourne, it will have been seven months and 16 days since someone other than the German had stood on the top step of the podium. However, some doubt he can race wheel-to-wheel and outperform in sub-standard machinery. Here is his chance to prove them wrong.
The 26-year-old will be joined at the team by Daniel Ricciardo. The Aussie may have the biggest smile in the paddock, but he is determined to prove that he isn’t the next Mark Webber; he can take the fight to F1’s reigning drivers’ champion and beat him regularly in the same car. He showed flashes of brilliance during two seasons at Toro Rosso but he must demonstrate his potential on a more consistent basis this year.
2014 is an important campaign for the team as they have a great deal to lose. A poor 12 days of winter testing may see them fighting to even finish in the opening few rounds, but counting the team out just yet would be very foolish indeed.
Mercedes was clearly the most improved team of 2013 and they look set to carry that momentum through to the season ahead, with the reliable W05 setting the pace and completing the most laps during the pre-season.
Plenty of changes have been afoot at the Brackley-based squad, with the departure of team principal Ross Brawn being the most high-profile. It is unclear just how big of an impact his exit will have on the team, but the steering of the ship has now been handed over to executive directors Toto Wolff (business) and Paddy Lowe (technical).
Despite a re-shuffle behind the scenes, the team is one of just two on the 2014 grid to have maintained its driver pairing from the previous season. It is easy to see why. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg both pushed each other – as well as the team – forward last year and make up one of the strongest driver line-ups. This season will benefit the thinking drivers, which many believe will favour Rosberg – as focus moves to fuel management and tyre saving due to the new rules – over Hamilton and his more aggressive driving style.
Pre-season testing has shown that Mercedes has the advantage. The power-unit is the most reliable and reportedly the fastest too, and being the factory outfit has certainly given them the edge over the customer teams. Due to the amount of mileage completed, Mercedes was able to switch focus to race preparation and performance running far sooner than its rivals. They are without doubt the most well prepared team ahead of the first round.
If you had to bet on which team is the most likely to score a double-car finish at the Australian Grand Prix, it would be the Silver Arrows. With two world class drivers, a reliable car and the best power-unit, it all looks very promising for Mercedes.
Over in Maranello, the pressure is on for Ferrari to produce a title winning car. The iconic outfit haven’t won a constructors’ championship since 2008 and has gone through a bit of a rough patch over the last few seasons. The Scuderia has made a big step in the right direction in 2014 with the return of Kimi Raikkonen – the team’s last drivers’ champion in 2007 – to replace Felipe Massa, who had previously held the team back when it came to scoring the points needed to take the constructors’ crown.
He will partner Fernando Alonso to make up arguably the best line-up on this year’s grid. The Spaniard will be hoping that it will be fifth-time lucky as he looks to add to his previous two world titles, having lost out in 2010 and 2012, and score his first championship with Ferrari.
Fire and ice is what some have called the team’s line-up for this season. Could it cause tension? Will there be fireworks on and off track? We will have to wait and see. Alonso has built the team around him during his four seasons as the clear number one, but Raikkonen will be having none of that and will certainly want equal treatment and status.
Just as Red Bull Racing has a lot to lose, Ferrari has plenty to gain. With two drivers hungry to add to their title tallies, it all comes down to the car – something that has held them back in previous seasons. The F14 T looked steady and reliable in winter testing and could well be in the mix when the chequered flag falls in Melbourne.
Lotus had an incredibly turbulent 2013 and things don’t look that much better after the winter break. The Enstone-based outfit has lost a number of high-profile team members (including Eric Boullier and James Allison) as well as its star driver Kimi Raikkonen.
With financial difficulties coming to light last year, the team was forced to select Pastor Maldonado and his PDVSA sponsorship for 2014 despite Nico Hulkenberg clearly being its first choice. This was thanks to the failed deal with Quantum Motorsports, which dragged on for quite some time before eventually fizzling out.
Maldonado is F1’s latest bad boy and joins the team following a disastrous final campaign at Williams – where he scored just one point, largely thanks to the woeful FW35. He has the raw speed to win (as shown at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix) but gets caught up in too many incidents. However, Lotus managed to tame his new team-mate Romain Grosjean – who has transformed himself from a “first lap nutcase” to one of the sport’s rising stars – and could do the same with the Venezuelan.
So what can we expect from the team in 2014? Well, the new E22 (with its double-tusk nose) missed the Jerez test and proved to be incredibly unreliable at the final two events – which were both held in Bahrain. The Renault power-unit looks troublesome and the car failed to even manage a long run. It isn’t looking good for the team in these early stages but there is still a long way to go.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and Lotus F1 Team