THE 2014 SEASON-OPENING Australian Grand Prix is just days away, and with many confusing rule changes and driver musical chairs going on, let The Driven Blog be your one-stop-shop to what’s what.
The biggest change as far as the viewers is concerned is the new, shall we say, appendages. The rule was brought in to lower the noses of the cars in order to improve safety in the event of a T-Bone accident, but F1 designers being the stubborn and creative creatures they are, wanted to keep the high chassis that benefits aerodynamics. This has lead, in most cases, to a high nose with an extended section dropping down to satisfy the rule. Ungainly? Yes. Cunning? Absolutely. Other aero changes include narrower front wings, simpler rear wings and standardised central exhaust placement, eradicating the clever use of exhaust gasses over bodywork to increase downforce.
The biggest change for the drivers, however, is the new powerplants. Gone are the naturally-aspirated 2.4-litre V8s, replaced by turbo-charged 1.6-litre V6s. Gone is KERS, which captured kinetic energy under braking to use as a seven-second speed boost, and in come fully integrated, all-encompassing energy recovery systems. The upshot of all this is greener and more efficient cars (greener being a relative term) that are more difficult to drive and will, in theory, lead to more exciting racing.
Gone are the days of having cars numbered depending on championship order, instead drivers will pick a number that will stay with them for their entire career. Some drivers have chosen numbers significant to them from their junior racing days, some have chosen numbers with good marketing potential (Bottas, 77, Bo77as. Get it?) and Kimi being Kimi simply chose “whatever I had last year”. Finally, despite widespread ridicule, Bernie Ecclestone’s scheme to award double points for the last race has been approved.
Bernie, what r u doin? Bernie, STAHP!
Red Bull – Renault
Drivers: Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo
1. Nobody really knows how fast Ricciardo is yet, but Red Bull seem happy enough with their new Aussie driver. And he’s likely to be a more compliant number two to Vettel.
2. Red Bull had the ‘13 championship pretty easy, apparently because their rivals gave up and started working on their ‘14 cars early. Red Bull may rue this decision.
3. Testing hasn’t gone well, but it speaks volumes for the genius that is Chief Tech Officer Adrian Newey that talk has been of “when” and not “if” they catch up with the rest.
You’d have to say not great, with an unreliable engine and a seemingly slow car. But we’ve seen Red Bull pull out some pretty spectacular innovations in recent years, so who’s to say that come the halfway point of the season, they won’t be dominating all over again?
Mercedes – Mercedes
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg
1. Mercedes effectively sacrificed their ’13 title challenge in favour focussing on developing their ’14 car. And if testing is anything to go by, it seems to have been worth it.
2. Ross Brawn stepped down as team principle over the winter. Mercedes aren’t exactly short of replacements, but will it be a case of too many cooks spoil the…erm…racing car?
With the most reliable and fastest car in testing, it seems the championship is Mercedes’ to lose. But Hamilton and Rosberg are both very quick, hungry drivers, and it may be that the only people to get in their way will be themselves.
McLaren – Mercedes
Drivers: Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen
1. Eyebrows were raised when 21-year-old Dane, Kevin Magnussen, was announced as Sergio Perez’ replacement. But the last time McLaren hired a rookie, it seemed to work.
2. Ron Dennis reprises his role as overlord-in-chief, having previously stepped down to focus on the McLaren Group. This also means Ronspeak is back. Thesauruses at the ready!
3. After several unsuccessful seasons, Martin Whitmarsh has been removed and replaced as Racing Director by Eric Boullier, who impressed as boss of Lotus.
McLaren think Magnussen is QUICK, and after the very sad death of his father, it would be lovely to see Button have a good year. The car is fast and reliable and could fight for race wins, but Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams seem quicker.
Ferrari – Ferrari
Drivers: Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen
1. The biggest buzzword around Ferrari so far is “cooling”. More than any other team, Ferrari has got on top of this issue from the off, allowing more time for other aspects.
2. As with Mercedes, Ferrari’s biggest obstacle could be their own drivers. Raikkonen and Alonso are both fast, no-nonsense drivers who won’t be told what to do. Sparks could fly!
3. Ferrari’s last constructors title was in ‘08. Maranello are getting restless with team boss Stefano Domenicalli, and if he doesn’t bring home some silverware, he’s could be out.
Well the car is relatively quick and for the most part, reliable. But concerns have been raised about its fuel consumption in race trim, and with fuel now limited to 100kg this could seriously hamper their speed on Sundays.
Williams – Mercedes
Drivers: Felipe Massa and Valteri Bottas
1. The iconic red and blue-striped Martini Racing livery makes a welcome return to F1 as the drinks maker comes on-board as title sponsor.
2. Driver Felipe Massa and engineer Rob Smedley have jumped ship from Ferrari, bringing with them a wealth of experience and a little bit of Brazillian sponsorship cash.
3. Susie Wolff steps up her test driver role to include two Grand Prix weekend practice sessions, causing some media outlets to publish shocking “Woman drives car!” headlines.
Being Mercedes engined, they’re off to a good start, and the car seems reliable and fast. However, they probably don’t quite have the budget to develop in-season as others and in Bottas and Massa they have two reliable if unspectacular drivers.
Lotus – Renault
Drivers: Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado
1. Investment from Quantum Motorsport group failed to materialise, thus forcing Lotus to hire Pastor Maldonado’s sponsorship money over Nico Hulkenberg’s driving talent.
2. Grosjean and Maldonado are two drivers with reputations for throwing their cars at the scenery, although the former redeemed himself somewhat in ‘13 with impressive podiums.
3. Lotus have suffered the loss of several key personnel over the winter due to a combination of a lack of budget and better offers from other teams.
Pretty slim unfortunately. They’ve lost their star driver to Ferrari, their team boss to McLaren and their money to…well…that just never existed in the first place. With the weakest engine on the grid and a driver famed for incident, things don’t look great.
Force India – Mercedes
Drivers: Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg
Anything interesting ?
1. Force India; the refuge team. Perez was deemed not fast enough by McLaren but comes with Mexican sponsorship cash. Hulkenberg is fast, but didn’t have enough cash for Lotus.
2. A new year brings a new livery. Well, a slightly modified livery anyway, as black replaces white. Orange and green remain. Erm, that’s about it really.
The car may not be quick enough for race wins, but podiums are certainly not out of the question, and Hulkenberg is capable of pulling off some pretty spectacular drives so they could have a very good season.
Sauber – Ferrari
Drivers: Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil
1. Sutil brings speed, experience, reliability and a little bit of sponsorship money with him and will be an asset for the Swiss team who effectively swapped him for Hulkenberg.
2. Still in need of cash, Sauber have given Gutierrez another year. He’s improving with experience but don’t expect him to become a title contender any time soon.
Behind the likes of Force India and Williams, Sauber are solidly in the midfield, but some unreliability from others in early races could net a few surprise results for the team.
Toro Rosso – Renault
Drivers: Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat
1. Young russian Kvyat is the latest driver to be plucked off the Red Bull talent ladder and called up to the junior team.
2. The main team have been having such problems in testing they have called in Toro Rosso for help with their car. High praise or desperate times call for desperate measures?
Expect Toro Rosso to hang around at the tail end of the midfield once again. Vergne’s increasing experience may gain a few decent results though.
Marussia – Ferrari
Drivers: Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton
1. Marussia have made big leaps during the winter and now seem well clear of Caterham on pace and reliability.
2. The team’s driver line-up continuity reflects their improved financial security and should help them develop the car further.
For the first year since the team’s inception, point finishes seem a real possibility. At times they were ahead of both Red Bull teams in testing, proving their speed.
Caterham – Renault
Drivers: Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson
1. Kobayashi abandoned a Ferrari GT contract, much to Maranello’s annoyance, to race for Caterham ‘for free’ having secured enough money for a seat with the cash-strapped team.
2. Caterham’s future is in doubt with money issues, driver line-up inconsistencies and owner Tony Fernandes likely to pull the plug if results don’t come soon.
To be brutally honest, none. Kobayashi has already stated that the car is slower than a GP2 car, and with not much money don’t expect that to improve much.
Of course, with reliability and fuel consumption issues still up in the air, Melbourne could be a case of ‘whoever actually manages to finish will win the race’. All bets are most certainly off!