The winter of uncertainty should be over now. In many previous seasons by this time of the season with the opening Australian Grand Prix less than a week away the teams should be fairly confident as to their understanding of the new car. Yet thanks to the raft of regulation changes all 11 F1 teams are in the dark as to their true potential for 2014. This is guaranteed to be another great Formula One season.
Firstly let’s start with the reigning champions Red Bull and Sebastien Vettel. Their winter has been particularly painful to watch. Although the chronic problems with the Renualt power unit is far from their fault the problems centring around the aggressive packaging of their cooling and Renualt power unit can only be seen in hindsight as a complete own goal by the team. Their status as the de facto Renault works team should mean these kind of issues are bypassed in the early months of the 2014 design.
Therefore at this point of the season it seems incredible to state that Red Bull are not 100% sure of the potential of their 2014 RB10, a sign of the little amount of meaningful laps they’ve done this winter. On the driving front whilst it may appear that 4 time world champion Sebastien Vettel currently has slim hopes of retaining his title 2014 will for sure show his commitment and talent as he drags the car higher up than it realistically should be, a talent shared by only the greats. Alongside him new recruit Daniel Ricciardo has the unenviable task of attempting to keep pace with Vettel in the first season of his promotion from the junior Toro Rosso team to the Red Bull team. His speed is without question yet his consistency is something he will need to improve on if he’s to challenge Vettel over a season. It should be interesting to see how these two matchup and whether Ricciardo can match Mark Webber’s level of competitiveness in relation to Vettel.
2013 saw a vast improvement from AMG Mercedes as they finally reached the level of competitiveness many F1 fans expected from the works outfit. 2014 is their first genuine attempt at the title as the new 1.6 Litre Turbo engine regulations were something circled by the team as their chance to steal a march on the rest. Mercedes has always been seen as having potentially the strongest engine in F1 and in 2014 this appears to be no different. Since the first day of testing the team has looked by far the best at this early stage. They were the first team to complete a race simulation at the first test in Jerez, yet they have also been consistently topping the times . The only slight concern for the team is some reliability issues at the two Bahrain tests yet many tip them to both win the first race in Australia and simultaneously the title too.
Their driver line up of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is the most stable of the top teams, some even argue it’s the strongest line up too. Lewis Hamilton is widely regarded as the fastest driver in F1 yet the new 100kg fuel allocation rule for 2014 will not suit his premium on speed. The new regulations and tyres mean drivers now have to manage races not simply race, this is far more suited to the more thinking style of Nico Rosberg. 2013 showed his can match Hamilton over the course of the season as he took 2 wins to the 1 of Hamilton. 2014 should be interesting to watch the dynamic between the two friends over the course of the season.
Ferrari appear to be rejuvenated in 2014 as it appears they head into the season with the “best of the rest” tag behind the leading Mercedes teams. Whilst like everyone else they’ve suffered with reliability problems this winter their all star line up of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have logged plenty of laps . The car appears to be a slight handful to drive however their level of preparation means realistically they can expect to easily be in the top 10 and possibly fighting for podiums and wins over the course of the season. The internal sense is one of optimism this season as it appears they have finally overcome the wind tunnel problems that have derailed previous seasons.
Lotus-Renualt ended 2013 as the only challenger to the Red Bull steamroller yet their winter could not gone much worse for the team. Firstly their well publicised funding issues during 2013 meant that the team was late in finishing it’s 2014 E22 challenger, resulting in them completely missing the first test in Jerez. Between this announcement and the actually first test things got worse however as they lost their team principal Eric Boullier, who accepted a effective team principal in the newly restructured McLaren team. Further compounding this is the chronic problems with the new Renault power unit, which have severely restricted the amount of running all their teams can do. Whilst they showed during the two Bahrain tests that they were the consensus best of the Renault teams the team have admitted they do not go into the season with confidence as to their reliability. Their speed could potentially drag them into the lower reaches of the top 10 during the early part of the season. For the time being however both drivers Romain Grosjean,Pastor Maldonado and effective team principal Gerard Lopez have their work cut out in making the team competitive.
After a lacklustre 2013 McLaren have made widespread changes in the hope of returning to the front in 2014. Firstly the team jettisoned Sergio Perez after only one year, replacing him with young hotshot Kevin Magnussen to partner the experienced Jenson Button. Experience is the name of the game with the new personnel too as Ron Dennis has re-taken control of the racing team, his first major step was to effectively replace team principal Martin Whitmarsh with Eric Boullier. From the three winter test it’s appears they have the third fastest package behind Mercedes and Williams. The strength of the Mercedes power unit has allowed them to rack up a lot of laps this winter, however the power unit could also be there undoing this season as their new 2015 deal with Honda means the team will be getting the bare minimum treatment from Mercedes, fearful their secrets will be passed onto Honda.
Sahara-Force India have encountered a relatively quiet winter going into 2014 as they have managed to simply blend into the background. Their lack of eye catching times is probably because they’ve sensibly focused more on long distance running and attempting to understand the VJM07. Whilst there have been some problems with the car this winter the teams appears to be in a similar position to 2013, consistently in the lower reaches of the top 10 with the power to surprise. This surprise factor is boosted in 2014 with the return of ace Nico Hulkenberg, thwarted by money he is by far the best young driver on the grid and his return will only boost the team. The same goes for Sergio Perez who will be hoping to prove McLaren were wrong to drop his last season. Watch out for this team to spring an early surprise this season.
Sauber typically prefer quiet winter off-season’s and this year is no exception. The new C33-Ferrari challenger has appeared solid with the only spectacular moments being the occasional engine blowup. The car has logged a significant number of laps, yet still well below front runners Mercedes, Williams and Ferrari. The driver line up of Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil is again solid if unspectacular, yet expect them to get the job done early on in 2014 as they aim to capitalise on their current levels of preparation in comparison to the other teams. Because of their small budget the team is always going to be a midfield outfit yet like Force India expect them to shock with their results early on especially from Sutil.
Scuderia Toro Rosso head into 2014 suffering from the same problem their senior outfit Red Bull is enduring. Their new engine deal to bring them in line with the senior Red Bull team has came at completely the wrong time as Renault appear to have made a hash of their 2014 engine. The team has therefore been severely limited in the amount of laps they’ve run, meaning the team have admitted this year the Australian GP has came a month too early for the team to be ready. Therefore expect them to get better during the season, however the first few races may be fairly frustrating for drivers Jean Eric Vergne and especially rookie Daniil Kvyat.
After a disastrous 2013 season the Williams team appear to have made a giant early leap forward in 2014. Firstly this the first year the team have Pat Symonds at the helm, his vast experience will be a massive help to a team finding it’s way after 2013. The team has also recruited a lot of talented people from up and down the grid, Rob Smedley being the marquee signing so far. The team also has a talented driver line up of the experienced Felipe Massa and talented rookie Valtteri Bottas. Their deal for Mercedes engines came at the perfect time as they racked up an abundance of laps whilst also showing their speed thanks to the march Mercedes has on the others. Based on this winter expect the team to be fighting to poles and wins as they look so far the closest challenger to Mercedes.
Marussia achieved their 2013 target of beating Caterham yet for 2014 they spot the opportunity to move up the grid. Their new Ferrari power deal has already seen them steal a march on Renualt powered Caterham. So far the car has proven to be slightly unreliable yet also fast and based on their form in testing it appears they could potentially be scoring points in the early races if their MR03 car holds together. The retention of 2013 driver line up in Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton can only help the team develop in 2014, expect them to cause a surprise at some point this season.
Finally we have Caterham, the bottom team from 2013 sadly appears as if it might stay that way in 2014. Their winter has been severely disrupted by the well known problems with the Renault power unit. When their CT04 car has ventured on track it has appeared a handful and has failed to register any noticeably fast laps during the three tests. This may have severe repercussions as team principal Tony Fernandes has threatened to pull out of the sport unless things improve in 2014. This therefore does not bode well for the all new line up of fan favourite Kamui Kobayashi and rookie Marcus Ericsson. Indeed at one point Kobayashi compared his cars pace to that of a junior level GP2 car, by far a ringing endorsement for their hopes in 2014.
Of course testing can throw plenty of red herrings and I would expect a number of teams to have risen or fallen back in the pack once the meaningful running begins in Australia. This season preview and all of my predictions are simply based on my impression of the winter running of all the teams. Thanks for reading this blog, more like essay. Enjoy.