March 14-16, Melbourne, Australia will see the return of Formula 1 after its biggest technical revolution ever. The new regulations are so radically different that F1 will never be the same.
As I explained in Why Formula 1 does more for the environment than Greenpeace, from now on, Formula 1 cars will be the most technologically advanced hybrids ever. Or at least, they will be once the teams get all systems working properly. Unfortunately, after just 12 days of winter testing, most teams don’t seem ready to race all these new cars yet. And as a result, nobody knows what to expect, besides chaos.
Lets review some of the signs of things to come:
Roberto Dalla, of F1 electronics supplier Magneti Marelli, has stated that the electronics of the new cars require much more pre-season testing. According to Dalla, teams need another 2-3 months to get a grip on the complicated software that runs motor management, turbo, energy recovery systems, etc. He claims that, in the early races, possibly not even a single car out of the 22 entries will reach the finish…
And how about Renault? The engine supplier for Lotus (last year’s opening-race winners) and Red Bull (reigning champions) had a horrible pre-season. In testing they were off the pace ànd unreliable. The French serial-champions have admitted that they failed their homework and that the early 2014 season will be aimed at fixing their problems.
Ferrari boss Luci di Montezemolo has already decided that the new racing will become “taxi cab riding”. He prefers old-school racing, where you put soft tires on, put rocket fuel in the tank and pound away. Then after you burned your tires and fuel, you come into the pits for a new batch. But here’s the thing: F1 has adopted a 21st century lifestyle. Multinationals like Mercedes, Fiat (Ferrari’s mother company), Red Bull, etc don’t want to spend their Sundays burning resources, they want to be more relevant. Besides, F1 is the world championship of auto racing, and therefore includes elements of endurance racing like tire-management and fuel-efficiency. But will this lead to boring cab rides? I don’t think so, but then, who knows what to expect?
The last 4 years have been dominated by 26-year-old Sebastian Vettel and his Renault-powered Red Bull. In Vettel’s hands the Red Bulls scored all 4 driver’s championships and all 4 constructor’s championships. So they must be the favorites for 2014. Right?
That will have to be a clear “No”, definitely not in the early season. In the 12 days of pre-season testing, the longest stint that Red Bull has been able to string together was 17 laps. In Australia they will have to race for 58 laps. So maybe, if they turn the power down a lot, they might reach the finish….
When Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said that the champs may finish 2 laps down to the winner, it may have sounded like a joke, but it’s wasn’t. Trust me, he never needed to make jokes like that in the last 4 years. The world champions are aware that they may get humiliated in the first races on the season.
So who might put the reigning champions 2 laps down then? Horner is referring to Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in their Mercedes cars with Mercedes power plant. The “Mercs” seems to have done their homework better than the competition.
Not only Mercedes itself has impressed during the pre-season. McLaren, Williams and Force India, the teams that Mercedes supplies with engines and energy recovery systems, have also been good in testing. So they all seem in contention for points and possibly the podium.
The dark horse seems to be Ferrari. The Prancing Horse has been decent in testing, but not impressive. But given that testing isn’t racing or qualifying, they seem to have kept some speed up their sleeve. On top of this, their all-champion driver line-up of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen should be capable of achieving “something extra”. As long as both strong personalities keep getting along…
The new regulations will slow the cars down, or let me rephrase that: Due to reduced aerodynamic grip, cornering speeds will go down and lap times will therefore be slower. The top speeds on the other hand will actually be up.
I won’t go into all the new rules, because the short video below gives a clear, and visually stunning, overview of the new regulations. I will mention the new noses though:
2014 sees the arrival of the anteater noses. Their design follows new regulations that try to tackle the dangers of the previous high noses. Last year an impact with the cockpit of another car could be quite dangerous, so the noses have been forced down. Unfortunately, most constructors interpreted these new rules in some of the ugliest nose designs ever. And the gargoyle pageant has been won by Caterham. As you can see in the picture above, their design looks like it should stay tucked away in men’s underwear.
So what to expect in these first races of the season? Hard to say, but it’s clear that some of the best drivers and technicians in the world will be forced far beyond their comfort zones….
Photos: Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team, Infinity Red Bull Racing/Getty Images, Caterham F1 Team, McLaren
Video: Infinity Red Bull Racing