Ten reasons to get excited about 2014


9 March 2014 by Daniel Chalmers | M
          

The upcoming season could very well prove to be one of the most exciting and surprising seasons in several years. Daniel Chalmers takes a look at ten reasons why you might just want to tune in.

A new major performance variable

At the end of 2006 two major performance variables were removed from F1. It was at the end of that season that the engine development freeze was introduced. Also that was the final season of the Bridgestone Vs Michelin tyre war.

Since 2007 aerodynamics have been the biggest performance variable by a long way. It accounts for 80% of development on a F1 car. If a car had poor aero then it wasn’t going to fare well. It’s certainly been a factor in a poor spell of late for Ferrari, as aerodynamics has been their weakness in recent history. On the other hand the focus on aerodynamics has suited a certain Mr Adrian Newey and Red Bull down to the ground.

Yes, there have still been small differences between the engines, but nothing like they were pre-engine freeze.

In the first year of these new engine rules we are going to see a wider performance differential between the engine manufacturers having a direct influence on the pecking order, and the racing itself. It won’t just be power/straight-line speed, but also fuel consumption and reliability. Engines are a pretty important part of a race car so why shouldn’t they be a major variable?

A car with strong aero could be slowed down because of the engine and vice versa. When you have more variables in play it can often lead to more exciting racing. The car behind needs to have some sort of performance advantage to pass, and engines can provide that.

A new pecking order, surprises and constant changes

For the last four seasons it’s mainly been about Red Bull. A few teams have had a little nibble into their dominance, but ultimately over a full season the Milton Keynes squad have proved untouchable.

However that is all set to change. The 2014 regulations are likely to throw up a very different grid in Melbourne compared to the Red Bull lockout 12 months ago. All the teams are starting again with a fresh piece of paper. Front running teams can take wrong turns, whilst midfield teams can hit the jackpot and interpret the rules better.

Regulation changes back in 2009 saw Brawn GP and Red Bull replace McLaren and Ferrari as the top two teams on the grid. That just shows how much regulation changes can shake up the status quo.

Mercedes go into the season opener as clear favourites. However it would only take a mechanical problem and we could see a Williams or Force India driver on the top step, as both teams are looking incredibly strong with their Mercedes power unit. Ferrari and McLaren are also there or thereabouts.

Unless they can find solutions to their problems quickly Red Bull may well be struggling to get into the pole position shoot out.

Whilst Red Bull and Vettel’s success has to be admired and given the respect it deserves, it all started to get a bit familiar. A different look to the pecking order and a few shock results will breathe new life and enthusiasm into the sport.

In the first year of these regulations teams will find huge chunks of performance, and the pecking could change dramatically by mid-season. McLaren had a dreadful car at the start of 2009 but found 2.5 seconds over the course of the year and managed to win two races in the second half of the season. Red Bull could yet recover and do exactly the same thing.

Kimi Raikkonen Vs Fernando Alonso at Ferrari

This is the driver pairing which has everybody excited. It evokes memories of partnerships like Senna/Prost and Mansell/Piquet. Ferrari has had great success with their clear number one policy in the past. However with their current title drought they have gone bold and have gambled on two number one drivers. One thing is for sure. If Ferrari fail again this season they certainly cannot blame their drivers. 

Alonso loves to be the clear team leader. We have seen in the past how he doesn’t enjoy being behind his team-mate on the track. That was most evident in 2007 with Lewis Hamilton as team-mate.

However a number of years have passed since then and Fernando is more mature and wiser. Raikkonen also isn’t a rookie in his first season like Hamilton was back in 2007. Furthermore Kimi isn’t a political driver and will do his talking on the track rather than off it. 

There might well not be as many fireworks as people are expecting, although the odd moments of tension are likely. The main point of interest is going to be how they compare to each other on the track. 

In recent years both have struggled over a single lap, but have excelled when it comes to race pace and race craft. Therefore both are quite similar, and hopefully that will result in some great on-track battles. It would be great if that is what makes the headlines rather than off-track fireworks.

Ultimately their first battle together in the same team could well be decided by who adapts to the new cars best, who they suit most, which side of the garage has the best reliability record and possibly most importantly who puts the most hours in outside of the car.

The return of races with attrition

Look back to the early 2000s and 1990s and races full of attrition were very common. However over the years reliability has got stronger and stronger and most races only have a few retirements, sometimes even less.

When you see the top two or three drivers storm off into the distance you never wonder whether they are going to finish or not. You just accept straight away that they will surely finish the race.

Watching a race and wondering whether the guy in the lead will finish the race certainly adds tension, the type of which we just haven’t been used to of late. With so many mechanical failures during winter testing it’s something that could be common again in 2014.

We are going to see more drivers chucking gloves on the floor and throwing helmets against the wall in the garage. Not only that but TV pit lane reporters be working a lot harder for their hourly rate.

We are bound to see a few races where half the grid or more could retire from the race. In races like that we could see some surprises, and that’s no bad thing. Could reliability be Caterham and Marussia’s chance to finally score points in F1?

A new rookie sensation

Having a new rookie sensation in the sport always makes for a great headline story. In 1996 Jacques Villeneuve stormed to pole in his F1 debut. Fast forward 11 years later and Lewis Hamilton sensationally stood on the podium in his first race.

Just what sort of story could Kevin Magnussen produce in his first race for McLaren? All the ingredients are there for a story similar to the examples above. He has been quick throughout winter testing, and appears to have a very mature head on his young shoulders.

McLaren also seem to be in a better position than they were this time last year. In their last season with Mercedes engines they have the current power unit of choice. 

If McLaren can develop their car well and sustain a place at the front all season long, Kevin surely has a great chance of winning the odd race.

Of course testing is one thing, and racing quite another. His father Jan came into F1 with plenty of promise when he joined Jackie Stewart’s team in 1997. Unfortunately that potential wasn’t fulfilled. 

Will son Kevin be able to do the opposite?

Austrian and Russian GPs on the calendar

It’s always interesting to have new venues on the calendar.

The Austrian GP returns to the calendar after 11 years away. Although the layout used these days isn’t as exciting as the old version it is still a decent race track, which has provided good races in the past. It’s certainly not the bog standard 5.5km long circuit with a straight the length of an airport runway, which have become commonplace

It’s also refreshing to see a new European race added when the F1 calendar moves further and further away.

Russia’s track takes place in the Olympic Park in Sochi. The venues used for this year’s Winter Olympics will certainly provide a unique backdrop. Whilst the circuit has one or two interesting corners there is a risk it could be another dud like Valencia. Ultimately we have to give it a chance so let’s wait and see.

Bigger challenge for the drivers

In 2014 the drivers are going to have different beasts to tame, and it’s going to be a steep learning curve for them all.

Firstly they have less downforce compared to last year, and on the exit of corners they will have more power than grip. Stopping the car from sliding and preventing wheel spin will be crucial. They also have the new brake by wire system to master.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges will be driving as quickly as possible, whilst not using too much fuel. With teams limited to just 100kg of fuel in the race that will be critical. There is no doubt that this will suit smooth drivers like Jenson Button.

Good thinking drivers could also prosper this year like Nico Rosberg. Seeing how the drivers adapt will be one of the key stories of the season.

It’s certainly going to be fun to watch cars which are going to be more difficult to control, rather than being completely glued to the track. 

Seeing how Daniel Ricciardo fares against Sebastian Vettel

After easily seeing off Mark Webber over the last five seasons Vettel will be up against a brand new challenger this year. Most seem to think service will just carry on as normal but don’t be so sure.

Daniel Ricciardo proved last year that over a single lap he is seriously quick, with a series of qualifying slots in the top ten. 

Red Bull will be very keen to have another driver from their development programme succeed and win in F1. It needs to happen to justify the huge expense of the programme. 

There is no doubt that alongside Webber, Vettel was favoured emotionally at the very least. Against a driver from the same stable that isn’t likely to happen. 

Daniel could give Vettel some problems from time to time, and it will be fascinating to see how the four times world champion copes when that happens. We could see a few surprises here.

Less aggressive Pirelli tyres

Pirelli’s approach has certainly produced a lot of very interesting races since their return to F1 in 2011. It can’t be forgotten that before Pirelli’s return there were a lot of dull races. 

There is no doubt though that last year tyres were being talked about too much, and races started to become far too much about nursing them. Tyre explosions are also something we don’t want to see during races.

This year Pirelli are being more conservative with their rubber. Drivers will still need to make sure they don’t destroy the tyres, but the amount of nursing they have to do shouldn’t be as extreme as before.

The different compounds that Pirelli bring to races should still add a tactical element to races, which is what we want to see.

It’s very likely that engine failures will dominate the headlines rather than the tyres.

Better qualifying sessions

Qualifying sessions last year were dominated by teams wanting to save sets of tyres for the race. This often meant that Q3 ended up being an anti-climax as not all ten drivers would bother to set a lap, and even those who did would likely only have one attempt.

Hopefully this year we will have a full season of thrilling pole position shootouts. All drivers that make it to Q3 will be rewarded with an extra set of soft tyres. So there should be no reason not to go out and have a go.

With the tyres set to be less extreme this season drivers shouldn’t need as many sets of tyres to complete the race. Combine that with this new rule and we should see drivers keener to attempt more laps in each segment of qualifying.

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