2014 driver previews - Vettel to Magnussen


13 March 2014 by Daniel Chalmers | M
          

Daniel Chalmers takes a look at each driver and their chances as we head into what could be one of the hardest seasons to predict.

#01 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

Vettel proved beyond doubt last year that he is up there on the list of greats. He had a perfect season. He didn’t leave any speed on the table all season long, and didn’t make an error worth speaking of.

Even in the quickest car on the grid winning nine races on the bounce is still an outstanding achievement. Even in his dominant seasons Michael Schumacher had the odd couple of races where he was off form.

Throughout his career so far Sebastian has made the most of all his opportunities. When he has a car to win he doesn’t throw the chance away.

With each passing season there are less and less weaknesses in Vettel’s game. He still hasn’t reached his peak level of performance. He can still get even better. 

In terms of his work rate and dedication you can’t find any driver that can match him. Off the track he is constantly using all the information available to him to find that vital extra tenth of a second. The Multi 21 incident certainly demonstrated the extent of his hunger and determination.

However this is going to be his first season since 2008 that he doesn’t go into the season with the tools he needs to win races. Very often in life it’s moments of crisis where we see someone’s true colours. 

It’s going to be interesting to see if he can still get involved in the championship fight, without a great car. Can he pull off a season like Fernando Alonso did in 2012? Or maybe something similar to Lewis Hamilton’s 2009 season?

So often champions are respected more for what they achieved in bad cars, rather than the championships they won. For many this is still a box that Sebastian needs to tick to be considered a legend.

Final Verdict: He won’t be champion this year, but he will do enough to earn more respect than in any of four title winning seasons.

#03 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)

Not many are giving Daniel a hope this year. Most assume he will just be Mark Webber version two.

However he has proved numerous times that he is seriously quick over a single lap. There have been times where he placed the Toro Rosso in places that it has no right to be, just as Vettel did back in 2008. If he can do that in a Red Bull, then he could give Vettel more headaches in qualifying than Webber did over the years. The best way to beat Seb is to be ahead of him on the grid.

Many say Daniel’s race pace isn’t great, but when you qualify a car higher up than it should be it’s very hard to stay there over a full race distance. We will get a better indication this year whether that is a real issue or not. 

Daniel is certainly a very happy chap, and his only rival in F1’s best smile competition is Romain Grosjean. However it does raise the question of whether he has the mental toughness to succeed in a top team alongside a four times world champion.

Another issue is whether he will get the chance to compete on even terms with his team mate. However unlike Webber he is another product of the Red Bull young driver programme. Vettel is really the only result of the millions of pounds worth of investment. Red Bull would surely love to see another winner from their stable to justify the expenditure.

Verdict: He won’t beat Vettel over the season but I think his speed will take his team mate by surprise.

#44 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

This is going to be a defining year for Hamilton. It’s feels like a very long time since Lewis won his title in 2008. In the early years of his career many expected he would already have won three or four by now. However he now has the tools to go and to finally win that second world title.

When Hamilton is at his best he is still the driver with the most raw pace in F1. Even against Vettel you sense he could find an extra tenth or two from nowhere.

The problem is he has more weaknesses compared to Alonso and Vettel. He isn’t the best at looking after the tyres, he isn’t the best at car setup, he can become easily distracted by his life off the track and he makes mistakes.

However if he is on form, happy and the Mercedes proves to be a formidable car then there will only be one championship contender. Qualifying laps like he did at Silverstone last year and the victory in Hungary could become the norm if he can focus and put everything together consistently. 

So far it’s looking good. He has looked quick all winter. He is happy with the brakes which are an important part of his speed, and his personal life seems good too. Everything is in place for Hamilton to dominate 2014 if he can grasp the opportunity.

Lewis and a dominant car isn’t a combination we have ever witnessed. It’s a scary thought and one that is becoming increasingly likely. His move from McLaren to Mercedes doesn’t look so bad now does it?

Final Verdict: This season has Hamilton's name all over it. A fast Mercedes car combined with the Brit’s phenomenal natural pace, and I can’t see this combination being beaten.

#06 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

Rosberg made a much bigger impact than most were expecting last year. There were times when he was genuinely quicker than Lewis, and did a better job.

The new formula this season should also suit him as he is one of the most intelligent drivers on the grid. Knowing when to push and when not to push is going to be vital and that can play into Nico’s hands. He is also brilliant at setting up a car, and that’s another area where he can get ahead of Hamilton.

Whether that is enough for him to challenge Lewis is the question. Whilst he compared well to Lewis in 2013 it was the Brit’s first season in the team. More importantly Hamilton often struggled with the brakes, and late braking is one of the keys to his speed. So it’s possible that these factors flattered Nico last season.

Ultimately pure raw speed is still going to matter in 2014. When drivers are allowed to push Nico is really going to have to up his game again to challenge Lewis.

Final Verdict: Nico will have another decent season with another couple of race victories. Ultimately though I expect the gap between him and Lewis to widen this year. The new rules do suit Nico, but I can’t see that being enough to win him the title.

#14 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)

Last year wasn’t as strong as 2012 for Fernando, but he still showed on plenty of occasions why he is considered the best all round driver in F1. He has become unmatched when it comes to race craft on the first lap of a race. There were so many occasions last year where that set up a great race result for him. 

One of his greatest attributes is whenever there is a little sniff of a great result he always manages to grab it. He will get results that just wouldn’t have been predicted given his car and grid position. 

If Ferrari can give him a car that is a few tenths off the pace he will be able to get involved in the fight for race wins. He has pulled so many rabbits out of the hat whilst driving for Ferrari. They wouldn’t have been in contention for any championships lately if it wasn’t for him. It’s about time they gave him a car worthy of his talents.

He wasn’t happy at times last year, and he won’t be happy to be joined by another world champion in the same team. He has to make it work though as his plan B at McLaren- Honda in 2015 looks less likely now that Ron Dennis is back.

He has spent the past few seasons constantly having to fight from further back on the grid. If Ferrari can give him a quicker car meaning he has less ground to make up in races he can get the job done. Alonso also has to take some of the blame for those poor grid slots. His raw pace isn’t the best weapon in his armoury. 

Unfortunately Fernando isn’t getting any younger and time is running out. He has to make sure he doesn’t let desperation get the better of him.

Final Verdict: I can see Fernando beating Kimi as he will work tirelessly hard off the track to seek every little advantage he can. Yet again he will keep pulling rabbits out of the hat but unfortunately I can’t see Ferrari giving him the car to challenge Mercedes. Could be another frustrating season.

#07 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

Raikkonen was very impressive in his two years with Lotus. He proved that he can still be a very big factor in Formula 1. His race pace is incredibly strong, he is fantastic in a wheel to wheel battle and hardly makes any mistakes. Those are all the hallmarks of a top line driver

Two of his best strengths during his comeback years has been looking after the tyres, and consistently gaining the maximum from a race weekend. 

Having Alonso as a team mate will be tough but it’s not something that will faze him. He will just get on with the job. With many touting Alonso as the favourite he has nothing to lose and can enjoy the challenge. He will thrive on the fact than Alonso doesn’t like being behind his team mate. 

He may not look bothered about anything on the outside, but there is a steely determination within.

One of his biggest issues still is his one lap pace. Ever since he returned to F1 we have yet to see the electrifying one lap pace that we saw back in his McLaren days on Michelin tyres. Grosjean often had the better raw speed over a single lap at Lotus.

If he is to have a chance of beating Alonso this year he needs to match his work rate off the track. Fernando will dedicate as much time as he needs off track to make sure he gets an edge on Kimi on it. To win this battle 100% dedication will be crucial.

Final Verdict: Raikkonen will give a huge boost to Ferrari in the constructor’s championship, as he will reliably score big points in every race. As for his own championship chances Fernando just has that little bit extra over him.

#13 Pastor Maldonado (Lotus)

Pastor is probably the most maligned driver on the grid. If you read forums or twitter you would think he was the biggest disaster ever. Yes, on talent Nico Hulkenberg should have got the Lotus seat but Maldonado is a decent driver.

He has had far too many accidents in his career but he is incredibly quick. He did win the 2012 Spanish GP and had that front row in Singapore that year too. In a decent car he is capable of getting himself right up into the mix.

He actually drove reasonably well in 2013 too, and certainly wasn’t blown away by the highly rated Bottas. It’s just harder to tell because Williams spent most of the year in a performance vacuum between the midfield and Caterham/Marussia. He also made fewer errors which not that many seemed to notice either.

He is miles ahead of other pay drivers we have seen in Formula 1 down the years. 

If Lotus had gone for Hulkenberg finance would have been tight. In Maldonado they have a happy middle ground in that they now have a cash injection to help develop the car, and a driver that can score points with a good car. You can understand why they came to the decision they did.

Lotus has shown that they can improve their drivers. They have done a great job of turning Romain Grosjean into a strong Grand Prix driver. They also make their drivers feel very much at home. Raikkonen was always very happy within the team.

If any team can extract the best performances from Maldonado then it has to be Lotus.

Final Verdict: Unfortunately Pastor made a bad decision to leave Williams based on what’s happened in winter testing. At the start of season he might spend more time standing beside his car with a fire extinguisher than driving it.

#08 Romain Grosjean (Lotus)

Grosjean is the ultimate example of how patience can reap rewards. Not all great drivers blossom in their first couple of seasons of F1. For some it takes time and success doesn’t come till later on in their careers.

After his series of incidents in 2012 Lotus could very easily have dropped him. If he was a Red Bull young driver he would probably have been chucked onto the scrapheap a long time ago. However in 2013 he turned his undeniable raw speed into results.

In the second half of 2013 he was the closest challenger to Sebastian Vettel, and delivered the sort of consistency you would expect from one of the top drivers. His drive in India to the podium from 17th in particular stood out. In the past you would have had money on him to have an incident, but he drove a very mature race.

If he has the car he can definitely win races. However with the troublesome Renault engine in the Lotus it might be a tough year. For the last couple of years he had a world champion team mate. Now he has left for Ferrari, Romain has got to step up to the plate and help lead the team through difficult periods.

Final Verdict: Despite his progress he isn’t quite on the level of the sport’s very top drivers, but he has the ability to have a strong season. However as things stand he might not have the car to achieve that. Let’s hope Lotus can improve as the season progresses.

#22 Jenson Button (McLaren)

This season’s new challenges are almost tailor made for Jenson. In a year where fuel saving is important the key is to drive as fast possible using as little fuel as possible. Button’s smooth driving style is perfect for this. 

Although the tyres are set to be less extreme this year he will still benefit from his ability to look after the tyres. 

He now has more experience than any other driver on the grid. He has gone through lots of changes to the sport big and small so will he be well prepared to deal with the new challenges.

In terms of raw pace he isn’t the fastest out there but he makes up for it in many areas including tyre management and race craft. Button’s feel in changing weather conditions remains unmatched. With cars which will be tougher to drive in those conditions it’s something else that can go in his favour.

His largest hurdle is being quick when the car isn’t to his liking. However in a difficult car in 2013 he did improve on that, and led McLaren very well through a difficult period.

If McLaren are competitive and give Button a car he can gel with he could make a significant impact on the season. 

Final Verdict:  There will be days when his driving style will really allow him to shine under the new regulations. His main problem is going to be whether McLaren have a car to challenge Mercedes, at any point of the season.

#20 Kevin Magnussen (McLaren)

It’s an unusual set of circumstances that got the young Dane the seat. Ideally McLaren wanted him in a team in the midfield. When that wasn’t possible they started to put him in one of their own cars instead.

One of the reasons he got the seat was because he was faster than Sergio Perez on McLaren’s simulator. Whilst the technology behind F1 team simulators are incredible, it’s certainly a bit easier to go fast when you know you can’t crash and hurt yourself.

Nevertheless in winter testing his speed in the simulator translated itself to real life, as he has set some very impressive times. He also seems to be mature beyond his years.

It will be interesting to see how he performs when the pressure is really on, but the signs are looking promising.

For McLaren, 2014 is a great chance to nurture him before they team up with Honda in 2015 which is their best chance to get back to championship winning ways.

Final Verdict: He won’t quite do what Hamilton and Jacques Villeneuve did in their first F1 seasons, but expect him to make a positive impact on the sport. A race victory at some point during the season is a realistic possibility.

Looking for part two, Hulkenberg to Ericsson? Click here.

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