F1 returns next week as eager drivers and teams await their fate at pre-season testing. Have they mastered the new rules? Have they built a car capable of winning races? Or have they got it completely wrong? All these annual questions are due to be announced as F1 wakes from its winter hibernation to launch a brand new season.
As per usual there are the customary rule changes, but this season they are less of a tweak and more of a radical overhaul. The new 1.6 litre Turbo V6 engines will make the cars slower and give them a deeper and less attractive noise. The aerodynamic regulations will see the nose cone’s drop lower to the floor and become narrower, while exhaust pipes will be channelled under the car. Because of this completely new setup, we can expect a lot of technical failures that won't be covered by car Insurance with express insurance.
All of this means that the class of 2014 will look very different to anything we have seen in a number of years in a massive change surpassing the ‘stepped nose’ of 2012. McLaren will be the first to unveil their car this week, while Lotus will miss the first test altogether as they aren’t ready, underlining the chaos the changes have caused.
On the track it is likely to take some time for the teams to get to grips with their cars with technical difficulties, which were a rarity last season as all the teams had mastered those rules, likely to appear regularly well into the season. Expect engine blow ups and ERS (a newer and more sophisticated version of KERS) to cause many problems. That could mean a fragmented test in Jerez with many stoppages and little hard information to go on. That is the norm in F1 testing, but this year more than ever will see red flags galore as the teams take a step into the unknown.
It is hoped, within the F1 circle, that the new rules might halt the unstoppable Red Bull train and its captain Sebastian Vettel. However, the likelihood that design genius Adrian Newey fall drastically to the back of the pack is slim at best. Red Bull will no doubt be competitive at the front and the main challenge is expected to come from familiar foes Ferrari and Mercedes. Not much has changed you might think, but both Mercedes and Ferrari will boast the strongest engines and that will be a crucial factor this season.
Lotus’s season has already began in an unideal fashion with their absence at Jerez testing next week. They will miss crucial running time that could leave them undercooked for the beginning of the season. McLaren will be hoping that the focus on this season, which saw them neglect improvements to last season’s car at an early stage, will pay off. But the uncertain future of team principle Martin Whitmarsh will be a concern as former boss Ron Dennis lurks in the shadows.
With the reduced engine size race strategy will play a bigger part than ever and it tyre conservation will be key. This plays into Vettel’s hands as he has constantly proven on the fragile Pirelli tyres that he is the master of driving fast, carefully. Lewis Hamilton could be at the other end of that spectrum but the 29-year-old will be confident that this season will present a level playing field from which he can show his real ability. Fernando Alonso will also be expected to get the better of new team mate Kimi Raikkonen due to his more lenient treatment of tyres.
The bottom line is that no one really knows what to expect from the next few weeks. Chaos is a certainty. Panicked and confused faces are another. But asides from that F1 really taking a trip into the darkness, but after the last few seasons, it is exactly what it needs.