But with one of the biggest regulation shake-ups in F1 history, the 2014 season looks an even more tantalising prospect than usual. However, it’s about far more than the much-heralded move to ERS-assisted V6 turbo engines…
All new line-ups
2014 sees a large number of drivers ditching their old team gear for a different coloured race suit - and a new team mate. The first person that any driver wants to beat is his team mate, and to that end, to say that some of new match-ups are tantalising is an understatement. At Ferrari, returnee Kimi Raikkonen - the Scuderia’s last world champion - will go up against the man who’s yet to win the title in red despite several years of trying, Fernando Alonso.
At Lotus, it’ll be equally fascinating as Raikkonen’s seat alongside the improved Romain Grosjean has been taken by the fast but erratic Pastor Maldonado. A couple of garages along at Force India the battle for supremacy will between two drivers who each have plenty to prove after being passed over by bigger teams - Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez.
At Williams, Felipe Massa will measure his speed against highly-rated team mate Valtteri Bottas, whilst at Red Bull four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel will have to see off the challenge of another quick Australian, Daniel Ricciardo. Who will get the upper hand in these new intra-team rivalries? We can’t wait to find out.
A new crop of talented rookies
So far we know there’ll be at least two rookies on the starting grid in Australia in March, both of who come with huge expectations. Not since Lewis Hamilton in 2007 have McLaren handed a rookie a race drive, but that’s exactly what they’re doing in 2014 with highly-rated youngster Kevin Magnussen. The fact that they’ve chosen the 21-year old to partner former world champion Jenson Button (rather than retain Sergio Perez) speaks volumes for what the team think of the Dane’s talents. It’s something of a risk promoting him in a season when there is likely to be a great deal of technical development, but the Woking-based squad rate his feedback highly despite his minimal F1 testing experience.
The other rookie to keep an eye on is Russian driver Daniil Kvyat. The 19-year-old GP3 champion was a somewhat surprising replacement for Daniel Ricciardo at Toro Rosso, but instantly impressed when he took part in FP1 in both the United States and Brazil at the tail end of 2013. Helmut Marko, the man who oversees Red Bull’s junior drivers, firmly believes Kvyat has what it takes to succeed in Formula One racing and expects him to provide team mate Jean-Eric Vergne with a firm challenge.
Big changes to the regulations
The new season brings with it the biggest technical shake-up in years - it’s in with 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines, new energy recovery systems, and fuel limits, to mention just a few of the changes. All of this can mean only one thing: unpredictability. History shows us that regulation changes have a habit of levelling the playing field, so whilst Red Bull dominated the championship in 2013, what’s to say they’ll have mastered the 2014 regulations better than anyone else?
It’s fair to say that all of the teams have committed more time and resources to their new cars than they would have under normal circumstances and there’s every chance that someone could spring a surprise. Pre-season testing will provide some clues as to the formbook, but we won’t really know the pecking order until qualifying in Australia. Even then, it will be difficult to predict a race result as it’s unclear at this point just how much the new regulations will impact on reliability and strategy. One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be exciting.
Exciting additions to the calendar
The calendar has been given some extra spice in 2014 with the addition of two races in two uniquely spectacular settings. First up, in June, Formula One racing will return to the high mountains and open pastures of Spielberg for the first Austrian Grand Prix since 2003. The circuit has been significantly renovated since then, but the characteristic elevation changes and flowing corners remain.
Then, in October, the sport will branch out into new territory as Sochi’s dazzling Olympic Park backdrops the inaugural Russian Grand Prix. Not only does the circuit promise to offer something different to any other venue on the calendar, but the race comes at what could well be a crucial time in the championship - round 16 of 19. Either way, it’ll be essential viewing.
Double points in Abu Dhabi
Whether the championship is on the line or not, there’s no doubt that added significance has been given to the final round of the 2014 title race in Abu Dhabi thanks to a new rule which will award drivers and teams double points for that Grand Prix, and that Grand Prix alone. Whether you love or loathe the idea, it’s impossible to believe that there won’t be an additional intensity to the racing at Yas Marina and that can only be a good thing.