WITH the technical rules remaining virtually unchanged, Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and McLaren are expected to continue as the main title contenders. That’s because stable regulations usually mean the gap between the best and the rest gets wider.
But that stability could also allow Lotus to seriously threaten the top trio’s dominance if it maintains the momentum it built up last year. Lotus had plenty of race speed that enabled Kimi Raikkonen to shine in his formula one comeback, making his way to third in the drivers’ world championship, with regular appearances on the podium and a memorable victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Even Raikkonen’s unruly teammate Romain Grosjean showed winning potential on the few occasions he didn’t run into someone or something. In its former Renault guise, Lotus – nothing to do with the storied British F1 team of yore; it’s a long story – won the world title with Fernando Alonso in 2005-06, ending Michael Schumacher’s five-year unbeaten reign with Ferrari.
A small step forward, especially in qualifying, should see Raikkonen racing from the front and threatening for the crown.
WILL HE THRIVE OR WILL HE DIVE?
That’s the burning question about Lewis Hamilton’s risky move from safe-haven McLaren (where he was nurtured from age 12) to the Mercedes-Benz madhaus.
The three-pointed-star squad has undergone a management upheaval that has installed brutally blunt F1 legend Niki Lauda as Stuttgart’s standover man. Lauda’s track record of running teams is as bad as his efforts at launching airlines are good.
Mega money and freedom from McLaren’s strict regime were Hamilton’s incentives to switch, plus the challenge of leading the Silver Arrows to the long-promised land of world-title glory after three years of underachievement.
Hamilton is arguably the fastest driver in F1, but whether Mercedes can provide him with a winning weapon remains to be seen. Amid the team’s frictions and factions, the change will also test his maturity and patience.
With Hamilton on board, Mercedes will have nowhere to hide if the car isn’t fast enough to win.
THAT MAN VETTEL
While Sebastian Vettel chases a historic modern-era fourth world title in a row and Fernando Alonso resumes his bid for his first with Ferrari, there will be a handful of new-generation drivers trying to make their mark.
Chief among them is Mexico’s Sergio Perez, plucked unexpectedly from midfielder Sauber to replace Hamilton at McLaren.
Perez punched above the sleepy Swiss squad’s weight on occasion last year – most notably nearly causing an upset at the Malaysian GP – but his form was wildly inconsistent, compounded by a puzzling lack of pace at the end of the season.
Joining McLaren for only his third year in F1, he will be expected to push his experienced teammate Jenson Button – who must be overjoyed to be paired with a comparative novice – and be a front-runner.
Perez will have the opportunity to win if he is up to the unrelenting pressure of expectation at McLaren.
Others hoping to enforce their displays of speed – and rehabilitate their reputations – are Williams’ Pastor Maldonado, the biggest upset winner of last year amid a season of thuggish driving, and Lotus loose cannon Grosjean. If they can contain their impetuosity, they have the pace to impress.
Once again, there will be two Australians in F1 – something that has not happened on a regular basis since the 1970s. But will both – or either – Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo still be there next year?
Heading into his 12th season, Webber is the oldest driver at 36 and, by his own laconic admission, a lot closer to the end of his career than the start. He is fit, feisty and a proven winner, despite being clearly in the Red Bull shadow of Vettel. Webber rejected official No. 2 status at Ferrari for another one-year deal as Vettel’s unspoken wingman, betting on himself to know whether he’ll be ready for retirement.
There will be competition for Webber’s seat from Ricciardo, whose second season with Red Bull’s Toro Rosso junior team is nothing less than an audition for his compatriot’s place next year. Ricciardo, in turn, will have to outperform his fast French teammate, Jean-Eric Vergne, to earn possible promotion to RBR. Both have been backed by the energy drink giant through the junior ranks to their F1 apprenticeships and will have to justify the investments.
Enjoy the banshee wail of F1 engines while it lasts. This is the last year of the screaming V8s that have provided the sport’s signature sound for several years. In a move to appear greener and make its engine technology more relevant to road cars, F1 is switching to smaller, turbocharged V6s next year.
The current normally aspirated V8s are 2.4-litre pocket rockets that, despite cost and technical restrictions, spin to a maximum of 18,000 rpm and produce more than 520 kW. Combined, their high-pitched notes make an F1 field sound like a swarm of mutant mosquitoes. Their shriek will be replaced in 2014 by a more guttural, turbo-muffled growl that engine makers promise will assuage fans’ concerns that F1’s aural appeal will be diminished. The 1.6-litre blown V6s will be reminiscent of the turbo motors that dominated F1 from 1981 until banned at the end of 1988. Limited to 15,000 rpm, they will still produce up to 560 kW with the assistance of energy-recovery systems to power an additional hybrid-style electric motor. They will also use less fuel, with the tank capacity of the cars reduced by more than a third.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.