F1 2014: season preview

Happy New Year all. F1 2014 is already under way testing in rainy southern Spain, but as there ain’t much that can be read into those times, here’s a season preview instead! So what has been happening behind the scenes in the off season? Who are the movers and shakers? Who are the men to watch? What effect will the new rules have?

Off season stories
Michael Schumacher
Everyone at this website wishes the seven-time champion a full and speedy recovery after his dreadful skiing accident.
John Button
RIP. A man who looked as though he very much enjoyed his racing, his wine and his son’s championship glory. A life impeccably well-lived.
Bernie Ecclestone
Is this the beginning of the end for the great dictator? He has voluntarily loosened his grip on the sport as he undergoes charges in a German court relating to the sale of F1’s commercial rights to CVC Capital Partners. Of course, those who know him well suggest he’s as canny as ever and he will be back, but I’d submit that in future we’ll look back and pinpoint the winter 2013/2014 as the start of the denouement of the Bernie era.
Double points at the final race
See above. What a cack-handed, shallow, ill-thought-through indictment of modern money-obsessed motorsport, cooked up to please a few important people. It’s precisely this time of muddle-headedness, brazenly defended and passed off as a cogent response to Vettel’s recent dominance, that indicates the sport is not being particularly well-managed at this point in time.

Movers and shakers
Eric Boullier
is off to McLaren, everyone thinks. The former Lotus man has handed in his notice at Enstone and is presumably tootling down the road to Woking, stopping at a motorway pub or two on the way I suppose which must be what is taking him so long. Oh no! Stop press! He’s arrived! A ludicrous question from a rival hack asked recently whether Boullier’s Frenchness would be an issue at McLaren. He’ll be far too busy trying to drag the team back to the front of the grid to worry about their perception of his nationality!
Gerard Lopez
is taking the rudder at the good ship Lotus, a hardy vessel which has seen more than its fair share of its storms, with a crew that are battle-hardened with a forged-in-the-fire siege mentality. Never having met Lopez, I can’t judge him, but he will have to nevertheless prove himself an astute leader and racer if he is to command the team’s respect.
Daniel Ricciardo
is in at Red Bull. On first glance most would say ‘oh dear, opposite Vettel, this can’t end well’, but actually I don’t think the grinning Aussie can lose in 2014. Beat the wunderkind and everyone will spit out their tea; lose and it will be what is expected, possibly even weirdly benefitting his career prospects.
Kimi Raikkonen
is now in the Massa comfy chair at Ferrari. But if it is Kimi Mk II (the Lotus years) who climbs into that red machine, instead of the flatulent ice-cream swilling 2008-spec version, we will have one of the head-to-heads of all time on our hands. Regardless of car performance, I want to spend 2014 just watching the two Ferraris race each other.
Kevin Magnussen
is Jan’s son, and will drive a McLaren race car this season. Do we think he’s ready? Do we think he has the talent? Do we think he’s significantly better than Sergio Perez might have been? Whatever your answer to those questions, there’s no doubting Magnussen’s speed, intelligence and media training. He has pointed out that it might be a good year for a rookie with all the reg changes, so let’s hope he fires alongside JB.
Pastor Maldonado
has taken a Lotus seat, the PdVSA backing heralding his arrival on the publicity shots of the E22. Maldonado commands a great deal of respect but, truth be told, it seems mainly to come from his committed fans rather than impartial observers. There’s no doubt he drove brilliantly well in Spain in 2012 to win his maiden race. Observers will require him to do that rather more regularly to shake off that pesky pay driver tag.
Felipe Massa
is in at Williams, where the sun is setting. Or is it? Is the gutsy, back-to-the-wall Felipe still with us? Can he motivate and rejuvenate the ailing team? As with Maldonado, he’ll need to confound expectations to succeed. Unless the Grove concern have nailed the rule changes…
Sergio Perez
has found refuge at Force India, after the blood-letting at McLaren (that is increasingly looking as if it was a futile final night-of-the-long-knives act from a CEO under pressure) claimed him as a victim. Perez’s ability to bounce back from such a setback will be a measure of the man, and he has a considerable challenge in the shape of
Nico Hulkenberg
who must be wondering what he needs to do to get a top drive. Plug away, that’s what. Dispose of Perez, regularly outperform the machinery and other drivers in better cars, points and podiums. Result: Ferrari/McLaren/Mercedes in 2015?
Daniil Kvyat
is a tantalising prospect. He looks to continue the recent Red Bull tradition of not picking turkeys, unlike they used to (Scott Speed, Seb Bourdais, Tonio Liuzzi). He will be measured by the Vettel yardstick, as all are, and must not be found wanting, lest Tost and his masters bung another fresh-faced ingenue in.
Marcus Ericsson
will drive for Caterham this year. I’ve never noticed this chap before, watching the lower formulae. But we must wish him the best of luck in his rookie year – he’ll have to go some to beat the Japanese fellow in the other seat!

Farewell for the time being to
Ross Brawn
who’s off to fish some more, as people are fond of saying. Too many cooks at Merc, goes the story. Now his rumoured link with McLaren has gone off the boil, I sense he may be angling (no pun intended) for an FIA job either now or in the near future. He’s an addition to the scene, is Ross. Come back soon.
Martin Whitmarsh
The last time I saw Whitmarsh he was contemplating a pot plant in his office at the MTC. He didn’t look very much like a man with a plan, and it seems that Mumtalakat or Ron Dennis or Mansour Ojjeh or any combination of the above agreed. I don’t know enough about the inner workings of McLaren to be able to point the finger of blame at Whitmarsh, who always seemed competent enough, and there might also have been other issues within the organisation. But the upshot is that he isn’t the face of the team any more.
Mark Webber
is off to sportscars. By his own recent admission, he wasn’t as sharp as he used to be, so it was the right time.
Paul di Resta
seems more to be the victim of circumstance than his own failure to impress. Much is written in the blogosphere about his perceived aloofness, and his unwillingness to connect on a human level with his team. I think it didn’t help, but money and speed speak volumes in this sport nowadays, and di Resta didn’t apparently have enough of either.
Giedo van der Garde
Yet further evidence of the cut throat world of F1. Van der Garde impressed last season, and yet he’s out of a job. A pity.
Charles Pic
Yet further evidence of the cut throat world of F1.

Men to watch
Sebastian Vettel
is just today at Jerez saying that he is not particularly enamoured of the new Red Bull, but be not fooled: this man is lethal. He will be there or thereabouts regardless of the car’s performance.
Fernando Alonso
is on a mission in 2014, which could be his last year at Ferrari. He has to pass a stern test in the shape of Raikkonen and he will.
Lewis Hamilton
may well have a great year, his first day testing mishap notwithstanding. Mercedes are the insider’s tip for this season and Hamilton, now settled and in a comfort zone of sorts, looks a good bet for the title. He will be run close by
Nico Rosberg
who is rapidly turning into the real deal.
Romain Grosjean
also improved drastically towards the end of last season, and despite the lack of testing or machinery shortcomings, will outdrive his team mate comfortably and occasionally the competition. His upward trajectory may be in the balance so he’ll be hoping he doesn’t suffer too many setbacks.

The new rules
Engines
So we lose normally aspirated V8s and gain turbocharged V6s. No great loss to anybody except the engine nerds, and in the year I was born they raced turbos, so I have a soft spot for them. No particular emotional breakdown over the lower pitch noise here at forumula1.com towers either. But what it will mean is eight-speed gearboxes as engineers try to rein in and modulate the torque, and twitchy right feet for drivers as they attempt to minimise wheelspin. Jenson Button among others has requested a longer throttle pedal to cope! Could be interesting, especially in the wet.
ERS
is a new name for KERS as far as I understand it. Road-relevant, so will keep the manufacturers happy and maybe attract VW/Porsche or others. Safety concerns have cropped up from none other than Adrian Newey, who thinks the new battery may be a fire hazard. He also thinks changes to the
Nose and wings
which primarily consist of a lower, more sculpted nose, might be hazardous if drivers run square into the back of each other. They could be, but high noses pose their own risks. I love the look of lower noses anyway. Newey might also be sore that blown diffusers and the Coanda effect, which he made sing to his own tune, are outlawed this season.

Last chance for…
Caterham
says their boss Tony Fernandes, who quite understandably has got a bit grumpy that he hasn’t seen any return on his frankly sizeable investment. It always surprises me that more people who invest bucketloads in underperforming teams don’t get similarly mardy. Their recall of Kobayashi is inspired. If he can’t work wonders, no one can.
Stefano Domenicali
must have watched goings-on at McLaren with a dry mouth. All his avuncular bonhomie won’t save him if he can’t – with all the resources, Pat Fry and James Allison, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen at his disposal – produce the goods.
McLaren
whose car looks a bit bare without a title sponsor. They do have a long list of enviable partners, it’s true, but Vodafone were slinging £30m at them according to some reports, and that isn’t small fry even to McLaren. Performance and money are both required, but without one it can be ruthlessly hard to get the other.

So here’s to a fantastic season in prospect!