F1 2014…who will win…?

With only one test remaining before the start of the 2014 F1 season, excitement is building to a pitch unimaginable from a V6 engine! The season kicks off in Australia on March 16th, and here, forumula1.com brings you the latest stories and our predictions. At the risk of red faces all round come lights out, we stick out our necks and present our categories for how it will all pan out: Winners And Championships, Podiums and Points, Needle and Intrigue and Just Plain Slow.

Winners and Championships
The word following the tests is that anything with a Mercedes power plant is seriously quick. That means Mercedes in the box seat as the works team, and with a driver line-up like Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as one of the best in the business, this is their best chance in years. For my money, and it’s only a hunch, McLaren look to have built a slightly niftier car than their rivals. Their weaknesses – namely lack of access to cutting edge engine data and developments, and a rookie in one of the seats – outweigh those at Mercedes in this season where reliability and consistency may well win titles.

Meanwhile, Ferrari are dark (prancing) horses. There was pressure to get it right this season and I’ve a suspicion it will have borne fruit. Their driver line-up is mouthwatering and I don’t think they’ll have lost too much in Rob Smedley’s departure as most of his time at the team was taken up looking after Felipe Massa.

Elsewhere, in this most gloriously unpredictable of years, I reckon we’ll see a ‘different’ winner. By which I mean that someone in a Force India (Nico Hulkenberg, here’s looking at you) or even a Williams (Valterri Bottas, heads up) could take advantage of an attritional race and come through to triumph.

Podiums and points
Lotus would also be in the above category if you were going on 2012-2013 form alone, but they find themselves projected podium contenders only because they are the team with the most winter disadvantages. Firstly the ongoing financial instability, then the departure of key figures like James Allison, Kimi Raikkonen and Eric Boullier in that order, and finally missing the first test – it must have hurt the plucky Enstone concern. We can’t expect much of Maldonado but it’s a fair bet Grosjean will show speed and resourcefulness even when the odds are stacked against.

The elephant in the room is Red Bull Racing. Their testing woes have been well-documented: it seems quite clear that the tight packaging of Adrian Newey’s RB10’s rear end, coupled with the Renault engine’s tendency to strop, has had quite an unfortunate effect on their development. It may be quick, the machine, but as fragile as a butterfly, and the lack of track time they’ve had will have hurt them. It must be hard for the team to find motivation too, after having won at a canter last season. I can’t believe at the moment, though, that it’s suddenly dropped them to the back of the grid. They’ll recover somehow to be on the podium at the very least by the end of the year.

Williams and Sauber are good bets for points if nothing more, and it wouldn’t at all be a surprise to see STR trouncing their stablemates on one or two occasions, particularly given they have a different power plant. Kvyat excites me and JEV is in the last chance saloon.

Needle and intrigue
Will the cars go? Will they stop? Will they complete a race in between? Those are the questions on everybody’s lips. Everyone seems to reckon the bulletproof reliability of recent years will have vanished for this year, and that could lead to fascinating, unpredictable races. No one has any idea what will transpire except the tech boffins within the teams, and they are keeping schtum. I wouldn’t like to be a driver either, with fuel load, tyres, ERS and a bucketload of torque to deal with into the bargain.

How will Kevin Magnussen do? He’ll be quick.

Penalty points are on the menu in 2014 for errant driving. Stewards can apportion points for an incident to a maximum of 12, which would result in a one-race ban. The usual suspects had better watch out! Having said that, we really wouldn’t want a fear of sanction resulting in a lack of daring on track. Let’s hope the stewards dish it out sensibly.

Much has been made of the look of the cars and some anteater-style noses. Front on, I have seen more beautiful beasts. Side on, though, they look awesome, with the McLaren, the Force India and the Ferrari my favourites. I love the sloping noses, even if I can’t really see the point of them for the safety reasons cited, as you could just as easily get a gearbox in your face if you rear-ended another chap. Hey-ho. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen.

Oh Bernard. You didn’t get sent down this time, as you weren’t guilty, but the judge did remark on your character. What that’s got to do with anything I don’t know. However, you’re still very much the Don Corleone of the whole shebang and just recently you’ve rubbed a fair few chaps up the wrong way. Double points are clearly cheap and nasty, but we’re willing to see how it works out, not that we can do anything about it. The chap who runs the Austin GP wants to see you though. He’s not best pleased. Did you check when the US GP is scheduled? 2 November, is it? The same date as the NASCAR Texas 500? Oh dear. How many people do you think will be coming to the F1?

And we say welcome back to the Austrian GP, at the once Osterreichring, then the A1 ring, now (rather inevitably I suppose) the Red Bull Ring. More enchanting scenery there could not be. The racing I remember as dull. We also say hello to Sochi and the Russian GP on 12 October. They’ve just finished the sliding about on ice competition in Sochi I’ve heard. Clear it all up and get ready for F1.

Just plain slow
will be Caterham, says the returning giant Kamui Kobayashi. He’s endeared himself to his new employers by saying that he’d be better off in a GP2 car. Not great, Kamui, and it’s common knowledge that Tony Fernandes’ patience is running out. Marussia could spring a surprise but I doubt they will. Here’s to a great season though. Enjoy!