The new Formula 1 season roars into action this weekend at the ever-familiar sights and sounds of Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. The new season comes with a few rule changes as well. The major change that has been incorporated by the FIA is the introduction of the new 1.6 litre V6 format engine. This is a change to the old 2.4 litre V8 engines, which teams have been using since 2006.
There has been some relief in the fact that the cars seem to be on pace with those of last year. Some feared that the new engine would cause the cars to perform three seconds slower per lap. A concern in the paddocks is also the fuel saving rule that is being enforced. Each car will have a limit of only 100kg of fuel per race this year and there is a worry that drivers will not be able to perform to the best of their ability if they need to conserve full during races.
Renault and Red Bull have had difficulty with the changes in the engine and have had a poor pre-season testing. Red Bull have completed just over 1,711 kilometres of driving over 12 days of testing. Compare this to rivals, Mercedes and Ferrari, who have completed 4,972 kilometres and 4,488 kilometres respectively. Only Ferrari-powered Marussia and Lotus, also Renault-powered, have covered fewer miles.
However, this morning’s second practice showed that there have been improvements with the Milton-Keynes team’s car. Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel came fourth, 0.756 seconds behind Lewis Hamilton, who topped the time sheets. His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo came in 6th, just 0.157 seconds behind the German.
The talking story of pre-season has been of the Mercedes W05 and its speed. The team is favourite to win, not only the Constructor’s Championship this season, but also to win the Drivers Championship with Lewis Hamilton. The team completed a one-two on Friday practice, despite Hamilton missing the first practice session due to an oil sensor calibration problem.
This year could see Vettel and Red Bull’s grip on the titles finally loosen with the challenge of Mercedes and Hamilton. Hamilton’s teammate, Nico Rosberg shouldn’t be ruled out either as a contender, winning three races last year (all consecutively). He also outperformed Hamilton nine times last season and was only out of the top ten three times.
The Ferrari F14 T has also run well during pre-season testing. Nonetheless, one of the major talking points (if not THE major talking point) regarding Ferrari has been the driver line up. One could call it a “Dream Team” with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen and it’ll be interesting to see how these two marquee names will work together during the season. A battle between these two for the top spot on the podium is mouth watering, to say the least. We witnessed Alonso compete with a teammate before (Lewis Hamilton) and that ended with the Spaniard leaving McLaren, acrimoniously.
If you are looking to support a dark horse this season, then look no further than Force India. Their line up is impressive with Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Their car, powered by Mercedes, has also been reliable throughout pre-season. The team’s best performance last year was 4th in the Bahrain Grand Prix. They should be able to push up the grid this year and, hopefully, get on the podium a couple of times this season.
A team on a downward spiral is Lotus. Last year’s 4th place team haven’t had the best pre-season. They, like Red Bull, are using Renault engines and, as mention above, have clocked in some of the fewest miles during pre-season testing. They have also taken a risk with the line up of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado. Both men are known for their erratic driving and Grosjean will need to step up his game, as he has big shoes to fill, following Kimi Raikkonen as lead driver.
Lotus also lost their Technical Director, James Allison last year and have recently lost, Team Principal, Eric Bouiller to McLaren. Times are tough at the Oxford based team. New Technical Director, Nick Chester has predicted a tough start to the season and one would have to wonder what could happen to the team if they are not matching the top teams by the time the Bahrain and Chinese Grand Prix’s come around.
It might be a cliché, but this season should be an exciting one as Mercedes attempt to break the monopoly that Red Bull has had on the sport for the last four seasons. Despite their good performances in pre-season, Mercedes’ Executive Director, Toto Wolff has played down his team’s label as favourites. “In past seasons, the favourites after the first test were not always in the same position at the first race,” claimed Wolff to the BBC.
Wolff’s comments are interesting and should be noted. While Mercedes have performed well in pre-season and in the second practice, there have been other teams that have performed well, they probably went under the radar due to the focus being on Red Bull’s poor performances. Look to Ferrari to put in a scrap with Mercedes for the Constructor’s title, while Hamilton battles it out with Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen, Button and even his own teammate, Rosberg, for the Driver’s Championship.