Following the dominance of Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull Racing Team last season, Formula One as a competitive sport was becoming harder and harder to defend.
Even the German’s most ardent of fans would have had to admit that even though his record breaking nine consecutive wins at the end of 2013 was a mighty impressive feat, it wasn’t exactly conducive to exciting racing with the RB9 being a car that was so dominant.
So dominant was Vettel, that only two drivers last season got within 50% of his total; and Mark Webber, his team mate, got their by one point. By the end of the season, Formula One had become dangerously predictable.
But 2014 is proving to a very different proposition and with the season starting this weekend at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia, no-one is quite sure what to expect of the season ahead.
In the words of McLaren driver Jenson Button:
“I think this year’s Australian Grand Prix is going to be an absolutely fascinating sporting contest. I don’t think anybody knows quite what to expect – will we see more than half the field at the end of the race? Will we see good, close racing? Will the pecking order pan out as we expect? Those are all questions that we’ve yet to see answered, and part of what makes for such a fun weekend.”
The changes to the regulations for this season have meant a massive rethink over the design of the cars and the way that they will run.
Cars will now have to start races carrying 100kg of fuel – compared to approximately 150kg in 2013 – to complete the distance with a limited fuel-flow rate of 100kg/hour. The engines have changed as well, which the 2.4-litre V8 engines that were used in 2013 replaced by 1.6-litre V6s with a single turbocharger. Furthermore, the change in the way that the KERS system is implemented means that a failure in that component could cost cars up to five seconds a lap.
Pre-season testing has thrown up some interesting outcomes and no team was immune from mechanical failure leading to mass doubts over the reliability of the cars and quite how many will actually manage to finish the opening Grand Prix of the season. Australia usually sees a high rate of attrition compared to other events with an average of just 13 finishers out of 22 starters over the last five seasons. In 2008 however, only six cars managed to get to the finish of the race, and it is a distinct possibility that given the way that testing has gone, a similar scenario may occur. Indeed, the first time that both the Red Bull and the Lotus team manages to complete a full race distance this season would be if they manage to take the chequered flag on Sunday.
The unpredictable nature of the forthcoming season could be exactly what the Marussia and the Caterham teams need if they are to pick up their first ever points in F1. If there is high attrition and reliability issues at the start of the season then there is a chance that they can actually make it to the finish of the first few races.
Based on pre-season information, the teams with the Mercedes engine look as if they have an initial advantage at this stage, which is good news for fans of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team at this stage look as if they are the team to beat. Red Bull boss Christian Horner has even stated that: “Looking at Mercedes’ race simulation, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they finished two laps ahead of everyone in Melbourne,” a situation that the rule changes were designed to avoid. The controversial decision to award double points for the final race of the season around the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, ostensibly introduced because of the dominance of Red Bull last season could end up favouring the Austrian team if the Mercedes is as strong as expected at the start of the season, giving them a little bit longer to catch up.
Other changes for the season have seen the return of customized driver numbers, while there is significant intrigue in how Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, teammates at Ferrari get on this season, with both men having a genuine case to be the best driver amongst the current grid lineup
Last season, Formula One was very predictable, and sport, by its very nature, relies on unpredictability to create the drama and suspense that draws in its fanbase. This season however, will not be like that at all. Nobody knows quite what to expect. Nobody knows what will happen. Nobody is really sure of anything at the moment. It is the beginning of a new era in Formula One.
As the great Murray Walker was fond of saying in commentary: “Anything can happen in Formula 1, and it usually does.” Mostly this was just a line to make the viewer believe that the unexpected could happen and a lot of time, wasn’t the case at all.
This season however, that quote, should be entirely appropriate…