crankandpiston.com walks you through some of the themes to keep an eye on in Formula 1 in 2014.
1. Wang-KERS[Not a valid template]
Anatomically unfortunate Formula 1 cars have proven one of the biggest talking points during mid-season testing at Jerez and Bahrain. It’s true that any winning car is beautiful, but when the cars on the grid resemble either a half-melted ice sculpture (Caterham CT05) or Cyril Sneer (Ferrari F14 T), there’s only so far you can push that analogy. The new noses come courtesy of 2014 regulations designed to stop cars launching over the top of each other in high-speed shunts, Mark Webber’s frightening accident at Valencia in 2010 a timely reminder of the consequences.
The other big talking point are the new 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 engines, which brings the 2006-2013 2.4-litre V8 era to a close. A return to the turbo era has sports purists crying with joy, even if the waves have parted concerning the engine noise: our favourites so far include a ‘deep warble’ and a ‘banshee cat during child birth’. But there’s more to these new regulations than simply dumping an engine in. Gearboxes have been re-designed and re-positioned for optimum performance, bodywork has been changed for slicker and more aerodynamic efficiency. And KERS – the Kinetic Energy Recovery System first introduced in 2009 – has now been re-engineered in accordance with each engine’s new turbocharger.
Whereas before KERS worked by harnessing waste energy created under braking and transforming it into electrical energy, the new ERS – Energy Recovery Systems – combines two energy recovery systems: Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic [MGU-K], similar to the old system, and Motor Generator Unit – Heat [MGU-H], connected to the turbocharger which converts heat energy from exhaust gases into electrical energy. In the fine print, you’ll find the phrase ‘could prove unreliable’, a theme we’re likely to see throughout the opening races.
2. Lucky number 13. Or 99. Or 14…[Not a valid template]
Driver helmet designs – with the assistance of marketing-driven competitions and social media’s ravenous strive for global domination – have gradually become less and less significant in F1. Throw in sponsor decals and a new fad of changing helmet colours to match the car, and you’ll struggle to recognise anybody’s helmet on the grid, or any individuality.
Enter driver-specific numbers for 2014, as F1 takes the MotoGP and NASCAR approach. Valentino Rossi’s famous #46 is as well known in motor racing circles as the man himself, just as Gilles Villeneuve remains synonymous with #27, Nigel Mansell with ‘Red 5’, and Dale Earnhardt will forever be #3. Well, ‘the Intimidator’ and Austin Dillon as of 2014 anyway.
Give it three or four races, and Fernando Alonso’s new #14 could be as loved by the Tifosi as Michael Schumacher’s red helmet, just as Adrian Sutil’s #99 – the highest number on a Grand Prix car since Rudolf Krause drove #136 at the 1952 German Grand Prix car – or Pastor Maldonado’s ‘lucky’ #13 could prove amongst the most popular. There’s also the marketing and merchandise potential for driver specific number year-on-year.
3. Dasvidaniya Korea[Not a valid template]
When Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kyvat hits the grid for his F1 debut in Melbourne, he simultaneously knocks Russia off a very exclusive list. Hitherto Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Chile, Hungary, Malaysia, Lichtenstein and Thailand are the only nations to produce just one F1 driver. And reigning GP3 champ Kyvat is not the only presence Russia will have on F1 this year
For the first time in a century, Grand Prix racing returns to Russia, specifically the new Sochi International Street Circuit. It’s a race that’s been in development since the late 1980s (though the first F1 race run behind the Iron Curtain came courtesy of Hungary’s entry in 1986) and displaces both the Korean and Indian Grands Prix. Whilst these two former Sebastian Vettel stomping grounds are unlikely to be missed – poor ticket sales emphasise as much – rumours abound that the Buddh International Circuit will return in 2015 once its high-profile financial problems are sorted. In the interim, the Red Bull Ring (formerly A1) returns to F1 for the first time since 2003. The only current drivers on that grid – alongside Jenson Button – were Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, and Ferrari have never been shy about creating headlines in Austria…
Oh by the way, Vitaly Petrov (RUS, formerly Renault), Robert Kubica (POL, BMW/Renault); Tomasz Enge (CZE, Prost); Zsolt Baumgartner (HUN, Jordan); Alex Yoong (MAL, Minardi); Rikky von Opel (LI, Ensign); and Prince Bira (THA, Maserati) are the names you’re currently trying to remember.
4. Return of the Mac[Not a valid template]
Last season marked McLaren’s lowest finish in the standings since 2004, not counting its 2007 exclusion. Even in 2004 though the Woking-based squad took victory at the Belgian Grand Prix, whereas neither Jenson Button nor Sergio Perez graced the podium at all in 2013. You have to go all the way back to 1980 for the last time that happened. 2014 hasn’t got off to the best start either, with lead driver Jenson Button proclaiming the new MP4-29 ‘not fast enough’ despite relatively reliable running in Bahrain.
Problems aplenty then at Woking, solutions for which are top of the agenda. Shake-ups pre-season have seen Ron Dennis step back unto the breach at the expense of former Group CEO Martin Whitmarsh, and for a man who considers second ‘first of the losers’, such a situation for HIS team is unthinkable. Then there’s the new driver line-up.
A tumultuous relationship between hotshot Perez and old hand Button last season (during which words were said after two perilously close calls on-track at Monaco and Bahrain) is at an end, newboy Kevin Magnussen emulating his father Jan in the second McLaren seat. The young Dane has proven blisteringly quick in every Formula up the ladder, the 21-year-old nailing 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 and 2008 Formula Ford Denmark honours as a result. He’s all too aware that McLaren – just one year away from a Honda engine deal – have taken a risk in giving Perez’s berth to him, and he’ll be looking to deliver quickly. As will Ron Dennis.