Formula 1 cars have been the fastest, quickest, most expensive hybrids the world has seen for several years now. Their active aero (DRS) and energy recovery systems (KERS) have been emulated by cars as diverse as the Chevy Cruze Eco and the La Ferrari supercar. With teams spending hundreds of millions of dollars to compete and audiences that make the Super Bowl look- well, at least “less super”- Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, the state of the automotive art, and very definitely a thing … and the 2014 season is nearly upon us.
The first race of 2014 is next week, and it’s a whole new ballgame for Formula 1. Of course, the series’ new turbocharged hybrid engines- and their relative fuel efficiency!- are the talk of the paddock. Renault’s turbocharged V6 was heavily featured here on Gas 2, but its had some reliability issues- and that may be enough to prevent F1 Phenom Sebastian Vettel from scoring his 5th World Driver’s Championship this year. As for everyone else?
Here’s how they look, and here’s what I think about their odds …
With Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, Mercedes has one of the youngest and strongest driver pairings in the sport, and seem to have the most reliable engines so far- having racked up almost double the number of miles as rivals Ferrari and Renault have. Expect the Mercedes works team to be one of the favorites to win early races.
Red Bull Renault
Sometimes close, sometimes blowing away the field, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel has won every one the last 4 championships. In preseason testing this year, however, the Formula 1 juggernaut combination of Red Bull’s ace aerodynamicist Adrian Newey, Vettel’s machine-like driving skills, and Renault power seems to be faltering, and haven’t yet finished a race simulation. Don’t count them out, though– last year, they were all but out of it, before winning 9 in a row.
Williams Martini Mercedes
Despite flashes of brilliance like a 2010 pole position at Interlagos and a 2012 win in Spain, Williams has been nowhere for a few years. That all changes in 2014, however, with the addition of the highly experienced Felipe Massa, the speed of young Valtteri Bottas, and Mercedes power. Having played second fiddle to the legendary Michael Schumacher and world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen for the last decade, Massa has something to prove, and- whether he wins or not- he’ll be motivated to put his Williams ahead of Ferrari at all costs … as for whether or not he can, remember that this is Williams. They may have had some rough years, but they have also won 16 world championships. Expect great things.
Ferrari has, arguably, the strongest driver pairing in racing today in the form of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. For the first time in decades, the Scuderia has two world champion roosters in its henhouse, and how they play together- or don’t- could return a struggling Ferrari to its former glory, or utterly sink the ship. Adding to the drama is the unlikely reality of an ugly and slow Ferrari … which, you know, no one really knows what to make of.
Sauber has one of the best-looking cars on the 2014 Formula 1 grid. Historically, the old adage of “if it looks right, it is right” has rung true- and Sauber has a history of upsetting F1’s pecking order. This year, they don’t seem to have the most electrifying drivers out there, but Adrian Sutil has shown flashes of brilliance before. If the Sauber goes as good as it looks, he might be able to steal some podiums from a more established team …
… like McLaren. This is the droopy dog of the 2014 Formula 1 cars. It looks boring, the driver line-up is an utterly predictable combination of an aging World Champion in the form of Jenson Button and promising young rookie. The whole thing’s a snooze, really- a placeholder in McLaren’s proud history just waiting for 2015 when McLaren Mercedes becomes McLaren Honda and Button makes way for the great Fernando Alonso. That’s when things get serious.
Renault have always been giant-killers. Jim Clark, Mario Andretti, and Ayrton Senna became legends in the black and gold cars. In the hands of Fernando Alonso, a Renault drove a wooden stake into the heart of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari in their prime, on less than a fifth of the budget, two years in a row. So utterly was Schumacher beaten by Alonso that he retired, only to come back a few years later to get beat up on some more. In the hands of Kimi Raikkonen, the under-funded and scrappy Lotus team won a few races in 2012 and 2013, and 2014 sees the team with more financial security than usual, as well as two talented young drivers known for being- if anything- a bit too aggressive and willing to pitch the car into a wall to win a position, whether that’s 1st (as it was in Spain, 2012) or 14th (as it was many more times). If Grosjean and Maldonado can keep their respective heads out of their a**es and Renault can get their engine working, they could be spoilers- if not winners.
Force India Mercedes
Force India is another potential spoiler. The team is more than capable of scoring points, especially with their good-looking 2014 Formula 1 contenders in the hands of Nico “the Hulk” Hulkenberg and the fiery Sergio Perez. It’s widely believed that these two (along with Valtteri Bottas) are future World Champions in the making, so it’ll be interesting to see which one of them pulls ahead.
The Also-rans | Toro Rosso, Caterham, and Marussia
I’m fully prepared to eat a lot of crow for the following prediction, but I’ve recently become accustomed to crow, and I ain’t scared. So, I predict that Marussia (despite Ferrari power) won’t score any points at all this season, just like they haven’t scored points for the last three seasons of Formula 1. It doesn’t matter who they have driving the car (I, seriously, have no idea). I predict, also, that Toro Rosso won’t do much- they’ve had more reliable Ferrari power than their big brothers at Red Bull in the past, but they’re the junior team, and Red Bull will find a way to make sure they stay that way all year long. Finally, Caterham will score a point. Maybe more, thanks to the bizarrely aggressive talent of Kamui Kobayashi, who quit a steady gig at Ferrari to be the top dog at perennial back-markers Caterham Renault.
Kobayashi, apparently, is a Milton fan.