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F1 Slipstream Saturday: 2014 Season Preview

F1 Slipstream Saturday: 2014 Season Preview

So it’s time to say hello once again to this small niche of Frontstretch where we hide away in a corner and talk about the kids from the posh school once more. But what’s this? The kids have changed their uniform completely……they even….well…..sound different. And what’s happened to their noses??

Yep, it’s season preview time again, and unlike last season I’m actually going to try and be slightly less garrulous and squeeze everything, every team, every driver into just the one column…so,deep breath, here we go!

Changes

Before we go anywhere, though, a quick word on changes. This season is going to be completely different. For starters, we have the biggest change of the lot: we’re now using 1.6 litre, turbocharged V6 engines. What does that mean for the viewer? Well it means the return of unreliability (HOORAY!) and also a new noise (BOO!) The cars are sounding at best…..throaty. At worst, well, they’re just kinda quiet now, which really isn’t what the F1 experience is all about. But hey, I guess we’ll get used to it.

Just as we’ll get used to the new noses……maybe. If you’ve not seen the new F1 noses, well suffice to say that the most generous observers have likened it to taping a sex-aid on the front of your car. The Lotus even has a double protrusion (stop giggling at the back). In reality, we’re still doing the ugly thing in F1 right now.

For full details of the specifics of the changes, I’d suggest you take a look at one of the reputable sites around the net that deal in such currency. Here we’ll just tell you they’re ugly, unreliable and quiet. But folks, that ain’t such a bad thing…..

F1 has been dominated, as well you (should) know, recently by the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel. All power to the young German’s elbow, he and the team have done a magnificent job. They also continue to have the sport’s design genius, Adrian Newey. So, surely as we announce, in “Andy’s Championship Order Prediction” they’ll be at the top once again.

Well no. Here’s my top 10:

1 – Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton/Nico Rosberg

New regulations means new engines. Completely new. New engines means advantage goes to the manufacturer teams, and the manufacturer that seems to have got it right on the nose is Mercedes. After Red Bull seemingly dominating for as long as anyone can remember, it’s good to see someone else coming to the fore and getting ahead of them right? Well, .no, not really. The problem is that it feels like we might just have swapped one completely dominant team for another. It’s the same boring, just with different names and faces at the top. There’s even a suggestion (from Red Bull’s Christian Horner no less) that the Mercedes cars may lap the entire field this weekend in Australia. Twice.

Let me repeat that. Lapping the entire field. Twice.

No thanks.

Either way, Mercedes are my tip for the championship. Hamilton to win the Driver’s Crown.

The cars might look and sound different, but Formula 1 is back, baby!

2. Williams – Valtteri Bottas/Felipe Massa

Have you been on the funny pills there Andy? Williams? The once great team that has fallen into near obscurity in recent seasons? The team that struggled to score five whole points in 2013? You think they’re going to just wander up and take second place?

Well, yes I do, as it happens, at least for the initial stage of the season. Granted, the various ‘superpowers’ may catch up and ultimately overtake, but I’m adding my own goodwill to the equation here. The perennial sleeping giants have added the experience Pat Symonds, Rod Nelson and Rob Smedley to the team, not to mention the wealth of knowledge that Felipe Massa can bring, to blend with Bottas’s undoubted gifts. They’ve looked strong in testing, really strong, and reliable too. Plus the key piece of the puzzle – that Mercedes engine sitting in the back…

A (probably a bit unlikely, but I’m going for it) second Place.

So now, surely, it has to be Red Bu-

3. McLaren – Jenson Button/Kevin Magnussen

Nope, it’s McLaren. The ever reliable Jenson Button is this year joined by rookie (and son of Jan) Kevin Magnussen. Not just any rookie though, this kid is quick. Seriously quick. He could give Jenson some serious problems in the same car, much as Hamilton kept the heavy Spanish eyebrows of Fernando Alonso in a constant state of ‘bristle’ a little while back.

The car’s one of the prettier of the new breed and there’s two factors that make me confident in pushing them up to 3rd spot.

Firstly, yep, you guessed it, Mercedes plonked in the back.

Secondly, Ron’s back. Without him it felt a little like watching Star Wars without Darth Vader. He’s back and he’s in charge again……(yes Bernie, you can play the Emperor still….)

Right, now it has to be the World Cha……

4. Ferrari – Fernando Alonso/Kimi Raikkonen

Still no Red Bull…..strange huh?

Next up, we have Ferrari. For some reason I feel the same way about Ferrari as I have the past few seasons – they’ll be…okay, but the inadequacies will be countered and the cracks papered, by the outright pace and bloody mindedness of Fernando Alonso. Speaking of bloody minded, there’s a certain Finn in the other car that really, really doesn’t care what the rest of us think. The relationship between that pair is one to keep an eye on.

So, ladies and gents, languishing in fifth place, Seb Ve-

5. Force India – Sergio Perez/Nico Hulkenberg

A car this season driven by two pretty unlucky men. Well, as much as having a job driving F1 cars can be considered unlucky, these two hold the baton. Sergio Perez didn’t really do an awful lot wrong last year in his debut at McLaren, but they decided that ‘not a lot wrong’ isn’t good enough and dropped him, so he has something to prove. Hulkenberg…oh Nico. What does this boy have to do to get a top drive? He’s exceptional and will likely prove so once again in a confident Force India. Why so confident? Yep, you guessed it. Mercedes engine.

6. Red Bull – Sebastian Vettel/Daniel Ricciardo

“At last!” I hear you cry. Well, honestly, this really is where I expect Red Bull to be this year. Their preparation for the season has been so achingly bad that I was tempted to even put the Sauber in ahead of them. The only reason I didn’t (I think the Sauber will beat them this weekend) is that with the resources at Red Bull Racing, surely the only way is up. However, the Renault engine has proven to be a horror story to date, and the shrink wrap, Newey style, of aerodynamic packaging has created problems once again. Don’t expect too many points to start off with. Don’t even expect too many finishes.

So no more single-finger Seb. Let’s see what he’s really made of.

7. Sauber – Esteban Gutierrez/Adrian Sutil

Mid grid budget mixed with mid grid drivers generally speaking equals mid grid. I’m yet to be convinced that Esteban Gutierrez offers an awful lot more than a heavy wallet and a set of Alonso-spec eyebrows. Sutil seems to be handy, but not an awful lot more than that. There’s goodwill that goes with Sauber, but they won’t be troubling the top teams.

8. Toro Rosso – Jean-Eric Vergne/Daniil Kvyat

There was much consternation last October when Toro Rosso announced that the 8-year-old driver Daniil Kvyat was graduating from his plastic garden pedal car straight into F1. However in testing he’s shown he’s a serious prospect (okay, okay, he’s 19, but you get the picture). Unfortunately, like Red Bull, Toro Rosso is carrying a Renault engine, so it’s unlikely you’ll get to see either the young Russian or his teammate Vergne much outside of the pits.

9. Lotus – Pastor Maldonado/Romain Grosjean

Oh Lotus, Lotus. Such a pretty paint job, which is just as well, as again this is a car that you’ll most likely find most often in the pit garage, utterly still. If the Renault doesn’t break, the drivers will likely have bent it.

10. Marussia – Max Chilton/Jules Bianchi

It’s got a Ferrari in the back, so it should go a bit quicker. However it’s got a Chilton in the middle, so that rather spoils things. Bianchi might manage to give the likes of Lotus a hurry up though.

11. Caterham – Marcus Ericsson/Kamui Kobayashi

It’s a Caterham. With a Renault. You could have Senna and Jim Clark driving, it’s still going to be at the back. A shame as Ericsson has talent and Kobayashi has the entertainment factor.

Enjoy! It’s going to be fun (and yes, I’ve deliberately avoided the ‘double points for the last race’. I’m trying to pretend it doesn’t exist).

About Andy Hollis

Andy joined Frontstretch in 2012 as our lead correspondent for Formula One. Adding a little international flavor, the Englishman pens a weekend column called Slipstream Saturdays looking at the latest news within racing’s biggest world series. A promoter by trade, the longtime fan still catches NASCAR on occasion, but his heart will always be connected to open-wheel.