2014 has seen the order somewhat rearranged, when it comes to just who is leading the way when it comes to the matter of getting the F1 cars working first of all. This is especially when a major regulation change comes along, when we find out just who is there and who has more work to do.
The regulations that include energy recovery, further reductions on downforce and turbocharging may have been that catalyst that the sport has needed after the four years of Infiniti Red Bull Racing running away with it, with Sebastian Vettel still on his proverbial throne.
However, there may be another deciding factor that may have culminated in this fact: ongoing development – the need for glory. This has been a trait that has reared its ugly head in years past. Take for instance the 2008 World Championship, where Lewis Hamilton and McLaren were fighting down to the wire against Ferrari with Felipe Massa at Interlagos.
Woking made every effort possible, as well as having “Lady Luck” on their side, to help the now Mercedes AMG driver become a champion, which happened at the last gasp. Because of their efforts, the car the following year was not that competitive at all, even though they did their very best.
The same could be said of Red Bull already, but it may not be down to just the way that Adrian Newey designs those blue, purple, red and yellow missiles that no one has been able to catch. The fact is that Renault Sport, who have had to provide more input into the new “Power Units” that the teams will be using, which includes the new energy recovery systems, have had major teething problems, which have been made very public both at the first test in Jerez and once again in Bahrain.
With limited mileage from many of the Renault-powered teams over both tests, there may be many issues that the team at Viry-Chatillion have to contend with, and time is clearly running out before battle commences in the public eye at nineteen tracks across the globe. They have to work together with not just Red Bull, but also Toro Rosso, Lotus and Caterham to help bring the package together, as there could be a major reshuffling of the pack when the wheels turn in anger at Melbourne.
Mercedes AMG Petronas have been the “leaders of the pack,” having competed multiple race simulations and long consistently –paced runs to push the car to its potential breaking point. Well, it didn’t get off to a good start, as Lewis Hamilton found out when his front wing failed on the very first day.
However, the Brackley outfit has racked up the most mileage in preparation, with McLaren, Williams and Force India having some problems of their own along the way, but the new PU106 seems to be the best all-round combination at the moment. Ferrari have been quietly going about their business, with Kimi Raikkonen being the one that is sometimes pushing the boundaries that little bit more than teammate Fernando Alonso at the moment.
With a spin out in Jerez and a crash on the last day of the second test in Bahrain, it shows that the power torque delivery through the rear wheels is really giving the drivers a lot to think about when it comes to control. Then there is the fact that the cars are potentially not running at full power, because just to get the entire package to work is a veritable triumph itself. Marussia and Sauber have both shown that even with a thoroughbred Italian Power Unit to help their cause, there are still those niggling teething troubles that surface at the very last minute.
The sound is very different, but with changes comes a new dynamic, as the sound from the back end is not as pleasing to many as it was last year with those screaming V8s that we all loved until their last hurrah at Brazil when they made music at around 22,000 rpm after their redline restrictors were removed.
It will make things easier for those that are somewhat overcome by that piercing sound, but there are those people that I know out there that feel that it is taking away some of the passion and emotion of the sport. I agree, but there had to come a time when Formula One had to become relevant, to an extent of course.
Then there is the fact that the final test will take part next week, where the tyres have not been the overriding factor when it comes to Pirelli’s involvement in the sport. The Italian manufacturer’s motorsport division, headed up by Paul Hembery, has been hard at work bringing a new set of revised compounds to cater for the increased loads that the “Power Units” will push through the rear axle to the tarmac.
No compromises can be made, especially with what happened last season to an extent, but Pirelli cannot be completely blamed on all the events that transpired in 2013. It was a culmination of many factors that led to the changes that needed to be made, but eventually the Bulls ran away with it, leaving everyone in their wake.
In many respects, the main talking point will be the strategies that the teams will employ once the racing gets underway. With 100kg of racing fuel on board, with a fuel flow limit of 100kg per hour, the race to keep the cars going will be managed via the pit lane teams and engineers, with more emphasis on fuel saving that what we have seen before.
There are drivers out there like Lewis Hamilton that have had to adapt their driving styles a lot more than they would have liked, but there will be those out there that will be one step ahead of the rest, with the others looking to do their upmost to keep chasing.
Four more days of testing in Bahrain will provide the teams with the final chance to get some proper mileage under their belts before Melbourne, otherwise there could be a few stragglers left behind when the five lights go out…