Has there ever been such anticipation ahead of a new Formula 1 season? New regulations, a new sound, the potential for high unreliability and quite simply, a step into the unknown. No one can be sure how the racing will pan out and the strategists on the pit wall and back at team bases will have to react to ever-changing scenarios. In our season preview we analyse all 11 teams, in reverse championship order from last year, and try and predict what their fortunes could hold. The first part of our season preview takes a look at the teams who are desperate to move up the grid.
9 | Marcus Ericsson; 10 | Kamui Kobayashi
Last chance saloon for the green team? Boss Tony Fernandes has warned that he will quit if matters do not improve so this is a vital year for Caterham. The team has long targeted 2014 as their year to move up the grid and the clean sheet provided by the regulations gives them a good chance. The CT05 isn’t the prettiest Formula 1 car but it’s certainly distinctive; time will tell whether Caterham has taken the right route with its nose design, which is diametrically opposite to those modelled by Ferrari and Lotus. Renault’s problems have restricted Caterham to an extent but they have enjoyed a more productive season than some of their rivals.
Ericsson faces a steep learning curve during his rookie season but the Swede has a mature head on young shoulders and isn’t setting himself lofty and unachievable targets. He won’t embarrass himself but he is unlikely to set the world alight and should do a respectable job with the team.
Kobayashi spurned a chance to have an expanded programme with Ferrari – for which they called him stupid – in order to continue his Formula 1 dream. Kobayashi has the enthusiasm and personality to provide a much-needed spark to Caterham and his quirky personality has endeared him to fans across the globe. His driving style captivated many as he pulled off improbable moves and was unafraid to take a gamble. That could be harder in his current position, but it’s good to see Kobayashi back in the sport.
Prediction: Caterham regressed in 2013 and they cannot afford to prop up the grid once more. They have competent drivers and have sacrificed a lot in order to make a breakthrough this year. They must improve.
4 | Max Chilton; 17 | Jules Bianchi
Marussia has switched engine suppliers for the first time in the history as Ferrari replaces Cosworth. Another first for Marussia is their retention of the same driver line-up as Jules Bianchi once again partners Max Chilton. Marussia’s comparatively small team of people back at their factory in Banbury means they’ve spent a significant amount of time on the MR03 and it appears to be a tidy design. Reliability has been a struggle so far but matters improved during the final pre-season test. With Renault powered teams on the backfoot, this is a golden chance for Marussia to claim a top 10 finish.
Bianchi acquitted himself well in 2013 and occasionally took the fight to the back end of the midfield. He has natural pace so if Marussia can indeed make progress, he’ll be carrying the flag. His race craft remains questionable while mental pressure is still a weakness. He just needs to focus on himself and let his talent do the talking.
Chilton meanwhile did all that could be expected in 2013. He finished every race and usually stayed out of trouble. Marussia will require more of the same in 2014 and if he can get closer to Bianchi on a more regular basis then that will make a positive impression.
Prediction: There’s ample evidence to suggest that Marussia should show greater competitiveness in 2014 although as the minnows on the grid, progress will always be a challenge. Nonetheless, scoring a couple of points should be an attainable target.
19 | Felipe Massa; 77 | Valtteri Bottas
Is this it? Is this finally the year when Williams returns to the top on a consistent basis? Williams has flattered to deceive since they slipped from the top echelon of the sport a decade ago. There have been a few false dawns, most notably a win in 2012 which provided hope of a comeback before they regressed horribly in 2013. The team knows they cannot afford a repeat. For that reason, Williams has been on a huge recruitment programme, which began with the hiring of Pat Symonds last season. Several other high profile signings, including Rob Smedley, have also been made. The team is embarking on a long-term partnership with Mercedes and initial signs appear promising. The FW36 showed good potential across short and long run pace while reliability was also strong. In a period of financial strife and repeated laments about the economic situation, Williams has enjoyed a commercial boom. They lost PDVSA after Maldonado’s departure but received a healthy severance package. A title sponsorship deal has been done with Martini which sees the iconic stripes return to the sport in a move universally welcomed by the Formula 1 community. Sponsorship agreements have also been agreed with Banco do Brazil, Petrobras and Esquire as the team boosts its commercial arm.
In Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, the team has a pair of drivers who should complement each other strongly. Massa remains a top racing driver and was perhaps unfortunate to face one of Formula 1’s best drivers in history – Fernando Alonso – operating at the top of his game. Massa was at times capable of beating Alonso, particularly over the course of a qualifying lap, but not usually across a race distances. The Brazilian driver retains his pace but has rarely been able to string it together consistently across the course of a race distance. Without having to be a definitive number two driver, Massa has a chance to thrive within a markedly different environment and prove that he can still offer a substantial amount to a Formula 1 team.
Bottas was hindered in 2013 by the recalcitrant FW36 but dragged some superb performances out of it, most notably in Canada and the United States. Those performances in low grip conditions show Bottas’s deft natural feel for the conditions. His calm and mature attitude impressed the team and Sir Frank Williams remains convinced by Bottas’s talent. He won’t be overwhelmed should Williams find themselves in a lofty position and he’ll be a much improved racing driver for his 2013 experience. Bottas should cause Massa problems on a regular basis in 2014 and if the FW36 is in the ballpark don’t be surprised if it’s the younger Finn who is in front.
Prediction: It’s impossible to envisage Williams enduring another lacklustre season and the omens look good. The FW36 has shown strongly in testing and has a stunning livery to boot. In Massa and Bottas they have a pair of rapid drivers, so podiums should be possible, perhaps even a win.
Tomorrow: We take a look at Toro Rosso, Sauber, Force India and McLaren.