The final part of our season preview analyses the potential fortunes of those who battled for wins and the championship in 2013 - how will they fare in Formula 1's new era?
8 | Romain Grosjean; 13 | Pastor Maldonado
Lotus has endured a troublesome off-season. Their financial situation remains difficult, while they’ve lost their team principal and star driver. The car was delayed due to problems in the supply chain while when it did run, it wasn’t quick and it didn’t work for very long. Lotus’s twin-tusk approach may well pay dividends, but it’s too early in the year to conclude whether it’s a success.
Grosjean’s star continued to rise as the 2013 season drew to a close so this season could make or break him. If he can keep his head down, work with the team to fix the problems and stay out of trouble on-track, then he’ll ease into the role of team leader. After Räikkönen’s departure he will view himself as the effective senior figure within the team and his approach will go a long way to determining his future in the sport. Grosjean and Maldonado did not see eye-to-eye during their GP2 days and the relationship is far from harmonious, but if Grosjean can put the past behind him then that will benefit the whole team.
Maldonado needs to prove that he can work with a recalcitrant car after a horrible 2013 season. Part of the problem was Maldonado’s struggles in feeling the front end of the car, leaving him unable to exploit his usual driving style; in-turn it demonstrated a lack of adaptability on behalf of the driver. Maldonado needs to display his natural speed and refine his aggression if he is to shed his pay driver tag. Maldonado remains capable of pulling off an astounding performance but then tempers it with a bafflingly puerile move which would be frowned upon in junior formulae. Lotus refined Grosjean and they will have to do the same with Maldonado, albeit something made more difficult by the departure of Eric Boullier, who knows Maldonado and was often the one retaining faith in Grosjean. How Maldonado works with Grosjean – the two did not get on following spats in GP2 – will also define his season.
Prediction: ‘Team Enstone’ has frequently worked wonders on a smaller budget than leading rivals but their history is defined by periods of success intertwined by lean years. They’re currently on the back foot and will need to work hard as a unit to get anywhere near the highs of 2013.
7 | Kimi Räikkönen; 14 | Fernando Alonso
This is an important season for Ferrari – not that there are ever unimportant years for Formula 1’s most iconic brand. Ferrari recruited James Allison mid-2013 to alleviate the workload on technical Domenicali made the bold decision to shut it down at the end of 2012 due to calibration issues, which left the team using Toyota’s facility in Germany last year. The simulator facilities have been vastly improved, while the in-house construction of both chassis and engine will aid progress. This should all strengthen Ferrari’s in-season development, which has been a struggle across the last couple of years. With two world champions and known superstars onboard, there can be no excuses.
How many people could honestly have expected to see Kimi Räikkönen back at Ferrari? Yet after four seasons of WRC and racing for Lotus, the Finn has returned to the Italian team as he attempts to claim his second title. Pre-season testing has been typically understated for Räikkönen although he did shunt the F14 T on the final day of the second test. Räikkönen’s racecraft remains top notch, as does his uncanny ability to rack up the points. Fernando Alonso will present a tough challenge, so Räikkönen will have to consistently be at the top of his game and ensure that the team listens intently to his feedback. Räikkönen is his own man and Ferrari may now realise that they have to adapt themselves to get the best out of him.
The warmer half of the ‘fire and ice’ partnership is determined to remind Ferrari why they signed him in the first place. Alonso could have won the title in 2010 and 2012, but failures owed more to Ferrari’s problems than Alonso’s ability. In mid-2013, Alonso’s very public criticism of the team backfired. He was scolded and the team re-hired Räikkönen, much to Alonso’s chagrin. He has the ability to see off Räikkönen, but the harmony of the relationship will naturally depend on Ferrari’s place in the pecking order. If Ferrari can fight for wins and the title, then the Alonso-Ferrari marriage will be fine. If Ferrari is out of championship contention, then the fall-out could be very public and acrimonious. Alonso isn’t one to shy away from the politics game and it frequently backfires. Ferrari doesn’t like criticism and Räikkönen won’t respond to mind game – so keep an eye on this one if Ferrari is off the pace.
Prediction: Ferrari has had an average pre-season campaign; team principal Stefano Domenicali already reckons the team is in third place. Alonso and Räikkönen’s experience will help, but how director Pat Fry, while the re-opening of Ferrari’s windtunnel should aid the team’s efforts. But how will the drivers react if Domenicali’s prediction is correct? Anything but the title will be deemed a failure.
Mercedes AMG Petronas
6 | Nico Rosberg; 44 | Lewis Hamilton
This is what the Silver Arrows has been focusing on and they’re in a prime position. The W05 has been in development for a significant period while Mercedes have been working on their power unit for a long time. It’s too early to say whether Mercedes’s power unit has more potential than their rivals, but at the current time they’re further ahead than Ferrari and Renault. The W05 has inherent speed over one lap and their reliability has been fairly good. It’s not been perfect, but some suggest that’s because they’re finding problems they did not expect to encounter simply as they’re ahead of their programme. Fuel consumption remains a worry, as demonstrated by Rosberg’s race simulation in Bahrain, but at least they’ve completed several preparation runs! Behind the scenes the team has been recruiting strongly but even Toto Wolff admits that the departure of Ross Brawn will be felt during high pressure situation. Brawn was a calming and authoritative figure in Malaysia last year when team orders were applied – if the team is in championship contention, who will fill the void to assure the team and resolve potential issues between two top drivers? Wolff and Paddy Lowe have big shoes to fill, but they should manage it.
Rosberg’s 2013 season finally answered the question of how good the German is as he was regularly a foil for Lewis Hamilton and occasionally got the better of his world champion team-mate. Testing has so far gone smoothly for Rosberg as the W05 has demonstrated pace both in short and long runs, with reliability relatively good. Many predict that Rosberg’s intelligence will pay off, but that’s simply an insult to Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg will need to be consistently up there – at some points in 2013 he disappeared for a weekend – but he’s one of the title favourites.
Hamilton joined Mercedes with an eye on 2014 and his decision could pay dividends. He’s endured a few problems in testing but the fundamental base of the W05 is good. He’s been playing tactics and suggesting that Mercedes is not yet there, as well as commenting on how good the Red Bull RB10 looks. Some believe that Hamilton isn’t capable of driving to a delta time; true – it is antithetical to his instincts but there’s ample evidence to conclude that the Brit is just as good as anyone at being super-quick while preserving his equipment. What he must do, however, is avoid the troughs of 2013 as there were weekends – especially during the second half of the year – where he was uncharacteristically subdued. But make no mistake, in the minds of many he’s the man to beat in 2014.
Prediction: If the advantage Mercedes has it to be believed, then they could blow their rivals out of the water. They’ve been working hard on 2014 and it shows. It could come down to a straight fight between Hamilton and Rosberg.
Infiniti Red Bull Racing
1 | Sebastian Vettel; 3 | Daniel Ricciardo
All dominant runs must come to an end and the early form suggests that Red Bull’s near half-decade of supremacy will not continue into 2014. Overheating problems have plagued the RB10, while the team has also run into several other issues. As soon as they’re fixed, more are encountered. This lack of running naturally impacts other areas, with the team on the back foot in terms of race starts, tyre understanding and more importantly a full race simulation. The RB10 has yet to complete one. Such is the rapid rate of change in Formula 1 that the champions for four years on the trot are simply targeting a race finish early on in the season. Hearing Guillaume Rocquelin urging Sebastian Vettel to 'stop the car' is likely to become a frequent event this year. Nonetheless, few doubt that the RB10 is a fundamentally aerodynamically strong car – rivals who watched it believe it to be so – but while it may show its hand over one lap, how long will it take them to refine it over the course of a race distance? Has Adrian Newey's desperation to package the car tightly bit them hard? Retaining their titles seems improbable but these are the champions, so never write them off. Once they recover from their current lowly position, they’ll be a formidable threat – but how long will that take?
Reigning world champion Vettel is set for one of his toughest seasons in the sport as he faces up to the probability of not having a winning car at his disposal at the start of the year. Those expecting Vettel to throw his toys out of the pram are likely to be disappointed as he will work with Red Bull and Renault to rectify the problems; he didn’t win four titles by throwing a strop when events went against him. Vettel is a long shot for the title, but never rule out him or Red Bull because the victory, when it comes, will only be sweeter. He’s mature, experienced, capable of pulling out a stunning qualifying lap and, despite his detractors, is capable of racing in the pack. Being away from the front will allow Vettel to bolster his reputation and remind the detractors that he didn’t win four world titles by simply turning up and being strapped into a series of Red Bulls. He’ll only be stronger for the experience.
There’s a new face in the team this year as Daniel Ricciardo replaces compatriot Mark Webber. Ricciardo’s qualifying pace in 2013 was at times impressive and it was this over-achieving on a Saturday which made his Sunday performances appear worse. This was due to the STR8 regressing to its mean position, a lack of tyres and Toro Rosso’s strategists less astute than their rivals. When it all clicked – such as in China or Italy – Ricciardo duly delivered. If he can get close to Vettel and begin matching him by mid-season then he’ll be pleased with his progress. One advantage for Ricciardo is he won’t be thrust straight into a win-deciding battle with his team-mate; he’ll be able to learn his craft and build a rapport with the team. Beneath the grinning exterior lies a steely and determined racing driver – there’s a reason he has a honey badger picture on his helmet!
Prediction: Much will depend on Red Bull’s rate of recovery. At the moment, simply finishing a race will be deemed a success. But Red Bull, and Vettel, will not throw in the towel. They’ll be back competing for wins in the second half of the season.