Formula 1 2014 Season Preview: Part Two

By on Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The second part of our 2014 Formula 1 season preview takes a look at those teams who occupied the midfield slots in 2013 - some are looking higher up the grid, while others will simply be trying to retain that position.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Toro Rosso-Renault

25 | Jean-Éric Vergne; 26 | Daniil Kvyat

The fundamental basis of the STR9 appears strong but currently, like their Renault rivals, they remain hindered by reliability issues and a general lack of running. Toro Rosso’s aim is to keep running along at a moderate pace and occasionally pulling off a giant-killing result; they’re not suddenly going to be competing for podiums.

Jean-Éric Vergne is retained for 2014 and approaches this season with a new found confidence after admitting he was not mentally focused enough in 2013 and not ready for the Red Bull vacancy. Vergne excels in low-grip conditions and while the removal of downforce in 2014 could play to his naturally aggressive style he will have to ensure he keeps the rear tyres in check. Longer-radius corners, particularly at circuits with a high track temperature, was a weakness as was getting the best out of the tyres across a qualifying lap. He’ll be determined to prove that he remains a rough gem waiting to be polished, but it's up to him to make the step forwards and show that he has a long-term future in Formula 1. This is Vergne's third season with Toro Rosso; no driver has made it into a fourth.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Daniil Kvyat’s rapid ascendancy to Formula 1 is a surprise as halfway through last year the Russian was simply a talented youngster. His subsequent form in Formula Three and GP3 left Red Bull in no doubt that he was ready for the transition to the sport’s top echelon. Kvyat has a natural talent and feel for track conditions and conducts himself with maturity that belies his years. It’ll be a tough baptism into the sport considering Toro Rosso’s current predicament but that might just aid him as he tackles his rookie season. Unlike Vergne, he has the advantage of knowing that time is on his side.

Prediction: Toro Rosso finished eighth last year in one of their more competitive seasons so anything higher is unlikely. Vergne must improve his qualifying performances – which will positively affect his race results – while Kvyat just needs to stay out of trouble and learn his trade. Q3 appearances and regular races in the points would be regarded as a success for the Faenza based team.

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber-Ferrari

21 | Esteban Gutiérrez; 99 | Adrian Sutil

Sauber continues its long partnership with Ferrari into 2014 but there’s been a straight swap on the driver front as Adrian Sutil replaces Nico Hülkenberg. The team has been typically Sauber-like in pre-season testing: rarely eye-catching but usually plodding around; this is no bad thing – Sauber has usually operated on a method of conservatism, particularly after BMW's departure at the end of 2009. Both drivers struggled with the new brake-by-wire system although this improved once upgrades were introduced in Bahrain.

Sutil enters his seventh season in the sport and for the first time the German lines up for a different team, after spending his entire Formula 1 career at the Silverstone-based Force India through its various guises. Many reacted with apathy at Formula 1’s perennial midfielders signing a perceived bland driver but Sutil enjoyed a far more productive 2013 than the points table suggested; at times he was woefully unlucky and in some races, such as in Monaco, he was spectacular. He still has a lot to offer a team, especially during a period of complex changes.

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber F1 Team

Gutiérrez was completely outclassed by Hülkenberg but the young Mexican was thrown in at the deep end prematurely and he did improve during the second half of the season. He became more composed in his position as a race driver as this had a positive impact on his performances. Qualifying remained a particular weakness as the Mexican struggled to find the extra couple of tenths required once the track improved and the grip of the tyres were at their best. This left him mired in the midfield and prone to getting stuck in traffic, involved in incidents and unable to exploit his potential. His Saturday performances are therefore what he must target if he is to continue on his upwards trajectory. Sauber has retained the faith in Gutiérrez and with a year of experience under his belt, Gutiérrez should have the confidence to score points on a regular basis.

Prediction: Ferrari’s power unit is there or thereabouts, so expect Sauber’s duo to be regular Q2 runners and challenging for points. A podium may be a stretch too far and with the expected standard of Mercedes’s power units, eclipsing Williams and Force India will prove tricky.

Sahara Force India

Sahara Force India

Force India-Mercedes

11 | Sergio Pérez; 27 | Nico Hülkenberg

Force India abandoned development of their 2013 car prematurely in order to focus on 2014 for as long as possible. Their increased relationship with Mercedes means that the Silver Arrows now supply Force India with gearboxes, an aspect which last year was aided by McLaren. Co-owner Roy Sahara faces issues back in his native India, but the finances are reportedly set in place for 2014 at least. The VJM07 demonstrated occasionally rapid pace in Bahrain although, despite Sergio Pérez topping the first two days, Mercedes and Williams appeared to be ahead. Long run pace seemed promising while extensive work has been conducted on tyre wear. They have a strong chance to be a top three team during the infancy of the 2014 season.

Sahara Force India

Sahara Force India

In Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg the team has two drivers who not only should complement each other well, but have differing reputations despite 2014 being their fourth season in the sport. Pérez's reputation has been affected negatively by McLaren’s woeful 2013 and while he didn’t aid his own cause on occasion, there was little he could do with a recalcitrant car. Pérez matched Button in qualifying and improved sufficiently in the second half of the season. He will be much better for the experience and thrive in a different and smaller environment.

Hülkenberg’s talent is obvious and with Mercedes’s expected advantage, he could shine across the first part of the season. Hülkenberg is a known quantity to Force India and his occasional pushy attitude – a positive trait – will go down well with a team looking to move up the grid (an attitude which did not overwhelmingly endear him to Sauber, who did not have sufficient resources). Hülkenberg oozes talent and is a star in the making, having dragged last year’s Sauber to exceptionally lofty positions. This is without a doubt Force India’s most exciting line-up in their history.

Prediction: Force India has Mercedes backing and that could prove pivotal at the start of the year. Pérez and Hülkenberg make a formidable pairing and the team should finish on the podium this season. Could they even win a race? Don’t rule it out.

McLaren Mercedes

McLaren Mercedes

McLaren-Mercedes

20 | Kevin Magnussen; 22 | Jenson Button

McLaren is attempting to rebound from an annus horribilis after a podium-less season in 2013. Ron Dennis has returned and recruited Eric Boullier to act as racing director, a new position which effectively replaces the role of team principal. Martin Whitmarsh has been painted out of the equation while Dennis is still on the hunt for a permanent CEO for the team's Formula 1 operation. The MP4-29 started strongly in testing but has slipped back as mechanical gremlins struck and Button heeded warning over long run pace. They have the advantage of a Mercedes power unit, but with the impending arrival of Honda in 2015, relations between McLaren and Mercedes may reduce in cordiality as the season progresses.

Button endured a difficult time in 2013 and 2014 began in tragic fashion after the untimely death of his father, John. On-track, Button was matched in qualifying by Sergio Pérez in 2013 but usually got the better of his erstwhile team-mate in the races. McLaren knows that Button is weaker in qualifying than in the races, which was a crucial factor in the dispensing of Pérez’s services. Button usually has a narrow operating window, but the arrival of youngster Kevin Magnussen could be the fillip that Button requires. The more competitive a team-mate, the more it forces a driver to dig deep and find an extra tenth or two that was perhaps lacking. Button will be determined to edge out Magnussen and prove that while he is a superb ambassador for McLaren and Formula 1 off-track, he has a significant amount to offer McLaren on-track.

McLaren Mercedes

McLaren Mercedes

Danish racer Magnussen continued his rapid upwards trajectory in 2013 after winning the Formula Renault 3.5 Series and already has a maturity that defines his youth. Magnussen impressed sufficiently for McLaren to choose him ahead of Perez, in a move orchestrated by Dennis. Magnussen acquitted himself well during testing – bar a prang at Jerez – and could be one of the dark horses of the season. McLaren has faith in Magnussen’s ability and if he can match Button – and begin to beat him – then their belief will be justified. In having Button as a team-mate, Magnussen can draw on the Brit’s vast wealth of experience. There will be, however, occasional rookie mistakes.

Prediction: Button needs to comfortably edge out talented Magnussen after an indifferent 2013 or he could face a career crossroads. Expectation is high on Magnussen but he has the pace and attitude to thrive at the team. 2015 is the ultimate target for the team, but matters must improve this year.

Tomorrow: Assessing those who tasted victory champagne and fought for the title in 2013 - will they still be at the front in 2014?


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