Will Gray

Eurosport’s massive F1 season preview: Part two

Will Gray

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In part one of our big season preview, Will Gray looked at how changes in engines and aerodynamics will impact on performance this year. Here we look in more depth at the field of drivers...

DRIVER CHANGES

The driver merry-go-round has been spinning hard for this season with all but two teams fielding either semi or fully new line-ups for 2014. The lead drivers have mostly stayed put but there are a few new second drivers arriving that could make things pretty interesting.

At Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen returns to replace the outgoing Felipe Massa in a move that will give lead man Fernando Alonso something to sweat about, while at Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo is determined to rattle a few cages alongside champion Sebastian Vettel if he can, having replaced the retired Mark Webber (who incidentally joins BBC’s broadcast team).

Lotus will feel the loss of Raikkonen as they bring in Pastor Maldonado to partner Romain Grosjean having missed out on signing Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who joins Force India instead alongside McLaren reject Sergio Perez, with Adrian Sutil moving on to Sauber. Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi both stay put at Marussia.

Williams have an exciting line-up teaming talented Finn Valterri Bottas with experienced Ferrari man Felipe Massa, who is now champing at the bit after being let off the Ferrari reins and has been heavily praised for his pre-season feedback by team tech chief Pat Symonds.

The three new rookies are also all worth watching. There’s the young but mature Dane Kevin Magnussen alongside Jenson Button at McLaren; talented Swede Marcus Ericsson alongside returning Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi at Caterham; and fast Russian Daniil Kvyat alongside Jean Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso.

But it could be stability that wins the day as Mercedes, the form team in testing, field an unchanged line-up of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in what, if managed well, has the potential to become a dream partnership this season.

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(Click photo to expand)

CALENDAR CHANGES

It seems F1 is always going to new places these days, and this time it will be the turn of Russia to welcome the circus with open arms at the inaugural Sochi street race.

Taking place on October 12, it will run around the venues of the Winter Olympic Park and is the culmination of a long-running effort to get the sport onto Soviet soil.

Austria, meanwhile, will make a welcome return as the sport heads back to the old A1-Ring, now owned by Red Bull, for the first time since 2003, albeit on a heavily revised circuit.

Bahrain will switch to a night race while India and Korea both get the chop and Mexico and the Grand Prix of America in New Jersey both missed the final 19-race cut having been on what was an initial 21-race list.

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WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

The changes make predicting F1 in 2014 a virtual impossibility, but based on pre-season testing the things to look out for early on in the season will be...

Mercedes reliability: Mercedes look to be the pace setters if they can finish. They have run plenty of laps, but on some occasions when they have pushed the limits they have hit trouble. They appear to be not only fast but also consistent on longer runs - but will they stay the distance?

Williams pace: Williams are dark horses this season. An experienced engineering team, a neat if simple car and a switch to Mercedes engines has put them on top of the pile in winter testing. But were they flattering to deceive again to give ambition and drive to the launch of their new partnership with Martini or are they really going to be running at the front?

Red Bull comeback: Write Red Bull off at your peril. The reigning champions may be on the back foot right now, but they know their problems and it’s hard to see them languishing lower down the order for too long. It’s a cooling issue, and once that is solved the car looks to be on the money.

Fireworks at Ferrari: Ferrari could have a challenge on their hands. The car looks neat and the engine has shown well, but in the little we’ve seen it doesn’t seem to be quite on a level with Mercedes yet. That will put extra pressure on the men in the driving seat – and with Alonso and Raikkonen together that could create fireworks. If will be to F1’s benefit if they can light off each other positively and reach another level, but if they don’t it will be intriguing to see who wins the battle.

Early mid-grid surprises: This is the time for the small teams to shine. With reliability expected to be an issue early on, and some top teams in trouble, the likes of Force India, Sauber and even Marussia could spring a surprise by running further up the order than normal. But they better make hay – because as always, the cream (and the better financed) will always rise to the top.

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