Published on March 9th, 2014 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez2
Formula 1 2014 Quick Team Guide
RED BULL RACING
Sebastian Vettel (Ger)
Daniel Ricciardo (Aus)
For the first time in four years, Red Bull will not start the season as the team to beat. On top of engine supplier Renault’s own issues, the ultra-tight packing of the RB10 racer created installation dramas that severely restricted test running and strangled its speed. Although likely to struggle in Melbourne, RBR has the technical and financial might to come good as the season progresses. It would also be rash to write off four-time defending world champion Vettel, not having the fastest car will be a true test of his claim to greatness. Don’t be fooled, either, by his new Australian teammate Ricciardo’s perma-smile. He’s a ruthless racer who is as fast as he is charming. The timing of Ricciardo’s promotion may not look great, but he’ll keep Vettel honest.
Lewis Hamilton (GB)
Nico Rosberg (Ger)
Finally, it all appears to be coming together after four years of under-achievement. The factory-owned team starts the season as favourite after completing the most running, with the least trouble and the best pace in pre-season testing. Despite the departure of guiding team principal Ross Brawn, Mercedes-Benz has exploited the sweeping technical rule changes to best effect so far, with its power unit – which it is also supplying to McLaren, Williams and Force India – clearly the most powerful and most efficient. Add the proven driver combination of Hamilton and Rosberg, and the Silver Arrows are on target to excel at Albert Park. Hamilton is fast and breathtakingly instinctive, but equally unpredictable, while the more cerebral Rosberg is nearly as quick and achieves his race-winning speed with less drama and more consistency.
Jenson Button (GB)
Kevin Magnussen (Den)
McLaren has regrouped and restructured after enduring one of its worst seasons last year, failing to finish on the podium during a troubled campaign. With old boss Ron Dennis back in charge, further failure won’t be an option. He poached Eric Boullier from Lotus to take day-to-day charge of the team and more key management appointments are in the pipeline. Even before Dennis regained control, McLaren’s technical team rebounded from last year’s disaster to produce a car that appears competitive – if not a pace-setter – under the new rules, undoubtedly helped by Mercedes’s strong power unit. Unusually, F1’s most commercially savvy team will appear at Albert Park without a title sponsor. McLaren is treading water until the revival of its successful late 1980s/early ’90s partnership with Honda next year, but it needs to return to the front. Button is perhaps the smoothest and canniest driver, but he is approaching the twilight of his career and may struggle to match Magnussen. The son of late ’90s formula one racer Jan, Magnussen displayed impressive speed and aptitude in pre-season testing.
Fernando Alonso (Spain)
Kimi Raikkonen (Fin)
Formula one’s most famous and most followed team has fallen short in recent years despite the best efforts of Alonso, regarded as the most complete driver in the sport. After a couple of near misses, the frustration must be starting to gnaw at the sanguine Spaniard. Ferrari needs to lift its technical game and the performance of the Hoover-nosed F14T is testing was solid but unspectacular. Perhaps the biggest challenge is managing its superstar stable of drivers. Raikkonen rejoins alongside Alonso in a fire-and-ice mix that has plenty of potential for explosion – or a meltdown. The phlegmatic Finn won Ferrari’s last world title in 2007, only to be paid out of his mega-million dollar contract a year early at the end of 2009. Popular because of his deadpan persona, Raikkonen is an insouciant talent who thrived at free-and-easy Lotus for the past two years. How he responds to the pressure-cooker environment again and how he interacts with Alonso will be fascinating – and possibly inflammatory. Raikkonen is a freewheeling talent, while Alonso is a natural team leader whose ruthlessness is belied by his unflustered demeanour.
Romain Grosjean (Fra)
Pastor Maldonado (Ven)
Without Raikkonen – as well as lingering uncertainty about its financial footing – Lotus is facing a tough year. It’s already started badly, with the team missing the first pre-season test because its fang-nosed new E22 model wasn’t ready in time and then completing the least running of any outfit in the final two tests. And that was in addition to engine partner Renault’s on-going problems. Although an innovative take on the new low-nose rule, the team’s unique two-pronged prow is unproven as well as unsightly. But if any team can rally from adversity, it’s Lotus (the latest, badge-of-convenience branding of what was previously Benetton and Renault). It was the underdog squad that worried the big teams with Raikkonen in 2012/13 and has a long history of punching above its financial weight. The plucky outfit also has to deal with a combustible driver combination. Grosjean is no longer a loose canon, steadying last year to rival Raikkonen’s speed and maturing into a potential race-winner. But he could be unsettled by the presence of Maldonado, who gained a reputation as a hothead during his turbulent tenure at Williams, which included an upset race win in 2012.
Felipe Massa (Bra)
Valtteri Bottas (Fin)
Starved of success for a decade, Williams is showing signs of a long-awaited resurgence. It heads to Melbourne on a high after being among the front-runners and long-runners in the pre-season tests, capitalising on its switch from Renault to Mercedes. New technical leadership under former Benetton/Renault uber engineer Pat Symonds, the increasing influence of deputy team principal Claire Williams (daughter of founder and figurehead Frank), new backing from Martini (another iconic name from F1 past) and the arrival of Massa from Ferrari has rejuvenated the ‘old firm’. The sad decline of Williams, which took Australian Alan Jones to the world title in 1980, was looking terminal after years of false dawns and false promises. Williams hasn’t been a real force since it was a top three team in the early 2000s and its glory days of domination in the mid-’90s are a distant memory. But the FW36 looks to be a competitive package, especially in the experienced hands of Massa. Released from the yoke of several seasons racing to team orders at Ferrari, the Brazilian is rejuvenated and hungry. He complements the untapped speed of F1 sophomore Bottas, whose ability is set to be unleashed.
Nico Hulkenberg (Ger)
Sergio Perez (Mex)
It’s hard to know whether this schizophrenic squad is ready to break away from the midfield and challenge the top teams or continue as the best of the rest. So often has Force India threatened to convert occasional incursions among the front-runners into frequent forays, only to disappoint. Despite being owned by Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya, the team is run comparatively hand-to-mouth, looking a lot richer than it is. But its alliance with Mercedes and the return of Hulkenberg are good reasons to suspend scepticism until the heat of real battle at Albert Park. Hulkenburg, back after a fruitless flirtation with Sauber last year, is a superstar looking for a championship chariot. Why Ferrari and McLaren, not to mention Lotus, have overlooked him is a mystery because he is extraordinarily fast. After being dumped by McLaren after just one (admittedly, desultory) season, Perez has been a revelation in testing. The belligerence he displayed last year has been replaced by unexpected pace and impressive composure.
Adrian Sutil (Ger)
Esteban Gutierrez (Mex)
Everything about the Swiss squad screams mid-field. Mid-level budget, mid-level technical resources, mid-level drivers, mid-level performance. Average at best. For 20 years, Sauber has existed on the fringe – save for a brief period under BMW’s big-budget ownership, when it won a race – and routinely started seasons strongly thanks to clockwork reliability, only to fade away because it could not stay in the development race. Still doesn’t. But while it’s easy to dismiss Sauber as a band of Swiss snoozers, under the leadership of Monisha Kaltenborn (F1’s only female team boss), it has survived serious financial challenges. The Ferrari-powered C33 looks mediocre, which doesn’t bode well for Force India reject Sutil, who is capable of delivering in a fast car. Gutierrez improved from a low base towards the end of last season, but is out of his league. Harsh truth: He’s there because he brings a lot of Mexican telco backing.
Daniil Kvyat (Rus)
Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra)
During Ricciardo’s two years at Red Bull’s junior F1 team, the Italy-based squad showed glimpses of top six potential as the Australian flattered the team with several top 10 grid positions and race finishes. Hampered by its me-too switch to problematic Renault power, Toro Rosso (Italian for Red Bull) struggled. It will remain the poor relation of RBR, although it needs to lift its game to continue as a viable breeding ground for future Vettels and Ricciardos. Vergne is aggressively fast, but he’ll have to keep an eye over his shoulder for Kvyat, a precocious Russian teenager who already behaves like he belongs in formula one.
Kamui Kobayashi (Jap)
Marcus Ericsson (Swe)
Of the three new teams that joined F1 in 2010, only two have survived. And neither has scored so much as a point. Despite the backing of Air Asia owner Tony Fernandes, Caterham (named after the boutique British sports carmaker he also holds) finished bottom of the table last year in a nil-all draw with Marussia (second last because of its better tail-end results). The team has the resources to at least make a dent in the midfield and Fernandes is demanding improvement this year – or else. To that end, a driver clean out has brought in exciting former Toyota/Sauber driver Kobayashi, a fearless warrior whose infectious enthusiasm and attacking style endeared him to fans. He is joined by Ericsson, who graduated from the GP2 feeder series despite competing without distinction during four seasons.
Max Chilton (GB)
Jules Bianchi (Fra)
The other struggler that seems to have no reason to exist other than to fill the back of the grid. But F1’s minnow has its sights on the bigger fish, daring to aspire to bothering the bottom of the midfield. While Marussia is the smallest team with the tiniest budget, it is a feisty outfit that has plenty of heart and makes the most of what little it has. Its prospects for Melbourne aren’t looking great, though, after reliability issues dogged the Ferrari-powered MR03 in testing. In the circumstances, judging stay-put drivers Chilton and Bianchi is difficult. Chilton had a solid rookie season last year, challenging Bianchi, who is a Ferrari protege regarded as destined for greater things with a better team.