Monday, 10 March 2014

It all starts here

Welcome to the new 1.6 litre V6 turbo engine era, which is augmented with energy recovery systems that harvest energy when braking and deliver power when accelerating. The teams have a lot more energy to play with and no limit on when or how much KERS they can use they also have less fuel than ever before and limits on fuel flow rate for the race.
Trick systems to limit wheel spin, keep the turbo spinning to reduce turbo lag and aid braking are now allowed. This is a completely new way of going racing, speed isn’t everything. Strategy and the careful use of the resources are what are going to get the car to the line first.  

That’s not to suggest the racing will be dull, if team A disappears off into the distance, team B will reach them eventually with their more conservative approach. Reliability is going to be of absolutely paramount importance. To finish first, first you have to finish and testing has shown that some teams had forgotten that.

Renault have got it very wrong, the engine is too hot and needs far more cooling than they realised.
Mercedes turned up to the first test, pressed the GO button and haven’t looked back.
Ferrari have a thirsty but fast engine.

The midfield is as tight as ever, the tail end Charlies could well be fighting for more than pride this year and its all change at the front.

Right then, here are the runners and riders of 2014. We have the team and the engine they will be using, the drivers and the numbers they have chosen to go into battle with.

Caterham – Renault

Because they couldn’t afford to spend any time or money on the car, they just went with a bunch of bits kicking around the back of the garage. This thing has radiators about the size of north Wales. And as a result they have done more laps than Redbull by a country mile. This thing is probably going to be the only Renault car that makes it to the finish line in Australia. They actually stand a pretty good chance of getting some points. And if that happens we might start to see the, conspicuous by his absence, Tony Fernandez back in the pit lane.
He seems to have lost a bit of his love for F1 these past month, time was you could always rely on Tone to turn up on the post race show and tell the world that, “Caterham were going to be massive any minute now”.
But the results didn’t come and they were beaten into last place by Marussia last year.  So this year they’ve read the rules, realised that getting to the end is what’s going to count and built a car to do just that. They’re like the Ryan air of the F1 world. It’s the very definition of no frills racing, FINISH and the points will come, is the mantra.

19 – Ericsson: The latest cheque book to walk through the door. Apparently something of a whizz in the lower formulas, so you know, let’s see how he does. Realistically his job will be to beat Max.
10 – Kobayashi: Still crazy after all these years. Head and shoulders the best driver Caterham have ever had. He has, however been making some rather disparaging remarks about the car being slower than an F2 car and about as exciting to drive. So we’ll see how this relationship pans out.

Chance of a top ten – Maybe, certainly the best Renault engine for the first half of the season

Marussia – Ferrari

This could just be good year for these lads. They have lots of feisty new engineers and techy people from Cranfield and the like, which might mean it takes a bit to find their feet the higher up the field they go. But they defiantly are the small team it’s okay to root for, they still need money to keep up with the development curve so the early races are vital to impress wavering sponsors.
They did alright last year on less than a shoestring budget.

04 – Chilton: He’s still got a great name and you just have to love that happy puppy dog grin he has when he explains why he was three laps behind the winner.  Last year was an easy gig because the car was rubbish and he had no experience, now they have much better engine and he knows which way the tracks go. So he’d better not be 3 laps behind the winner this year.
17 – Bianchi: It turns out he wasn’t the next big thing, but he still has a big enough cheque book to keep his seat for yet another year. He’ll beat max again, probably the Caterham’s and possible a Renault car to two. 

Chance of a top ten – Reasonable as with Caterham, the Renault engine cars once again have problems

Williams – Mercedes

Lots of people are talking these boys and girls up. They didn’t have too many problems in testing, lots of miles on the car, they’ve got the Merc power unit that looks to be pretty much on song and they’ve got a lot of money from the new title sponsor Martini.
They also, and this is crucial, got rid of that idiot Maldonado and got Massa in who is alright when he isn’t being told to get out of Alonso’s way. This is going to be the year Frank and the team get it all together and they stand on the top step again. The car looks fantastic in its new livery, Bottas is solidly fast and Massa won’t stuff it in the wall each week.
I know I keep saying this, but I really do have a soft spot for Williams, they are a proper little team and they used to be such a power house of win back in the Honda days. They were the benchmark in the early 80’s but the glory is well behind them now and they are but a shadow of that team that took Nigel and Damon to the championship. They were plucky and innovative, British through and through and Frank deserves one more season in the sun before he retires. Go on Frank, lead the faithful back to the path of glory, back to the halls of Avalon and eternal Immortality.

19 – Massa: Has never been the same since the accident in Hungary, but he’s alright, he does what he needs to do and on a good day with a trailing wind he’s almost as fast as he was in the good old days. If you want a man to go out there and diver with his heart and soul this is the man. He used to be able to give Schumacher a run for his money when he was on top form and whilst I doubt those days will return he isn’t going to tool around getting in peoples way and smearing the car down the wall every race. He is, in fact, the perfect Anti Maldonado for the money. He’s a nice guy, who can help develop a car and pick up the points you need to win a championship.  
77 – Bottas: I really rate Bottas, he didn’t moan in front of the camera or bad mouth the team last year, he got his head down learnt the tricks of the trade and picked up the points when he could. He is fast, he isn't a liability and he’s got a car that can do the job needed.

Chance of a top ten – Excellent, maybe even a tilt at the constructors title.

Torro Rosso - Renault

They could well beat their big brother team this year with their conservative design which has allowed for more cooling. But yet again you have to ask why they bother, they’re not even really an off shoot of Redbull anymore, they’re an independent team that trains drivers for other Redbull .. or the dole. I think they’ll pick up points, here and there, maybe ... who cares ? 

25 – Vergne: still dull, can you picture his face ... No ? ... I can’t either, how about his nationality, without looking it up, where is he from, can you remember his accent ? That is all you need to know about him ... in fact is it even a him? It could just be a wax work of Lord Lucan for all you know, you have no idea who I'm talking about do you, it could be a big collection of old rags draped round the wax form of a disgraced member of the British aristocracy and you would have no idea. ... . I fully expect this to be Vergne’s last year, or possible first half of a season, before he gets lost in some airport on the other side of the world and the first the team realise he’s gone is when no one get in the car at the next race.
26 – Kvyat: Continues Putin’s attempts at world domination by the Russian war racing machine. Apparently he is better than expected, so he might be alright given the random season ahead. He cleared up in formula Renault or F3 or euro something or other. I have no idea but some commentators are talking him up so you never know.

Chance of a top ten – Meh, probably not. Maybe last place but yeah, the top ten could elude them if the Merc and Ferrari boys keep it on the grey stuff.

Sauber – Ferrari

It’s not as exciting as we’re used to seeing from the Swiss boys so far. This used to be the team Newey would always go and look at first; they had ideas, design detail and interesting bits. But they looked a bit out of sorts in Spain and Bahrain. The car didn’t look ready for the start of testing and one could, if they were feeling mean, could start to question where the finance is coming from again. They ran for three days with broken bodywork at the start of testing, new bits not ready of something, because, you know, the date for the start of testing is a big secret that only everyone else in the entire world knows about ! How could they possible know they needed extra cars bits ready for the first test which they knew nothing about ???  

 But its Sauber isn’t it. Not too exciting to look at, nothing really exciting on the pit wall and nothing really exciting at all sat in the car either. It’s all very average and a bit dull and not terribly interesting. Think of grey paint drying on a wet day with the window open and a damp breeze blowing gently into the room slowly moving little piles of dust in the corners of the room, it’s not quite cold enough to make you want to shut the window or indeed actually dry the paint. You sit staring dejectedly at the grey paint noticing where you’ve smudged a small area here, dabbed the skirting board there, it’s not enough to get up fix in the cool damp air. So the paint remains damp, slightly sticky and still very, very grey. That’s Sauber.

21 – Gutierrez: Gets another crack at looking useful in a race suit. Let’s see if he can avoid hitting anyone else this year. At least I know he’s Mexican, but the face is still a bit hazy, I'm not confident I could pick him out a police line up.... actually thinking about it .. is he Mexican ?
99 – Sutil: Swaps seats with Hulkenberg ... which is probably more to do with money than talent. But he’s alright, nothing spectacular, moments to slightly raise an eyebrow over perhaps. German, he is certainly German  though.

Chance of a top ten – errr, well yes, but .... sorry I can’t stop thinking about that grey paint !

Force India – Mercedes

This is the other dark horse of the field with its Merc engine they have the pace and as much reliability as the other customer Merc teams. They’ve had a bit of a choppy time in testing but when it all works bang on program it flies along and gives the works team a proper run for its money. But ... and this is a big BUT, once again you have to wonder how this is all being paid for ? VJ is still a shady character that you wouldn’t trust with your wallet or even the loose change in your pocket. His business partner Sahara has just been arrested in India for being extremely dodgy.
There are some ugly rumours being spread around that suppliers are not being paid in a timely fashion, that makes riding the development curve difficult if the guys supplying the nuts and bolts are waiting for cheques to clear before they send the next batch in.
Last year It was all a bit of a mess on the pit wall too, with some really wacky strategy calls and no one seemingly able to spot that a car going 7 seconds slower than a Marussia needed to come in and change its tyres. Then they’d save tyres in qualifying and not use them in the race! Maybe VY was hoping to get some money back when he returned them to Pirelli?
So if the rozzers don’t come storming in and arrest the management for embezzling the coffee fund and if they stopping making wacky strategy calls and just play to their strength (whatever they are now I come to think about it) they should be up there giving Ferrari a run for its money and wins could be on the cards.

11 – Perez: Still dull, got a bit of a pasting at McLaren so let’s see how his head is after being fired. If you need a driver to stand in front of the camera and nod stupidly whilst grinning inanely and Max isn’t available, Perez with his shed load of Mexican money is your man.
27 – Hulkenberg: I think Hulkenberg is the real deal, I think Lotus have made yet another huge mistake in not taking him and at the same time I think Hulkenberg dodged a career ending move to that slowly collapsing pack of idiots. The Hulk has bounced around numerous teams now and always without exception pulled out top line drives when the chance presents itself. You know you can tell the good drivers from the Maldonado’s because they get more out of the car than its capable of. Give Alonso or Hamilton a rubbish car and they will still get you points. That’s what Hulkenberg can do, and I don;t understand why the likes of Ferrari and McLaren aren’t climbing over each other to sign him!

Chance of a top ten – Nailed on I’d say, IF ... and this is a big IF they money is there any the rozzers don’t bust the whole thing wide open.

McLaren – Mercedes

One minute it was all peaceful and sunny, the cows were chewing the cud, the butterflies fluttering too and fro across the meadow, the very picture of a tranquil summer afternoon in a very British countryside. Then the very pits of hell rent asunder and a huge tower of basalt rock thrust up through the meadow with the cows, black as night and lit up like some huge stage prop at a Motorhead concert, thunder rolled around the world and lighting smote the slack jawed fools stupid enough to stand and stare at the return of Big Bad RON
 He fired the jolly nice Mr Whitmarsh, poached the rather grumpy French Mr Boullier by promising to actually pay for his services unlike his previous team Lotus. And then this new look team started testing, and every one not smote or slack jaw went


Then suddenly they appear to lose the plot again, how do they do this ? really they were all over Mercedes as the team to beat this year then suddenly it all fell apart at the last test and oh would you Adam and Eve it, they don’t appear to understand the car and how to push it forward and what to develop and all the some problems they’ve had for the last few seasons. And Ron looked angry again.
Also on the horizon of doom, is the continuing question about the legality or otherwise of the rear suspension. You’re not supposed to use the suspension parts for anything other than stopping the wheels from flapping around uselessly at the corners of the car, McLaren are supposedly using theirs to generate downforce and sell crack to kids on street corners or something. All the other teams took one look and raised a collective eyebrow, looked at their own designers with a “well ? Why didn’t you think of that you idiot?” look, then started reading the rule book to find something wrong with the McLaren.
I'm not sure what the bulgy bits do but some of the teams that have unreliable French motors rather than a ruthless German ones are unhappy about them. So expect a few waved arms and disgruntled team bosses until Ron lasers them with his eyes of death and sneer of invincibly. Those slack jawed idiots don’t stand a chance.

20 – Magnusson: You fire Perez and get a young gun in, and you get a young gun in because he’s got talent and guts and expressly not because he’s got a wad of filthy tenners in his back pocket and the ability to stand and talk at the same moment as a camera is pointed towards him. This is how it should be done you midfield teams that will never amount to anything. Magnusson is here on pure merit and talent and he paid the confidence back at the first test with fastest lap after fastest lap. He was out there taking it to the Mercedes. He wasn’t overawed by the limelight, he got in the car went fast and didn’t come back to the pits trailing bits of broken carbon fibre behind him. This kid is the real deal, he is the next Hamilton.
22 – Button: Jenson lost his father in January this year and whilst I would sometimes be a bit disparaging of his gurning and blatant ligging of John Button. I could appreciate how proud of his son he was and how much he meant to Jenson. John would let Jenson take all the lime light and knew when to step back and let his lad get on with being a famous racing driver, and if a camera crew required someone to be a cheer leader for the plucky English lad with a glass of wine in his hand he was absolutely your man.  Jensen’s father was a massive part of team Button and his loss is going to be hard for Jenson to deal with, I hope he can put a good year together and do justice to the memory of one of the characters of the pit lane. I get the impression there are a lot of people that will miss the bluff old duffer.

Chance of a top ten – absolutely you can count on it, wins certainly ... if the car isn’t deemed illegal after first practice of course.

Lotus – Renault

Was the missing first test a mistake? The problems with the Renault engines suggest not, but even a few miles of data is better than none. Money and headless chicken management insanity might well conspire to rob them of points.
They were the only team to really give Vettel a run for his money last year, but it was all starting to unravel in the background. With the sale of the team that wasn’t on, then was, then was to a different bunch of management nitwit, then it was off again and then Kimi stated asking awkward questions about when he was going to be paid. Then he flounced off to Ferrari and told the team what it could do with its contracts. They signed Hulkenberg, because they were going to be bought by some shady geezer they’d met whilst on holiday in Goa last august who promised to have the money just a soon as his mates got there from some Middle Eastern backwater. Then he disappeared and suddenly they didn’t have the money to pay Nico, so they send him a text “soz seat not yorz M8 lolz soz” then in a rather unseemly display of greed, lack of integrity and blatant desperation hired Maldonado for his Venezuelan oil money.
At no stage did they say, “He’s the talent we want, he’s the driver we feel can give us the best chance of a championship. We want Pastor because he’s fast and a tenacious driver that delivers results”. No they said he has a shed full of cash and they wanted it.

McLaren picked up Eric Boullier days later. And I really hope Eric went because he was disgusted by the way the whole affair had been handled. I hope he had the integrity to walk away from such a mean spirited and calculated act of greed.

I personally think it’s a disgrace to the name of Lotus, I really do.

08 – Grosjean: Well he did alright last year and had a very good end to the season. He was regularly on the podium and even made Vettel look in his mirrors a couple of times. But this year I think it’s all going to be for nothing. They don’t have the pit wall team anymore, a suit is running the show and that always works out so well.  Grosjean is an alright driver and actually, you know what I think he’s going to waste a year of his talent here. He’ll blow Pastor out of the water but that will be scant reward
13 – Maldonado: I don’t have the words to describe how little I think of this man. I think he’s a liability, I think he gets moments of red mist insanity, I think he holds grudges, I don’t think he has the ability to learn from  his mistakes and I think he makes far too many mistakes. I think at time he is a disgraceful driver .. the attack on Perez during practice in Monaco, taking out Hamilton in Spain. He is a glory hunter... trying to driver Alonso off the track in Australia rather than pick up points for Williams. His one win was luck, because Hamilton was robbed of the result he deserved. But his greatest crime was to bad mouth the Williams team after he spent the season driving like a total idiot. He is the perfect example of a driver that has bought his seat and is under the mistaken belief he’s some sort of driving God. He isn’t and he’s danger to himself and others.

Chance of a top ten – None, if there is any justice. Which is a bit harsh on Grosjean, but he should have left and gone to a team with some integrity.

Ferrari – Ferrari

Well, it’s the same old story at Maranello, have they built a car worthy of Alonso and now Kimi? Maybe … maybe not. Alonso has talked about having to relearn how to save fuel, going as far as to how to save fuel during a pit stop. All the cars now have 100kg of fuel from the moment they leave the pits until they get back to parc ferme at the end of the race where there has to be a litre or so left to test. Running out of fuel on the slowing down lap is going to get the book thrown at you and no points for the weekends work. The car has to use all these new fangled energy recovery systems to make the rocket fuel go further, it’s not about push to pass buttons, it’s about making F1 cars do more than 5 mpg. Mercedes appear to have an efficient engine with a healthy energy recovery system. Renault, well,  who knows what they have, I don’t think they even know if their system is efficient yet. And Ferrari has, it would appear, a thirsty system.
Testing has put them somewhere around the second half of the top ten, with Williams and Force India, maybe McLaren on a good day. But they’ve not been “a front runner” like Force India and Mercedes. Is this because they are trying to make the fuel last? That’s the suspicion. And if Alonso is working out how to save fuel during pit stops, they might have a bit of a problem. If they have to go out and chase the Mercedes they’re going to burn lots of fuel, then cruse round for the last ten laps and hope others hit reliability trouble.

07 – Kimi: I'm still not sure why he’s here, this is Alonso’s team now, not his and they didn’t really like him when he was here last either. So things must have been bad at Lotus for the grumpy Fin to come back to the last team to fire him. He proved he’s still got the where with all to win a race with a duff car, which might come in handy down Maranello way. But Ferrari need a team leader who can tell them what to do, not a monosyllabic Scandinavian who would rather spend the night drinking vodka and slipping tenners into garter belts then pouring over torque curve data. It just feels like a step back and a hands in the pockets kicking stones in the gutter walk to school on a wet Monday morning move. It had to be done, but only because no one else wanted him.  Then he totalled the car at the last test. Not a great start to the new season
14 – Alonso: Well this has to be the last chance of some glory doesn’t it. If only they had given him a car to match his talents. But if anyone can take a slightly duff car to the top step it’s got to be Alonso. I‘m not sure if Kimi is a hindrance, distraction or motivation factor.  Historically he’s not played well with drivers that can give him a run for his money. But Kimi is pretty much immune to the mind games so the Spaniard might have to bite the bullet and just get on with it. It’s an interesting dynamic, with the potential of some proper histrionics. Or it might just dissolve into a bit of half hearted grumpy stares and a few well chosen “private briefings of trusted media sources”

Chance of a top ten – either they’ll run out of juice 5 laps from home, or they’ll pass the Merc cars really slowly as they all try to save fuel with 3 laps to go.

Mercedes – Mercedes

If it’s possible to win the pre season winter testing war, then Mercedes crushed the opposition into the dust, stamped on the bits and them swept them up and buried them in the Bahrain dessert. Just like they did last year … Do you remember? How Hamilton and Rosberg put a gazillion miles on the 2013 car and everyone had them as season favourites …. Right up to the final days of the last test when Lotus and Redbull bolted on the soft stuff and suddenly went a lot faster.
Well it’s different this time.
No, really it is.
Due mainly to the fact the non Mercedes powered teams have yet to do a race distance, at any sort of speed, or a full chat qualifying run. So this time, at the dawn of a new Era, Mercedes are in the driving seat with the most miles and possibly the most reliable car. Whether it’s the fastest is pretty much immaterial for now, it will almost certainly get to the end of the race, and that’s the key thing this year. If the Renault engines all go bang after 10 laps and the Ferrari runs out of go juice 5 laps from the end, it’s going to be about the Merc engine cars and where they are. And you would expect the works team to be ahead of any customer teams.

44 – Hamilton: This is it, he’s going to do it this year ......... if he can learn to not burn out the tyres, thrash the engine or rip through the fuel load. If he manages to do all of that, it’s his to lose.
06 – Rosberg: The thinking is, Nico will be better at getting the a fragile car home at the start of the season, if he can stay focussed these two are going to be fighting each other for the championship.

Redbull – Renault

You remember last year, the second half of the season was a Redbull fest, wasn’t it. Week after week Vettel would lead Webber home and we all got bored of the game. Well it turns out Redbull were still developing their 2013 whilst everyone else had given up and were quietly tinkering with their 2014 cars.
Each week everyone else would pull the dust sheets off their 2013 car, roll it out, get beaten by a country mile, shrug and then go back to working on the new car. Redbull it would appear believed they were in some sort of race for the championship. Then after the season ended in Brazil Redbull blew up their engines for all the media to watch, bit of a PR stunt, “let’s have a laugh , ho ho”. All the other teams, meanwhile, were on the plane home putting the finishing touches to their 2014 cars.

Redbull, it seems have got it spectacularly wrong! Not only is Renault behind with the development of their new hybrid energy recovery system, and it appears years behind Mercedes. But the word is they got the numbers wrong when they tested the engine on the dyno. The heat dissipation numbers they gave to the teams, were far too low, even with the wick turned down, the turbo, engine and electrical recovery systems are pumping out a magnitude more heat then they though. The first test saw Renault engine after Renault engine cook itself within a matter of laps. And having told the teams, “oh, it’s a pretty cool runner, no need for too much cooling on your new cars, no worries” Redbull took that to mean they didn’t need any cooling at all around the KERS battery and sub systems.

Day after day at the winter tests, the Redbull had more and more holes cut into its bodywork. Pipes were desperately being gaffer tapped into bodywork to direct cool air over the alternator or batteries.

Redbull are weeks away from being ready for the start of the season. They have done a handful of laps, nothing really at race pace, certainly no qualifying runs. In warmer weather the car has a life span measured in minutes. A gearbox that has a nasty habit of seizing suddenly and an electrical system that doesn’t seem to be able to cope with all the demands placed on it. The talk around Redbull is of a new car by the Spanish GP. A ground up, redesigned car! Imagine the amount of money they are throwing at this, Marussia and Sauber are scratching around for spare cash under the sofa and behind the filing cabinet. Redbull are building a whole new car for the fifth race of the season. From the looks of things, they’re going to need it.

01 – Vettel: Let’s see how he goes when he’s not in the fastest bestest sexy car. Let’s see how he goes in a rubbish car that bursts into flames after 15 laps. See how the ego lives with abject failure shall we. He’s probably handle it with no problems at all, but where’s the fun in that. If however, they turn this thing around are in with a shout at the last race with its stupid double points reward ... I just know he’ll bloody well do it won’t he. Hurrumph
03 – Ricciardo: 6 months ago when he signed the Redbull contract he must have though all his Christmases had come at once, now he’s going to be spending the season testing parts for Vettel to race the following week.

Chance of top ten – Based on the testing evidence .. Not a chance, but F1 Is nothing if not about the money and the richest team by a country mile will be on the podium before the of the just wait and see..

So there you go. Pick your favourites and settle back for the most unpredictable year in a very long time.

Good luck

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