Formula One opens its 2014 season down under in Melbourne, Australia this week, and when the cars finally hit the track, a lot will look, and sound, different. New Technical and Sporting Regulations have caused teams to be busy at work over the winter, and it won’t take long for a new order to establish itself in this new era in F1.
After years of stability in both chassis and engine design, F1 made drastic changes to its Technical Regulations for 2014. Front wings are narrower, an attempt to eliminate at least some of the rear tire punctures seen when overtaking attempts go askew. Changes in the rear wing will lessen downforce and create less turbulence.
The most noticeable changes will be the result of a required lowering of the chassis and the nose, both related to safety concerns in rear and side collisions with other cars. The result is a variety of rather ugly front-end designs, with “nostrils,” “tusks,” and “anteater nose” the descriptors used most often in preseason testing.
Cars won’t only look different this season, they’ll sound dramatically different. Gone are the “bullet proof” 2.4 liter V8 engines that revved to 18,000 rpm, and were as reliable as any power plant in the sport’s history. New for 2014 are 1.6 liter turbocharged V6 engines, limited to 15,000 rpms, and required to run to energy recovery systems (ERS).
With new engines come new potential reliability concerns, and this season reliability is more important than ever. In past years, teams were limited to eight engines per driver, per season. New regulations put that number at five, putting even more pressure on the engineers working on these yet-to-be-proven power plants.
Also, in past years, teams could elect to run a kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), giving drivers an 80 bhp boost for up to eight seconds with a push of a button. This year, teams will be required to run two electrical motor generators harvesting kinetic and heat energy from both brakes and exhaust. The result will be the delivery of an extra 160 bhp for up to 33 seconds per lap, all without the need to push a button.
As if new cars and new engines were not enough, new Sporting Regulations tightly constrain the fuel allocation at each race. Cars will be limited to only 100 kg of fuel for the race, a reduction of almost 35% from last season. Not only will races see teams employ fuel saving strategies from almost the first lap, any malfunction in the ERS systems will have catastrophic consequences.
Of course, a new season means new drivers in the series, as well as the annual shuffle of veteran drivers between teams. All but two teams have different driver lineups for 2014, with only Mercedes (Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg) and Marussia (Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi) standing pat.
Defending Constructors’ Champion Red Bull welcomes Daniel Riccardo to the team, replacing the retired Mark Webber as four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel’s teammate. Rookie Daniil Kvyat replaces Riccardo at Toro Rosso.
Ferrari welcomes Kimi Räikkönen back to the fold, replacing Felipe Massa who found an open seat at Williams after Pastor Maldonado took his sponsorship funding to fill Räikkönen’s old seat at Lotus. McLaren released Sergio Pérez, replacing him with rookie Kevin Magnussen, while Perez found refuge at Force India, where he will team with Nico Hülkenberg, coming back to the squad after one season at Sauber to replace Adrian Sutil, who, naturally, went to Sauber to fill the vacancy from Hülkenburg’s departure.
Caterham was the only team to replace both its drivers, settling on Japanese veteran Kamui Kobayashi to team with rookie Marcus Ericsson.
Vettel and Red Bull have run away with the last four Drivers and Constructors Championships, and at times have made it look downright easy. F1’s new era should allow for some early season surprises as teams struggle to come to grips with new technologies, strategies and drivers.
Preseason testing saw Mercedes look strong, while the Renault-powered teams, particularly Red Bull, struggled. But, as with most preseason tests, all that means nothing when the red lights go out at Melbourne. What will matter will be who sees the checkered flag first and gets an early competitive lead in what is sure to be a topsy turvy start to a new era in F1.