The opening Formula 1 race of the year takes place in Melbourne, Australia on March 16, but the 'phony war' got underway yesterday as the teams and
drivers commence their preseason testing.
It seems likely that this year's three test events—the first at Jerez in Spain this week, followed by two sessions in Bahrain in February and March—will be more eventful than previous years.
The sport has undergone significant changes during the winter. One of the key differences is the adoption of new engines, effectively resetting all teams'
knowledge back to zero.
In addition to the rule changes, there's the traditional driver/team merry-go-round—most notably the return of Kimi Räikkönen to Ferrari—so there's
every reason to believe that 2014 could be one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory.
Here are 10 reasons why we're revved up for the forthcoming Grand Prix season.
1. Turbochargers take over
It's the first season for a new breed of 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 engines, introduced to align F1 more closely with what's happening in the road car
world. The units incorporate a new hybrid energy recovery system (ERS) which harnesses heat energy from the turbocharger as well as kinetic energy from the
braking system. The amount of fuel that can be consumed by each car is strictly rationed, and tweaks to the wings and exhaust systems have changed the
aerodynamic properties of the cars. There are a lot of changes to get used to—and that could result in a short-term shake-up at the front of the grid.
2. My dog's got a new nose
The 2014 crop of Formula 1 designs are, it is fair to say, an acquired taste. You could even say they've been hit with a rather substantial ugly stick,
with most teams adopting pointy appendages to comply with the latest crash test regulations. There are some interesting variations on the theme, with
Ferrari going with a flat snout like an anteater and Lotus coming up with a bizarre creation that resembles a walrus with tusks of unequal length. Still,
we've been here before: A change in aero rules rendered the 2009 cars repulsive, but more palatable designs soon prevailed.
3. Ferrari's in-house horse play
Kimi Räikkönen's first spell at Ferrari didn't end well. Even though he earned the 2007 title with the Italian equipe, by 2009, he only seemed to be
half interested. Ferrari consequently paid him not to race one of its cars in 2010, when he went rallying instead. Now, the Finn is back at Maranello as a
foil for Fernando Alonso. It will be an interesting matchup, especially for a team that usually employs clear number one and number two drivers. If
Räikkönen is fully committed, he will keep the Spaniard on his toes, and that should drive Ferrari's title challenge forward.
4. We need to talk about Kevin
Formula 1 fans with long-ish memories will recall Jan Magnussen, Kevin's father, making his Grand Prix debut with McLaren in the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix.
Jan was highly regarded during a sparkling career in junior formulae, but he never quite hit the heights in F1 and instead carved himself a
productive career in sports car racing. Now, this second-generation Dane lines up alongside Jenson Button at McLaren. Magnussen has toiled for hours in the
race simulator at the McLaren Technology Center, so he should be up to the job—providing McLaren has built a more effective car than its problematic 2013
5. The hills are alive with the sound of F1
Thanks largely to Red Bull's presence in the sport, the Austrian Grand Prix is back on the calendar after an absence of more than a decade. Back in the
1980s, the race was held at the super fast and mildly dangerous Österreichring, which was then emasculated into the less-quick A1-Ring. The same circuit,
nestled in the stunning countryside in the Styria region, now returns as the Red Bull Ring. Formula 1 will also venture into Russia this season with a
race in Sochi on roads around the Winter Olympics venue. The track's been designed by F1 circuit go-to man Hermann Tilke, so expect it to look great on
6. Banzai's back
The return of Kamui Kobayashi to the Formula 1 grid after a season's absence should cheer up all enthusiasts of banzai overtaking attempts and a never-say-die
racing attitude. In three seasons with Sauber, he was rarely far from some form of on-track action, culminating in his first and so far only podium
finish at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2012, a result that delighted the home fans. Kobayashi is resolutely old-school in his approach, and in an age of
identikit racing drivers, that's to be applauded. He's had to find a massive wedge of cash to buy his seat at Caterham, which is a shame; in an ideal
world, he'd get the chance to prove his worth in race-winning machinery.
7. Make mine a double
One of the most controversial rule changes over the winter has been the ridiculous decision to award double points at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand
Prix. Regarded by most levelheaded fans as a gimmick too far, the change has been made in a bid to prevent any one driver from waltzing away at the head of the
points standings. It doesn't really attack the root cause of such domination—which is that rival teams cannot match the technical ingenuity of Red Bull's
8. Do Ron, Ron
All the best comebacks are laced with drama and intrigue—think Bobby Ewing, Elvis Presley, and George Foreman. The return of Ron Dennis to the helm of
McLaren's F1 team could be equally significant. After the squad's disastrous 2013 season, a boardroom coup has resulted in Dennis's comeback and the
unceremonious ousting of Martin Whitmarsh. Dennis is known for his meticulous and uncompromising attention to detail, and if anyone can guide the Woking
team back to its winning ways, it is him.
9. Has Ricci got Seb's number?
It's no secret that world champion Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber harbored rather frosty feelings towards each other. Now that
Webber has called time on his Formula 1 career, there's room for one of the energy drink company's many 'junior' drivers to step up. Daniel Ricciardo,
who shone for Scuderia Toro Rosso last season, has got the gig. Whether sharing a team with the greatest driver of the current era is a golden opportunity
or a poison chalice will become clear during the first few races.
10. Tire'd and emotional
Pirelli has recently sealed a new three-year deal to supply control rubber to the entire Formula 1 grid. Although the Italian manufacturer has, at varying
times, come under fire from team managers, drivers, and fans, it has fulfilled its brief of shaking up the sport by providing unpredictable tire compounds.
The start of the 2013 season was blighted by some extreme tire wear issues, which Pirelli blamed on a lack of test data, an issue that should be remedied
ahead of this season.
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