McLaren can't possibly be as bad as they were in 2013
Barely has the dust settled on this year’s Formula One season than thoughts head into next year.
With the engine regulations changing from 2.4-litre normally aspirated V8 engines to 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 units, the hard work is only just beginning, and teams will be working flat out during the offseason in their respective factories to get an advantage over their rivals.
Much of the development work on next year’s cars would already have started during the previous year, but 2014 still presents an intriguing step into the unknown, and it is harder than ever to predict what is going to happen.
Whilst nobody has a crystal ball to see into the future, there are some things that are almost certain.
Here are five early predictions for what F1 fans can expect to see next season.
There should be more for McLaren to smile about in 2014
There’s no hiding from the fact that the 2013 season was an unmitigated disaster for McLaren.
Without a single podium to celebrate for the entire season, the Woking-based team experienced its worst season in Formula One since 1980.
Whilst the usually accepted route for most teams is to produce an evolution of their car from the previous season, McLaren tore up the rule book and decided on a complete re-design for 2013 with disastrous consequences.
With the damage already done, McLaren chose to switch their focus on their 2014 challenger midseason as reported on Sky Sports back in June.
It should have given them an early start on their rivals, and team boss Martin Whitmarsh admitted on Autosport that there are “no excuses” for next season.
With the big rule change coming for 2014, it really is a clean sheet here. There are no excuses for next year. Will we have a competitive power train? I don't know.
There are lots of people who appear to be very knowledgeable down the pit lane, and I don't know what data they have got to know that. But having said that, what I know in terms of level of resource and type of organisation, I think they will have done a competent job and have applied the level of resources you would want on it. I suspect we will be competitive.
Although next year’s engine units are, on the face of it, much smaller, there is a whole lot more going on beneath the engine cover.
Whilst this season’s normally aspirated V8 engines house a small KERS unit, next year’s cars will have to fit in a much larger energy recovery system (ERS) that not only harvests extra energy under braking but also harnesses power through the heat energy in the exhaust.
The current KERS unit releases energy at a rate of 80bhp for just 6.7 seconds per lap at the touch of a button, but next year the driver will be able to release a whopping 10 times as much energy at twice the power. Add to this an additional ERS for the turbocharger and engineers will have a lot more heat under the proverbial bonnet to cool.
It could well lead to the reliability problems we saw in the previous turbo era, especially at the beginning of the season.
Staying on the subject of the new 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 units, Formula One will have a very different sound about it in 2014.
As reported on Autosport, Mercedes-Benz engine chief Andy Cowell says the units will sound somewhat quieter than this season due to the new restrictions regarding the exhaust system.
On the V6, we have a single exhaust tailpipe, so all six cylinders are ultimately feeding into the single exhaust pipe. As soon as you have any restriction in the exhaust system, you reduce the volume of the noise because the turbine wheel is designed to recover energy from the exhaust flow, which naturally reduces the volume of the noise coming out.
But because it's six cylinders firing into a single tailpipe, instead of four into each pipe on the current engines, the frequency will be very similar to the current 18,000 rpm. So we will have a similar frequency but lower volume because of the energy being recovered from the exhaust stream.
Although some teams are still to confirm their final driver lineups for the 2014 season, we know that the grid will have a different look to it.
McLaren recently raised eyebrows by announcing that Kevin Magnussen would be partnering Jenson Button next season. And with Russians Daniil Kvyat and Sergey Sirotkin joining Toro Rosso and Sauber, respectively, we already have three rookie drivers on the 2014 grid.
Surprisingly, none of the three rookies have come through F1’s traditional feeder series, the GP2 championship, and it could represent a potential risk. Magnussen won the Formula Renault 3.5 Series with Sirotkin a distant ninth, and Kvyat won the GP3 Series with Arden.
Whilst they all have experienced limited track time behind the wheels of F1 machines and will have more time during preseason testing, it will be a huge ask for them to get close to their respective teammates in 2013.
What remains certain for the forthcoming season is that Sebastian Vettel will be the driver that everyone is gunning for.
You don’t become the sport’s youngest ever four-time world champion and win nine races on the bounce for nothing, and Vettel is now rightly regarded as a true great of the sport.
Whilst it is by no means certain whether Red Bull will be quite as dominant with the new regulations in place, team boss Christian Horner issued a chilling warning to Vettel’s rivals on Autosport that the German’s best is yet to come.
To have nine consecutive victories in one season, and to have been the only driver since July to have won a grand prix is quite outstanding. The manner in which he has won as well has been so dominant. We have really seen him come of age this year, and I have said it before that he will continue to improve. We have yet to see the best of him, but I think we are starting to see that now.