Assessing Likelihood of an F1 Midfield Team Breaking Through in 2014

Fraser Masefield@@fmasefieldContributor IFebruary 4, 2014

Williams impressed during the Jerez test.
Williams impressed during the Jerez test.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The recent first pre-season test of the 2014 season at Jerez in Spain went a long way to proving that the radical new engine and aero regulations could shake up the grid as never before.

With previous seasons, teams knew more or less what was going to happen with the engine regulations staying the same and only minor tweaks to aerodynamic regulations and tyre compounds.

It was therefore easier to predict the status quo, with teams preparing evolutions of their previous incarnations. Only McLaren chose to tear up the rule book with a complete redesign of their car last season with disastrous consequences.

But the switch from 2.4-litre V8 engines to 1.6-litre V6 turbo power plants now represents a step into the unknown for every team on the grid and should lead to a more even playing field.

Before the Jerez test, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner predicted in an interview with Bloomberg TV (via Autosport) that as many as half of the field could retire in the season opener.

I think you could see a very high retirement rate, maybe even 50 percent in the first race. Petrol is a challenge this year because we are limited to 100 kg of fuel to start the grand prix with, but more reliability issues in the early races will be a key factor. And of course we only have five engines for the whole year.

His words may well come back to haunt him, with Red Bull struggling drastically with cooling issues and battery problems related to the new ERS system and managing a paltry 21 laps over four days of testing.

Such a scenario of high rates of retirement over the opening races could play into the hands of the midfield teams, who may opt to place a bigger onus on reliability than out-and-out race pace.

Of the so called “midfield teams” that impressed in the opening test, Williams racked up 175 laps, Sauber 163 and Force India 146 over the four days.

Jerez mileage by team
Force India146646
Toro Rosso54239
Red Bull2192

Yet all three were still behind Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren with Caterham, Toro Rosso and Marussia propping up the mileage table.

So, aside from the Red Bull Racing anomaly, which surely they will address over the next two tests before Melbourne, the status quo looks pretty much the same.

Another factor that could work against the midfield teams breaking through to the higher points finishes in 2014 is that with no budget cap currently in place, the bigger manufacturer-backed teams still have the greater resources to throw at any problem. It is a factor that Horner believes will play a significant part in maintaining and even increasing the gap between the bigger and smaller teams, per the Bloomberg TV report.

For the back of the grid it is a huge challenge with the costs that are going be incurred with this power supply unit. The differences between the teams will be bigger. Whenever there is a reset, the teams that have the investment, that have the resources and the facilities will always turn up with a more advanced product.

So whilst there’s every possibility of the midfield teams breaking through during the opening rounds, don’t count on it lasting for long as the big spenders start to get a handle on the new regulations.