Formula 1 2014: Complete Season Preview, Predictions and Expert Breakdown
The Formula 1 season is upon us and to be honest, we're not quite sure what is going to happen.
The cars are much-changed, the driver line-ups much altered, and the rules have been jumbled up as well.
So we asked our F1 writers what they thought would happen, to try to predict the key events of the year.
How right will they be? More interestingly, how wrong will they be?
Take a look and have your say in the comments section below.
And enjoy the season.
Who's Going to Win the Drivers' Championship?
Mark Patterson: Sebastian Vettel. It may well seem unlikely at the moment, and it may not be the most exciting prediction you'll ever hear, but there is little reason to doubt that the team will improve the car quickly—perhaps in time for that double points final race.
Matthew Walthert: Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard has been nipping at Vettel's heels for four years, finishing second in the Drivers' Championship three times, usually in an inferior car. The new regulations should help level the playing field and Alonso's new team-mate should spur him to even better performances.
Oliver Harden: Nico Rosberg. A surprising choice perhaps but with the best car and regulations tailored towards him, the German now has the opportunity to realise his potential and his versatility will see off the threat of world champion team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
Fraser Masefield: Nico Rosberg. Lewis Hamilton may well be the bookies' favourite but Rosberg's smooth driving style and astute tactical brain could give him the edge, certainly when it comes to managing the ERS system and bringing the car home consistently over the first half of the season.
Neil James: Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes finally appear to have produced a title-challenging car and in Hamilton they have one of the best drivers on the grid. He'll need to reign in his natural aggressive instinct, but he should have enough to comfortably beat the rest of the field.
Who'll Win the Constructors' Championship?
Fraser Masefield: Mercedes. If pre-season testing is any gauge of what is going to happen, the German manufacturers already have this one locked down. The only thing that looks likely to stop them is if Hamilton and Rosberg get in one another’s way in the squabble over the ultimate prize.
Oliver Harden: Ferrari. Although Mercedes have the fastest car and the Ferrari is rumoured to be less fuel efficient than its rivals, the experienced, all-champion pairing of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen will, as always, find a way to get consistent points on the board.
Neil James: Mercedes. One of the few things we know for sure at this stage is that the German team have produced a highly competitive car. Will others catch up? Possibly. But by then, Mercedes will have a massive lead and a driver line-up more than capable of defending it.
Mark Patterson: Mercedes. Vettel may be my tip for the drivers' crown, but there could be a big chasm between the German and new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are both strong, and they will harvest early-season points aplenty.
Matthew Walthert: Mercedes. It has been five seasons since we had a split in the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships (Hamilton won in 2008 for McLaren, but Ferrari took the Constructors'). It feels like it is time for another. More consistent, if not spectacular, performances from the Mercedes drivers allows them to pip Ferrari.
Surprise Package of the Year
Oliver Harden: Felipe Massa. There was an argument for Massa to retire from F1 after being dropped by Ferrari. After all, where do you go after leaving Ferrari? But the 32-year-old should enjoy the freedom of a new lease of life in a competitive Williams.
Neil James: Force India. Of all the Mercedes-powered cars, they received the least attention and hype during testing. But the car looks very, very good. With Nico Hulkenberg leading the team and Sergio Perez in the other car, expect podiums aplenty.
Matthew Walthert: Force India. Bernie already tipped them to win a race—what else do you need to know? Seriously, though, Mercedes' power combined with an underrated driver pairing will allow the team to turn some heads this season. Hulkenberg and Perez are both young, hungry and talented. Watch out!
Fraser Masefield: Force India. In pairing Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, Vijay Mallya has pulled off one of the tastiest driver combinations on the grid. The car has also looked a decent package during pre-season testing and if it proves reliable, they could be looking at a top five finish.
Mark Patterson: Williams. Is it a surprise? Their testing form was most impressive and given the depths they plumbed in 2013, it's a remarkable turnaround. Even if they're only top of the midfield teams that's the biggest comeback since Brawn in 2009.
Surprise Flop of the Year
Matthew Walthert: Williams. The boys (and girls) from Grove are getting lots of hype and, yes, the Martini livery looks great, but I can't see Williams winning the development race against the bigger-budget teams as the season progresses. They may have a surprise result or two early (remember when Pastor Maldonado won the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix?), but it will not last.
Mark Patterson: Lotus. Kimi Raikkonen's gone. Eric Boullier's gone. Key technical personnel have gone. The money may have gone. The first test in Jerez came—and went. At least the Twitter account is still there, because it might be all there is to smile about at Enstone in 2014.
Neil James: Kimi Raikkonen. It won't be too surprising if he gets beaten by Fernando Alonso. What may surprise is the manner in which he loses. The Finn is still a magnificent talent, but he's not as good as he was and he's never looked right at Ferrari. His head will soon drop if Alonso stamps his authority early on.
Oliver Harden: Caterham. The 2014 regulations were set to bring the backmarkers closer to the midfield, but Caterham seem as distant as ever. With little sense of direction and patience wearing thin, it wouldn't be a surprise if owner Tony Fernandes follows through with his threat and sells sooner rather than later.
Fraser Masefield: Red Bull. Not so much of a surprise given the pre-season testing woes but a big shock considering their dominance of the previous seasons. Not inconceivable that the Milton Keynes outfit won’t break the top four in the constructors’ standings by season’s end. Now we’ll really see what Sebastian Vettel is made of.
King of Qualifying?
Oliver Harden: Lewis Hamilton. Although Hamilton is second to Sebastian Vettel as the fastest driver over one lap, Red Bull's struggles should see Hamilton, with the grid's fastest car underneath him, claim F1's first Pole Position Trophy. But don't dismiss Rosberg after a run of surprise poles in 2013.
Neil James: Lewis Hamilton. Even if his all-out-attack approach costs him occasional race wins, no one on the grid is as good as putting in a magical qualifying lap when it matters the most. And having a Mercedes won't hurt. At least 10 poles for the Brit.
Fraser Masefield: Kevin Magnussen. It may be the case that the young Dane doesn’t score as many poles as, say, Lewis Hamilton but from what we have already seen, he is as cool as ice and looks mighty quick too. The yardstick to which he will be measured is against Jenson Button and in qualifying he may well cause his team-mate some problems.
Matthew Walthert: Lewis Hamilton. Among current drivers, only Vettel has more career pole positions. With Hamilton looking to have the better car under him this year, the Brit should be able to improve significantly on last season's five poles. If he does not, can I change my pick for Constructors' Champion?
Mark Patterson: Lewis Hamilton. Strong car and a one-lap genius is an irresistible combination. But for a more adventurous prediction, I think his chief rival could be Felipe Massa of Williams in the early races.
Marussia or Caterham? And Will Either Score a Point?
Matthew Walthert: Marussia. I think both teams will (finally) score points, but Marussia will score a few more. Reliability problems will present opportunities for the backmarkers early in the season and Marussia's engine advantage (Ferrari vs. Caterham's Renault) will allow them to capitalize on those opportunities more often.
Fraser Masefield: Caterham. The Renault power unit seemed to cause the team slightly less headaches than its bigger brothers during testing and in Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson they have two drivers not frightened of pushing the limit. With the new regulations meaning that merely finishing the race distance could guarantee points, I expect at least one of the minnow teams to score their first points in F1 in 2014.
Neil James: Marussia, and yes. There are no signs they've made a great leap forward in terms of pace, but the car looks tidy and the opening rounds should see many retirements. Their Ferrari engine may help them finish a couple of these races in the top 10.
Oliver Harden: Marussia finally have the momentum after years of living in Caterham's shadow. If either team is to score a point or two, they must capitalise on any unpredictability, particularly in the early-season races between Australia and Bahrain. Their long-term futures might depend on it.
Mark Patterson: Marussia. And both teams could easily pull it off this season. There'll be a window in the first half of the campaign as reliability issues are ironed out—one team will surely take theirs.
2014's Storm in a Teacup?
Oliver Harden: The hysterical overreaction when only a handful of cars make it to the end of a grand prix. F1 will again be incapable of looking beyond the end of its nose instead of realising a 'farce' could lead to a significant upturn in viewing figures.
Neil James: Could be anything but let's go with Sebastian Vettel. Early in the season he'll drop a few toys-out-of-the-pram sounding radio messages or interview comments. Then the whole world and his dog will jump on him for being immature and whiny.
Fraser Masefield: The Bernie Ecclestone bribery trial. It already seems to have been going on for donkey’s years, but the case involving the Formula One supremo and a bribe paid to a German banker over the sale of a 47 percent stake in Formula One actually begins in April. The trial is expected to last for months and there will be regular talk over what will happen to Bernie and what will become of the sport should he be forced to leave his role. Major changes if it happens, but until then, let’s get on with the racing in hand. It’s set to be a great season with plenty more worth talking about.
Matthew Walthert: Alonso vs. Raikkonen. Will they occasionally bang wheels? Maybe. Will there be heated words between them? Probably (well, at least as heated as the "Iceman" can get). Will it have a negative effect on the team's performance? I doubt it. Raikkonen's laid-back personality will allow them to successfully coexist for at least one season.
Mark Patterson: Cars not finishing races. Say what you want about the rules being twisted, but the chance that a car might simply break down makes for exciting racing and while they'll be no shortage of complaints about it, it's no more artificial than overtaking devices or double-points rules.
The Next Big Driver Move for 2015
Matthew Walthert: Nico Hulkenberg to Ferrari. Despite what I wrote earlier, there is still a decent chance Alonso or Raikkonen will not be with Ferrari next year. In that case, Hulkenberg and Jules Bianchi both have ties to the Scuderia, but the German has more experience. He deserves a drive with a top team.
Fraser Masefield: Lewis Hamilton to McLaren. With Ron Dennis having successfully pulled off an internal coup that has seen him regain control of the team and with Honda to renew its successful partnership, don’t be surprised if there is a big move to take Hamilton back to his roots, especially if Rosberg bags the title. Jenson Button could be part of a swap deal or may even move back to Williams to finish his career where it all started.
Neil James: Fernando Alonso to McLaren. The best driver on the grid still only has two titles to his name, and his team will probably fail him once again in 2014. A return to McLaren looks to be his best option.
Oliver Harden: Nico Hulkenberg to finally join the elite and replace Jenson Button at McLaren. But could Nico's heaviness open the door for Valtteri Bottas after a good season at Williams? Or will Sebastian Vettel jump ship? We can be sure of one thing, though: Ron's return will scare off Fernando Alonso.
Mark Patterson: Fernando Alonso to McLaren. Ron Dennis and Alonso have unfinished business and if Alonso goes without the title for another season, his exasperation with Ferrari may reach a climax. And the merry-go-round that follows could be spectacular.
Best Driver Signing of 2014
Oliver Harden: Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn, while performing as consistently and as fast as usual, will give the comfortable Fernando Alonso a much-needed kick up the backside—just as Ferrari intended—after the Spaniard's difficult and uninspiring 2013 season.
Matthew Walthert: Hulkenberg and Perez, Force India. In case you can't tell by now, I rate both drivers quite highly. They fell into Force India's lap—Hulkenberg after Lotus did not have the money to sign him and Perez after being axed by McLaren—but the team should benefit immensely.
Neil James: Nico Hulkenberg at Force India. He was the best available driver after Kimi Raikkonen, and Force India's decision to wait until late in the day before deciding their line-up turned out to be a masterstroke. Honourable mention for Robin Frijns as reserve driver at Caterham.
Mark Patterson: Kevin Magnussen. On the pounds to performance scale his signing will pay off. It was brave of McLaren to dump Sergio Perez after a season, but Magnussen should prove he belongs at a top team despite his inexperience.
Fraser Masefield: Kevin Magnussen. Some months ago there were many people who were saying “Kevin who?” But McLaren may well have pulled off the biggest signing of the season and bagged a future world champion.
Grand Prix of the Season
Matthew Walthert: Abu Dhabi. It is worth twice as many points as any other race—but that is not why. There will be a close battle for both titles, which will come down to the last race. It would be better if that race was Brazil but with Abu Dhabi hosting the finale, the drama will make it the race of the year.
Fraser Masefield: Belgium. The fabulous Spa-Francorchamps circuit is well known for being a favourite of the drivers due to its challenging nature, a true test of driver skill. With the extra torque produced by the ERS, the new cars are already a handful. And with the added likelihood of the Ardennes micro-climate providing rain in some sections of the circuit and dry patches in others, it will be a surprise to see every driver keeping their car on the circuit.
Mark Patterson: Germany. It will be emotional from the word go, with Michael Schumacher's presence dominating the race weekend. Let's hope by July he is there to mark his recovery from a serious skiing accident at the end of 2013.
Oliver Harden: Austria. The unpredictability of the early season races makes them all must-sees, but Austria is an exciting addition to the calendar at a scenic venue when any early season mayhem should begin to settle down and it starts to get a little more serious.
Neil James: Australia. It's been years since we had a race with this many unknowns, and it'll be so different to what we've become accustomed to. The anticipation is so high and everything points to the whole weekend being edge-of-the-seat stuff.
Drivers in Their Final Year of F1
Neil James: Jenson Button will be the most high-profile. Losing his father, John, was a huge blow. He is also 34, recently got engaged, has a world championship and isn't likely to win another. Kevin Magnussen is probably going to end the season on top, so Button may call it a day. Also Marcus Ericsson, Kamui Kobayashi, Jean-Eric Vergne and Max Chilton.
Mark Patterson: I think Button will stay, which will mean that there will be no high-profile exits. Max Chilton is lucky to be in a drive for another year at Marussia, while it seems like Daniil Kvyat's first-chance has come too early.
Oliver Harden: Jenson Button will retire. Esteban Gutierrez will succumb to one of the queue of drivers lining up to replace him at Sauber. Toro Rosso's patience with Jean-Eric Vergne will run out. Marcus Ericsson, Kamui Kobayashi and Max Chilton, meanwhile, will all fall off the radar.
Matthew Walthert: Jean-Eric Vergne. As I have pointed out before, Toro Rosso has never kept a driver more than three seasons. This will be Vergne's third in Faenza. Other drivers are more deserving of a move up the grid (Hulkenberg and Bianchi, for example), so unless the Frenchman dazzles this year, it could be his last in F1.
Fraser Masefield: Esteban Gutierrez, Adrian Sutil and Daniil Kvyat.
Rookie of the Year
Oliver Harden: Kevin Magnussen. In the strongest car of any 2014 rookie, he already seems to be displaying the maturity and pace to suggest that McLaren were justified to take a punt on the 21-year-old. After a steady start, he could soon establish himself as the team's leader.
Neil James: Kevin Magnussen. Daniil Kvyat won't disappoint. Marcus Ericsson might. But Magnussen looks very exciting and has a car that looks like it can run at the front. Can definitely see him regularly ahead of Jenson Button by the end of the year.
Fraser Masefield: Kevin Magnussen. See a pattern developing here? Not only the rookie of the year but a contender for driver of the year.
Matthew Walthert: Kevin Magnussen. So far, he seems unfazed by the spotlight at McLaren and his car should give him more of a chance to impress than the other rookies—Marcus Ericsson at Caterham and Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso. Podiums, and even a victory, are not out of the question.
Mark Patterson: Kevin Magnussen. He'll push Jenson Button very, very close all season long and probably have the edge in qualifying.
Will There Be a First-Time GP Winner?
Mark Patterson: No. I thought Romain Grosjean was the best-placed to win a maiden race this season, but his Lotus has regressed so far that it won't be an option. There'll be opportunities but when your rivals include five world champions, breaking your duck will be far from straightforward.
Neil James: Daniel Ricciardo. Once the RB10 is running reliably, it'll be running very quickly. A win for Ricciardo will probably be as a result of someone else failing, though.
Matthew Walthert: Yes, Daniel Ricciardo. Red Bull had plenty of problems in the pre-season and may not win any titles this year, but they should still win some races. The last time Vettel was beaten by a team-mate was the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, but that streak has to end sometime. Don't be surprised if one of the Force India guys wins one, too.
Oliver Harden: Nico Hulkenberg should finally remove the monkeys from his and Force India's backs, while Valtteri Bottas must be considered a contender for Melbourne. Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo are likely to come close too, although Ricciardo's chances rest on Red Bull's rate of recovery.
Fraser Masefield: If ever there was a year for a first-time winner, then this is it and there are three stand-out contenders. Once Red Bull have conquered their teething terrors, possibly during the second half of the season, they could be a force as Adrian Newey doesn’t make slow cars. Once the reliability issues are fixed, Daniel Ricciardo comes into the equation. Two teams that already look reliable as well as fast are McLaren and Williams. Not inconceivable that both Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas will contend for wins in 2014.
Something F1 in 2014 Will Prove This Year
Fraser Masefield: That change is good. The new regulations have already set tongues wagging and the unpredictability of it all will bring viewers back to their television sets in droves. Formula One is once again alive and kicking.
Neil James: The whole Ferrari operation is in need of a major overhaul. Massive budget, magnificent history, the best driver line-up around and (on paper) top quality personnel...but they're not going to win either title this year. Again.
Matthew Walthert: The double points rule is stupid. Of course, we already know that but how will it be proven, you ask? When someone is robbed of the championship because of it. We can only hope that someone is Sergio Perez, the only current driver I could find who has spoken in favour of the rule.
Mark Patterson: I disagree with Matthew—regrettably. I think the season won't prove that the double-points rule is stupid. That's not to say I agree with the rule, but this season is so unpredictable that the title is likely to go to the wire and that could throw up a thrilling final day. That would be enough to convince race organisers to persist with it. Not because it's a good rule but because a even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
Oliver Harden: Just how good Sebastian Vettel really is. Red Bull's struggles—however long they last—present a perfect opportunity for Vettel, as the underdog, to showcase his true character, earn the respect of the boo-boys and put his status as an all-time great beyond any doubt.
A Bold Prediction for the Season
Neil James: The title will be decided before the final race and everyone will point and laugh as the horrible double-points scheme ends up doing absolutely nothing. Then they'll all cry when Bernie, who by now has dodged prison and clung to power, sticks it onto the last three races for 2015.
Matthew Walthert: There will be at least one race where you do not have to finish to score points. Possibly as soon as this Sunday in Melbourne, reliability issues will mean that fewer than 10 cars finish a race. You just need to complete 90 percent of the race distance to be officially classified, though.
Fraser Masefield: Make it two. The most DNFs in a single season and possibly the most in a single race, beating the three finishers in Monaco in 1996. Kevin Magnussen to emulate Lewis Hamilton’s debut year and contend for the title.
Mark Patterson: That by the time the racing heads to Europe, the unpredictability of the season is largely at an end and although there are still multiple teams and drivers capable of victory, the shape of the season will already be established.