The eagerly-anticipated 2014 FIA F1 World Championship is all set to kick into life this weekend with the season-opening race in Australia.
Between now and the end of November, 19 races will form the 2014 season and with cars conforming to a new set of technical regulations, the sport’s followers around the globe can expect a season of surprises and entertainment.
The most noticeable change for fans will be the sound of the cars with the sport adopting new 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 engines.
Their introduction has not gone smoothly, however, with many teams suffering engine failures and installation problems during testing, making for what will be an unpredictable Australian Grand Prix.
The Brackley-based Mercedes AMG Petronas team have shown good pace during testing, but their long distance runs have seen some technical complications, which can also be said for Silverstone’s Sahara Force India.
However, Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will start the new season as favourites for the 2014 world title following their impressive pre-season form, while Red Bull, who have dominated the sport in recent years, have encountered a long list of reliability problems.
Hamilton is the out-and-out favourite for the title after both the Briton and his team-mate Rosberg set a blistering pace during the Bahrain test last month.
But, despite his team’s good form and Red Bull’s troubles, Hamilton is in cautious mood ahead of the first race this weekend and is wary of the threat posed by the reigning world champions, saying: “You had a better idea of where you would be in previous years. Red Bull have had some big problems but they are good at getting the job done and I expect them to be in a strong position in Australia. I am sure they will sort their problems out.”
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who will be driving alongside Mexican Sergio Perez for the 2014 season after rejoining the Silverstone team this season, spoke about his chances ahead of Sunday’s opener: “I think we can be fairly confident. Winter testing has gone fairly smoothly for us if compared to some other teams so from that point of view I think we are as well prepared as we can be. I’m not nervous.”
Part Bicester-based Toro Rosso will use Renault engines with Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat driving. The 19-year-old Russian will make his F1 debut this weekend in a season that will see a Russian Grand Prix for the first time.
The youngster said: “It was a big surprise to be named as a F1 driver for the 2014 season. My aim was to reach F1 but I have been handed a great chance to race this year and I’m looking forward to my season with the Toro Rosso team.”
Williams, showing a new sponsorship from Martini, look fast and Felipe Massa and Vaterri Bottas could well be the surprise package down under, while Ferrari will inevitably be a title threat with their formidable-looking duo of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, who have three world championships between them.
Former Buckingham University student, Ferrari test driver and Italian TV broadcaster, Marc Gene, said: “This looks set to be the closest season for many years. Red Bull seem to have problems and that is encouraging for all the other teams who look to be at a similar level. Let’s get the season started, I can’t wait!”
The points system has also been tweaked this year, much to the anger of fans and some drivers, with the final race of the season, in Abu Dhabi, carrying double points in order to keep the title race exciting for as long as possible following Red Bull’s total dominance in 2013.
Practise sessions for the Australian Grand Prix will take place today, Friday, with qualifying tomorrow and the race set to start at 6am on Sunday.