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Raja Sen's F1 column: What does the 2014 season have in store?

March 15, 2014 17:34 IST

Raja Sen's F1 column: What does the 2014 season have in store?

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Raja Sen

As of now this feels like a Mercedes year. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are driving what looks currently to be the class of the field, faster and more durable and critically good with fuel economy.

We're in for a year of fuel-management and engines with laryngitis. Gone is the full-blooded roar resonating through Formula One as the sport tries to reinvent itself, writes Raja Sen.

We stand on the verge of 2014, a season shrouded in surprise, silliness, tribute and tribulations. This could be a season that upsets -- or, at the very least, resets -- the form book, but it seems also to be a season overwrought with rules, and a season which threatens to wreck a lot of what we love about Formula One.

It's a season to be thrilled about and one to be wary of -- perhaps more of the latter than the former, given silly gimmicks like double points for the final race -- and a season that may, confoundingly enough, end up penalizing drivers for going too fast.


Image: Lewis Hamilton drives during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne.
Photographs: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

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Raikkonen and Vettel start side by side from the sixth row of the grid

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Raja Sen

Just what kind of a season are we in for, then?

Well, one that starts with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel starting side by side. But one that starts with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel starting from the sixth row of the grid. And, perhaps ominously, a season that starts with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel outqualified quite comprehensively by their teammates.

Assuming you've had enough time for an appropriately dramatic gasp, breathe easy now. The world hasn't suddenly gone crazy overnight, and Seb Vettel -- four time successive World Champion Seb Vettel -- hasn't forgotten how to drive.

Australia is kicking off the F1 circus this year with a pretty wet Grand Prix, and qualifying has therefore been less indicative of car and driver quality than usual. But one thing appears clear, naysayers: rumours of Red Bull's demise have been greatly exaggerated.


Image: Kimi Raikkonen in action during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix.
Photographs: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

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Raikkonen and Vettel start side by side from the sixth row of the grid

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Raja Sen

There are few things as blinding as optimism, and all we've been hearing about pre-season testing seems to confirm the most hopeful wishes of Red Bull's rivals: that the team is struggling, that they're underpowered, that design supremo Adrian Newey has finally come a clunker; that this isn't going to be their year yet again.

That ludicrous rule of double points for the last race on the grid has, without doubt, been introduced to try and let other drivers catch up with the increasingly unassailable Vettel in the final race, and give that last hurrah some extra zing. (That said, Vettel's proven to be even more bulletproof at the end of the season, which means that if he gets off to his trademark flyer, the new rule will just let him win with an even bigger margin.)

Yet, while I firmly discredit this alleged winglessness of the new Red Bull, their season-dominating advantage does look immensely unlikely this year. Yes, Daniel Ricciardo nearly took pole position today, but as of now this feels like a Mercedes year. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are driving what looks currently to be the class of the field, faster and more durable and critically good with fuel economy.


Image: Sebastian Vettel
Photographs: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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We're in for a year of fuel-management and engines with laryngitis

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Raja Sen

The first four races should see these teams fighting for the front, by my reckoning (based on today and the pre-season tests, which admittedly mean bloody zilch once the five red lights actually go out tomorrow): Mercedes, then Williams, then Ferrari, then Red Bull, then McLaren, then Lotus v/s Force India.

While we should thus brace ourselves for a topsy-turvy season -- at least till the bigger fish catch up to the piranhas looking to start the season well -- I will stop significantly short of asking you to ‘buckle up’ for the ride. Because things are just not going to be as fast, you see.

We're in for a year of fuel-management and engines with laryngitis. Gone is the full-blooded roar resonating through Formula One as the sport tries to reinvent itself. The new electronic engines are extremely efficient and fiendishly clever but lack those rousing vocal chords; grandstands will not ring out the same way again.

And, in the interest of fuel management, drivers are unlikely to soar away into the distance; they're far more likely to stay just out of reach.

Will this give us closer racing? Or will this, as Ferrari head Luca De Montezomolo infamously said, lead to our F1 pilots behaving like taxi drivers?


Image: Force India's Nico Hulkenberg drives during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne.
Photographs: Clive Mason/Getty Images

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Can underdog Ricciardo steal a march over No. 1team mate Vettel?

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Raja Sen

When it comes to the drivers, though, things are poised very fascinatingly indeed: Can Seb Vettel carve his way up the grid and deal with other cars being faster than him? On the other side of that coin, can Lewis Hamilton focus as aggressively when leading the field, without anyone in his sights?

Can one of the underdog teammates -- Ricciardo, Nico Rosberg, Kevin Magnusson -- take advantage of the new regulations to steal a march over their superstar 'Number One' drivers?

Are we in for the most special rivalry of with all Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen sharing the same scarlet scabbard? (And will we treasure it as much if they're both duelling passionately for seventh place?)

That's enough to be curious about, slow cars and weird rules notwithstanding. And on Sunday, at a wet Albert Park circuit as the Australian Grand Prix gets under way and the season begins to  answer our many questions, I'm most kicked about seeing Felipe Massa, kitted out in his Williams overalls -- made striking by the distinctive and legendary Martini livery -- and with the initials MS on his helmet in salute to a fallen comrade we all continue to pray for.

Forza, Felipe. Godspeed, 2014. 


Image: Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing prepares to drive during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix.
Photographs: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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