Pre-season testing is now over and it has left us with the prospect of the most unpredictable Formula One season in recent memory. The catalyst for what could be a seismic shift in the fairly predictable running order in recent years has been the most dramatic rule changes in the sport’s history.
Most importantly new regulations mean that engine performance will become a major differentiating factor in results. Turbo engines will be utilized for the first time since 1988, with the 2.4 liter V8s being replaced by the 1.6 liter V6 engines. The changes have been brought in to make the sport more environmentally friendly, with horsepower down from 750 to 600. Power will be made up by the hybrid technology, Ers. The “energy recovery system” is comprised of the Kers system as well as thermal energy from exhaust gases providing a boost, which is stored and delivered from the rear wheels upon acceleration, that will have a more sizable impact on performance than in that past.
The changes mean that reliability could be a major hurdle, particularly in the opening races of the season. Here’s how things are shaping up for each team -- in order in which they finished last season -- heading into the brave new world.
Red Bull (3/1 -- odds provided by Sky Bet)
The constructors’ champions for the past four years have been the biggest story of testing. What started out as frustration with reliability issues restricting track time in the first test in Jerez has turned into serious concern as the problems have been repeated during both tests in Bahrain. In terms of kilometers covered, Red Bull ranked just ninth among the constructors. The Renault engine has proved a problem, but the team’s new car has also had its own issues. With the incredible personnel at their disposal, Red Bull should get things right -- certainly few in the paddock are writing them off -- but just getting to the finish line could be a real struggle in the opening weeks.
Sebastian Vettel (11/4) Such has been the German’s dominance for the past four years that Formula One has introduced a bizarre rule that points will count double in the final race to try and prevent the procession to the title that Vettel has enjoyed. Such a prospect is difficult to imagine in 2014, but Vettel has shown that he is far more than just being a lucky driver in the best car and shouldn’t be written off.
Daniel Ricciardo (50/1)
The 24-year-old was promoted from Toro Rosso to replace fellow-Australian Mark Webber when the Red Bull stalwart retired at the end of last season. With Red Bull’s problems it could be a difficult start for Ricciardo, before he even thinks about trying to best his illustrious teammate.
The team to beat on the evidence of testing. The Mercedes engines appear to have a clear advantage and no team has clocked more time than the Silver Arrows. In addition, the W05 has been consistently quicker than its competitors, with Lewis Hamilton remarking that there is still plenty more to come. The only thing that can hold Mercedes back in the early going is reliability issues, with a series of problems striking in the final test this past weekend.
Lewis Hamilton (5/2)
With his team favorites to claim the constructors’ crown, Hamilton is predicted by the odds-makers to secure his second drivers’ championship. A fourth place in the standings in his debut season with the team was satisfactory, with the promise of 2014 always being seen as the reason to justify Hamilton cutting his long-held ties with McLaren.
Nico Rosberg (6/1)
Finished 18 points behind his new teammate last season, but the German should not be written off in the battle for supremacy within his team and thus on the grid as a whole. Has three race wins to his name.
here remain doubts about exactly where Ferrari lie in the pecking order heading into the new season. The Ferrari engine certainly appears to lack power compared to the Mercedes and it could well be that the car follows the same pattern as in 2013 -- being less than impressive in qualifying but moving up the grid come race day. Their reliability looks good and they could be in and among the Mercedes-powered runners in Australia,
Fernando Alonso (11/2) Eight years have now passed since the last of Alonso’s two championships, with the 32-year-old having extracted every last drop from the under-performing Ferrari’s in recent years. Rumors were rife that he could return to McLaren but he has so far stuck around to try and win with the sport’s most prestigious name. If Ferrari are competitive then Alonso, arguably still the most talented driver around, could yet secure a third title this year.
Kimi Raikkonen (12/1)
The battle between Alonso and his new teammate promises to be one of the most fascinating storylines of the season. Ferrari have taken the bold step of not only essentially having two No.1 drivers but hiring back the man who ended a three-year stint with the team in 2009 as his motivation visibly disappeared. Raikkonen appeared to get his enthusiasm back with Lotus, where he showed that his talents have not waned. However, the Finn has not had the track time he would have liked in practice.
Financial issues abound and the team also suffered the blow of the departure of team principal Eric Boullier in pre-season. After missing the first test in Jerez, Lotus failed to get the desired track time in either test in Bahrain. It’s difficult to know where they stand in the bigger picture, but Lotus certainly look to have taken a significant step backward.
Romain Grosjean (66/1)
The Frenchman has always shown promise and last season eradicated much of the recklessness that characterized his first season with the team. Following Raikkonen’s departure, he will be looking to assume the mantle of No.1.
Pastor Maldonado (150/1)
After a memorable first race win in 2012, the Venezuelan endured a difficult campaign with Williams last season, earning just a solitary point. Maldonado looks to have his work cut out at Lotus now, too.
The team hit a low ebb last season when finishing a distant fifth in the constructors’ championship during a year in which making it into the final 10 in qualifying was seen as a success. Major action was taken during the winter with Ron Dennis returning to the fray after winning an internal power struggle with team principal Martin Whitmarsh. They don’t have the pace of Mercedes and had a disappointing final test in Bahrain, but things are certainly brighter for McLaren than 12 months ago.
Jenson Button (9/1)
Now a veteran of the paddock at the age of 34, Button sounded a less than ecstatic tone about his car in Bahrain, but still expects a much better opportunity to compete at the front of the grid than in a dismal 2013.
Kevin Magnussen (14/1)
After Sergio Perez was dispensed with after a single season, Button now appears to have more competition across his own garage. The Young Dane, who has arrived from Formula Renault, has shown plenty of pace in testing and also displayed signs of maturity beyond his 21 years.
Force India (66/1)
With their Mercedes engine, Force India have enjoyed a strong testing season and could be in the mix in Australia.
Nico Hulkenberg (50/1)
After it appeared for a while that he may not get a drive following his departure from Sauber, Hulkenberg rightly remains on the grid. And he could well cause a few stirs with his new team.
Sergio Perez (200/1)
The Mexican has something to prove after being cast aside by McLaren. He showed some improved form when his departure had already been confirmed toward the end of last season.
It was a solid winter for Sauber as they ranked fifth in kilometers racked up on the track. Another season in the middle of the pack looks on the cards.
Adrian Sutil (250/1)
Following five years, split across two stints, with Force India, the 31-year-old replaces fellow-German Hulkenberg.
Esteban Gutierrez (500/1)
After scoring just six points in his debut season last year and playing second fiddle to Hulkenberg, the Mexican has said that he is looking to establish himself as team leader in 2014.
Toro Rosso (500/1)
Like their parent team, Red Bull, Toro Rosso’s winter has been a long way short of ideal. It promises to be a tough start to the season, at least, although they had a more encouraging run in the final test in Bahrain.
Jean-Eric Vergne (1500/1)
The Frenchman will now be expected to step up following the departure of Ricciardo, who outscored him by 20 points to 13 last year.
Toro Rosso’s winter has hardly been ideal for the Russian teenager embarking on his first season in Formula One, but the 19-year-old, who won the GP3 title last year, has urged that there is no need to panic.
Easily the biggest gainer this winter. Only Mercedes have recorded more track time in testing, with Williams looking on course for an extraordinary revival after sinking new depths last season. Benefiting from the Mercedes engine and impressive reliability, Williams head to Australia looking like genuine contenders at the front of the grid.
Felipe Massa (33/1)
The Brazilian appeared on thin ice at Ferrari for some time and it could well benefit all concerned that he has now finally moved on. Massa, who missed out on the 2008 title by a single point, has unsurprisingly declared himself delighted with the performance of his new car in testing.
Valtteri Bottas (66/1)
The Finn scored just four points in his debut season in 2013, but now looks set to benefit from a much better car this time around.
Failed to score a single point last season and their ambitions are again likely to extend only as far as getting the better of Caterham at the back of the grid.
Jules Bianchi (5000/1)
Recorded a best position of 13th in his first season in Formula One and the Frenchman faces a similarly tough year in 2014.
Max Chilton (5000/1)
Like his teammate, the British driver is back for a second season with the Anglo-Russian team.
The Malaysian-owned team is hopeful that the rule changes could help them to be more competitive, but, although their reliability has been good, there looks unlikely to be any great improvement.
Kamui Kobayashi (3000/1)
The Japanese driver returns to Formula One after two years out of the sport following three years with Sauber.
Marcus Ericsson (3000/1)
The Swedish 23-year-old arrives for his first season in Formula One after four years in GP2.
1. Australia (Melbourne) 14-16 March
2. Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) 28-30 March
3. Bahrain (Sakhir) 4-6 April
4. China (Shanghai) 18-20 April
5. Spain (Barcelona) 9-11 May
6. Monaco (Monte Carlo) 22-25 May
7. Canada (Montreal) 6-8 June
8. Austria (Spielberg) 20-22 June
9. Great Britain (Silverstone) 4-6 July
10. Germany (Hockenheim) 18-20 July
11. Hungary (Budapest) 25-27 July
12. Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps) 22-24 August
13. Italy (Monza) 5-7 September
14. Singapore 19-21 September
15. Japan (Suzuka) 3-5 October
16. Russia (Sochi) 10-12 October
17. United States (Austin) 31 October – 2 November
18. Brazil (Sao Paulo) 7-9 November