“Formula One has undergone the biggest technical shake-up in a generation.”
It’s the most cliched phrase in the paddock in 2014. Turbocharged V6s, lower noses, energy recovery systems, limited fuel. The proverbial moggy has been tossed into the pigeons – giving engineers sleepless nights and drivers smaller dinners.
But as the dust settles on the first weekend of the 2014 Formula One season in Melbourne, a weekend generally acknowledged as successful and interesting for the sport, I’ve been left a little underwhelmed.
Playing a bit of devil’s advocate and a little of my own honest opinion, here’s why I believe 2014 could be the dullest season in the sport for years….
1) Mercedes’ dominance will be on a par with Red Bull
They are THE team to beat in 2014, entering the season with the fastest package by some distance. The Silver Arrow has such a strong grip over the field, it’s perfectly conceivable they could win the first 8-10 races of the season before other teams catch them up. By this point – it’s likely the constructors, if not drivers championship, will be out of reach for other teams, who will focus on development for the 2015 car and leave us with a Red Bull-esque procession for 1st and 2nd.
2) Unreliability might mix things up – but will deny us close racing
In Australia, many were surprised how many cars actually finished the race, with pundits predicting as little as 10 runners. But Australia’s climate is mild in comparison to the humidity of Malaysia. OK – so cars dropping out shakes it up and adds unpredictability – but I want to see cars on the track – racing – crashing – spinning – overtaking – not spluttering to a halt on the side of the road. Lotus and Caterham can barely complete a race distance and that’s not much fun.
3) Engine noise
In 2011, I took in a Red Bull City Limits even in Belfast, where the high pitches roar of an F1 engine took your breath away and made the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. The new V6 power units have a low, dull hum and it takes away from the majesty and spirit of what Formula One is all about. Fans loved the V10s and V8s and these V6s, while technically challenging and just as fast – lack that wow factor to attract fans
4) Pirelli’s conservative tyres
Under intense scrutiny since replacing Bridgestone, Pirelli were tasked with producing fast degrading tyres to increase the number of pit stops. However, teams weren’t too pleased about this – not least safety issues that came to a head at the 2013 British Grand Prix. So Pirelli have now produced a sturdier, more durable tyre and so now we’re likely to be treated to mundane 1 or 2 stop races.
5) No KERS
In 2014, the Kinetic Energy Recovery System has been modified. Whereas before, drivers had a power boost to use strategically every lap, the new system is available for longer but delivered as part of the engine power. Plant your right foot and the computer will decide when to use it. Whereas before drivers were able to defend or overtake using KERS, that power has now gone. And it was Red Bull’s only achilles heel!
6) Fuel saving
So the one bonus of the new tyres was the fact drivers could push flat out now instead of conserving tyres. But wait… hang on there Fernando… you can’t actually push flat out any longer because you’ll run out of fuel. It denies us out and out racing because drivers are hoping the red light doesn’t come on in their cockpit. Braking is not such a challenge (unless you’re called Kamui) because they’re all lifting and coasting to save fuel.
7) Bernie’s saga will detract from the season
F1’s ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone is in a wee bit of trouble and currently going through legal proceedings. It’s set to be resolved one way or another during the season – at which point – all eyes will be taken away from the racing and diverted towards the political circus that any ruling will create. Like or loathe him – Bernie has made F1 into the global phenomenon it is today – take him away in any capacity and the sport is unlikely to benefit.
8) Overtaking is harder
So with no KERS to use as an overtaking tool, it’s left solely to DRS to do the business for drivers. But in Melbourne, a circuit that’s given us some cracking season openers for years to come, it was all a bit processional. Nico Hulkenberg kept a gaggle of Ferraris, Toro Rossos and McLarens behind him for a number of laps around Albert Park and through the field – racers like Raikkonen simply couldn’t get past slower cars in front of them. The new narrower front wings create more dirty air than their predecessors – get too close and you’ll be burning too much fuel…
9) The rookies are actually quite good
Dont get me wrong. New drivers succeeding is a great thing for Formula One. Before Ricciardo’s disqualification, there were two new visitors to the podium in Melbourne. But even with cars harder to drive than ever, drivers getting younger and younger, there were no major crashes or shunts in the race from the newbies. They all brought the car home when the car let them. Magnussen to an impressive 2nd, Kviat becoming the youngest ever points scorer too. Formula One is meant to be the pinnacle and these whippersnappers are meant to be crashing and spinning!
10) Less money means the gap between the front and back could get bigger
In 2013 – save Marussia and Caterham – the difference between front and 18th was around two seconds tops. Now the difference is nearer five seconds and that’s not conducive to wheel to wheel racing. The fact that Lotus had to employ a Venezuelan backed by his country to keep them going and that McLaren haven’t even got a title sponsor yet does not bode well for the future. The money will be concentrated on the teams near the front, who’ll spend it, get fasters and the Saubers of this world could well get left behind for good.
So before you start posting angrily that there are plenty of positives for the season I’ve totally overlooked. Yes – there are. And did I enjoy the first race? Very much so! I love the technical, tactical side of the sport. But at the same time – there’s a little undercurrent of discontent simmering inside.
These views are entirely of my person. Let me know yours and I’ll post some of them in a follow up blog later. Drop them to [email protected] and I look forward to reading them!
Tuesday, 18th March 2014