Good, bad and the ugly as a new era dawns in Formula One
Cars will be heavier, slower and quieter as the sport embraces green technology
Red Bull driver Sebastien Vette
Even Nostradamus did not make any predictions about the 2014 Formula One world championship, when the sport faces probably the biggest set of rule changes in its history.
Many traditional F1 fans have been dismayed by the prospect of cars that will be heavier, slower and quieter as the sport embraces green technology. After all, they have inhabited a land of noisy and sometimes vulgar excess and do not understand words such as “efficiency” and “economy”.
Yet the rule changes, viewed as a whole, must be embraced with enthusiasm because, principally, they will shake up the old order as never before. The deck has not only been thoroughly shuffled but many of the cards will be strewn on the floor after the first race of the season in Australia on Sunday.
Red Bull, who have dominated the past four years, are unlikely to do so this time, at least not for the opening few races. The engine represents the most fundamental change of all – it is now a 1.6-litre V6 turbo instead of the 2.4-litre V8 - ending years in which they have been a little too reliable and samey.
That means F1 will no longer be all about aerodynamics. And the four teams who hold Mercedes engines – Mercedes themselves and their customers at McLaren, Williams and Force India – appear to have the advantage over those that have Renault or Ferrari power units. It will not be a bad thing to see Red Bull playing catch-up.
The initial fear that the new cars would be about as fast as those in GP2 has already been disproved. Some are faster in the straights then they were last year and at some tracks they may even be faster overall. And if the corners have been torquey and slower, the wheelspin encountered is both a challenge for the drivers and a thrill for the fans.
The energy recovery system, which replaces Kers, is also to be applauded, a more integral piece of equipment that generates twice as much power and places F1 where it always should be: at the cutting edge of technology and innovative design. It generates energy under braking and more power using waste heat from the engine’s turbocharger.
A fuel limit has been introduced but it is not as harsh as some suppose: these cars will use less fuel, with much of the power coming from the hybrid technology. On average, cars will be running about two-thirds of the fuel load they carried last year.
The biggest problem, especially in the early races, will be reliability, with perhaps half the field failing to make it to the chequered flag, but that can be an entertainment in itself.
Aesthetically, the look of the car is less of a triumph. Those anteaters look ugly, even though the lowering of the nose has been introduced for safety reasons.
A number of things have been done to make F1 life more interesting, including a prize for the driver winning most poles, and permanent driver numbers, which must come from between two and 99.
The worst change of all has been to award double points for the last race in Abu Dhabi on November 23rd, to help sustain interest until the end of the season.
This forgets that two of Sebastian Vettel’s four championships went to the wire. Having got many things right, this is an absolute howler.