F1 2014 Season Preview: Drivers and Teams

After updating you on the rules for this season, now it’s time to get you up to speed with the drivers and teams competing in this year’s Formula One World Championship.

It’s not just the drivers being allowed to choose their own numbers that has changed things in the entry list. Unlike 2013 which saw very few driver changes, this season sees all but Mercedes and Marussia with a driver lineup change. Webber’s retirement, Ferrari dumping Massa and Lotus’ money troubles started a domino effect through the whole of the field in 2014.

f1-2014-jerez-test-vettel-red-bullRed Bull Racing – Renault

#1 Sebastian Vettel
#3 Daniel Ricciardo

The four-time World Drivers’ Champion is going for his fifth-straight WDC in 2014. I don’t know if that’s why he was reported as selecting #5 as his number but it would make for a nice coincidence. He ended up with #1 as a result of being the champion and being allowed to use that number as a result.

Daniel Ricciardo makes the jump from the junior Toro Rosso squad to the big team to replace the retiring Mark Webber. At least he won’t be a #2 driver since his number is 3. I would imagine Webber would intentionally have picked #2 as a joke if he was still around this year.

As for the team, you would think that having Adrian Newey as lead designer would make for a massive adventure heading into a major rules change. Usually that would be true but he’s pushing the limits on cooling the engine and ERS so far that the RB10 is having serious reliability problems. There’s also concern among all the Renault teams about the power and reliability of their V6 engines and ERS units. A five-peat for Seb and RBR won’t be on the cards unless things are fixed very quickly.

f1-2014-bahrain-test-two-rosberg-mercedesMercedes AMG

#6 Nico Rosberg
#44 Lewis Hamilton

It would be easy to say that the hiring of Lewis Hamilton was the sole reason behind Mercedes’s turnaround in 2013 but it was clear that the team gave up in 2012. They repeated their 2008 strategy which won Brawn a championship in 2009 with Jenson Button. Like that championship season, Mercedes has retained their driver for this season.

One change at Mercedes that might have a long-term impact is the departure of Ross Brawn. The man behind seven Michael Schumacher and one Jenson Button championship left at the end of last season in an expected move. Scuttlebutt inside the paddock was that Toto Wolff was trying to force Brawn out and it seems to have worked.

Mercedes has been one of the top teams in testing this season but so have all of the Mercedes teams. They could be in the hunt for the championship this season if things go their way.

Scuderia Ferrari

#7 Kimi Raikkonen
#14 Fernando Alonso

After several years of rumours, Ferrari has finally let Felipe Massa go. While it was long believed that Sebastian Vettel was going to join Ferrari around this season, he is still with Red Bull this season. Instead, Ferrari’s second driver is an old friend they pushed out the door for Alonso who in turn was forced out of his most recent team. After spending a season not getting paid by Lotus, Kimi Raikkonen returns to Ferrari after reestablishing himself as one of F1’s best drivers.

The F14 T is an unusual looking car. It’s not really because of the low nose but because it doesn’t have that phallic nose design. Whether it’s because of their unique nose design or just because they’re very good at what they do, the Ferrari is the only car that can challenge the Mercedes-powered teams at the top of the timesheets in testing. Hopefully, they can continue that in-season or we’ll be in for a dull nine months.

f1-2014-bahrain-test-two-grosjean-lotus-e22Lotus – Renault

#8 Romain Grosjean
#13 Pastor Maldonado

They had no money to develop the car prior to Maldonado’s signing and they have Pastor Maldonado in the second car. Let’s face it, Lotus doesn’t have a prayer this season. They were too late to testing to get any development work done and were on the back foot at the final test. They can’t catch up by the time we get to Australia. Their best bet is to survive through the season and focus on 2015 when they should have the time and money to get it right.

At least we can all appreciate the irony of Maldonado choosing #13. Traditionally, it’s bad luck which is appropriate for a driver who makes his own bad luck… as well as everyone near him on track.

f1-2014-jerez-test-magnussen-mclarenMcLaren – Mercedes

#20 Kevin Magnussen
#22 Jenson Button

After a less than impressive 2013 season, Sergio Perez was fired by McLaren. As Formula One teams repeatedly attempt to prove, a contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Perez had a multi-year contract with McLaren but is seems as though the Woking-based team had their fingers crossed when they signed the deal.

Jenson Button stays with the team for 2014 as the lead driver and running the #22 that he had when he won the 2009 World Drivers’ Championship. Replacing Perez is Kevin Magnussen, son of former F1 driver Jan Magnussen and reigning Formula Renault 3.5 champion.

Magnussen’s signing is a bit of a surprise when you look at McLaren’s history. They have only hired one rookie in the last 20 years. That man was Lewis Hamilton. Prior to 2007, their last rookie hire was Michael Andretti who was out of the team before the conclusion of the 1993 season. It’s an unusual risk for McLaren to take but they must think they have something special with Magnussen to bring him in as a rookie.

Force India – Mercedes

#11 Sergio Perez
#27 Nico Hulkenberg

It’s a completely new driver line-up for Force India in 2014. Adrian Sutil made his way over to Sauber with his sponsorship and the team neglected to retain Paul di Resta. In their places come Nico Hulkenberg who was with the team in 2012. In order to make up for Hulkenberg’s lack of personal sponsorship, FI picked up Sergio Perez and his Telmex backing to help fund the team.

Like the other Mercedes team, Force India is looking strong heading into the season. As Force India, the team has never finished in the top five in the World Constructors’ Championship but with this driver line-up and early testing results, they have to be targeting that in 2014.

f1-2014-bahrain-test-gutierrez-sauberSauber – Ferrari

#21 Esteban Gutierrez
#99 Adrian Sutil

Remember Sergey Sirotkin? He was signed by Sauber last July as part of a tie-in with some Russian investors. The idea was to get him in a race seat by 2014. However, I doubt an FIA F1 Superlicense is in the cards any time soon after scoring only two podiums and five points finishes in 15 Formula Renault 3.5 races last season. There is still development work to be done.

Nico Hulkenberg departs the team after not being paid last season and in his place comes Adrian Sutil who has personal backing to help out Sauber. Esteban Gutierrez retains his seat that he likely would have lost to Sirotkin.

One thing to keep your eye on this season is the development of Simona de Silvestro. She was the female driver in IndyCar who gained her popularity with fans through her driving skill rather than FHM & SI Swimsuit photo shoots. The team is targeting getting Simona into a race seat in 2015 which means there’s a log jam for Sauber seats for next season.

Toro Rosso – Renault

#25 Jean-Eric Vergne
#26 Daniil Kvyat

I wasn’t sure if Red Bull’s junior team was ever going to pan out as a development team for the big squad. Only Sebastian Vettel managed to graduate to RBR proper while five drivers prior to 2012 failed out of F1. This year, Daniel Ricciardo made the move up to RBR.

Jean-Eric Vergne remains with STR this year which will tie him with Sebastien Buemi as the longest tenured Toro Rosso driver at three seasons. It was at that point that Red Bull decided that he wasn’t going to move to the A-team so they dropped him. Vergne is probably being kept around to tutor new driver Daniil Kvyat this year before suffering the same fate as five of his predecessors.

As for Daniil Kvyat, he makes the rare jump from GP3 to Formula One this season. We’re used to GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 drivers making the move to F1 but not GP3 champions. To get the seat, he surprisingly beat out Felix da Costa and Carlos Sainz Jr. for the seat. Granted, with the Russian GP starting this season, having a Russian driver in the team will probably help STR get more sponsorship money and increase sales in Russia.

f1-2014-debut-williams-martiniWilliams – Mercedes

#19 Felipe Massa
#77 Valtteri Bottas

If you want to improve your team massively over night, you fire Pastor Maldonado. The man’s utter lack of driving skill is going to cripple Lotus’s chances more than the lack of funds in developing this car and Renault’s reliability problems.

Williams made two big moves this season. They jumped to Mercedes power, though that wouldn’t have been as good a decision at the time as we know it to be now. They also hired Felipe Massa to replace Maldonado which is the best hiring of the off-season. Williams went from a pay driver to a top ten driver overnight. That certainly improved their chances for a return to vintage Williams form.

Williams was surprisingly fast during pre-season testing. Massa set the fastest time in Bahrain while Bottas managed to be near the top of the timesheets every time he took the wheel. And Val also has the best hashtag in F1. He can now hashtag and market himself as #Bo77as. That looks cool, right?

Marussia – Ferrari

#4 Max Chilton
#17 Jules Bianchi

Don’t look now but Marussia could score some points this season. They’ve been mid-pack in testing thanks to Renault’s issues and, with some luck, could find their way into the top ten. As the season progresses, I like their chances at scoring points less as teams sort out their issues. For now, they can capitalize on early troubles. If they can get a car to the finish this weekend, I would say that points are likely.

f1-2014-bahrain-test-two-kobayashi-caterham-ct05Caterham – Renault

#9 Marcus Ericsson
#10 Kamui Kobayashi

Of the Renault teams, I think that Caterham has looked the best in terms of reliability. However, in terms of speed, I think they’re only better than Lotus who have had almost no running time.

Caterham comes back with an all-new driver lineup this season. The hiring of Marcus Ericsson was not unexpected as he was seen with the team late last season. The return of Kamui Kobayashi was unexpected after a year off. It looks like he might have been able to put together enough sponsorship to buy himself a drive. It’s too bad he’s at the back of the grid because he’s one of the most exciting drivers in F1. He certainly looks like he belongs battling with frontrunners when the opportunity is afforded to him. However, he won’t be doing that this season.

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