F1 shake-up to bite hard

Back in January, before a wheel had turned on Formula One’s latest grand design, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made an eye-opening claim that up to half the grid would retire in the first grand prix of the season in Australia.

F1 shake-up to bite hard

Back in January, before a wheel had turned on Formula One’s latest grand design, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made an eye-opening claim that up to half the grid would retire in the first grand prix of the season in Australia.

When Horner aired that remark it would be fair to suggest he did not have his own cars in mind amongst the list of potential retirees, either that or he knew exactly what was lurking over the horizon.

But that is the grim scenario being faced by the reigning F1 champions and the man who would be king for a fifth successive time, Sebastian Vettel.

[comment] Hamilton drives the Mercedes car in January's testing period.[/comment]

The new regulations, providing arguably the biggest overhaul in the sport’s history, means that Vettel and Red Bull, from finishing last season with a record run of nine consecutive victories, may very well find themselves towards the rear of the grid come qualifying at Melbourne’s Albert Park on March 15.

As for actually seeing the chequered flag on race day itself, right now that would be a minor miracle given the 12 days of pre-season testing were nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for the Milton Keynes-based team.

The arrival of the new 1.6-litre V6 turbo-charged power units have placed Red Bull so far on the backfoot that some estimates indicate they are around two months behind their rivals in terms of car development.

The RB10 suffered repeated failures in testing and the time lost in the garage carrying out repairs resulted in the team languishing at the rear in terms of overall mileage completed come the conclusion, having failed to carry out even one full-blown race simulation.

Worse still for Red Bull is that while they may have a list of objectives to work through, the early signs are that the car also lacks pace.

[comment] Red Bull consistently led the pack during the 2013 season.[/comment]

While Red Bull have money and manpower to throw at the problems, they are also crucially relying on power-unit supplier Renault to find answers.

When it comes to the latest technology, the French manufacturer has been found wanting in comparison to rivals Mercedes and Ferrari.

It has meant all its customers – Toro Rosso, Lotus, Caterham and Red Bull - have encountered numerous issues.

After providing the power behind Red Bull’s string of successes, and being the most sought-after engine supplier in the F1 paddock, there have been suggestions the team are already on the lookout for a new partner from 2015.

Lotus, who have scaled the sport’s constructors’ ladder these past two years, rising to fourth in 2013, face a potentially turbulent campaign and a slide back down the grid.

[comment] Last year's Canadian GP.[/comment]

Last season the Enstone-based marque lost key design and engineering personnel to their rivals, then star driver Kimi Raikkonen to Ferrari and team principal Eric Boullier to McLaren.

These are worrying times for Lotus, who missed the first test due to the late build of the E22, and over the second and third tests in Bahrain encountered myriad problems.

The fear is, with the team understood to be on the margins in terms of finances after a failed buy-out towards the end of last season, a wretched year on track could seriously undermine their future.

The cost of the new power units have had a serious impact on all the teams, stretching the resources to breaking point of many of the smaller outfits.

But the new units, complete with energy recovery from not just braking now but also the turbo, have long been the sport’s preferred route in its bid to become greener and more efficient.

As to who will take the flag in Melbourne, it appears Mercedes and Williams are the frontrunners, the latter further underlining what an impact has been made by the new rules.

Whereas Red Bull are in line to plunge from winners to strugglers, the famous Williams name could potentially go in the opposite direction.

Last season Williams endured the worst season in their illustrious history, scoring just five points, four of which came from the penultimate race in the United States where Valtteri Bottas finished fourth.

But in switching power unit supplier from Renault to Mercedes – the German manufacturer seemingly the most advanced with its programme and the most reliable – Williams appear to have backed the right horsepower.

McLaren and Force India, also powered by Mercedes, should certainly be in the running for a reasonable haul of points over the first few races as they fared well in testing.

Naturally, the works Mercedes team were strong, although niggles late on undermined their early-season credentials.

Down at Ferrari all eyes will be on the Fernando Alonso/Raikkonen battle this season, although the form of the team proved difficult to read in pre-season as there were both positive and negative signs.

As far as the bookmakers are concerned, they like Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton replacing Vettel as the favourite for a championship.

Yet 2014 champion may yet be the man with the most reliable car under him, not the quickest.

In recent seasons the cars had become bulletproof, with most grands prix seeing 19 or 20 reaching the chequered flag. This year it will be a completely different story, and so we come back to Horner’s remark that possibly only 11 of the 22 cars due to line up on the grid in Melbourne will make it home.

Who needs the sham of double points for the final event to spice up a sport that was beginning to lose its lustre, when the new rules appear poised to unleash one of the biggest shake-ups the sport has ever known?

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