2014 will see a very different formula one when it returns to your screens this Friday. I have detailed the changes in my 2014 guide found here
However after we've seen the testing, and seen all of the new cars & drivers, who's looking good going to the first race? Who's got some work to do? and what are we to expect?
Team by team preview:
Infiniti Red Bull Racing
Drivers: Sebastian Vettel (1) and Daniel Ricciardo (3)
As winners of the drivers and constructors world championships, Red Bull are the team that everyone wants to beat. However testing has not gone to plan, not at all! With the car proving unreliable and not being able to complete more than 20 odd laps in a single run there must be some extremely worried faces at Milton Keynes.
The problems are because
A) The Renault power unit is not ready.
Simply Renault are around a month behind the other manufacturers in terms of preparation and reliability
B) The car is very tightly packaged
This is causing overheating and several fires.
Of course Red Bull and Renault are extremely well resourced and experienced and will eventually get on top of their issues. however the big question is How long will it take? How much of a head-start does everyone else have?
As always the Red Bull car is one of the best looking and certainly has one of the best aero packaging out there. Once they have the power unit issues solved they could be very quick, very quickly!
The driver line up has changed this year with Ricciardo stepping up from the junior team - Toro Rosso - taking the place of the retired Mark Webber. how the two drivers get on will be a very interesting after the much publicised spats between Vettel and Webber. How well Ricciardo gets on with the perceived favouritism within the team will also be so interesting to see. Is there anything that can stop Ricciardo from smiling?
Mercedes AMG Petronas
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton (44) and Nico Rosberg (6)
Mercedes are the pre-season favourites. All of the bookmakers are offering short odds on either of the unchanged driver lineup taking the title for the Silver Arrows. The 'Favourites' tag is one that the team are very much uncomfortable with however its easy to see why they have it.
The W05 was the first car to be able to run at full power and the first to do a full race distance. It also looks very good on track and certainly had both drivers smiling.
The Mercedes team certainly benefit from building the power unit themselves and having the best power unit on the grid - at the moment.
The Merc power unit (PU) is a must have unit if you want to start the season well and have given all four Mercedes engined teams a head start in terms of mileage. It has also proved fairly reliable and pretty quick too.
However reliability was not always a given, with Lewis Hamilton's wing failure on the first day and the W05 causing quite a few stoppages at the second Bahrain test.
As the driver line-up is unchanged we really do know what to expect, however will the status quo be challenged without the calming voice of Ross Brawn on the pitwall? Will the drivers still be good friends if they are fighting for the world championship? Will them taking points off of each other allow someone else to whip past at the last minute to steal the championship? Only time will tell...
Drivers: Fernando Alonso (14) and Kimi Raikkonen (7)
Ferrari are another team to benefit from developing the car and PU in the same team. By far the fastest and most reliable of the Ferrari powered teams they really have started quite well. However they certainly don't look as fast as the Mercedes, Willams and possibly the Mclaren.
The team can simply not afford to fail this year after years of near misses and giving Alonso a poor car to work with they MUST provide a good car for the team to challenge, only time will tell if that is a possibility this year however with Reliability being so important - especially in the early rounds of the championship - they certainly look in a much better place than Red Bull for example and should secure some early points.
The driver line-up is a big talking point this year, pairing the two world champions together is potentially a recipe for some fireworks. Some of us remember how Fernando last reacted when paired with a much faster team mate and the same again would certainly end what has been a fairly fruitless relationship with Ferrari. However Kimi is much less political and confrontational than Hamilton and should work better within the team. Ferrari certainly have two extremely fast drivers capable of winning the championship if given the car to do so.
After testing, Ferrari are extremely difficult to read. Neither the fastest nor the most reliable but ahead of the Renault teams is where they theoretically sit, however have they just not pushed the car yet? are they yet to show their hand?
Drivers: Romain Grosjean (8) and Pastor Maldonado (13)
Lotus missed the first test as the car was not ready. Many exclaimed how bad this was and how far behind this would put them however with Renault not being particularly ready for the first test, did they really miss that much? Possibly not!
However the car proved unreliable once it arrived at Bahrain and when it did run wasn't exactly quick. Whilst a lot of this can be put down to the Renault PU its clear that the car is also well behind schedule.
With its innovative take on the new nose regulations you can there are still a lot of very clever people at Enstone despite the apparent mass exodus of headline names.
On the driver front there have been a lot of jokes about the front wing budget needing an increase this year however in reality, Romain Grosjean was the changing face of last year. If he can continue on the same path he will lead the team this year and score lots of points. Maldonado however has a lot to do in order to prove he's not just there to make up the budget. We all know he's fast and is a race winner, but can he be calm and consistent? and can he improve without Eric Boullier's helping hand that helped Grosjean so much?
As the season progresses we'll see how the staff exodus has affected the team as we see if it is able to keep pace with upgrades or even if it is able to catch up in the first place. however I am really not expecting the team to score points in Melbourne.
Drivers: Jenson Button (22) and Kevin Magnussen (20)
A lot has changed down Woking way, The Mclaren Technology Centre has seen the old boss become the new boss as Ron Dennis has re-taken control of the board and has wielded the axe in the direction of previous team principal Martin Whitmarsh. In his place (Sort of) is Eric Boullier, the former Principal of Lotus. He takes the new position of Racing Director with another new top post yet to be announced.
Gone also is Sergio Perez. With only one year in McLaren he probably has reason to feel hard-done-by with it being the year they provided a very poor car. His replacement is young Kevin Magnussen. Son of former McLaren driver Jan. Kevin is part of the McLaren young driver programme and has certainly shown his speed and race craft in the junior formulae.
In Jenson Button the team also has the world champion of 2009 (the last time there were large regulation changes), now the elder statesman of F1 who is very much a 'thoughtful' driver who should excel in this new complicated formula.
This is very much a year of transition for McLaren who are in the last year of a long partnership with Mercedes as Honda come on-board in 2015. However luckily the Mercedes engine is the one to have this year and as such the car has proved reliable and fairly rapid. Although its not as fast as the Mercedes works team or even the Williams, it does have underlying pace which should pay dividends and give the team a much better season than last, its worst since the 80's!
The car featured no title sponsor at launch (this is due to be announced over the next couple of months) however we have been assured that the race team has its biggest ever budget. It also seems to have a very good grasp of the new regulations with what looks like a beautifully developed car with great innovations such as the rear suspension blockers. The team will need to continue to innovate and move forwards but look good for a decent early points haul and possibly contention for early podiums, however based on the final test in Bahrain you'd have to say they currently lack the killer pace to win the first few rounds.
Sahara Force India
Drivers: Sergio Perez (11) and Nico Hulkenberg (27)
Force India have got a seemingly very good car this year. It set the pace on the first couple of days of the final Bahrain test and certainly looks to be up there with the other Mercedes powered teams.
The team owners are having a tumultuous time at present back home in India with Roy Sahara being arrested and law suits mounting against Vijay Mallya for unpaid bills and his failing airline increase the worry and the pressure on the team. Surely the team is for sale at the right price, however if the situation does not improve then its crystal clear that long-term the team needs a new ownership. With most of the teams sponsors being owned by Mallya this increasing pressure will affect the team, sooner or later.
The team has an all new livery and all new driver line-up, welcoming back Nico Hulkenberg who for some reason still has not been snapped up by a 'big team' and McLaren reject Sergio Perez. The all new line-up is very solid and should put the team in very good stead to push further up the points ladder. They certainly want to be ahead of some of the more established teams and look like they can certainly take the fight to McLaren and Ferrari at the start of this year.
Drivers: Adrian Sutil (99) and Esteban Guittierez (21)
Sauber impressed in 2012, with Sergio Perez finishing on the podium on a few occasions, 2013 started poorly but ended on a high with Nico Hulkenberg putting in some stellar performances to make the year much more respectable.
Amongst a largely troubled 2013 the team struggled financially with rumoured Russian investment seemingly not forthcoming the question marks still hang over the long term viability of this team. The lack of any new real sponsors on the new car continues this worry.
The team have built a solid rather than spectacular car, proving to be fairly reliable if not a bit of a handful to drive! The team can hope to score points at the start of the year as the result of the bigger names reliability issues but as with all of the teams, the speed of development will be key in 2014 as
In drivers they have chosen The ex Force India man Adrian Sutil who brings sponsorship money and Esteban Guttierez gets another year to prove his worth after improving slightly towards the end of 2013. He too of course brings money, from Mexico.
Drivers: Jean-Eric Vergne (25) and Daniil Kvyat (26)
Toro Rosso have now moved to Renault PU's to match the senior team and make it easier to work together on parts of the car - where allowed by the regulations. However this seems to have been a bad year to switch as the Renault PU is so far behind. This has meant that it has been very difficult to get any meaningful pre-season testing much like Red Bull.
The team didn't have a particularly good year in 2013 and certainly could do with improving. however much of this depends on how well the Renault power unit progresses. Until the PU is running at full speed we will not get to realise the full potential of the car and at the minute its realtive pace compared to the other teams really is unknown.
The team made a surprising driver signing over the winter, choosing Daniil Kvyat over other Red Bull backed drivers such as Carlos Sainz Jr and Antonio Felix Da Costa. Whilst Kvyat won the GP3 series last year he has big step up to Formula One, how well he does will be very interesting to watch. Vergne meanwhile needs to lead the team and prove to the Senior squad that they picked the wrong driver to promote.
Martini Williams Racing
Drivers: Felipe Massa (19) and Valterri Bottas (77)
Williams have all of the ingredients to move up the table this year and really do well. An all new technical department headed by Pat Symonds have built a very good looking car, beautifully developed and very importantly have a new engine provider in Mercedes. The car has been the revelation of testing setting the fastest time of the test and being incredibly reliable.
The team have also gained an experienced new driver in ex Ferrari driver Felipe Massa. Following him to the team are Brazillian sponsors Banco Do Brasil and Petrobas. However the headline new sponsor is Martini, giving a return to the iconic Martini racing livery.
There is a new buzz about Williams. Everyone wants to see them do well and it certainly looks like they have the ingredients to be F1's most improved team in 2014. I personally would not bet against them fighting for wins, especially at the start of the year.
Drivers: Jules Bianchi (17) and Max Chilton (4)
Marussia is one of the few teams to field an unchanged line up this year however the team have signed Ferrari to supply their power unit's for this year.
The car has so far struggled to do many miles in pre-season testing with lots of IT issues and a computer virus leaving the car stuck in the garage for a day in Bahrain.
When on track however the car has not been bad, certainly a big improvement on last year and the car looks much more developed too. It looks like a current F1 car, and a pretty good looking one at that.
2014 could be the year that the team scores its first points. In fact I'd put money on it. If they can be reliable then they will do well and could score points ahead of the Renault powered teams in the first few rounds. Max Chilton however will need to step up and take the fight to his team-mate this year if he is to stake a claim to a longer stay at the top table of Motorsport.
Drivers: Kamui Kobayashi (10) and Marcus Ericsson (9)
Catreham are the best Renault powered team as it currently stands with the most mileage of any of the teams sporting a Renault PU. This mileage will certainly pay dividends when the team arrive in Melboune and will be able to focus on performance.
On the subject of performance the team have been consistently lacking speed. This will hopefully improve when the Renault engineers give the go-ahead to turn the PU up to maximum however it is doubtful if this will be enough to lift the team off the bottom of the constructors table.
The team's best hope of scorning points looks to be in the first few rounds whilst reliability struggles are commonplace.
Caterham have gone for an all new driver line-up and welcome back to F1 Kamui Kobayashi, the former Toyota and Sauber driver. His team mate will be the young Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson. Team owner Tony Fernandes has described 2004 as a make or break year for his investment in F1 and his reason for singing Kobayashi rather than someone like Kovalainen was mainly as the team had become complacent and stale and needed the spark provided by someone such as Kobayashi. I really hope that they too can score some points this year.