Motorsport fans have been waiting for the upcoming weekend ever since the last Formula 1 race was run in Brazil more than four months ago. With Formula 1 getting its biggest refresh in nearly three decades, fans and critics alike have been mulling over how the cars will perform under these new conditions. With all-new engines, all-new chassis and a brand new approach to the pinnacle of motorsport in general, we bring you the top 5 things to look forward to at the Australian Grand Prix, the opening round of the 2014 Formula 1 season.
1. Filipe Massa and Williams Martini F1 Team:
Being earmarked as one of the favourites for the upcoming season, the Williams Martini Formula 1 team has shown great pace in pre-season testing. The Brazilian driver, Filipe Massa, who switches to Williams after a long stint at Ferrari is said to be one of the drivers in chief contention for the 2015 championship crown based on his pre-season testing results. The Williams FW36, powered by a Mercedes engine has not only been quick in testing but also remarkably reliable.
One of the most experienced drivers on the grid in 2014, Massa will team up with Finnish driver, Valtteri Bottas who made his Formula 1 debut in 2013. The Williams team is overseen by Formula 1 legend, Frank Williams. Williams announced their partnership with Martini a week ago, marking the return of the legendary white, blue and red Martini livery back into motorsport.
2. Mercedes engined cars:
If pre-testing lap times for a basis of deliberation on the kind of pace showcased by Formula 1 teams, the picture this year seems to be pretty clear. Mercedes-Benz AMG engine powered cars have dominated both sessions of the pre-season testing in Bahrain and Jerez. The fastest cars of the lot have been the Mercedes AMG Petronas team and the Williams F1 team. Vijay Mallya's Force India F1 team too has showcased exceptional pace along with an equally exceptional level of reliability.
With Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg setting the fastest times at the final test session and Lewis Hamilton not too far behind, the Mercedes factory team are without a doubt the favourites for the 2014 season. The balanced chassis combined with Ross Brawn's glorious past and Niki Lauda's strategic decisions, the Mercedes AMG factory team's limited success in modern Formula 1 history might soon see a change of fortune.
3. Reliability issues:
Red Bull have had possibly their worst pre-season testing in its short but glorious F1 history. With the Renault powered cars suffering from severe reliability issues, the four-time world champion will be starting with a severe disadvantage in terms of sheer testing mileage. With the Red Bulls suffering from catastrophic engine failure a few times in testing and a car that seems to be quite the handful for the world champ, Vettel's world championship is surely at stake.
The other Renault engine powered cars like the Lotus too have had to struggle with pace and reliability in pre season testing. Some teams though, especially the Caterham Formula 1 team seems to be one of the only teams to have successfully synced well with the Renault powerplant with cars regularly racking up race distances during testing at Jerez and Bahrain.
4. The Dark Horse andndash; Ferrari:
While most of the news around the two pre-season testing slots were around how badly Red Bull was performing and how well Mercedes powered cars were doing, Ferrari seemed to be minding its own business. At Bahrain for example, the two world champions, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen put down a total of 287 laps with just two-tenths of a second between their fastest laps. With reliability not seeming to be an issue for the most respected team in motorsport, the prancing horse will certainly be right up the list of things to look forward to in 2014 and in particular, the Australian GP.
With what is deemed to be the strongest driver pairing since the legendary Senna-Prost days at McLaren, the two world champions seemed to be very close to each other in terms of sheer pace. The strong driver line up though means an in-house rivalry will be one of the things foremost on top of team boss Stefano Domenicalli's mind. Hopefully we wont see a repeat of what happened with McLaren in 2007 with Fernando leaving the team midway through the season due to issues with Hamilton.
5. Ever changing weather conditions:
Although weather is never something to truly count on, it is undoubtedly something that the drivers and teams heading to Melbourne will be keeping an eye on. With an already unpredictable start of the 2014 seasons with a new set of regulations, new cars and new engines a wet race could spice things up even more. According to a number of weather monitoring agencies, rain is set to fall throughout the day on March 16th, meaning that a wet grand prix could be on the cards at Albert Park. With rain expected to be most intense between 4pm and 9pm and with the race starting at 5pm local time the first race of the 2014 seasons will most certainly be an interesting one.
The Australian GP has usually had its fair share of wet weather days in the past. In 2013 for example, qualifying was delayed after a series of torrential downpours forced the race officials to close the track for motorsport purposes. This meant that the drivers could not set a time and qualifying was postponed to Sunday morning. This year though, the rain is forecast only for Sunday which means some drivers might get to get some much needed testing time behind the wheel of their brand new cars.