David Croft, Sky Sports F1 Commentator, guest writes for Silverstone in anticipation of the start of the F1® season.
So that’s that then as far as pre-season testing is concerned. The start of the 2014 season is now nearly upon us. The brave new world of V6 turbos and hybrid cars is now accelerating toward us, but does anyone really think they’re ready?
From my own perspective I've been trying to learn all the changes to the new regulations, both sporting and technical. And there’s a lot to take in. And then there’s the double points issue for the final race which I’m trying to forget about. I’m still not sure why we need it and why a race in Abu Dhabi should count more for your season points tally than a race at Silverstone for instance? Yet not one of the teams objected to the idea, so it’s here to stay.
They probably had more on their plate to concern them. From the faces I saw at the second pre-season test, an awful lot of long days and even longer nights have been invested already to get ready for Melbourne. Even before the climax of the 2013 campaign, the efforts were already being doubled and trebled for this year. Holiday leave over the winter was cancelled, and every single brain cell strained to find solutions.
I never fail to be astounded by the brilliance of those who work within Formula 1 to find solutions to technical challenges, but the transition from 2013 to 2014 seems to me to be akin to climbing Everest and Kilimanjaro in the same week, running a couple of marathons too and then crawling up Eau Rouge blindfolded!
Get it right, though, and boy are we in for a treat. Expect the cars to be faster down the Wellington and Hanger Straights at Silverstone, and one engineer informed me that at Monza for instance we could see speeds of up to 360kph. But there’s less downforce of course, and the torque has been massively increased, so we’re going to see drivers struggling to tame these beasts.
With only 100kg of fuel allowed for the race a re-think is required - a different approach to race strategy, which may well see some drivers storming through the field in the closing stages after some initial conservatism. It promises to be edge of the seat stuff if your favourite is closing down his title rival with some extra go faster juice left in the tank as the laps tick down, and just as thrilling to see if your hero can hang on as he’s hauled in.
But if we don’t get it right, then this banquet of technology and entertainment could well find us suffering from a bout of indigestion. Too much to consume and salivate over, too soon. How unpalatable will it be to see over half the field retiring in the early races, because the sport needed more time to ensure it was ready for this brave new world?
Lotus says they’ll need a bit of luck to finish in Melbourne. Even Nico Rosberg is admitting that his Mercedes still has reliability issues. McLaren finished the final day of the final test with only 22 laps on the board, and the day before Sebastian Vettel failed to complete a single lap. Whether he did or didn't march out of the garage in a fit of pique at the performance of his car so far is irrelevant. The fact is that you could sympathise with his actions if he did. Not that I’m hearing much sympathy for the defending champions. The neutrals I've spoken to can’t wait to see them take a fall – which they will, at least for the first few races. As it stands going to Melbourne, even if they fix their chronic unreliability, they’re not going to find five seconds of pace in an instant.
According to no less than Christian Horner himself, Mercedes are the title favourites. They weren't at the start of the year, but I think even the British bookies have cottoned on to the fact the team based in Brackley are the ones to catch. Not just because they seem to have the best power unit - three of the top four teams in terms of mileage over the 12 days were powered by the Mercedes unit - but because they got down to improving the pace of their car a lot earlier than most. As Lewis Hamilton says: “there’s much more to come”, and there’s a genuine fear throughout the paddock that there is enough to come to make the first few races a bit of a canter for Lewis or Nico.
Not a problem for me and I’m sure for many of you who’ll be flocking to Silverstone this year, especially if McLaren have improved enough to be taking the fight to the works Mercedes team. Lewis and Jenson slugging it out for top spot at their home Grand Prix? You’d forgive me if the Sky F1 Commentary Box was awash with patriotic excitement at that moment.
And don’t discount Williams from being the surprise package either. Aside from losing a day whilst their replaced a power unit - a downside of the new units is just how long it takes to fix things now, and I've heard plenty of fears that cars may not make qualifying if there’s a major change required after the final practice session on a Saturday. No, Williams made up for that lost time and got the miles in. They have for me an ideal combination of experience and proper potential when it comes to their driver line up and have added to their technical team with wise choices. Add to that what I consider to be the best livery on the track this year (you’ll have to wait until March 6th to see it in all its glory), and you've got another possible British success story on July 6th.
Plenty can, and most probably will, happen before the British Grand Prix on July 6th. I’m keeping everything crossed that the fears ahead of this seismic change in the sport we love prove to be unfounded, and this year turns into an absolute belter.
Pre-season testing has whetted our appetites; it’s time to tuck in. Bon appetit!
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