The opening Formula 1 race of the year takes place in Melbourne, Australia, on March 16, but the ‘phoney war’ got underway on Tuesday as the teams and drivers commence their pre-season testing.
It seems likely that this year’s three test events – the first at Jerez in Spain this week, followed by two sessions in Bahrain in February and March – will be more eventful than previous years.
The sport has undergone significant changes during the winter. One of the key differences is the adoption of new engines, effectively resetting all teams’ knowledge back to zero.
In addition to the rule changes there's the traditional driver/team merry-go-round – most notably the return of Kimi Räikkönen to Ferrari – so there’s every reason to believe that 2014 could be one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory.
Here, then are ten reasons why we’re revved up for the forthcoming grand prix season.
1 – Turbochargers take over
It’s the first season for a new breed of 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 engines, introduced to align F1 more closely with what’s happening in the road car world. The units incorporate a new hybrid energy recovery system (ERS) which harnesses heat energy from the turbocharger as well as kinetic energy from the braking system. The amount of fuel that can be consumed by each car is strictly rationed, and tweaks to the wings and exhaust systems have changed the aerodynamic properties of the cars. There are a lot of changes to get used to – and that could result in a short-term shake-up at the front of the grid.
2 – My dog's got a new nose
The 2014 crop of Formula 1 designs are, it is fair to say, an acquired taste. You could even say they’ve been hit with a rather substantial ugly stick, with most teams adopting pointy appendages to comply with the latest crash test regulations. There are some interesting variations on the theme, with Ferrari going with a flat snout like an anteater and Lotus coming up with bizarre creation that resembles a walrus with tusks of unequal length. Still, we’ve been here before; a change in aero rules rendered the 2009 cars repulsive, but more palatable designs soon prevailed.
3 – Ferrari's in-house horse play
Kimi Räikkönen’s first spell at Ferrari didn’t end well. Even though he earned the 2007 title with the Italian equipe, by 2009 he only seemed to be half-interested. Ferrari consequently paid him not to race one of its cars in 2010, when he went rallying instead. Now the Finn is back at Maranello as a foil for Fernando Alonso. It will be an interesting match-up, especially for a team that usually employs clear number one and number two drivers. If Räikkönen is fully committed, he will keep the Spaniard on his toes, and that should drive Ferrari’s title challenge forward.
4 – We need to talk about Kevin
Formula 1 fans with long-ish memories will recall Jan Magnussen, Kevin’s father, making his grand prix debut with McLaren in the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix. Jan was extremely highly regarded during a sparkling career in junior formulae, but never quite hit the heights in F1 and instead carved himself a productive career in sports car racing. Now this second-generation Dane lines up alongside Jenson Button at McLaren. Magnussen has toiled for hours in the race simulator at the McLaren Technology Centre, so should be up to the job – providing McLaren has built a more effective car than its problematic 2013 machine.
5 – The hills are alive with the sound of F1
Thanks largely to Red Bull’s presence in the sport, the Austrian Grand Prix is back on the calendar after an absence of more than a decade. Back in the 1980s, the race was held at the superfast and mildly dangerous Österreichring, which was then emasculated into the less-quick A1-Ring. The same circuit, nestled in the stunning countryside in the Styria region, now returns as the Red Bull Ring. Formula 1 will also venture into Russia this season, with a race in Sochi on roads around the Winter Olympics venue. The track’s been designed by F1 circuit go-to man Hermann Tilke, so expect it to look great on television.