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.
6 – Banzai's back
The return of Kamui Kobayashi to the Formula 1 grid after a season’s absence should cheer all enthusiasts of banzai overtaking attempts and a never-say-die attitude to racing. In three seasons with Sauber, he was rarely far from some form of on-track action, culminating in his first and so-far only podium finish at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2012, a result that delighted the home fans. Kobayashi is resolutely old-school in his approach, and in an age of identikit racing drivers, that’s to be applauded. He’s had to find a massive wedge of cash to buy his seat at Caterham, which is a shame; in an ideal world, he’d get the chance to prove his worth in race-winning machinery.
7 – Make mine a double
One of the most controversial rule changes over the winter has been the ridiculous decision to award double points at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Regarded by most level-headed fans as a gimmick too far, the change has been made in a bid to prevent any one driver waltzing away at the head of the points standings. It doesn’t really attack the root cause of such domination – which is that rival teams cannot match the technical ingenuity of Red Bull’s Adrian Newey.
8 – Do Ron, Ron
All the best comebacks are laced with drama and intrigue – think Bobby Ewing, Elvis Presley and George Foreman. The return of Ron Dennis to the helm of McLaren’s F1 team could be equally significant. After the squad’s disastrous 2013 season, a boardroom coup has resulted in Dennis’s comeback and the unceremonious ousting of Martin Whitmarsh. Dennis is known for his meticulous and uncompromising attention to detail, and if anyone can guide the Woking team back to winning ways, it is him.
9 – Has Ricci got Seb's number?
It’s no secret that world champion Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber harboured rather frosty feelings towards each other. Now that Webber has called time on his Formula 1 career, it has made room for one of the energy drink company’s many ‘junior’ drivers to step up. Daniel Ricciardo, who shone for Scuderia Toro Rosso last season, has got the gig. Whether sharing a team with the greatest driver of the current era is a golden opportunity or a poison chalice will become clear during the first few races.
10 – Tyred and emotional
Pirelli has recently sealed a new three-year deal to supply control rubber to the entire Formula 1 grid. Although the Italian manufacturer has, at varying times, come under fire from team managers, drivers and fans, it has fulfilled its brief of shaking up the sport by providing unpredictable tyre compounds. The start of the 2013 season was blighted by some extreme tyre wear issues, which Pirelli blamed on a lack of test data, an issue that should be remedied ahead of this season.