|© Getty Images|
Drivers Sebastian Vettel (GER), Mark Webber (AUS)
Team Principal Christian Horner
Technical Director Adrian Newey
Last year Red Bull sealed the Drivers' Championship for Sebastian Vettel courtesy of 4 stunning away race victories in the latter half of the season. During the off-season there were numerous reports that Adrian Newey expected that push to impact negatively on the development of the RB9. In testing the Red Bulls have sandbagged and I'm expecting them to turn up in Melbourne with a few pieces of Newey genius to add to the car. Given that this is an evolution of last year's car we can expect them to be mighty quick in Australia, though the change in the regulations limiting the use of DRS in Qualifying will make it harder for them to take Pole.
Red Bull will be looking to add a fourth title this year but one question is whether the team has done enough to hold off its rivals. A second question is whether Red Bull will let Adrian Newey continue to bring upgrades to this car throughout the season or whether they'll want him concentrating on the 2014 design. Strong results in the first four races of the season may just see the development of this season's car stall.
3rd times a charm but 4th is hard work: expect the Red Bull to emerge from the shadows in Melbourne. Primary title challengers
|© Scuderia Ferrari|
Drivers Fernando Alonso (ESP), Felipe Massa (BRA)
Team Principal Stefano Domenicali
Technical Director Pat Fry
This year's pre-season testing has shown the F138 to be quick and reliable. The car has been consistently in and around the top 3 times throughout the tests. Domenicali, Massa and Alonso are all quite positive without being too effusive in their praise. Domenicali says he'll be happy with a podium but we know that nothing but a win is acceptable to Ferrari and their legion of tifosi.
The signs are that Ferrari have a car good enough for the podium in Melbourne and they intend to aggressively pursue improvements and upgrades. Fernando Alonso should stand on the second step in Australia at least (tyres permitting) and with strong performances in the other three away races he will be in the mix for the Drivers' Title. If Ferrari are to get the constructors' they'll need Felipe Massa to be challenging Fernando at every race.
Reds in the Bed: podium in Melbourne and improved performance during the season. Title challengers
|© Vodafone McLaren Mercedes|
Drivers Jenson Button (GBR), Sergio Perez (MEX)
Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh
Technical Director Tim Goss
Martin Whitmarsh has claimed that the MP4-28 is a totally new car from last years. McLaren hope that this departure will allow its performance to be improved dramatically over the course of the season. Testing has been relatively good for the team but this is another team which may well be sandbagging up to the last moment. Expect a strong car with new parts on show during Free Practice Down Under. The MP4-28 will be quick, but will they be quick enough to win. Remember Jenson Button has form in Melbourne having won 3 times in the last 4 years. McLaren too have a tendency to run well in the first race.
McLaren should have won last season. There is no argument but that they had the fastest car on the grid and but for reliability they would have had the Constructors' if not the Drivers'. They think this car is a step up from last years and will provide scope for aggressive development over the season. If they've got the car to challenge, and if Button is comfortable with it McLaren are well capable of winning both championships this year.
It was ever thus: McLaren to be there or thereabouts. Title challengers
|© LAT Photographic/Lotus F1|
Drivers Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), Romain Grosjean (FRA)
Team Principal Eric Boullier
Technical Director James Allison
Last year the team and car may have flattered to decieve. It was a strong season for the team, particularly towards the end and the early signs are that they have progressed as much as any of the others in the top five. Testing has shown that Lotus have kept faith with the passive Drag Reduction Systrem they developed last year but the efficacy of the system has yet to be proven, particularly where DRS use is limited in Qualifying and Free Practice. Qualifying pace wasn't brilliant last year so the limited DRS use may serve to hinder them again in this area. The long testing runs, particularly by Grosjean would suggest that the E21 will have good race pace again this year and has also remained very kind to its tyres, something which will be of enormous importance over the first four races.
Lotus must think that their Passive DRS system is worth pursuing otherwise we wouldn't be seeing the extra bumps on the air intake above the drivers' heads. Kimi Raikkonen is a World Champion so we have to assume he can fight for the title if he's given the car. Grosjean seems to have the innate speed and racecraft. It's always a worry when he starts talking about being careful over the first 5 laps because that means he's concentrating on everyone else and not his own race. That will compromise his getaway in Melbourne as it's obviously on his mind. The car could come good, if Red Bull, McLaren & Ferrari haven't done the job that I think they have.
Why does it always rain on me? May well lose a place to Mercedes. 5th in both the Constructors' and Drivers' Championships
|© Mercedes AMG Petronas|
Drivers Lewis Hamilton (GBR), Nico Rosberg (GER)
Team Principal Ross Brawn (for now)
Technical Director Bob Bell
Mercedes have played their chances down in pre-season testing, particularly once they put in a couple of stunning laptimes. They look satisfied with their work but are talking improvement rather than championships. Lewis Hamilton's arrival raised the profile and the stakes for the team and a number of stories with regard to future employees has created the dream team aura that we last saw at Ferrari when Todt, Schumacher, Brawn, Byrne, etc came together and Ferrari came to dominate the sport. Nico Rosberg will have to show well to challenge the new boy.
The feeling on the Web is that Mercedes have shown their true pace in testing and have little more to give so I would expect that in Qualifying we'll see them fighting over the bottom half of the top 10 places on the grid. This may well see one of them pushed out of Q3 but I think that's something that's likely to happen to Lotus too, and perhaps to Perez in the first couple of races. In race trim I see them improving and ending up just behind the Ferrari/McLaren/Red Bull group at the front. If the car is close enough in Melbourne then whichever of the drivers is in front might pick up an extra place or two and, over the course of the season, they might well be first past the chequered flag on a couple of occasions.
Improvement but no titles: Mercedes 4th in Constructors' Hamilton/Rosberg 6th-8th (interchangeable)
|© Sauber Motorsport AG|
Drivers Nico Hulkenberg (GER), Esteban Gutierrez (MEX)
Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn
Chief Designer Matt Morris
This is where my bias comes into play. Sauber has an all-new driver line-up this year and continuity is what drives improvement. It may well be that Sauber are already looking to next year which will mean that this year is a throwaway from Monisha Kaltenborn's perspective. I have a lot of time for Sauber simply because they are one of the stalwarts in the sport's recent history and have a good eye when it comes to picking drivers. Unfortunately I'm not sure of this line-up. There is no question but Gutierrez was foisted on them to enable them to keep their Mexican budget. This is a compromise which they have made to bring Hulkenberg on board. He's good but whether he's that good is yet to be proven. The new car is one of the prettiest on the grid and it's sidepods were the talk of the other teams during testing according to all reports but this midfield will be the closest fight in years and I wouldn't be surprised if the lack of continuity may gain Sauber a place in the Drivers' but lose them a place or two in the Constructors' Championship.
Nico Hulkenberg needs to prove his talent and if the car proves useful he might well be able to upset the applecart on a couple of occasions.
No wins, Hulkenberg 9th in Drivers' with Sauber in 7th/8th in the Constructors' Championship
|© Sahara Force India F1 Team|
Drivers Paul di Resta (GBR), Adrian Sutil (GER)
Team Principal Vijay Mallya
Technical Director Andrew Green
I hate the look of the car but that's primarily about the branding which is all over the place. I can't see past that and as a result I find it hard to love the team much as I try (ex Jordan). Testing hasn't shown the car to be anything special and the blithering over drivers can't have been good for the overall focus of the team. Paul di Resta will have to beat Adrian Sutil comprehensively this year to ensure his survival, particularly as he made a lot of noise last year about wanting to go to a "top" team. He still needs to show he's good enough for a midfield team before they will come calling.
If Force India give them the car both Sutil and di Resta will score points but I'm really not sure about the car and I'm biased in favour of the Williams which I think will do better over the course of the season. Force India want to play with the big four but a team can't be big enough to do that if it's drivers think of it as midfield.
Midfield mindset, midfield finish: no improvement on last year but the drivers will be jockeying for position in the Drivers' Championship
|© LAT Photographic/Williams F1|
Drivers Pastor Maldonado (VEN), Valtteri Bottas (FIN)
Team Principal Frank Williams
Technical Director Mike Coughlan
Pastor Maldonado has to focus on racing to finish the races this year and I think he'll be pushed all the way by Valtteri Bottas. I'm convinced that Williams have produced a very good car this season after suffering badly over the last two. Last year they should have finished in 6th and this, or higher will have to be achieved this year, if this car/driver combination is to be adjudged a success. Consistent points and top 5 finishes are required if this is to be achieved. I really think they should have done it last year but... Williams is another team that is used to sandbagging at preseason so I expect them to be up there in Qualifying in Australia.
I think the team have delivered so now the question will be over the ability of the drivers to do the same on track.
A year of driving consistently. The team have to be looking at 6th or higher. If the car can do it and the drivers can finish the races then that is achievable. Could 4th be possible? My head says no, my heart says yes.
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Drivers Daniel Ricciardo (AUS), Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA)
Team Principal Franz Tost
Technical Director James Key
I don't expect the STR8 to help Toro Rosso improve their final position in the Constructors' Championship but it does seem to represent a step from last year. To my untrained eye there seems to be a lot of last year's Red Bull in the design of the engine cover and rear of the car. The Toro Rosso is not the Red Bull though and, with a different engine in the car and the compromises to the monocoque, nose and sidepods it will be interesting to see how the team in Faenza have managed production. Daniel Ricciardo needs to beat Vergne as the rumour was that Adrian Newey personally chose Jean-Eric Vergne for the Toro Rosso seat.
The team are talking sixth in the Constructors' Championship but are unlikely to improve even though they will be closer to the mix for the last couple of points places in every race. I'm expecting them to pull further away from Caterham and Marussia but fall short of reeling in Force India, Sauber and Williams.
A lot done, more to do. 9th in the Constructors' and clashes between Ricciardo and Vergne as they seek to ensure they don't end up like Buemi and Alguersuari.
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Drivers Charles Pic (FRA), Giedo van der Garde (NDL)
Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul
Technical Director Mark Smith
Two new drivers and a new Team Principal in ex-Renault man Cyril Abiteboul and the car itself doesn't look to have improved much from last year. Pic was stolen from Marussia and may be handy enough but van der Garde looked well off the pace during pre-season testing. The car simply doesn't seem good enough to challenge for points and lucking into them will be harder this year due to the lack of any major change in regulations. Reliability from the teams in front should be higher this year than last. If anything they look to have fallen into the clutches of Marussia in testing. I wonder why Mike Gascoyne seems to have taken a back seat on the Formula 1 part of the business. The core of the Caterham appeal is that they are on the F1 grid and this position has lead to the Alpine connection with Renault and has improved sales of the Caterham cars. It makes no sense for a small team not to exploit an asset of his talent and standing in the design of the F1 car.
Disappointing to say the least. If this were football they would be facing relegation.
No improvement means no points. Fighting not to come last in the Constructors'
Drivers Max Chilton (GBR), Jules Bianchi (FRA)
Team Principal John Booth
Technical Director Pat Symonds
This season is all about KERS and Jules Bianchi. Max Chilton had more time in an F1 car than anyone else during pre-season testing but was outpaced by his last-minute, replacement team-mate within hours of Bianchi sitting in the car. The tie-in with McLaren would appear to have paid dividends but the return only seems to be good enough to see them fight on equal terms with the Caterhams. If only they'd give me access to their media area I might be able to provide a little more insight, along with photographs.
If they can keep afloat for the coming season, 10th place is within their grasp and will seal their Formula 1 future. No points this season but more money in sight.
All things being equal, Jules Bianchi will cover himself in glory and Marussia will take 10th place