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Get, set, vroom!

The 2014 Formula One season is primed as the most likely year for Sebastian Vettel’s four-year reign as world champion to end. Vettel has been the undisputed king of the track, picking up every drivers’ championship going since 2010. But ahead of the season-opening Melbourne Grand Prix, to be held on Sunday, 2014 looks set to be the year of Red Bull’s dethroning, with a rampant Mercedes team emerging favourites to win this year.

The Mercedes team has bristled at Red Bull boss Christian Horner’s declaration that Mercs are favourites heading into the new season, with driver Lewis Hamilton playing it down as nothing more than mind-games. But while preseason testing is a notoriously tricky gauge of future expectations, Mercedes’ new W05 car looks to be streets ahead of the competition this year. Hamilton, who set the fastest trial time on the final day of preseason testing in Bahrain, has warned the rest of the field that there is still ‘more to come’ from the W05.

The Stevenage-born 2008 drivers’ champion may be Mercedes’ poster boy, but he faces a potentially fierce battle with German team-mate Nico Rosberg, who claimed three wins to Hamilton’s one in the 2013 season. While Mercedes may prove to have 2014’s best vehicle, the best pair of drivers may be clad in Italian red, with Ferrari snapping up 2007 drivers’ champion Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus.

The Finn joins two-time champion Fernando Alonso in a fiercely competitive team. It is the first time since 1954 that Ferrari have fielded two world champions in the same team.

Reigning constructors’ champions Red Bull have had their share of preseason struggles, and have had to replace Australian favourite Mark Webber (retired from Formula One) with hotshot compatriot Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo’s arrival should ease the tense rivalry experienced between Vettel and Webber over the years, with the young Australian recruited as an understudy with plenty still to prove.Vettel’s epic comeback from last on the grid in Abu Dhabi in 2012 to finish third proved crucial to securing the drivers’ title that year. While we probably will not see the nine straight wins Vettel pulled out to emphatically close out last season, expect Vettel to scrap hard to defend his title in an unfamiliar car.

Daniel Ricciardo

All Australian eyes will be on Daniel Ricciardo this year as he looks to step out of Mark Webber’s shadow, and straight into the shade of Vettel’s talents. Ricciardo does not yet have a career podium finish to his name, but upgrading from a Toro Rosso car to Red Bull’s flyer should see him scorch into the limelight sooner rather than later. One man who has full faith in the 24-year-old is compatriot Webber, the driver that Ricciardo replaced.

‘He’s got a very level head, he’s mature and he’s going to learn a lot of things this year which he’ll put in the computer for future years, and that’ll help him be a very handy grand prix driver,’ Webber said of Ricciardo. ‘I believe he’ll win grands prix this year, which will be a very big confidence boost for him.’

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton’s 2014 chances will rest entirely on discipline and willingness to adapt to the season’s new regulations. While no-one is quicker than Hamilton, he saw teammate Nico Rosberg claim more wins than him in 2013 as the German adapted better to his mechanical team and radio commands.

With the sport’s new fuel-economy rules set to become the decisive element in this year’s campaign, Hamilton should excel compared to previous years’ tyre regime which frustrated the lightning-quick driver.

Only having to worry about fuel efficiency will give the Brit one less thing to worry about, having previously lost out to well-rounded, thinking drivers. This time, Hamilton plans to finish the year on top, ending Red Bull’s dominance. ‘This is the year you need to watch because this is such a new year. So much is changing,’ Hamilton said.

Nico Rosberg

Nico Rosberg shapes as a serious dark horse in the 2014 campaign, having clocked up two wins for Mercedes last year. Like his team-mate, testing was a relative breeze for Rosberg, apart from the opening day in Bahrain when he sat out the day’s running due to a precautionary engine change. He has already been tipped to top the standings by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, and Rosberg believes his team is in with a serious chance of upsetting Red Bull’s apple cart. ‘It is obvious that Red Bull and Renault have problems with their new powertrain, so perhaps we have done our homework a little better,’ Rosberg said. ‘How we really compare to the competition, we do not know yet. We are in a good mood and this season will win a lot of races.’

Fernando Alonso

One of the most popular drivers on the circuit, Fernando Alonso finds himself paired with a big fish in his own garage, arguably for the first time since he and Lewis Hamilton were together as McLaren drivers in 2007.

Now he will have 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen breathing down his neck, and both Alonso and Ferrari will have to adapt to the new hierarchy. Ferrari has had a clear number-one driver since 1995, but now Alonso will have to battle opponents inside and outside his team. ‘A few more days would have been useful given how much has changed for this season,’ Alonso said. ‘With every lap of testing we learned something and improved pretty much constantly. I think that will still be the case in Australia, especially on the first day and then actually in the first few races.’

Kimi Raikkonen


The defending Australian Grand Prix champion, Raikkonen lived up to his billing as one of Formula One’s most consistent drivers with a brilliant win in Melbourne to open last year’s campaign. It was not to be as Sebastian Vettel went on to dominate 2013, but Raikkonen’s arrival at his old team Ferrari signals a chance for one last grab at the title. ‘I think they have improved [the car] a lot since we started, but there are always places to improve,’ the Finn said during pre-season. ‘It is more about getting what I feel I like and what I feel I need, but it is difficult to know sometimes and following the rules makes it a bit more tricky to find the right things.’

Calendar changes: Formula One will travel to Russia for the first time ever, with drivers set for a street-circuit battle around the Olympic park in Sochi. The Korean and Mexican grands prix have been dropped from the calendar, while the Indian Grand Prix will also not be held in 2014.

Element of unpredicatbility returned, says Vijay Mallya

MELBOURNE:
The element of unpredictability that has returned to Formula One with the introduction of rule changes in the 2014 season is great for the sport says Sahara Force India as the team prepare for the season-opening race amidst controversy surrounding one of its owners.
The team is gearing up for the Melbourne Grand Prix here on Sunday but there are some off-track challenges for them as co-owner Subrata Roy Sahara is in jail due to his business related issues.

However, the team is happy with the way they have worked to develop the car for the new season. Team Principal Vijay Mallya says they have done all they could but how successful the efforts would be, is difficult to say. ‘It’s never easy to make predictions and this year there are so many more unknowns than usual.

I think we can arrive in Melbourne feeling happy about the work we?ve done over the winter. How that will translate to a race weekend is hard to say, but I think it’s important that an element of unpredictability has returned. There is plenty of interest around Formula One at the moment and that’s a good thing,’ Mallya said.

‘It’s been a massive challenge, especially for a smaller team like ours. That was why we put so many plans in place early last year to be ready for what has become a very different F 1. All the hard work has paid off but it has been a very steep learning curve,’ he added.
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