For jaded Formula One fans weary of Sebastian Vettel’s dominance in recent years, an overdue shake-up is coming.
A switch to six-cylinder turbo engines has forced a radical redesign of the cars, with the aim of making the sport more relevant to the car industry and tempting major auto makers back to F1.
While such changes tend to ultimately benefit the big teams, who have more resources to put into design and trouble-shooting, the change could see some of the major players struggle early.
How the teams adjust to the technical challenges will be the major theme of the season’s racing, with juicy subplots such as how Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen manage what could be a combustible relationship as teammates at Ferrari.
Pre-season testing has raised some eyebrows, with Vettel — who will be aiming for his fifth straight drivers’ championship this year — and his Red Bull team struggling with a series of technical problems, while Felipe Massa at his new team Williams the unlikely name at the top of the timesheets.
It will be tough to bet against Red Bull and designer Adrian Newey quickly coming up with solutions to the pre-season glitches, but Vettel knew the restricted running in pre-season put his team at a disadvantage for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday next week.
“We haven’t done enough laps, the speed is not there compared to some other teams, so we have to wait and see when we get there,” said Vettel, who last season matched Schumacher’s record of 13 victories in a year and equaled the nine consecutive wins of Alberto Ascari.
The Russian Grand Prix is the new addition to the calendar in October, while the Austrian Grand Prix returns in June. The Korean Grand Prix has been dropped, while the Indian Grand Prix is off this year.
Red Bull’s pre-season struggles have been caused by Renault’s teething problems with the new V6 engine and associated parts of the power train. That has also impacted the other Renault-supplied teams: Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham.
The Mercedes-powered teams have flourished in pre-season, with the eponymous factory team a clear favorite for the early races to build on their second-place finish last year, while Williams and Force India have looked strong.
The Mercedes teams did roughly twice as many laps in pre-season testing than the Renault or Ferrari-powered cars.
There has been plenty of shuffling in this year’s driver lineup, but not many new faces. The debutants in Melbourne is to be Kevin Magnussen at McLaren, Marcus Ericsson at Caterham and 19-year-old Russian Daniil Kyvat at Toro Rosso, while Kamui Kobayashi returns at Caterham after a year away.
The most intriguing driver pairing is at Ferrari, where Raikkonen returns to partner Alonso — the man who replaced him at the Italian team in 2010.
The Finn has the speed to challenge Alonso as the team’s top driver.
There is also the potential for a personality conflict, with Raikkonen’s well-crafted languid image being a marked contrast to the Spaniard’s disciplined approach.
Vettel’s new teammate is Daniel Ricciardo, who replaces Mark Webber and will be a distinct No. 2 to the German.
Two promising pairings will be at Force India, where Sergio Perez joins Nico Hulkenberg as both seek to belatedly deliver on their status as the next big things in F1, and at Williams, where the experienced Massa is to cast off the long-held No. 2 role at Ferrari and become a team leader alongside promising Valtteri Bottas.