F1 Returns to Classic Mexico – Sort Of

The main news this week in between the German and Hungarian races has been the announcement that F1 has signed a 5 year deal to race in Mexico from next season. With two drivers in the field along with telecoms giant Tel Mex heavily involved in the sport it was a logical move to bring a race to Mexico. After the (apparent) failure of the New Jersey race there was still scope for another race in the Americas and with the amount of Mexicans visiting the Grand Prix in Texas the market is quite clearly there.

After many discussions of new tracks the sport will return to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodrigez for the first time since 1992 however as suspected many changes at the track are necessary to accommodate modern F1 machinery. The biggest issue with the track is its final corner the Peraltada which is a long 180 degree left hander onto the start finish straight. The corner is hugely fast and features little to no run off. Further adding to the complications are a large public dual carriageway which now sits behind the corner and the construction in 1993 of the Foro Sol baseball stadium which makes the entry to the corner completely blind. This will be solved be diverting the cars into the baseball stadium itself and then out mid way onto the final turn. When Champ Car raced at the circuit in the 2000’s the corner was deemed too dangerous and a chicane was added before the turn to slow the cars down, this from a series where the cars were designed to run on walled ovals.


However the track features more re-profiling alongside the curious decision to add more hairpins than necessary into the final corner sequence. The first two sections of turns have been tightened, one would assume to promote overtaking and slightly reduce corning speeds in the modern cars, but this should provide similar speeds to the old track when raced using late 80’s machinery. The removal of the first ess in the sweeping section again is likely due to run off requirements as it gets close to a bank of tress, however this will speed up the cars entry into the remaining corners. Previously the track featured grass run off into tarmacked areas but we’d unfortunately expect run off areas to be heavily tarmacked despite already providing punishing but safe run off.

The track was built out in a park in 1962 but the city has grown out to meet it and now sits as a sporting oasis in a metropolitan sprawl. When the track underwent its last regeneration in 2001 it pulled a staggering 402,413 spectators to the race. With a best of both worlds situation of a permanent circuit in a populous area it could be primed to pull in huge crowds to cheer on Sergio Perez if it is priced correctly and one can only hope this will be the case after witnessing the sparse grand stands of the Hockenheimring last weekend.

It is again another return to a classic circuit after Austria’s triumphant re-appearance a few weeks ago, the loss of the final corner was to be expected (many commentators believed the sport wouldn’t return to the track due to not being able to re profile the last turn) but the decision to change so much of the circuit is a curious one and it will remain to be seen how much character will remain. The circuit will join Texas and Brazil towards the end of the season Americas leg again leaving Canada as a stand alone race in the great white north. However there are a mooted 23 roundss lined up for next years championship as along with the 19 races from this season along with Mexico there will be a return of India (which was only on a “break” this year), Azerbaijan (Baku street race) and New Jersey. As mentioned before all indications are that the New Jersey race has fallen through, furthermore  the political situation hasn’t shifted any in India meaning the sport is unlikely to return there. This still leaves another race to face the chop if the Baku street race goes ahead as the calendar is unlike to go beyond 20 events but the political situation in Russia may create the appropriate opening.

The Chopping Block – Mid Season Report

With the season 9 races down (out of 19) its that time again when we cast our critical eye over the grids less fortunate and see who is on the chopping block come seasons end.

1. Marcus Ericsson – Caterham – 0 Pts – 18th

On this blog we didn’t exactly greet the appointment of Marcus Ericsson with glee, a middling GP2 driver that we assume has been promoted to the top flight on the strength on his pockets not his talent. While this is not always a sure fire reason not to get the step up, his team mate Kobayashi, Sergio Perez et al all had poorer results than the swede. Last year in GP2 he picked up a win along with 5 podium places but its a series we still want to see the top 3 graduate to the top flight not those finishing 6th. His season has largely been anonymous apart from the fact he finished 11th in Monaco hence his championship position, however when it gets slippy out there he’s often found in the barriers. With the team being sold to new management and a Red Bull protege (Robert Frijns) waiting in the wings one would assume he will depart from Abu Dhabi to pastures new.

2. Max Chilton – Marussia – 0 Pts – 21st

Ahh Max your fathers Aon cash may not save you now. While the Briton’s deep pockets helped him to a second season in F1 alongside the remarkable feat of finishing every race the F1 reaper could soon be calling time on Chiltons top flight career. Again another GP2 driver that we suspected just didn’t quite have it Max has shown he’s a safe pair of hands but while his team mate has gone from strength to strength (including scoring points) Chilton has seemed to have stayed still. Furthermore his finishing streak came to an end after he punted off his team mate on the opening lap in Canada, alongside the likely fact that Marussia will finish inside the top 10 for the second year running meaning they will reap the fiscal rewards from Bernie they may decide against taking more of Max’s cash. He may be saved if Bianchi moves to a better team but if Jules remains for another year I suspect the Marussia boys may scout out for some newer talent.

3. Esteban Gutierrez – Sauber – 0 Pts – 20th

Gutierrez is another drive on year 2 of his career but despite his up turn of form at the end of 2013 he can’t shake the look of a fish out of water. While he may of got to grips with the 2013 formula the complex 2014 power trains combined with Sauber’s dog of a car have possibly proved to much for the young Mexican. He has often tangled with the barriers in races (including at Monaco when running in 8th!) as well as a few practice shunts combined with being out shined by his experienced team mate despite his huge weight advantage in the lumbering obese Swiss challenger. Therefore one can predict sweeping changes at Sauber over the winter and unless there is a serious amount of willing from Telmex to keep him there (when Sergio Perez is doing a fine job flying the flag in the Force India) expect him to be given the chop.

4. Pastor Maldonado – Lotus – 0 Pts – 19th

Pastors move to Lotus was meant to be the dream move for the race winner from a poor Williams to a race winning team but its not turned out that way at all. The Lotus team has really struggled on track and off it and despite their form last season the move to hire the grids most notorious pay driver (estimates put his sponsorship at anywhere from 10 – 25 million a year!) should of been a warning sign to all. But while Romain Grosjean has gritted his teeth and pushed on to score 8 points Pastor finds himself way down the pecking order and yet to get off the mark. Every weekend its either dire reliability or his love of crushing carbon fibre against Armco that has squandered things. While the team haven’t given him the car he hasn’t had it in himself to get the thing over the finish line when it doesn’t go up in flames (although not the literal flames of the forward exhausts). If Lotus can secure funding expect to find Pastor out on his ear with his old habits burning his chance at the big time.

5. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari – 19 Pts – 12th

What is it about second drivers at Ferrari? For years the team suffered along with Felipe Massa, who now at Williams looks like a new man, and now his World Champion replacement has done no better. While his illustrious team mate has notched up 87 Pts including a podium the Finn has struggled to break into the top 10. With his major complaints being about the breaks he’s taken to smashing his car to bits in an effort to get higher up the chopping block table. He has a two year contract but he is in serious danger of his second stint at the Scuderia also being cut short by a year. Bare in mind last year in a Lotus Kimi scored a win alongside a further 7 appearances on the podium, this year he can’t even keep his team mate in sight down a Tilke straight.

Should we Stand for this?

F1 once again is tweaking the rules, should we be surprised – no, should we be pleased – no. Interestingly its technically a return to an old idea of sorts and going back to standing restarts (like the start of the race) instead of rolling restarts (how they are currently after the safety car peels off into the pits).

The idea is that apparently F1’s current DRS fueled over taking spree’s haven’t been enough and the sport needs more craziness to attract those kids that love crashes and what not! Restarts have been deemed not to create enough changing of places currently so now the process has been lengthened once more from the current annoyance where the back markers slowly limp on past the safety car and have to get far enough out in front so we can restart again to stopping the whole thing and going again! So standing re-starts it is.

However they’re keeping the safety car for no other reason than its more advertising, before its insertion as a thing either yellows were waved or the race was simply stopped and everyone went back to the grid and then we re-started. Once again however F1 is playing with fire, it is beyond me why these gimmicks aren’t tested first on the GP2 or GP3 series to see if they have the desired effect or are just ridiculous. While they are nice things to win, if you lost out to some gimmick its not the be all and end all of your junior career as they’re mostly used as talent spotting exercises.

In my opinion F1 is missing the most obvious solution to its problems – DRS needs to work in reverse  (DIS) as a sort of combination of the 2009 front wing solution and the current setup. If the car behind could add down force their car (IE  increase the angle of the front and rear wings) when within 1 second of the car in front (and then shed it again on the straights) it would minimise the dirty air issue and help them look after their tyre’s better which are the current problems with trying to race wheel to wheel in down force ladened single seaters. While its technically artificial it removes the unfair aspect of the current DRS solution as if balanced correctly two identical cars going through a turn would have the same down force in the turn and the same drag on the straights whereas the current system relies on Tilke’s ridiculous miles long straights to nullify the loss of down force through the turn and then blast bast with far superior top speed. Additionally we’ve seen things like drivers tactically not overtaking in spots to then gain the DRS and go past easily, this system it makes no difference where you overtake in fact you can tun the system on constantly (drivers within one second could have it come on and they over ride it on the straights or vice-versa). It would bring back the art of meaningful defence and we wouldn’t be sat going, yawn another boring DRS pass as it would still be the drivers making the difference as they’d either have to pull a blinder and overtake in the corner (YES PLEASE!) or use the grip to better exit the corner and do an old fashioned slip streaming to make the pass. There is currently no skill in a DRS pass, the pass itself isn’t exciting its the pace that the driver is managing to achieve and how far he will get not can he overtake because the answer is almost always yes of course he can.


The standing starts were discussed and rubber stamped at the FIA Sport Conference this week and the other item of note was the failure once again to agree any meaningful cost reduction. Unsurprising seeing that only the 6 big teams sit on the strategy group that decide these rules. But the sport is once again spiralling out of control of the bills after a few years of managing to keep the lid on it (the engine freeze in 2008 did wonders to reduce budgets by almost half). This year saw new open engine development, in season testing galore and a whole new aero rules package that has created merry hell with the balance sheet. But once again the idea of a budget cap has fallen away with a reduction in wind tunnel hours (Will reduce running costs but you still have to build and maintain a tunnel!), in-season testing (which 2 days will be young driver days and will reduce costs) and 4 rather than 5 engines (pointless as any saving in constructing another engine will be hoovered up by development costs of making them last that long). This season should of been a great way to re-brand F1 for the modern age with technology that matters and spending money in R&D that will create something useful except everyone has moaned at the sound and the cost and its no wonder there’s not been sponsors jumping up and down to come on board alongside an ever reducing viewer ship thanks to the rise of pay TV.

We don’t need double points, standing restarts, fan vote turbo boosts, a race on the moon, sprinklers or what ever the next crack pot idea to fall out of Bernie’s brain is – the obvious simple answer and the best drivers in the world driving the best cars – job done go back to your yachts!

Learning the lessons of last time

So I know its been a while since i’ve posted on the blog, applogies for that but I hope you’ve all been enjoying the racing! The story of 2014 has been domination with Mercedes winning all the 4 wheeled Grand Prix’s while Marc Marquez has taken 6 from 6 in the Moto GP (I’ve only caught a few races but that was a belter at Mugello over the weekend) however there have been tales up and down the grid not least towards the back. After gaining an entry to the sport in 2010 one of the young teams have finally scored a point with Jules Bianchi bringing his Marussia home in 9th place after penalties in a race of attrition in Monaco. Points these days go all the way down to tenth place meaning in theory it should of been possible for one of the teams to have grabbed points but with those extra places came extra reliability and the failed effort of HRT managed to record the two lowest finishing positions in world championship history!

But the news this morning is that former HRT boss Colin Kolles (he was team manager and was hired to help the team limp round looking semi professional) has had his Romanian backed Forza Rossa (FRR) accepted as the 13th team in F1 to join Gene Haas’s effort we have a look at where the pitfalls are in starting a new team.

1. Money Money Money

It comes as no surprise that many a promising effort over the years has fallen flat due to a lack of cash and with money issue’s stretching all the way up to Lotus it should come as no surprise that liquidity is key in the money mad world of F1. With the rumours surrounding many teams fiscal state the decision to start a new team from scratch is a puzzling one, since one could take a few hundred million and purchase Sauber, Toro Rosso or Caterham to gain a place on the grid its an odd choice to sink the same amount of cash into starting a new team just to get to the back of the grid. Over the course of the last 4 seasons and a bit HRT folded after being bought and sold like a failing stock while Manor was first funded by Virgin before Marussia bought a stake in the team. Virgin started trying to run the team using no wind tunnel time and a budget of around 40 million that clearly didn’t work out and the team are now spending closer to 70 million a season!

New New Teams:
Gene Haas has made some bold claims about doing F1 the American way and doing it for a competitive amount of money, this seems unlikely since many American sports have rules that limit the amount of money you can spend in them. NFL has team salary caps and a player draft, while Indy Car is a spec series (with engine competition). Nascar allows car development but it severely limited to keep the budgets down and the competitor numbers up. Haas could well find himself HRT-ing at the back or with a black hole in his budget, but then he is no cowboy and does know how to run a tight ship.

Forza Rossa have the backing of a Romanian Ferrari importer as well as Government funds looking to promote the country, now it remains to be seen how long both of those will stick around if they are rooted to the foot of the table. Hopefully there will be some corporate sponsors who would look to take advantage of corporate hospitality while the team gets moving in the right direction.

2. Location, Location, Location

All 3 of the new teams within a few years had relocated from their idyllic settings in search of pastures new, with HRT getting it very wrong in a comedy of errors and moving to Spain only to find the region was bankrupt! The other two teams moved from Norwich and Rotherham to the South East of England where all of the other teams are located bar Ferrari, Toro Rosso and Sauber (who form a Northern Italy / Swiss cluster). This allows the teams to easily hire from other teams so that people do not have to up root their entire families for a change of team. Also there are other considerations such as the South East of England has 4 major airports and you can send the trucks off to the Ferry/Tunnel for the European rounds whereas other locations in the country simply add to the stress of getting to the races.

New New teams:
Well Mr Haas haven’t we been here before? The aborted USF1 project faltered due in part to the added costs of running a team out of the states (furthermore just think, every team member you poach you have to pay a huge relocation fee for them to move to the US!). However its not as insane as it may seem at first, the team is located in the US’s cluster of racing firms so there should be plenty of talent there the difficulty will be in getting experienced F1 hands to go and help start the team. Haas also has a F1 standard wind tunnel (that some of the teams rent out from time to time) and a huge facility the only question remains is what will happen in Europe and what will happen in the US.

Forza Rossa on the other hand are going to start at least out of Colin Kolles’s Munich base where the HRT team was based prior to the doomed Madrid switch, there are some racing teams in Germany – most notably Toyota’s former F1 facility but its a little out of the way in F1 terms and it will be a struggle to run a team there long term with no other teams in the vicinity.

3. If at first you don’t succeed – buy it

The entry process for the new teams in 2010 was packaged together with a sweet deal of a ready to go engine (Cosworth), gearbox (Xtrac) and transmission (Ricardo) to slot into you new chassis and aero package, all at the bargain price of £5.5 million a season (and 1.5 million initial setup costs). This was supposed to help the teams quickly get to grips and adapt to F1 and also help them not spend their way into oblivion, there was however one slight problem with all of this. The new parts were made to be a cost effective solution but while the engine was good enough (if a little fuel thirsty) the gearbox was atrocious and left the new teams having to worms their way out of the deals. By the end of the second season the teams had either walked away from the package all together (Caterham), designed their own gearboxes instead (Marussia) or bought a better gearbox from an F1 team (HRT).

But the issues didn’t end there, HRT’s chassis which was designed by Dallara was about 10 years out of date and shocked some of the new staff when they were brought in to evaluate the project. The moral of this story is buying is a good way to get good parts cheap, however only ever buy from racing teams.

New New teams:
While at first glance Mr Haas may have walked into a huge pitfall marked HRT with announcing Dallara will make its chassis, however with one simple caveat. The team will be designing it and using Dallara’s facilities to manufacture it which hopefully should be a good cost effective solution. Haas has delayed his entry until 2016 and may partner with one of the existing engine manufactures or use Cosworth to bring back Ford to the party if they are willing to part with lots of Dollars.

Bizarrely Forza Rossa are planning on using Renault engines according to reports in the media, which seems strange on all fronts considering they are slowest of the new packages and they’re funded by a Ferrari importer. Past that little is known about the suppliers at this stage but the team are aiming for 2015 so they need to get a move on!


All in all F1 is an expensive business and these mistakes cost the last batch of teams tens of millions of pounds, so it remains to be seen if any lessons have been learned but it wont be too long until we’re finding out.

Oz Grand Prix – What we now know

So the F1 season took flight today with the first Grand Prix of a 19 race calendar at Albert Park, Melbourne won by Nico Rosberg. While the race was interesting it wasn’t a classic (but definitely worthwhile viewing) but we like the teams have had some questions answered.

1. Mercedes are out in front

Mercedes would of had a 1-2 finish were it not for reliability issues with the engine of Lewis Hamilton’s car, Nico Rosberg calmly pulled away at over a second a lap on Daniel Ricciardo after the saftey car. Whether anyone can catch them up remains to be seen and pace will vary a lot race track to race track this season but the Silver Arrows is the car to be driving at the moment.

2. Red Bull aren’t as far behind but still have attitude issues

Daniel Ricciardo finished 2nd on the road but was disqualified after the team refused to follow FIA advice on the fuel rate being used in the car. While the meters have been troublesome all weekend the team failed to both change it on Saturday evening and to reduce their flow rate during the race on advice from the FIA. Sebastian Vettel had a sick engine and after managing 5 laps had to retire, however by lap 25 he’d left the paddock all together. Its a far cry from the man who famously took time during the off season to go and chat to people at Pirelli about their tires. However the car looks good and they seem to be in that front pack of McLaren, Ferrari and Williams.

3. Williams Pace is real

Williams would of finished better if Kobayashi’s brakes hadn’t failed at the first corner and ploughed him into Felipe Massa and if Valteri Bottas hadn’t tagged the wall causing the first safety car. Despite the Finn’s mishap he fought through the field to finish 5th after dropping way back showing the car is working well and should be competing for podiums this season.

4. McLaren are back on form

Despite a poor second test the McLaren looks to be on the pace especially in race trim were after penalties both cars would of finished on the podium. Kevin Magnussen looks right at home as an F1 driver leading home the effort from the Woking squad ending their drought of podium finishes.

6. Lotus are in deep trouble

If Red Bull surprised us with their reliability, pace and ability to catch up the Lotus team did the opposite. After qualifying plumb last and the car failing to go round corners at speeds the safety car would baulk at the team managed around 2/3rds of the distance in the race. They’ve still not completed a race distance with either car and have a heap of work to do.

7. Still no idea about the young teams

Failures brought an end to both Caterhams during the race and issues at the start hampered Marussia (with Chilton starting from pit lane and Bianchi starting 8 laps later). Qualifying showed us nothing more than they are faster currently than the Lotus – it may not be the dream move forward they were both hoping for.

8. The cars are more reliable than first feared

After all the doom and gloom and Jerez people were frantically flicking through the rule book to find out what would happen if no cars finished in Melbourne. However possibly aided by a cool Autumn evening only 7 cars succumbed to the new power plants (Massa retired from an accident with Kobayashi and Bianchi while counted here was still running at the end) leaving us with 14 classified finishers which in years gone by would of been considered high!

The F1 Rookies of 2014

With Formula 1 having its largest rule shake up in decades we expected many of the teams to retain their drivers for this season, however the silly season produced a game of musical chairs that left only Mercedes and Marussia with the same drivers as in 2013. The movement was prompted by the retirement of Mark Webber and Ferrari finally losing patience with Felipe Massa and hiring Raikkonen from cash strapped Lotus to try and improve their constructors standing. That said there are still 3 fresh new faces to follow this year over the 19 race calendar:

Kevin Magnussen

Kevin Magnussen the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 series champion replaces Sergio Perez at McLaren to be the first rookie at McLaren since a certain Hamilton quietly joined in 2008. The Dane is the son of former F1 driver Jan Magnussen and has looked like he could certainly improve on his father’s career tally of 1 point. In testing the youngster has impressed many watching by jumping in the car and getting on with it, he could well prove to be a World Champion but its early days and the pressure is most certainly off.

However he has build a solid junior career and been with McLaren for a few years in their junior programme. He battled hard with fellow McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne (who finished 2nd and will race in GP2 this year) and Red Bull youngester Antonio Felix Da Costa (3rd) to claim the championship and has been richly rewarded. There were strong rumours that McLaren had tried to place him in a smaller team for this season but failed to find him a drive leading to them to dispose of Sergio Perez after a year and go for the young Dane in the main team. He will need to prove himself and quick to make sure he stays at Woking.

Daniil Kyvat

Many eyebrows (and spell checkers) were raised when Toro Rosso announced that Russian GP3 driver Daniil Kyvat would be joining the Red Bull junior team to replace the recently promoted Daniel Ricciardo. He was chosen over Antonio Felix Da Costa who was loosing his battle to beat the McLaren young drivers in Formula Renault 3.5 and Carlos Sainz Jr who was also racing in GP3. Both men had more experience but the decision may yet be vindicated as after his signing the Russian 19 year old romped home to the GP3 title in his rookie year taking pole, win and fastest lap in the last two feature races of the year and followed it up with solid drives in F1 tests/practices.

The more you look into the Russian you realise that he is a super talent and stands to do better than any of his country men before him in the premier class of motorsport but will he fall foul of the Red Bull curse? While the Red Bull young drivers program is a shining example of what to do to bring on young drivers the real question has always been is it the time to do it? The 19 year old has only had 4 seasons of open wheel racing under his belt none of which has been in a category that people consider to be the rung below F1 (E.G. GP2 or FR 3.5).

There’s great potential but I wonder if it will be a bit too much of an ask for him to jump from GP3 straight to F1, while Valterri Bottas did it he was nurtured by Williams with plenty of test outings. Kvyatt had just got his super license by Brazil last year.

Marcus Ericsson

Caterham is host to the final rookie of 2014, 23 year old Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson who was spotted when racing karts at 9 years old. The Swede wasn’t on any ones radar until Brazil when it popped up that he was talking to Caterham that weekend in the paddock. Ericsson has had average GP2 results with 2 feature wins (Germany 2013 & Belgium 2012) along with a sprint victory (Valencia 2010). His championship standings over the past 4 years show a steady improvement – 17th, 10th, 8th and 6th suggesting he possibly reached GP2 a little too early in his career. However a feature win in Spa aside there is very little to pick Ericsson out from the crowd so one would have to assume (and Caterham have alluded to it) that he brings with him a decent wad of cash.

He’s up against another driver who didn’t have a fantastic GP2 career in Kamui Kobayashi (Although he did win the 08/09 GP2 Asia Series), however the Japanese racer has shown that he has what it takes to overtake in F1 and is a strong fan favourite who has won his place on the grid through gutsy performances after Toyota pulled out leaving him without backing in 2010.

Unfortunately we’ve seen far too much of this driver selection over the past few years in F1, drivers with middling GP2 results but large wallets snapped up by teams to help fund them (and its always been so but just very so over the past few years). But at least this season Caterham have paired him with an established and popular name on the grid – hurrah!

F1 finishes Pre-season as we gear up for an interesting 2014

The tyre’s are cooling off in the pits and the lights are being shut-down at the Bahrain International Circuit as F1 finished its last day of pre-season testing before the first Grand Prix in Melbourne in two weeks time. The story hasn’t changed much during this second test in the desert with Mercedes powered teams all looking comfortable with Williams and McLaren both running their test engines past their mileage and into failures (this is useful to do as there are only 5 engines per driver this season so knowledge of how far they can push these new power plants is key). Ferrari look solid but with only 3 teams running the engines this year they are behind on mileage, but Marussia got up and running fairly well and were able to post competitive times alongside a good number of laps.

The real headaches are for the Renault powered teams of Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Lotus and Caterham – all of whom have suffered awful reliability and a lack of overall power during pre-season. Lotus have had to end every day early and Red Bull failed to complete a lap on Saturday with defending champion Vettel behind the wheel. The big question will be can any of them get their cars to last for 300km at full speed and even if they do these 4 teams are sorely behind on development work on their cars.

But none of the power plants are without their issues as all teams (Williams aside) have had serious failures during this test and the number of cars over the line in Melbourne could make for interesting reading. Historically we remember the season opener of being a low finishing race with a few drivers getting brain fade after the long break combined with cars that aren’t all sorted out. This hasn’t been the case since 2009 with the engine freeze meaning car internals have remained pretty static apart from tiny new gearboxes that were developed to get the rear as small as possible. Additionally Im really excited to see these new cars with the huge amount of torque they produce being raced in anger and the real possibility of drivers getting it wrong. Despite reports to the contrary I believe these cars will need better drivers to pilot them.

As for who is where its so hard to say, I think Mercedes are definitely pre-season favourites but Ferrari and McLaren have been keeping their cards close to their chest. Im pretty sure McLaren have spent most of this test doing simulator correlation work as they are the team that trusts the system the most. Furthermore if Renault sort out their issues I’d expect Red Bull and Lotus to be back up at the sharp end of the grid. Finally it will be interesting to see where Caterham and Marussia end up and whether they’ve managed to move closer to the performance of the established teams. The young teams joined in 2010 a year after the last technical overhaul in 2009 and never looked like catching the field and ended up taking pay drivers, doing battle with themselves and remaining pointless. Personally I would of liked to have seen the FIA tender for teams to join for this season so they don’t lose ground to the current field.

Switching to racing of the two wheel variety Ducati finally confirmed that they will be racing under the open specification for the 2014 season. Moto GP has modified the CRT class to become the main class named “Open” and have dropped the claiming rule. Teams entering bikes in this class will get 24 litres of fuel, 12 engines, 120 tires per rider for unrestricted testing (excluding tracks 15 days prior to their race weekend), softer tyres and no engine homologation but will have to run the spec ECU.

This leaves Yamaha and Honda as the only two marques racing their bikes in the newly christened “Factory Option” specification. This allows them to run their own software on the ECU but they will only get 20 litres of fuel, 5 engines which are now homolgated for the entire season, no testing apart from official in season events and no softer option tyre. Ducati have made the move to allow them to develop their bike throughout the season as they don’t have to freeze their engine for the year now.

However Magneti Marelli who make the new ECU hardware for the entire series previously made Ducati’s unit and there was quite a stir when a huge update arrived in Malaysia during testing. The update was so large and comprehensive that none of the teams ran it as they didnt have to work on their bikes and understand this huge new upgrade. Only thing was, the header to one of the files was labelled “Ducati Motor Company”. There’s nothing in the rules to prevent Ducati letting Magneti Marelli use their software as long as all the open teams get it.

But despite not using the upgrade Aleix Espagaro was consistently at the top end of the time sheets using his new open Yamaha bike. This likely prompted Ducati to make the switch seeing that riders could really be competitive using the open specification. The question now remains will Suzuki who are due to return next year enter in the open class (they delayed their entry this year to work on porting their software to the new spec ECU) or as a full factory entry. If Suzuki do choose to go open it could well be the death knell of the Factory Option as the open specification would have 3 full factory teams in their ranks (Aprilla and Ducati)