Friday, December 27, 2013

Predictions for 2014: Formula One

With 2013 in it's final days and the events that took place in year been analyzed and reflected on, it is time to look ahead. The New Year begins but motorsports takes a little longer to get going. It's starts slow but eventually gets rolling as spring approaches.

For the final week of 2013 a list of predictions of what could happen in a few different motorsport series in 2014 will be posted and we will start with Formula One followed by sports cars, NASCAR, a mixed-post of motorsports and finishing with IndyCar prior to the new year.

1. Sebastian Vettel's Winning Streak Ends at Nine
The German won the final nine races of 2013 but the streak will not continue over to 2014. Why? My argument will be too many variables and Vettel's success rate in Melbourne. With new 1.6 liter V6 turbocharged engines if there was ever a race for Red Bull to be beaten at it would be race one of the 2014 season. Mercedes proved early in 2013 they could compete with Red Bull and the pairing of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen, the defending winner of the Australian Grand Prix, give Red Bull and Vettel four legitimate contenders to knock them off in race one.

As for Vettel, he has finished on the podium in the last three races at Albert Park but that comes after two retirements in his first three appearances in Australia with his other race ending in the famous collision with Robert Kubica while battling for second with two laps to go. The last two years Vettel has been beaten by better cars on that given day and Red Bull rarely starts a season strong having five victories in the first three races of the season in their nine year history.

But with that said...

2. Vettel Is Still The Championship Favorite
Only Michael Schumacher has won five consecutive championships. History is against Vettel repeating that feat especially with the rule changes. Adrian Newey always builds a top-notch car so that will be on the German's side. However the playing field has leveled out a bit with the new engine formula. Mercedes is coming off nipping Ferrari for second in the Constructors' Championship and is led by Lewis Hamilton who, surprisingly enough, has not finished better than fourth in the World Drivers' Championship since winning the title in 2008.

Fernando Alonso is arguably the most likely driver to knock off Vettel, having finished runner-up to him in the championship on three occasions and on two of those occasions he himself had a shot to win his third championship. The Spaniard's quest will become even tougher with Räikkönen as a teammate. The Finn finished third in the standings in 2012 after not racing in Formula One for two seasons and had a victory and eight podiums in 2013 before a back injury sidelined him for the final two races.

There are plenty of drivers capable of beating Vettel in 2014, the only problem is they all have teammates who can make a claim for being a team's number one driver, something Vettel does not have to worry about.

3. Romain Grosjean Will Win A Race
May 19, 1996. That was the last time La Marseillaise was the first anthem played and the Tricolour was the top flag on a Formula One podium. Expect that change. Yes a lot of change has already happened at Lotus but the biggest change for them was emergence of Grosjean as a prominent driver who can not only just bring the car home in one piece but score podium after podium after podium. He won't have the same caliber teammate with Pastor Maldonado but the Venezuelan can be quick at times while other times is erratic and a danger to ruin a fellow drivers day by one lapse of judgment.

4. Pastor Maldonado Will Cement His Role as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Formula One
He may be a ride-buyer who is a menace but he can be fast and find his way to the front. We have also seen the Venezuelan do next to nothing with a car. One point in 2011 followed by forty-five thanks to a win at Barcelona in 2012 but back down to a single point in 2013. Maldonado will score a handful of points in 2014 to go continue to the trend but don't expect him to give Grosjean a real fight for top driver at Lotus. After winning the Spanish Grand Prix in 2012 he went the entire summer without scoring a point before finishing eighth at Suzuka ten races later. Maldonado will slow flashes of brilliance but will not be able to string together results over consecutive rounds.

5. Nico Hülkenberg Will Score a Podium
The German came close to scoring his maiden podium in 2013 driving for Sauber despite not being paid. Now he finds himself back at a slightly better team in Force India where he also came close to a podium on a few occasions in 2012. His teammate Sergio Pérez gives him a competent associate to bounce information off of but a teammate that he should finish ahead for majority of 2014. A podium or two in 2014 and Hülkenberg is well on his way to a top seat for 2015.

6. Caterham or Marussia Will Score a Point in Formula One
After four seasons, a rebranding for each team and a combined eleven different drivers getting behind the wheel for the two teams, one of these blind squirrels will finely fine a nut. It's bound to happen. A monsoon that takes out a third of the field, a street race that is full of accidents and safety cars, a Pirelli tire debacle where half the grid protests and either pull off the grid before the start (a la Indianapolis 2005) or a rash of tire failures lead to teams pulling cars mid race. Something is bound to go Caterham's or Marussia's way. At least you'd think so as the team enter their fifth season on the grid.

If anything, my money is on Jules Bianchi scoring for Marussia. He is arguably the best driver between the two teams not to forget mentioning the Russian team will have Ferrari engines in 2014. Should Max Chilton return, he has proven he has the ability to bring a car home in one piece after finishing ever race in 2013. Should a race come down to attrition, Chilton could be in the right position at the right time to steal some points.

Caterham has yet to announce their drivers for 2014 but it appears to be five drivers competing for the two seats between their 2013 drivers, Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde, former drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi and GP2 driver Swede Marcus Ericsson. If Caterham improve their car and put together a driver pairing of say Kobayashi and van der Garde, they could steal points with a few breaks along the way.

7. Pirelli Will Continue to Struggle To Provide A Reasonable Tire But Expect Them To Stay For 2015
The Italian tire manufacture will be entering their fourth season as sole supplier in Formula One and the road only will get rougher in 2014. The struggles will continue to provide a tire that is competitive, safe and produces great racing. Pirelli will be frustrated, teams will be frustrated, drivers will be frustrated but don't expect a new manufacture in 2015 because they do not want to experience the headache Pirelli is experiencing and don't want to spend the money on it either. Michelin is happy in sports cars, Bridgestone/Firestone aren't interested, as long as they are in NASCAR Goodyear will never produce another racing tire for Formula One or any other form of major motorsports.

The only way I see a change is if a company with no experience in Formula One, such as Hankook bites the bullet.

8. The Grand Prix of America in New Jersey Will Happen For 2015
Two years after the previously scheduled, the inaugural Grand Prix of America will happen in 2015 on the streets of New Jersey. I am being very optimistic with this prediction. I have no idea what is going to happen. I have no idea what is going through Bernie Ecclestone's mind, no idea how much money has been drained on this project but I will go out on a limb and say Formula One will finally race in New Jersey.

9. India, Korea and Mexico Do Not Return For 2015
And of the three, Mexico is the only one I realistically see returning. I think 2015 will be a little too soon for that race to occur but maybe 2016. It has the financial backing of Telmex's Carlos Slim who has heavily invested in Sergio Pérez and Esteban Gutiérrez. I feel confident one of the richest men in the world will get Mexico back on the schedule.

As for the other two, a lot needs to happen for them to return. India is shrouded in tax issues and from an outsiders point-of-view lack of acceptance of Formula One by the people. While the South Korean race has lost tons of money not only on the race but the circuit which hosts next to nothing after Formula One. The only way I see Korea returning is if Hankook becomes the sole tire supplier in 2015 but other than that I see two fewer stops to the Asia-Pacific for the next few years.

10. Daniel Ricciardo Will Have Success But Won't Win
I expect the Australian to have good results but showing growing pains at times. He won't be on the same page as Vettel but will be able to get results and beat the likes of Lotus, McLaren and even Mercedes and Ferrari on a few occasions. He won't set the world on fire or knock Vettel off his pedestal but he will be consistently in the points and that is all you can really ask for from a driver in his first season with a major team.

11. McLaren Will Score a Podium and May Even Get A Win
After their worst season in over thirty years in 2013, McLaren look to right the ship in their final year with Mercedes before ushering in Honda in 2015. Jenson Button has another new teammate with the hiring of Formula Renault 3.5 champion Kevin Magnussen. It may have been a frustrating 2013 season but it wasn't completely awful. Button finished in the points in fourteen of nineteen races including a fourth in the final round in Brazil. Magnussen appears to have all it takes to be a top driver. Along with the Formula Renault 3.5 title he was the fastest in the Young Drivers' Test in 2012 and fastest on day one of 2013's Young Drivers' Test which was a combined session with current drivers after the amount of tire failures in the British Grand Prix.

Don't expect McLaren to be battling for the Constructors' Championship in 2014 but they should have a much better season than they did in 2013.

12. A Team Other Than Red Bull and Mercedes Will Win A Pole
After Red Bull defeated Mercedes 11-8 on poles in 2013, expect a new team to get one in 2014. Ferrari of course is a top contender for one.

13. Williams Will Score More Than Five Points By the Start of the European Season
With the addition of Felipe Massa, he and Valterri Bottas will pick up Williams after a dreadful 2013.

14. Abu Dhabi Will Not Be Double Points
After all the backlash from drivers, teams, media and fans, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be worth the same amount of points as every other race on the Formula One calendar.

I think fourteen predictions for 2014 is a good place to leave it. Look for the sports car predictions to come over the weekend.