Melbourne gears up

Tags: Knowledge

Come March 16, Australia Grand Prix will flag off the Formula One season 2014

With just over a fortnight to go for the opening race of the all-new Grand Prix season at Melbourne’s Phillip Island track, almost everything is up in the air.

With the Formula One management having gone in for sweeping changes in vehicle specifications, alm-ost all the 12 teams on the grid are still groping in the dark when it comes to how the cars will behave when they line up on the grid in Australia on March 16.

Two weekends of testing at Jerez and Bahrain later — and the last set in progress even now at the Sakhir track — the picture is still confusingly blurry as to who is where. Unlike in past years when it would be the ‘big boys’, the Ferraris, Red Bulls, McLarens and Mercedes’ showing early pace the way at least initially, season 2014 looks like a vast guessing game.

A few things are clear, though. Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull are in some strife. The Renault-powered car has probably had the least amount of test time out on the track thanks to repeated problems with the powerplant, and pit lane rumour has it that the baby-faced German is completely fed up at the lack of progress.

So much so that midway through the Jerez test programme, Vettel drove into the garage and walked away, suggesting that unless problems were sorted out, there was no point in him trying to coax the recalcitrant machine around the track.

In some degree or the other, the entire pack is in the same boat. The limited testing programme has had everyone working overtime in trying to marry new engines, chassis, electronics and aerodynamics into a workable unit that will stand the intense pressure of running flat out for two hours in race conditions — and not many seem to have found all the answers.

Many, though, would say that this is good news. For years, Formula One has been something of a procession of two or three teams, and all the rest fighting for the scraps that fall off the high table. That is all set to change. No one is saying with certainty that they have things under control. And if they do, those teams are certainly being tight-lipped about their progress and consolidation.

What has emerged from these two and a half test sessions is that Mercedes seem to have taken an early lead in the engine-chassis integration as have Ferrari. Both are factory teams as in do the complete development package in-house. Other teams are dependant on vendors for different parts of their systems, and they are the ones who have had the bigger issues.

For Sahara Force India fans, there has been plenty to cheer about. The chassis seems to have merged well with the new Mercedes engine and both in terms of reliability and timings, the Force India cars have clocked up significant mileage.

Said new boy Sergio Perez after the first day’s tests at Bahrain, “We really needed a good day to start this week and today we had it. We managed to do a lot of laps, try several different compounds and mappings, and it’s been a fantastic day in terms of learning about the car. Tomorrow is my last day in the car before the season starts so hopefully we can have another solid day to be in good shape for Melbourne.”

Meanwhile, in what is being seen as the declining influence of a group of team owners following the exit of Ferrari and Red Bull in 2011, the Formula One Teams’ Association (Fota) has been disbanded six years after it was first set up. Created to provide a common voice in interactions with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and the motorsports regulatory body FIA, Fota was declared dead on the day.

“I can confirm that Fota has been disbanded as a result of insufficient funds to continue and a lack of consensus among all the teams on a revised, non-contentious mandate,” Fota secretary general Oliver Weingarten was quoted as saying.

The organisation, which had fought to introduce spending limits on teams and put a cap on season costs, was weakened with the withdrawal last year of two influential members, till the decision to do away with it altogether was taken at Bahrain.

(Rahul Banerji is

the sports editor of

The Asian Age and

Deccan Chronicle)

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