Ranking the F1 Drivers Best Equipped to Cope with 2014 Rule Changes
The 2014 Formula One regulation changes, arguably the largest season-to-season alterations in the history of the sport, are set to provide a fresh challenge for its competitors.
Over the last decade, F1 races have been gradually moving from flat-out sprints to endurance adventures, meaning a particular type of driver is required.
Although the fall of the gung-ho, pure racer has been mourned by some, the new regulations will provide a fuller test for the drivers and ensure that only those with enhanced repertoires will succeed.
Here, we pick out five drivers that could thrive under the new regulations.
5. Kevin Magnussen
Because of the reset button that is the major overhaul of the sport’s technical regulations, parachuting a rookie into a race seat is not considered as big a gamble in 2014 as it has been in recent seasons.
McLaren recognised this when taking the bold move of replacing Sergio Perez with 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 champion Kevin Magnussen for this season—a move which, if the 21-year-old’s performances in pre-season testing are anything to go by, could pay dividends for the Woking-based team.
Magnussen, having only tasted pre-2014 F1 machinery at the young driver tests of 2012 and 2013, has not had to significantly alter his driving style to suit the extra torque of the new V6 turbocharged engines in the same way that his more experienced peers have.
The Dane himself referred to this as an advantage at the launch of McLaren’s MP4-29 in January, telling James Galloway of Sky Sports:
I think the situation is very good for a rookie. Everything is quite new, the car is very different, and that's going to help the rookies.
It's a good opportunity. I can't underestimate that I am a rookie, so therefore I need to work really hard. There is a lot to learn for me still—you never stop learning.
I am a rookie but the cars are going to be very different and the experience that the drivers would have had with the old car for the last five or six years is pretty much gone. Everyone will have to learn how to drive these new cars, so that's a positive thing.
4. Sebastian Vettel
Get pole position. Disappear into the distance. Win the race. Set the fastest lap.
It seems as though almost every one of Sebastian Vettel’s 39 grand prix victories have followed that path, such is the four-time world champion’s never-ending strive for more. Although Red Bull’s disastrous pre-season preparations mean it could be a while before the German claims his 40th win, it will be fascinating to observe how Vettel adjusts his style to suit the 2014 regulations.
The all-conquering approach that has served him so well since 2010 will have to be reined in, with the driver who sets fastest lap for nothing more than personal satisfaction likely to be the one whose fuel runs out only a couple of hundred metres from the finish line.
There is little doubt that Vettel possesses the maturity, skill, intelligence and lightness of touch to get on top of F1’s new regulations, but can he suppress his boyish desire to collect as many accolades as possible to gain the prizes that really matter? After all, how many times have you heard his race engineer, Gillaume Rocquelin, plead with Vettel to slow down in recent years?
For Vettel, 2014 will be as much a battle with himself as it is against rival drivers and teams.
3. Jenson Button
Jenson Button’s famously super-smooth driving style will benefit the 2009 world champion hugely in 2014.
It is almost as if the sport’s regulations have been playing more and more into Button’s hands in recent years, with the need to nurture Pirelli’s delicate tyres since the 2011 season now added to by the challenge of fuel efficiency.
Button’s ability to be fast despite looking slow will come in handy with teams now limited to 100kg of fuel over the race distance. Although the tyres are more durable this year, the extra torque provided by the V6 turbo engines will mean the 34-year-old’s careful manipulation of the throttle and steering will still come in handy.
However, Button’s inability to perform at his best unless his car is set up perfectly means the benefits of the 2014 regulation changes could be limited by his own vices.
2. Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso’s ability to adapt to, and maximise the most from, almost any situation is what continues to see him hold the unofficial title of Most Complete Driver on the Grid despite failing to secure a world title since 2006.
His fastest laptime of 1 minute, 32.280 seconds on the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain last week was 1.2 seconds quicker than the best time set by new team-mate and fellow world champion Kimi Raikkonen only 24 hours earlier. This highlighted Alonso’s near-seamless transition to the demands of the 2014-spec cars.
Alonso, unlike his rivals, had played down the demands of the new machinery at the first test at Jerez in January, telling ESPN F1 after his first day in the F14 T:
[There is] no big difference, to be honest. I jumped in the car and did not feel a big difference in driving style or big difference in how the things work this year. I think there is a lot of talk about these changes and regulations etcetera, but the driving style itself is not that big a difference compared to what we were doing last year…In terms of driving input, I don't think these 2014 cars will be a big difference.
1. Nico Rosberg
It is not a coincidence that Nico Rosberg’s odds for the 2014 title have tumbled from 20/1 to 6/1 over the course of pre-season testing. As the demands of the new cars have become ever clearer, the Rosberg bandwagon has become ever more packed.
It seems strange that a man who was beaten by a 43-year-old as recently as two years ago and only has three grand prix wins to his name is considered a genuine threat to a former world champion, Lewis Hamilton, the current favourite for the 2014 crown.
Yet it is indicative of how much the new regulations will play into the hands of the thinking driver.
Rosberg’s intelligent, methodical approach aligns perfectly with F1 2014-style, which requires drivers to drive the race as well as the car. A style such as Rosberg’s is the opposite to that adopted by the more rigid Hamilton, who even seems to view team radio conversations as an unwanted distraction.
The German’s victory in last year’s Monaco Grand Prix, a race which he controlled from lights to flag and in doing so elevated himself to the elite group of drivers, was a case study in what will be required in 2014: win the race at the slowest possible speed.