An Overview of The F1 2014 Front-Runners
Amongst the deluge of current media interest in the two front-running Mercedes drivers, this article offers another opinion on the dynamics behind the current title race.
The 'formula' that is referred to in the title of this sport actually refers to a set of rigid rules laid out by the Federation Nationale de l'Automobile or 'FIA' for short. These rules are constantly being updated, but once they are set, if broken, the team responsible will be disqualified from the race altogether.
2014 has so far seen some of the biggest rule changes in formula one yet - one example of this is the new fuel cap, which restricts drivers and the teams to use 130 litres of fuel per race, as opposed to last year when there was no limit to how much fuel the teams could use.
Since 2006, 2.4 litre naturally aspirated V8 engines were used by the teams, but at the beginning of this year it was decided that these would be replaced in order for the sport to tie in with 'green technology', by 1.6 litre V6 engines.
One of The Many Nuggets of Interest for 2014
Anyone who followed winter testing knew that 2014, at least to start with, was going to be the year that Mercedes came good. Interestingly, four races down (all won by Mercedes), attention has inevitably been drawn to the potential title conflict bubbling between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Unsurprisingly, the label of today's Prost versus Senna has been mooted and much discussed in both the mainstream and specialist press. But this is, in reality, much too lazy a tag for something that is far more complex.
Many purists will agree that if any Prost versus Senna carbon copy has ever existed in recent times, then it was in the 2008 Lewis Hamilton versus Fernando Alonso meltdown (aptly within McLaran), whereby the fresh-faced, somewhat ironically Senna-worshipping Hamilton had, more often than not, blitzed the undisputed modern "Professor" of F1, Alonso, oftentime through sheer out and out 'new' speed. At the time, a lot of this was to do with the change to Bridgestone as the sole tyre supplier and the associated lack of 'memory deletion' that Lewis had to go through - but which his Michelin poster-boy Alonso did. There were many victories that year which were resolutely Alonso's, but fundamentally the McLaran-Alonso relationship failed because no team of Ron Dennis could ever be one driver's team. Most ironically McLaren, now back in the hands of Ron, may well become precisely that, as Alonso becomes increasingly disillusioned with what was then the post-Totd, and is now the post Domenicali Ferrari, and so now the unthinkable return of Fernando to McLaren may well happen.
Regardless, enough of this particular digression the most interesting aspect of the Hamilton-Rosberg battle, which will undoubtedly play out in 2014, is that of Hamilton's innate, natural talent and speed, against Rosbergs technical (and very German) proficiency. After the recent Bahrain Grand Prix - which many labelled in the fresh, post Red Bull domination era as one of the finest races the sport has seen in many years, much was made of the fact that despite his emphatic victory, Lewis seemed somewhat uncharacteristically calm and demure due to the fact that he knew that on a technical level, Rosberg had done a better job, in terms of the preparation, set-up and - on paper - tyre choice. Ultimately, it is most likely that this will be the defining theme within Mercedes 2014 intra-tine title battle; one of Rosberg's typically more considered and extensive set-up against Lewis' pure out and out pace and passion.
Not denying that Lewis has a cachÃ© of technical driving skill - no small amount of noise this year has been made of the amount of time he is spending with his engineers to better his knowledge of set-upon. Rosberg, after a handful of seasons with the most successful driver in the history of the sport is not lacking in know-how, re how to turn up on the Thursday and make the car the best it possibly can be. One only needs to re-watch Lewis' breath-taking Fuji 2007 race win to see that above his present technical skills his success primarily comes from the ability to 'turn up and turn it on'. He is the epitome of what stalwart Brundle would describe as a "seat-of-the-pants racer" - someone who's speed originates from their innate ability, hunger and god-given talent on the day, over any form of technical brilliance in set up or in running of the car on any given Sunday, thus returning to the Prost-Senna comparison it is perhaps far more accurate (and not just a little ironic), to see the comparison of the two Mercedes drivers as more akin to that of the equally iconic Hunt versus Lauda.
Now a Mercedes chairman, Lauda has made no secret of the fact that he is relishing this years battle between the young Briton and German, predominantly because Lauda is simply an out and out racer. But it is not impossible to consider that he may see some resemblance between the hot-headed, passionate British lion of his most famous former rival, that his cool arguably more technically proficient European counter-part now faces. In terms of mechanical and technical ability, few would argue that Hunt was Lauda's superior; it was in the passion, raw-talent and sheer balls of Hunt that won him the hearts of millions and gave him the courage and tenacity to win him the races - and championship - that he did.
Hamilton needs another title; one championship to show for a driver of his quality is nowhere near enough - and it would be more than a little helpful to distract the nay-sayers who now see him as more of a P-diddy than a Clay Regazzoni to have that second world championship under his belt. Equally, Rosberg needs a unequivocal accolade that he can have as recompense for his now quite lengthy career, with what is statistically a meagre amount to show. It is not a titanic battle in the Prost/Senna way of two equally brilliant polar-opposite titans coming together, but more a study into two young men, both naturally gifted, both long-time friends and both still very much with something to prove. Vettel remains in many people's eyes a still-to-be-proven quantity, but this is not something that will be cured by simply notching up another title - as he undoubtedly will at some point.
Alonso, for all his tantrums, outbursts and need to be number one, is still seen by most (including the writer of this article) as the most technically complete driver on the grid. The "next generation" of tomorrow's titans (here's looking at you Ricciardo, Magnussen and Kvyat), at least two years away and with Hamilton for one, now having been in the sport for seven years and most unlikely to be willing to stick around on a Ruebens/Button scale, the battle is how Rosberg and Hamilton can take the advantage and run with it.
How long-lasting this year's title battle will be, only time will tell, but to imagine it entering the vaults in the same way as the Senna/Prost skirmishes is near impossible. The deciding factor will be in which driver is best able to shrug off the others interests and mind-games and drive consistently as fast as their Silver Arrows will let them.
The spice will come when Red Bull and Vettel (as well as Ricciardo), get on top of the current cars problems and start to breathe down the Merc boy's necks. Within Red Bull, we now have a proven quantity who has broken nearly every record of interest against a young up-start for whom he has now twice been asked to move aside. With Ferrari not the ultimate dream destination it once was, and McLaren still to bring in the spoils of their upcoming Honda reunion, the seat most likely to be on Vettel's wish-list, is one of those pesky Mercedes. A no-brainer in terms of marketing, Vettel would be a coup for Mercedes - all that remains is to see who would step aside for him to come on board...