• The Inside Line

And now for something completely different

Kate Walker January 6, 2014
The big teams will be embroiled in a fierce development race in 2014 © Getty Images
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After a somewhat repetitive end to 2013, the 2014 F1 season should kick off with a bang. And not just the noise made by a bunch of engines giving up the ghost as they complete out-laps of the Jerez circuit.

The combination of new engines, new technology, and a heck of a lot of negotiation over the forth-coming cost cut means that for those teams with money to burn (all, umm, four of them), 2014 will be the last chance to complete an old-school F1 arms race, with the sky the spending limit.

Red Bull have never been shy when it comes to development work, Ferrari want to prove just what their upgraded wind tunnel is capable of, McLaren need to make up for last year, and Mercedes will be showing just what 912 technical directors can do. If nothing else, there should be a lot of new kit to look at on Friday mornings this season.

But what's really interesting is the prospect of failure. One of the biggest challenges facing the teams this year is cooling and packaging. The new powerplants mean there's a lot more cooling to be done, which means there's a lot more opportunity for things to go wrong. And complexity is a challenge that affects teams irrespective of their ability to spend. In some respects, having a limited budget - and therefore limited development opportunities - can sometimes be more of a help than a hindrance when it comes to identifying problems.

Consider this: if you have a perfectly balanced car, and apply one new component which screws things up, you know what to blame. But if you add two components, you have to test the car without each component to establish which of the two components is at fault. Perhaps the two components both work well individually, but not in harmony. That's a third test. The more tweaks you can afford to make to your car, the more time (and money) you have to spend figuring out which ones work and which ones don't, either on computer models, in the wind tunnel, or in real life.

Of course, having an abundance of options and the money to investigate them all is the sort of problem the grid's financially beleaguered teams would love to have. For those on a financial knife edge, getting it wrong at the beginning is going to have a much greater long-term effect on their season, which will affect their finances going forward. It's a beautiful vicious circle, and exactly why the 2015 cost cap is necessary. Better late than never, after all.

In theory, 2014's massive regulation change should provide teams with a level playing field. The scope for new ideas should mean that some get it spectacularly wrong while the unexpected shine, as happened with Brawn in 2009. But that kind of fairy tale can't be relied on.

While regulations are always open to interpretation, the regulatory trend in recent years has been to narrow options based on new developments in driver safety, hence the dropped noses and mandated heights and distances of much of the car. Designers aren't backed into a corner, but there's less scope to play around than there used to be.

Cooling solutions are likely to vary the look of the 2014 cars, and a lot of performance will be contingent on their efficiency, but I'm still of the opinion that - in the early days at least - reliability is going to have a far greater role to play in the championship than any one team's magic bullet, arms race or no arms race.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.
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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.