• The Inside Line

Back to the future

Kate Walker November 17, 2013
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There's not much left to talk about when it comes to F1 in 2013. Sebastian Vettel has won it all, done it all. Sure, there are still seats up for grabs, and investment deals waxing and waning, but news and gossip that will have a real impact on the eight days we have left of this season? Nada.

Which is why all of the chatter in the Austin paddock has been about 2014, and whether or not the much heralded regulation changes are actually going to make a difference to the running order next year.

Given that working crystal balls are in pretty short supply in the real world, it's all guesswork peppered with the odd fact. But fact-basing guessing is still an amusing way to pass the time in between trying to figure out a new way to say that SebVet has done it again.

Gossiping about engines over the course of the weekend (rock n' roll or what?) it emerged that Renault and Ferrari appear to be struggling somewhat with the 2014 regulations, while Mercedes are confident in their package. At the last meeting of engine bigwigs, I was told, Ferrari asked for an increase in the maximum fuel loads, while Renault wanted the rev limit upped. Mercedes wanted the regulations to stay just as they were, thank you very much.

But don't rush out and bet the house on a 2014 drivers' title for [insert Mercedes-powered pilot here] just yet. Because what everyone seems to be forgetting is that the 2014 championship is more likely to be decided by grid penalties than it is by actual racing. Yes, grid penalties.

The 2014 season will see a massive change to the power units, which are going to be infinitely more complex than they have been in the past, what with the plethora of ERS-K, ERS-H, ERS-alpha and omega that form part and parcel of the overall package. The last time we saw a massive engine change, teams were allowed to test those engines in real live working cars for more than about 20 minutes at the start of the year. Despite that, we saw a lot of engines go boom as reliability wrinkles were identified and ironed out.

Next year, however, testing will be limited. There will be more testing than we've had this year, true, but it will still be an inadequate amount for such a massive paradigm shift.

Making life rather more complicated for teams and drivers alike, the rules also mandate a maximum of five power units per season before those nasty grid penalties start kicking in. Well, not just grid penalties. Drivers who exceed the engine quota will start from the pitlane, while drivers who require individual parts to be replaced - the turbocharger, say, or the ERS-whatever - will drop ten places.

Given that some reliability problems are only to be expected as the teams learn how to maximise their new technology, we'll probably make it to around Spa before we start seeing drivers lining up in the pits en masse on a Sunday, waiting for Charlie Whiting to push the button.

It might not be more interesting, but at least it will be different.

© 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'.