Grand Prix Down Under: Can the ‘Manchester United of F1’ return to the top and who can stop Red Bull?

The new Formula One season is just around the corner ahead of what is expected to be the most unpredictable year in the sport’s history.

For many fans this will come as welcome news after four years of Red Bull dominance during which time the sport has lost much of its appeal.

With new rule changes, interesting driver line-ups and a topsy-turvy pecking order heading into the first race, just what can we expect from 2014?

MM has taken a look at the key talking points ahead of the season opener in Melbourne on Sunday:

Rule Changes

Perhaps the biggest challenge the teams will face this year are the new engine units.

The previous 2.4litre V8s, which had been used since 2006, have given way to the new 1.6litre V6 turbo engines and reliability will be a major issue for many of the teams.

The new power units have proven difficult to get to grips with, especially for Renault who have had serious problems during testing.

Another issue teams will have to manage is the amount of fuel the cars are able to carry.

With no re-fuelling allowed and a limit of 100kg of fuel, it may be the case drivers are driving on fumes at the end of the race which could dramatically affect the championship.

Another rule change which may have significant impact on the championship is the decision to award double points at the final race of the season.

Red Bull struggles

It may be all over by then for the Red Bull team however, as pre-season testing was a disaster for the reigning champions.

Reliability issues have left them trailing rivals Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of both laps completed and performance and they could struggle to finish some of the early races.

Red Bull, who have won the last four constructors’ championships, use the Renault engine which appears to be so complex that it lacks reliability and performance, with Lotus faring no better using the same engine.

Vettel is aiming for his fifth consecutive drivers championship and will compete this year alongside new teammate Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who replaces retired compatriot Mark Webber.

Revival of ‘Manchester United of F1’

Ron Dennis is back at McLaren as CEO of the group and with him comes a new wave of optimism at the British team.

Dennis first arrived at McLaren in 1980 and has masterminded multiple title successes, including the team’s most recent championship with Lewis Hamilton in 2008.

The team accumulated just 122 points last season and finished fifth in the constructors standings, falling behind Lotus.

Sergio Perez has been replaced by 21-year-old Danish hotshot Kevin Magnussen and the team have looked impressive in pre-season, leading to Dennis believing they can win races this year.

Racing Director Eric Boullier has arrived from Lotus and will work alongside Sporting Director Sam Michael.

With fuel saving an important factor this season, Jenson Button’s smooth driving style may well prove to be a big advantage.

Dennis has compared the recent struggles of the Woking-based team to Manchester United in terms of a run of bad form from a giant of their respective sport.  

The aim for McLaren will be to break back into the top three in the constructor’s standings, which will be no easy task.

Why are Mercedes pre-season favourites?

Heading into the first race of the year Mercedes are without doubt championship favourites having shown they have the quickest and also the most reliable car in pre-season testing.

Pre-season can often count for very little though but certainly this might be Lewis Hamilton’s best chance for many years to add to his sole title from 2008.

Teammate Nico Rosberg can’t be discounted though, showing he had the pace last season and with a raft of new rules, which favour the German, he has a chance.

Can Alonso and Raikkonen spark the ‘Prancing Horse’?

A driver who will be keen to add another world title to his tally will be Fernanodo Alonso, who has gone since 2006 the last time he won a title.

It is five seasons since Ferrari were last constructors’ champions and the Maranello-based powerhouse has turned back to their last champion Kimi Raikkonen to return them to glory.

The pairing of Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso threatens to be explosive but if the pair can work alongside each other, Ferrari have undoubtedly the best driver line-up on the grid.

Raikkonen has joined from Lotus and the two great drivers will want a competitive car this season, which they might just have.

Ferrari have quietly gone about their business in pre-season and while thirsty on fuel, the car looks to have a decent amount of pace.

In the fiery Alonso and the grumpy Raikkonen, Ferrari possesses the drivers to win the titles if they can deliver the car to match.

The return of Williams

Felipe Massa has moved to Williams from Ferrari and along with teammate Valtteri Bottas, the team have been the surprise package in pre-season.

Massa has struggled to find his best form since his horrific accident in Hungary in 2009.

The decision to ditch the Renault engine in favour of Mercedes looks to be a masterstroke as the British team try to recover from the worst season in their history.

Williams look to have plenty of pace and are tipped by many to be challenging at the front of the grid in Melbourne.

If they can continue to develop across the season, they could well shake up the top five.

Photo courtesy of Guety, via WikimediaCommons, with thanks

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