As a result of this, many see 2014’s dramatic regulation changes as an opportunity to spice things up a bit and resurrect the excitement of years gone by. Undoubtedly the area that has been most affected going into the new era are the engines, which have been given a drastic overhaul as the sport carries on its relentless pursuit to embrace environmentally-friendly technology. As a result of the sport’s eco-centric goals, the engines have become somewhat less ‘meaty’: the unit itself is a 1.6 litre V6 turbo, which is limited to 15,000 RPM and produces a measly 600bhp. In light of the outgoing V8 monsters these changes are not exactly welcome, and one might be forgiven for thinking that Formula 1 cars are beginning to resemble glorified GP2 cars. However, these engines do have several feathers in their caps, including the addition of the so-called ‘Energy Recovery System’ or ERS, which combines the familiar KERS system with an additional electric motor which is attached to the turbo. Along with the energy gathered by KERS, ERS benefits from the additional motor’s ability to convert thermal energy produced by the turbo into electric energy. This energy is harnessed by batteries and can be deployed by the engine management computer to produce an extra 160bhp for 33 seconds per lap, which is a dramatic increase over the KERS system used in previous years.
The most noticeable changes are those concerning the chassis, which have resulted in fairly odd looking cars across the board. The area of highest contention is undoubtedly the nose, which has been lowered significantly in an attempt to reduce the chance of a car being launched into the air in the event of it hitting the rear wheels of the one in front. Coupled with a complicated set of dimensional requirements and the teams’ desires to maximise airflow under the chassis, this has meant that several of this year’s challengers feature pretty unorthodox designs, some of which resemble anything from anteaters to vacuum cleaners. There are a number of other changes to the chassis as well, including a narrower front wing and the removal of the lower beam rear wing. Both of these changes mean that the airflow around and over the car is significantly less fluid than in the last few seasons, which means that overall downforce will be reduced. The exhaust system has had a bit of a makeover as well, with the dual-pipe layout being succeeded by a single, central one which sits directly above the gearbox. The effect of this has been to eliminate the so-called ‘exhaust-blown floors’, which used exhaust gases in order to boost downforce to great effect.
Taken as a whole, these changes are certain to offer one thing: unpredictability. Not only will the cars be very difficult to drive thanks to the unsavoury combination of increased torque and reduced downforce, but also hideously unreliable; indeed, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner suspected that failure rates could reach as high as 50% of the entire grid in the early stages of the season. If you are the sort of fan who misses the exciting spectacle provided by the notoriously uncontrollable cars of the ‘80s, this news will be of some comfort; there is no doubt that Formula 1 cars of recent years have been rather conservative in their design, so the reintroduction of turbocharged engines and limited downforce will hopefully revive some of the excitement of an era where the emphasis was on the skill of the driver and poor reliability meant that everything was to play for.
At this moment in time it is difficult to discern who is on top in terms in raw pace, but that seems to be of relatively little concern for most of the paddock; there is no doubt that the usual suspects at the top of the grid have produced quick cars, but it’ll be for nothing if they can’t get them going. With that in mind, it looks like reliability will be one of the most decisive factors in progress of this year’s championship, and will undoubtedly rekindle some of the fire lost in previous years – and about time too.