Pre-season testing sprung a few interesting results as ever, such as Lewis Hamilton’s domination having topped seven of the eight sessions, and FF3M graduates displaying some alarmingly impressive pace compared to their regular drivers. With a brand-new engine formula, this season could see a potential shake up to the pecking order. How much? Well, I was wildly wrong with my prediction last season, but let’s take a guess anyway.
11th – Horizon-Climax
It’s going to be extremely difficult to predict this season because of the new engine rules and testing format, but Horizon could well be in for another development season with Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta behind the wheel as their car didn’t look too spectacular during pre-season. Their Chinese test driver, 2013 FF3M champion Genjo Tse, raised more than a few eyebrows during the final day at Imola with the third fastest time on the hard tyres. This may encourage Sutil and Di Resta’s quest for points.
10th – Pedersen-Mugen
The popular Danish team had a nightmare 2013 season with their only points coming from the first race, a race of extremely high attrition. Unsurprisingly, they appear to have a more competitive car compared to 2013, but their testing results have been mixed with a shortage of laps and what appears to be an aerodynamically inconsistent car with the long corners of Barcelona not suiting its two drivers. No doubt Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado will be hungry for results, so expect some fireworks from those two.
9th – GRM-Mugen
GRM have taken an almighty risk promoting the young and inexperienced Carlos Sainz to FF1M, and for the most part, he’s been featuring somewhere in the bottom half of the leaderboard aside from the 10th fastest time during the second day at Imola. Like Pedersen, the car didn’t seem quite as strong at Barcelona compared to Imola, which makes me wonder how good the Mugen engine actually is. Valtteri Bottas is a very quick driver however, so we can expect some good performances from him during the season.
8th – Exolite-Ilmor
Exolite’s third return to FF1M was nothing short of spectacular with Fernando Alonso having lost none of his speed and Jenson Button showing himself to be an extremely feisty customer. This season’s incarnation of Exolite is more of an unknown quantity with somewhat poor pace during testing from their two test drivers, but this could be down to them exclusively running the hard tyres throughout. Exolite have a championship-winning driver line up at their disposal, Gojira’s 2013 roster to be exact, so we could expect Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez to struggle in qualifying but make up for it during the races.
7th – AndrewF1-Megatron
AndrewF1 are an interesting team to observe. Their much improved pace during the backend of last season appears to have carried over into testing, with Robert Kubica and the returning Felipe Massa setting some solid laptimes on the hard tyres. The team’s main concern is the engine, with initial figures showing a lack of development somewhere, although it doesn’t seem to have shown up in testing so far. The lack of running on the softer tyres might well backfire as the season goes on.
6th – Shake n Bake-Megatron (M)
Compared to the other two Yorkshire teams, Shake n Bake are a different sort of unknown quantity. Like Exolite, they’ve been running their test drivers exclusively throughout testing, with varying degrees of success. Their young FF3M graduate, Itsuki Yoshida, embarrassed Marcus Ericsson with his lightning pace, lapping six tenths quicker at Imola, and over a second quicker than his Swedish testing buddy. As for their two race drivers, the line-up of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo is one to watch, but their car might not be as competitive as the season before.
5th – FJR-Judd (M)
I completely lost the plot during the previous with no podium finishes for only the second time in their long history, leading to some hilariously disgruntled commentary from myself. For 2014, despite abandoning 2013 development at the earliest opportunity, I’m not expecting much from a quick but inexperienced rookie in the form of Kevin Magnussen, and a driver entering the twilight of his career in the form of Jenson Button, who last drove for me during the 2010 season. It appears as if my car is quick in a straight line with Button setting the best first sector at the final day of Barcelona, but through the twisty corners of Imola, it wasn’t as strong. Podiums could be possible at places like Montreal and Hockenheim, but places like Monaco and Hungary might expose me.
4th – Tornado-Climax (M)
Perennial frontrunners Tornado face a potentially challenging season with wildly varying testing results from their two test drivers, FF3M runner-up Tomas Gonzalez, and FF1M race winner Bruno Senna. Most of their running has been on the soft tyres, with the exception of two days on the mediums, so it looks as if Tornado are looking to develop as much qualifiying pace as possible and seeing where it takes them in the races. Sebastien Buemi and Jean-Eric Vergne are proven race winners, so I would still expect this team to mount some sort of challenge, but a championship may be out of reach this time around.
3rd – Mitchell-Mugen
Mitchell have been the surprise of pre-season testing with Cooper Lee and Nico Hulkenberg featuring well in the top ten for the majority of the test days. Lee very nearly stole the headlines on the second day of Barcelona but got held up behind Alfonso Celis in the final sector, but it is clear that Nico Hulkenberg and Jaime Alguersuari have a very good car underneath them. The Spaniard might well be distracted by Lee’s strong showing in testing, so it’ll be interesting to see how he performs having only had a handful of points finishes in his career.
2nd – Gojira-Mugen (M)
Having spent one miserable season with FJR, Lewis Hamilton has been well and truly rejuvenated after his pre-season domination. He must therefore be strong favourite for the drivers championship. Kamui Kobayashi is more of an unknown quantity having spend two contrasting seasons at Pedersen. He must surely be hopeful of finally winning an FF1M race, but he hasn’t been close to the pace of Hamilton, being at least half a second off of the multiple FF1M champion. This could well put Gojira under threat from my tip for the constructors championship.
1st – Willows-Ilmor (M)
Although Lewis Hamilton has been spellbinding during pre-season, I would argue that Willow have a slightly stronger overall package with two very strong drivers underneath them, good raw pace having lapped quickly on the hard tyres, and comfortably the most laps amassed overall. Having driven for them during the 2012 season, the returning Fernando Alonso will be looking to maintain his rapidness and breaking Hamilton’s test-topping streak will give him the utmost of confidence. Two strong drivers could well deliver that first championship for Willows.