Changes were afoot heading into the 2014 Formula 1 season, at least in terms of hardware.
The switch from the old 2.4 litre V8 to the turbocharged 1.6 litre V6 saw the return of turbocharged engines to the sport for the first time since 1988, and there was an air of mystery surrounding how that would effect the season.
The importance of the car in Formula One cannot be overstated, as anyone serious about F1 knows the car is just as important as the driver, if not more so. The betting markets have followed suit, putting thinner than usual odds on the constructors who have clearly taken an early lead in figuring out the new engine rules. As gambling.com mentions, “Quite simply, if the car isn’t of a sufficient standard, it’s impossible to win races and titles,” that trend is only going to continue as the early leaders now reinvest their winnings. With a new engine for 2014, all eyes were going to be on the constructors and what kind of a role that engine would play on the season and that hasn’t let down.
So far the affect appears to be drastic, as four-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel sits in fifth, 46 points behind Nico Rosberg. With preseason odds hanging around 11/4 for the German to repeat, dominance was expected. He currently sits at 11/1, as a poor preseason showing from the Red Bull team seems to have presaged legitimate deficiencies in the car produced by the four-time defending constructors’ champions.
On the flip side sits Mercedes, a team that has won each of the first four races to start the year. 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg have been so dominant as to finish 1-2 in each of the last three races and put themselves in an enviable position primed to run away from the rest of the field before the season is half over.
All of which makes this time leading up to the Spanish Grand Prix on May 11 of critical importance for all involved. With the first four races coming in little more than a month, there was little time for teams to assess and fix their technical deficiencies before this break. With weeks to focus on fixing their cars before Spain, teams like Ferrari and Red Bull will look to make major technical upgrades, which is to be expected for this part of the season.
Whether Mercedes will do the same is one of the big questions being asked around the garage. If the team feels they have a machine of such superior quality compared to the opposition they may be content to leave well enough alone instead of taking a risk that may actually harm their performance. For their part the most noise coming from the team is related to their potential use of team orders should another team close the gap.
There are 15 races left in the Formula One season, 15 opportunities for teams to figure out the new engine and figure out how to beat Mercedes. Those 15 races could very well be determined by these three weeks between China and Spain, meaning changes made now could go the longest way towards defining this season since the engine switch itself.