The 2014 Formula 1 season is almost upon us, ushering in a jazzy new grid of whooshy turbochargers, silly noses and clever computers.
And there’s also the possibility that Sebastian Vettel’s car could self-destruct at any moment, which should shake things up a bit.
Here are a few things to look forward to over the year...
All Formula 1 cars will be powered by 1.6-litre V6 engines this year, making a massive change from the 2.4-litre V8s that have been used since 2006.
So, does this mean that they’ll all pootle along like your grandma’s Toyota Corolla? No, not a bit of it.
Remember, 1.5-litre turbocharged F1 engines of the 1980s were producing 1,000bhp and spitting ridiculous flames! That’s a fun frame of reference.
2014 will not be without drama – these 1.6-litre units produce about 760bhp, and sound gruff and throaty. You can really hear the massive turbos spooling up too, like a swarm of angry slide whistles.
There has been much mirth caused by the various teams’ interpretations of the regulations in shaping their 2014 cars, the funniest of all being Caterham’s effort, pictured above.
Due to the specific nature of which parts of the car have to be where in order to comply, F1 cars of the modern era often end up looking quite similar. But the variety of noses this year is impressively broad and, in many cases, more than a little Ann Summers-esque - a number of teams have opted for a phallic protuberance. Saucy.
Elsewhere Ferrari’s nose just looks like it’s melted…
An element of mystery always spices up a sporting event, doesn’t it? And one of the key benefits of every team using brand new technology is that each driver will be whizzing around with the sword of Damocles dangling over his head.
Will the new engine blow up? Will the turbo vanes shear off and get sucked into the engine? Will the fresh electronic systems accidently flash up the Blue Screen of Death? It’s a lottery.
The fact that the seemingly bullet-proof Red Bull team struggled with copious tech gremlins in testing at Jerez suggests that, to many fans’ delight, a Vettel walkover is by no means a foregone conclusion this year.
If any car could blow up at any point, it’ll drive the bookies nuts too.
Oversteer, to the uninitiated, is when the car steers too much – the back end loses grip and drifts around the corner, as if it’s desperately trying to overtake the front end.
If the driver catches the slide, he’s lost a bit of time but ultimately looks kinda cool. If he doesn’t, he spins out... And we’ll be seeing lots of lovely smoky oversteer throughout this season.
These new cars have oodles more torque than last year’s, combined with a lot less downforce, which means that drivers will have to work rather harder to wrestle the cars into a straight line as they come out of each corner.
Or, for maximum hero points, they’ll just go everywhere sideways like they did in the 1970s.
Economy and ERS
Formula 1 isn’t just a frivolous endeavour for moneyed playboys – its technological advances trickle down into everyday road cars.
Advanced tyre technology, carbon-fibre construction, traction control, multi-function steering wheels, regenerative braking, flappy-paddle gearboxes – all of these things that you see in the showroom today were spawned by F1.
So, these new 2014 engines aren’t just obscenely powerful turbocharged hooligan-machines – they’re impressively efficient too. Every car will have just 100kg of fuel to complete each race (down from the 150kg+ that they used in 2013, when there were no restrictions), and they also use the fancy new ERS system.
“ERS,” you ask? That’s “KERS”, surely? Well, no, actually ERS is the new system that takes the old Kinetic Energy Recovery System and mates it to a second electric motor connected to the turbo.
The triple benefits of ERS are; there’s three times as much energy stored in the main battery when compared with the KERS system; it acts as an anti-lag device for the turbo; it bolsters the engine’s power to such a degree that it makes it unbelievably efficient.
It’s less Toyota Prius, more McLaren P1 – hybrid tech to make implausible levels of win-win thrust.
The Austrian Grand Prix is being revived this year, while the Indian GP is taking a year off and the Korean GP is being removed from the calendar entirely.
The hype around the New Jersey race turned out to be without foundation – the US event will be in Austin again - and the Bahrain GP will be a night race; ostensibly to mark the 10th anniversary of the event, although they seem to be ignoring the 2011 boycott of the event due to human rights protests.
Speaking of which, the Russian Grand Prix will be held in Sochi this year – that is, if geopolitical events don’t derail it first.
The season’s big power struggle will be between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari – but who’s their number one driver? Time will tell.
The arrival of Kevin Magnussen at McLaren will be interesting, too – he’s a product of McLaren’s young driver programme, just like Lewis Hamilton was. Will history repeat itself?
Daniel Ricciardo’s taken Mark Webber’s old seat at Red Bull, and there’ll be fun further down the grid as the ineffably bonkers Kamui Kobayashi joins Caterham.
Double points, penalty points
We’re talking about two different kinds of points here. Firstly, the points that drivers receive for their finishing positions: as before, the first 10 drivers to finish get championship points (25 for first place, 18 for second, then 15, 12, 10 – you get the idea).
But for the last race in the season, everybody in the top 10 gets double points! Given that the championship title is often decided two or three races before the season is over, this should provide a little more suspense, and the opportunity for whoever’s running behind the leader to catch up at the last minute. Exciting stuff.
The idea of penalty points is a different issue – these are just like the points you might get on your licence for speeding, for example.
There’s a sliding scale of points for on-track misdemeanours, and any driver who notches up 12 points automatically misses the next race. Hopefully this will make some drivers put a bit more thought into their overtaking manoeuvres. We’re looking at you, Romain Grosjean...
So, Bernie’s travelling circus has ramped up the excitement yet further this year. Who’s your money on? It really is anybody’s guess…