Fernando Alonso is expecting the first few races of the 2014 Formula 1 season to be all about constant improvement and getting to know the new cars as the sport enters a brand new era.
A raft of technical and sporting changes to the sport – most notably downsizing from V8 engines to turbocharged V6 power unit – appears to have shaken up the pecking order. If testing is anything to go by, Red Bull’s dominant spell might come to an end next weekend in Australia, whilst Mercedes and Williams could be the teams leading the way.
However, Ferrari’s Alonso is cautious about making any predictions, but he believes that the first few races will be mainly about trial and error.
“We come to the start of this championship with the team having had twelve days of testing, while as a driver I’ve had six,” the Spaniard explained. “A few more days would have been useful given how much has changed for this season.
“With every lap of testing we learned something and improved pretty much constantly. I think that will still be the case in Australia, especially on the first day and then actually in the first few races.”
Having not won a world title with Ferrari since joining in 2010, Alonso may have his best chance yet this season thanks to the regulation changes. Throughout testing, Ferrari was the fastest team without a Mercedes engine, and the team’s qualifying pace appears to be particularly impressive. Quite whether this pace translates into the long-runs remains to be seen, though.
2014 is undoubtedly a year of change at Ferrari. Following Felipe Massa’s exit, Kimi Raikkonen has been signed, creating a very strong yet possibly volatile pairing with Alonso. For the first time since 1979, the team has two drivers on an equal footing both with a shot of winning the championship. It marks a big change in policy at Maranello, and it remains to be seen quite whether the team will get through 2014 without any war wounds.
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.