Why Vettel’s rivals may be disappointed in 2014

F1 history

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Singapore, 2013Rivals of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull are increasingly vesting their hopes in the 2014 engine rules shake-up as being their best chance of closing the performance gap.

“We will put all our effort and hopes into 2014, because starting from zero is our best opportunity to close the gap with all the top teams,” said Fernando Alonso after the Singapore Grand Prix.

But while F1’s periodic changes in the engine rules used to bring about major change in the competitive order, in recent years it hasn’t been the case.

Early years: New engines, new winners

1952-53: All change in the F2 interregnum

Alfa Romeo dominated the first two years of the world championship. But their withdrawal at the end of 1951 led several race organisers to change their events from Formula One rules to Formula Two, and the championship was therefore run to F2 rules in 1952 and 1953. That was followed by the introduction of a new Formula One in 1954.

Alfa’s departure made the emergence of a new winner in 1952 inevitable, but even so the scale of Ferrari’s dominance was remarkable. Alberto Ascari won nine races in a row at one point, a record which still stands.

The new F1 rules tempted Mercedes back in mid-1954. From that point they were the team to beat until they made an abrupt withdrawal at the end of 1955 following that year’s fatalities in the Le Mans 24 Hours.

1961: Ferrari capitalise on 1.5-litre switch

Phil Hill, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 1961Concern at rising speeds prompted the introduction of smaller 1.5-litre engines from 1961. While several of the British engine manufacturers opposed the move and tried to block it, Ferrari perfected their new V6 and dominated the season.

The drivers’ championship contest was an all-Ferrari affair, but was settled in tragic circumstances when Wolfgang von Trips was killed at Monza. Ferrari also won the recently-introduced constructors’ championship for the first time.

The only races they failed to win that year were in Monaco and Germany, both due to inspired drives by Stirling Moss, and in America, where they did not compete.

1966: Brabham benefits from return to power

Just two years after the 1.5-litre engines were introduced the Commission Sportive Internationale (fore-runner to the FIA) decided engine capacities would be doubled to three litres in 1966.

Once again the spoils went to the driver and team who had made the best preparations for the new rules. In this case they were one and the same: Jack Brabham won the title driving his own car, the first and only time anyone achieved the feat.

Brabham encouraged Australian automotive components manufacturer Repco to develop a V8 engine for the new formula. While Ferrari were disappointed by the power-to-weight ratio of their V12 and Lotus persevered with BRM’s monstrously heavy H16, Brabham reeled off four consecutive wins in the middle of the year to claim the title.

The modern era: Sustained dominance

1989: McLaren-Honda stay on top as turbo era ends

Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, McLaren, Montreal, 1989The new engine formula of 1966 also included a provision for turbocharged 1.5-litre engines. By the middle of the eighties these had become ubiquitous, but concerns about expense and safety had arisen.

For 1989 they were finally banned and a maximum capacity of 3.5 litres imposed. Not that it did anything to put the fearful combination of McLaren and Honda off their stride.

In the last year of the turbos they won all but one of the 16 races. In 1989 they won another ten races – a total which would have been even higher had Alain Prost not driven into team mate Ayrton Senna at Suzuka to take back the drivers’ championship.

1995: New engines no problem for Benetton

A cut in engine capacity was ordered for 1995 following the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola and other dangerous accidents during the season.

But that didn’t stop Michael Schumacher successfully defending his drivers’ title for Benetton. The team’s switch from Ford Cosworth V8 to Renault V10 power proved a wise one, as Renault’s engines won all bar one of the races in 1995.

Schumacher easily swept aside Damon Hill’s Renault-engined Williams while Benetton claimed their first constructors’ crown.

2006: Alonso champion again as V8 era begins

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Montreal, 2006Fernando Alonso ended Schumacher’s five-year dominance of the championship in 2005. His season-ending victory in China was also the last win for a V10 engine in F1, as a new V8 formula was mandated for the following year.

Renault were unfazed by the change. Alonso won first time out in their V8-engined car and by round nine Renault had chalked up seven victories already.

Only a late-season resurgence from Schumacher and Ferrari took the title down to the wire, though a Ferrari engine failure in Japan all but killed off Schumacher’s hopes of an eighth crown.

Over to you

Have the growing resources available to top F1 teams helped them stay dominant despite changes in the engine rules? Do you think Red Bull will stay on top next year?

Have your say in the comments.

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115 comments on Why Vettel’s rivals may be disappointed in 2014

  1. oliveiraz33 (@oliveiraz33) said on 25th September 2013, 21:26

    I strongly believe that Ferrari and especialy mercs will be up there with RB next season… The technical crew has been greatly reinforced in both teams

  2. tvm (@) said on 25th September 2013, 22:24

    Wont mean much which engine is in which car, those engines will be close anyway.

    The Tires will dictate no racing bar the first two laps and the last two, everything in the middle is just preserving tires where engine power doesn’t mean much,

  3. StephenH said on 25th September 2013, 23:22

    If thier rivals are giving up, all that will do is allow Red Bull carte` blanche to spend just as much time on thier 2014 package as anyone else …

  4. Chris (@vintly) said on 26th September 2013, 0:07

    Red Bull for ever.

  5. ramy (@ramysennaf1) said on 26th September 2013, 13:28

    one big question, what if ayrton senna started his career with either williams or mclaren or even lotus if not for those teams wanted local drivers, he would have had even more success in WCC, like vettel from his second season he has had a competitive car…big question!!

  6. I must respectfully disagree with you on this one Keith. Previous iterations dealt with an engine change whereas now we are talking about a completely different type of powertrain. You get an extra 120kW of boost for up to 33 seconds a lap PLUS you get turbos PLUS you have to decide where to use the extra energy and when. Do you spin up the turbo faster with the extra energy? Do you put it directly back into the drive train as KERS does today? On which turns? How much in each part of the track? And a different track map for each race! Oh wait, do you have enough fuel to run that strategy you were just planning? When do you conserve? Where? It’s going to make the random tire degradation this year look like a cake walk. Oh, and those tires will probably still be there adding their little drama as well.

    I think next year is going to be a total role of the dice because no matter how much you simulate it, it’s going to be a LOT of real world learning and ANYONE could get it all wrong. Adrian is a genius, but he’s an aero genius.

    This is going to be about the drive train, conserving fuel and a LOT of guess work the first year. I think it’s going to be fascinating to watch and I’m looking forward to it more than I have in years! This is the kind of challenge I want to see the best minds in motor sport tackle!!!

  7. Sergio Perez (@sergio-perez) said on 27th September 2013, 7:35

    The optimist Mclaren fan in me wants to believe that they were using this car as a test bed for 2014, where they will put all focus, and will re emerge as true contenders. The pessimist in me feels that the team lost focus, doesn’t have a leading driver that can help push engineers further, and is lacking genuine talent in the factory.

    As for Red Bull, I genuinely don’t see them losing top 3 status. The team is the same, the lead driver the same, everyone seems happy there, team spirit is great- Vettel’s comments as well as the speed of pit stops- so, either they get numbed by their success, or they will certainly keep winning.

    Ferrari will be the most interesting to see. Two World Champions battling it out, two very different personalities. Its Hollywood movie material.

    Mercedes? They have the biggest investment in F1, both in development and in personnel- How many technical directors did they hired?- But the key here is do any of those 2 drivers have what it takes to be “team leaders”, “World Champions”? Lewis is a world champion, true, but does he have what it takes to at least be on the same level of commitment of a Alonso or Vettel? There lies the key for Mercedes.

    Last but not least, would love to see Ross Brawn at Williams again. Formula 1 needs a strong Williams team. And I think its about time we get a new, up and coming talent in the field: Its time to bring Da Costa and Magnussen up. Da Costa is having lots of technical issues, but like he showed last week, he can beat his generation best in racing. Magnussen vs Da Costa seems like a rivalry in the making for the future of the sport…

  8. Good article, 2014 is not only an engine season nevertheless I’m sure vettels driving style paired with skills of rbr and Renault and the economic strangelhold they’ve got in f1 should guarantee their brand will win again

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