The waiting is finally over. After mile after mile in testing (and red flag after red flag), the opening Grand Prix of 2014 is upon us. Testing is always difficult to read but this year has been the hardest of all. This weekend will finally give us answers to the questions we’ve been posing all winter and ahead of the most eagerly anticipated season for years, The TCF Form Guide analyses the chances of all 22 drivers.
| 1. SEBASTIAN VETTEL – RED BULL RACING RENAULT
|Last 5 Races: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st||Best In Australia: Winner (2011)|
Not since 2009 has a defending champion entered a new season on their back foot like Sebastian Vettel does this year. The Red Bull RB10 has been unreliable to put it mildly and the German isn’t confident the new machine has the pace yet to challenge the frontrunners even if it does last the distance. It’s worth pointing out that Vettel is going for an historic tenth straight victory but given the winter his team have had, reaching the chequered flag and bagging some points would be a victory in itself.
|3. DANIEL RICCIARDO – RED BULL RACING RENAULT|
|Last 5 Races: 13th, 10th, 16th, 11th, 10th||Best In Australia: 9th (2012)|
After his dream promotion from Toro Rosso to Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo has reason to be more frustrated than anyone by his new team’s difficulties. The Australian may have to wait a little longer to break away from midfield dogfights but he appears to be relishing the prospect of taking on the reigning champion across the garage. Daniel had a habit of outperforming the Toro Rosso on Saturdays last year so with the home crowd urging him on, it will be fascinating to see which Red Bull qualifies highest this weekend. Sunday is where it gets tricky.
|44. LEWIS HAMILTON – MERCEDES|
|Last 5 Races: DNF, 6th, 7th, 4th, 9th||Best In Australia: Winner (2008)|
Most of the season previews have Lewis Hamilton as favourite not only for the Australian Grand Prix, but also for the 2014 title. It’s easy to see why given Mercedes’ testing form with the team having produced a tremendous car while also boasting the pick of the power units. Melbourne hasn’t always been kind to Lewis with 2009 providing one of his career low points but twelve months prior to that, he kicked off what would prove to be a title-winning campaign with victory down under. Don’t be surprised if he does so again in 2014.
|6. NICO ROSBERG – MERCEDES|
|Last 5 Races: 8th, 2nd, 3rd, 9th, 5th||Best In Australia: 3rd (2008)|
There were doubts heading into 2013 as to just how good Nico Rosberg was but the German came up with an emphatic answer to his critics. Victories at Monaco and Silverstone demonstrated his ability and by often matching teammate Lewis Hamilton, Nico proved he is genuinely among the world’s best. 2014 brings a different kind of pressure though with Mercedes currently the class of the field and Rosberg must now show he has the mental toughness to sustain a championship challenge.
|14. FERNANDO ALONSO – FERRARI|
|Last 5 Races: 4th, 11th, 5th, 5th, 3rd||Best In Australia: Winner (2006)|
Testing is notoriously difficult to draw conclusions from but the biggest puzzle of the winter has surely been Ferrari. Just how quick are they? The time for sandbagging has stopped and Fernando Alonso will be nervously waiting to see where he sits against the Mercedes runners. The Spaniard may keep them honest in qualifying but time will tell as to whether the apparently fuel-thirsty Ferrari power unit allows him to match them over 58 laps on Sunday.
|7. KIMI RAIKKONEN – FERRARI|
|Last 5 Races: 5th, 7th, DNF, n/a, n/a||Best In Australia: Winner (2007, 2013)|
The driver partnership that has kept the Formula One world talking all winter is the clash of the titans at Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen won’t be taking in by all the hype and is unlikely to engage in a war of words but fireworks are sure to follow on track with the pair so closely matched. The two went head-to-head in last year’s Australian Grand Prix with Kimi prevailing in a Lotus which proved kinder on its tyres. How dearly the Finn would love a repeat on his return to the Scuderia this weekend.
|8. ROMAIN GROSJEAN – LOTUS RENAULT|
|Last 5 Races: 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 2nd, DNF||Best In Australia: 10th (2013)|
Romain Grosjean finished 2013 with his stock at an all-time high, proving the only man remotely capable of touching the Red Bulls consistently in the back-end of the year. 2014 doesn’t look set to hit the same heights just yet with his cash-strapped Lotus team limping the start line with a car that hit the track late and broke down with regularity when it got there. Grosjean certainly has the maturity and mental toughness to cope with a tricky start and his patience may well be tested immediately with Lotus facing an uphill battle to see the chequered flag on Sunday.
|13. PASTOR MALDONADO – LOTUS RENAULT|
|Last 5 Races: 16th, 12th, 11th, 17th, 16th||Best In Australia: 13th (2012)|
With PDVSA-backing on his side, Pastor Maldonado seemingly could take his pick when the drives were being handed out late last year and some may be questioning the choice of Lotus given their current predicament. Like his teammmate, Maldonado has barely any mileage under his belt heading into the curtain raiser in Melbourne but the motivation should see him through this weekend with the Venezuelan keen to prove he deserves a top drive on talent alone.
|22. JENSON BUTTON – McLAREN MERCEDES|
|Last 5 Races: 9th, 14th, 12th, 10th, 4th||Best In Australia: Winner (2009, 2010, 2012)|
Now into his fifteenth season in Formula One, Jenson Button is the oldest and most experienced driver on the grid although it remains to be seen whether that gives him any advantage given the shake-up in regulations. McLaren’s competitiveness is unknown as they didn’t test in Melbourne-spec but if the MP4-29 is quick enough to mix it at the front, Jenson could be the dark horse this weekend with three Albert Park victories to his name, more than anyone else on the current grid.
|20. KEVIN MAGNUSSEN – McLAREN MERCEDES|
|Formula One Debut||2013 Formula Renault 3.5 Series Champion|
Into McLaren comes rookie Kevin Magnussen and inevitably, comparisons have been made with Lewis Hamilton’s introduction in 2007. Although he has done as much running as anyone this winter, Kevin hasn’t had the same level of preparation as McLaren’s last rookie but like Hamilton, the Dane enters Formula One with quite the reputation. Magnussen has impressed throughout testing and with a teammate like Button alongside him, he has the perfect yardstick to measure himself against in Melbourne.
|11. SERGIO PEREZ – FORCE INDIA MERCEDES|
|Last 5 Races: 15th, 5th, 9th, 7th, 6th||Best In Australia: 8th (2012)|
Many drivers start the 2014 season with points to prove and Sergio Perez will feature pretty high on that list. The Mexican had a solid season at McLaren but that didn’t prove enough to preserve his place with the team. Perez has found a new home at Force India but with the highly rated Nico Hulkenberg, the pressure to deliver will be just as intense but the VJM07 looks quick enough to put both drivers somewhere in the mix this weekend. Q3 and points will be the aim for Perez.
|27. NICO HULKENBERG – FORCE INDIA MERCEDES|
|Last 5 Races: 6th, 19th, 14th, 6th, 8th||Best In Australia: DNF (2010, 2012)|
Formula One fans across the world were crying out for Nico Hulkenberg to be given the Lotus drive back in the autumn but when you look at their current predicament, Hulkenberg may have dodged a pretty sizeable bullet. Back at Force India after a year away, the German’s latest career move looks to have been a positive one and he will be eyeing a points finish in Melbourne. His record there doesn’t fill you with confidence though, he hasn’t completed a single racing lap in three previous attempts.
|21. ESTEBAN GUTIERREZ – SAUBER FERRARI|
|Last 5 Races: 7th, 15th, 13th, 13th, 12th||Best In Australia: 13th (2013)|
Esteban Gutierrez’s rookie season didn’t get off the most auspicious start, crashing in qualifying at Albert Park, but as 2013 went on there were definite signs of progress. The youngster closed the gap on Nico Hulkenberg and performed superbly at Suzuka to score his first championship points. The challenge now for Esteban is to make days like Suzuka a regular occurrence in 2014 and establish superiority over Adrian Sutil while he’s at it. If he doesn’t, you wouldn’t hold out much hope for a long-term stay in Formula One.
|99. ADRIAN SUTIL – SAUBER FERRARI|
|Last 5 Races: 14th, 9th, 10th, DNF, 13th||Best In Australia: 7th (2013)|
In one of the stranger driver changes of the winter, Adrian Sutil has swapped Force India for Sauber. The German wouldn’t be classed among Formula One’s elite, nor does he bring a large sponsorship budget, but he is sure to score regular points if the car is capable and on his day can perform heroics, especially in the wet. Adrian will therefore have a keen eye on Sunday’s weather forecast and will look to repeat last year’s strong drive to seventh when he led the race early on.
|25. JEAN-ERIC VERGNE – STR RENAULT|
|Last 5 Races: 12th, 13th, 17th, 16th, 15th||Best In Australia: 11th (2012)|
Having missed out on the Red Bull drive to Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne has a point to prove in 2014. The Frenchman is supremely talented but perhaps lacks the mental strength to become a top-line Formula One driver just at the moment. Qualifying pace remains a weakness too but with another highly rated youngster from the Red Bull junior programme joining him at Toro Rosso, Vergne must conquer his demons or risk joining the likes of Alguersuari and Buemi on the Formula One scrapheap.
|26. DANIIL KVYAT – STR RENAULT|
|Formula One Debut||2013 GP3 Series Champion|
Like all the Renault-powered teams, Toro Rosso have been beset with reliability problems throughout pre-season testing, hardly the ideal preparation then for 19 year old rookie Daniil Kvyat. His Friday performances at the end of last season suggest he is more than ready for Formula One though and with a Russian GP on the horizon, Kvyat arrives at just the right time. Outqualifying Vergne will be the target but it remains to be seen whether either will make it out of Q1 on Saturday.
|77. VALTTERI BOTTAS – WILLIAMS MERCEDES|
|Last 5 Races: 17th, 16th, 15th, 8th, DNF||Best In Australia: 14th (2013)|
While Valtteri Bottas was held back by an uncompetitive car in his debut season, there were flashes of brilliance from the Finn in 2013. A sensational qualifying display in Montreal and a stunning weekend in the United States were examples of outperforming the car and with a much stronger package underneath him, big things are expected of Valtteri this year. With the FW36 looking a match even for the Mercedes at the moment, a podium finish is a genuine possibility.
|19. FELIPE MASSA – WILLIAMS MERCEDES|
|Last 5 Races: 10th, 4th, 8th, 12th, 7th||Best In Australia: 4th (2013)|
Away from the pressure cooker of Ferrari, Felipe Massa has an opportunity to revitalise his career at Williams. No-one can doubt his class but surely any driver would be demoralised by being kept in their teammate’s shadow for so long. The shackles are now off though and Felipe has a car underneath him that can surely put him in contention for a podium on Sunday. In fact, the Williams has been the most reliable car of all in testing so a podium might be a cautious prediction.
|17. JULES BIANCHI – MARUSSIA FERRARI|
|Last 5 Races: DNF, 18th, 20th, 18th, 17th||Best In Australia: 15th (2013)|
There will surely have been many a team looking at Jules Bianchi after his exploits in 2013 but the Frenchman is back for a second season at Marussia and together, they may be set for a major step forward in 2014. Jules proved last season that the fight for tenth in the constructors championship could be decided by results early on and with so few finishers expected, this may be the weekend where Marussia may score a point at last. Jules will be desperate to be the man that does it and if both MR03s are reliable, he’ll be the first of them home.
|4. MAX CHILTON – MARUSSIA FERRARI|
|Last 5 Races: 19th, 17th, 21st, 21st, 19th||Best In Australia: 17th (2013)|
Solid if unspectacular would be a fair description of Max Chilton’s rookie Formula One season, the Briton reaching the chequered flag at every single race. Repeating that particular statistic may be taken out of his hands by the unreliability of 2014’s power units but something Max can control is his own performance. Matching Jules Bianchi proved tough in 2013 but Chilton’s lap time in Bahrain was very impressive indeed and outqualifying his teammate more regularly is surely in his sights.
|9. MARCUS ERICSSON – CATERHAM RENAULT|
|Formula One Debut
||2-time GP2 Series race winner|
The third of this season’s three rookies, Marcus Ericsson moves up to Formula One after a GP2 career which provided a couple of victories, even if a championship challenge never materialised. Thankfully for the Swede, the Caterham has been the most reliable of the Renault machines, allowing him a decent amount of testing mileage to prepare him for Melbourne. The speed of the CT05 is a question mark though so don’t expect him to be far away from the back row of the grid however well he does.
|10. KAMUI KOBAYASHI – CATERHAM RENAULT|
|Last 5 Races (2012): DNF, 14th, 6th, 14th, 9th||Best In Australia: 6th (2012)|
Formula One fans all over the world will be delighted to see the return of Kamui Kobayashi, even if we won’t be seeing him in the most competitive of machinery. The Japanese driver won supporters everywhere with his swashbuckling style and aggressive overtakes but it looks unlikely that we’ll see many of those in the Caterham which has been miles off the pace in testing. Like his teammate and the two Marussias, Kamui will be desperate to reach the finish with points potentially up for grabs and perhaps his experience may prove crucial.