Kunal looks at whether driver talent still assures an F1 seat and or if money really is all that counts
fter a late announcement from McLaren, it isn’t just the Alonso-Raikkonen pairing that I’m now looking forward to in 2014. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren’s highly rated young driver, managed to break through the Formula 1 ranks and land himself a seat in the cockpit for 2014. Unfortunately, this was at the expense of the highly talented Sergio Perez – who was a little too erratic for McLarens liking in 2013.
Yes, Perez has gone from being from a hero-to-zero (should he fail to land a seat in a competitive cockpit in 2014 that is) in exactly 12 months. But, like McLaren put it, it isn’t entirely his fault. And while I empathize with Perez, I also understand McLaren’s predicament. Magnussen has tested with the team as a young driver in previous seasons, and the McLaren engineers would have enough data to advise the management on whether to promote the rookie or not. Moreover, the decision comes at a time when McLaren haven’t had their best season, and an infusion of new energy might just be what the team from Woking needs. I can’t now recollect (and won’t Wiki it) when McLaren last won a Constructors’ Championship. Also, keep in mind that McLaren made a similar decision when they decided to promote Lewis Hamilton – and we all know how that story unfolded. The British team will benefit from Button’s experience in 2014, and hope that the 2009 champion can train their new prodigy. And, who knows, we might just see a repeat of the famous Alonso-Hamilton rivalry of 2007!
I’m also glad that talent (as opposed to money) found its way to the top. And Magnussen’s signing isn’t the only indicator. Toro Rosso too chose to elevate their young Russian driver, Daniil Kvyat, from GP3 straight into Formula 1. The last such elevation, where a driver was promoted purely on talent, with a question mark against experience, was that of Kimi Raikkonen – who was given a driver contract by Sauber after competing in just 23 races in a series run by Renault. And we’re well aware of how that story has unfolded. While you read this, there are still a fair number of seats yet to be finalised for 2014.
While all the driver changes are exciting, the one concern that I have for 2014 is regarding the appearance of the car. There’s been much debate about the ‘sound’ of the 1.6 litre V6 turbo engines, and now it’s the ‘nose’ of the car that’s under discussion. If the 3D images doing the rounds are anything to go by, we could be in for yet another shock. The platypus noses made headlines in 2012 – for all the wrong reasons – and could well return next year. As a marketing professional, I believe that too many ‘visual’ changes to the car, especially if they turn out to be ‘ugly,’ aren’t particularly good for Formula 1 – especially since the sport is entering new territories, and attempting to attract fresh audiences. Consistency in the product is something that the sport needs to pay a little more attention to. For the majority of the new audiences, the technical changes – even if they are revolutionary – don’t matter much. As a Formula 1 lover, my memories go back to the cars of the 80’s and 90’s, and how ‘pretty’ they looked back then. From that point of view, the current generation of cars aren’t leaving behind a great legacy.
The one legacy that we’re all seeing crafted before our very eyes is that of Sebastian Vettel. After clinching his 4th successive Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship, will he and Red Bull Racing be able to adjust to the regulation changes of 2014 and still manage to lead the pack? History has proven that Adrian Newey has been one of the best adapters to new regulation, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Red Bulls bulldoze their way to the front yet again. And will Ross Brawn still be allowed to play his role of Team Principal at Mercedes in 2014? I would love to see a Newey vs. Brawn battle next season.
Lastly, going back to the subject of new talent finding its way to the top tier of motorsport and upsetting the current applecart, I eagerly await the day when the current British KF3 Champion and Sahara Force India driver, Jehan Daruvala, announces his entry into Formula 1 in one of the Force India cars. Now that’s the stuff that dreams are made of – literally!