5,4,3,2,1 - Lights out for a new F1 season

In the world of sport, Formula 1 is arguably the most fast moving of them all. This is not solely a reference to the +180mph that the cars race around the tracks, but also a consideration that the conclusion of last year's dramatic season only dates back to roughly over three months. Memories of that cloudy, damp and partially rainy day in São Paulo, where Sebastian Vettel retained his World Cup title, just three points ahead of Fernando Alonso, are still fresh.

With the Australian Grand Prix kick-starting the 2013 season this coming weekend, fans around the world are eager to find out if another epic season lies in store for them. Chances are good that they will not be disappointed.

So what has happened in the short winter break that's worth pointing out? Lewis Hamilton's switch from McLaren to the Mercedes works team was already made known several races ahead of last years final GP. He succeeds F1 Legend and seven-time world champ Michael Schumacher in hopes that Mercedes will present him a car that's capable of challenging for the title. McLaren have replaced Hamilton with young Mexican Sergio Pérez, who finds himself under a lot of pressure to deliver, but also with great opportunities at one of the sport's most highly regarded teams.

Nico Hülkenberg switched teams to join Sauber, allowing fellow German Adrian Sutil to come back after a one-year absence to claim the vacant Force India cockpit. Bruno Senna was replaced by Valtteri Bottas at Williams, where he will be teamed up with hot prospect and last year's Spanish GP winner Pastor Maldonado. Together with Bottas, four other drivers will be making their Formula 1 debut this season: Esteban Gutièrrez (Sauber), Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi (both Marussia) and Giedo van der Garde (Caterham). Also, there will be two less drivers this year, as HRT will not return this season, resulting in a field of 22 drivers for this season.

The pre-season tests have all concluded and while traditionally the teams and their executives are wary not to read into them too deeply, one aspect appears clear: the top teams are all within reach of one another. Lotus, Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull all topped the leaderboard at some stage of the testing. This suggests that we are in for another cracker of a season that will include a variety of winners and title contenders. However, and as mentioned before, the testing phase is one that is tricky to judge. The fuel loads are not known and teams are likely to disguise the true potential of their cars until the season officially gets underway.

While a hotly contested season can be expected there are also plenty of unknowns, which will be interesting to see unfold. Mercedes appeared strong in testing and with Hamilton new to the team, it will be fascinating to watch who will emerge as the number 1 driver for them. Nico Rosberg has shown flashes of brilliance in his F1 career, but is yet to deliver them consistently. The Red Bull Racing duo of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel are "free to race" against one another, as are both Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez at McLaren and Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean at Lotus. The only certain No.1 driver amongst the top teams is once again Fernando Alonso, who, thanks to his widely considered brilliance and success behind the wheel of an F1 car, has a considerable edge over fellow team mate Felipe Massa.

Another uncertainty is the way the teams will handle the development of their 2014 car while the season is still underway. It's custom for F1 constructors to look into regulation changes for the upcoming season and 2014 will mark a massive turning point in terms of car design and engine formula. Start production and development for these new cars is also key, especially considering the fact that the season's racing calendar has not yet concluded. This can lead to a considerable edge once the testing phase for the 2014 season gets underway. This appears a long way away but in a sport that is as fast paced as Formula 1, both on and off the track, nothing can happen quickly enough. I, for one, can't wait to see all this unfold.


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