LONDON, March 7 (Reuters) - Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel will be chasing their fifth successive constructors’ and drivers’ championships in the 19 race season that starts in Australia on March 16. The following considers the prospects of the 11 teams.
Prefixes denote numbers drivers will have on their cars:
1 - Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
3 - Daniel Ricciardo (Australia)
Vettel ended the 2013 season with nine wins in a row but a 10th in Melbourne already looks unlikely. Red Bull’s engine partners Renault have been beset by testing issues and the champions have done far less mileage than Mercedes and Ferrari-powered rivals. Neither driver has done a full race simulation so far. Despite that, the car looks good and has plenty of potential but reliability will be key. Red Bull’s chances depend on how quickly they can fix the problems. Vettel will be even more the main man, with Australian Mark Webber departing and replaced by compatriot Ricciardo, who is quick but has yet to stand on an F1 podium. He must learn the ropes and score consistent points, if the car allows.
6 - Nico Rosberg (Germany)
44 - Lewis Hamilton (Britain)
The early championship favourites. The driver line-up remains the same but there is change on the management side, with Ross Brawn relinqushing the principal role and departing. Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe are running the team in tandem. Mercedes should be setting the pace, at least in the early races, and have plenty of testing laps in the bag. Will Rosberg get the better of Hamilton? The German will be helped by a less aggressive style and strategic nous. Hamilton has raw speed and sheer talent in abundance but that may count for less in a fuel-saving formula likely to reward smoother driving.
14 - Fernando Alonso (Spain)
7 - Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)
Brazilian Felipe Massa has departed and Raikkonen returned in a line-up of champions, one of two ‘roosters’ in the same henhouse. The partnership will be watched closely for signs of sparks and disintegration. Ferrari have told both drivers the team must come first but neither will be happy to be behind the other. The car and engine package has looked solid in testing but with plenty of work still required. Alonso, now in his fifth year at Maranello, is hungrier than ever for success. Ferrari are looking like title contenders again, car permitting.
13 - Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela)
8 - Romain Grosjean (France)
There have been big changes at Lotus, with Maldonado joining from Williams to partner the established Grosjean while principal Eric Boullier has jumped ship to McLaren. Expect plenty of frustration from Maldonado if the car turns out to be worse than the one he left behind. The team had financial problems last year which affected development and some key staff have left. The new car has an innovative split nose but the team have done less testing than others and are way behind on mileage. With money tight, it remains to be seen how Lotus fare as the season goes on, but they are likely to slip down the pecking order.
22 - Jenson Button (Britain)
20 - Kevin Magnussen (Denmark)
The only way is up for former champions chasing their first constructors’ title since 1998 and back under the overall leadership of Ron Dennis. Last year was dismal, without a podium finish in what was by some measurements their worst season since 1966. Button, feeling the loss of his ever-present father who died in January, is the most experienced driver in F1 and will be expected to lead the team and add to his win tally. Magnussen, 21, could be another Lewis Hamilton in the making. His speed is evident, the racecraft yet to be fully assessed.
27 - Nico Hulkenberg (Germany)
11 - Sergio Perez (Mexico)
An all-new line-up of sorts, given that Hulkenberg is returning after a year at Sauber. The German is highly-rated but one of the biggest drivers, which could count against him. Perez joins after a difficult year at McLaren and has a reputation to restore. The Mercedes engine is a clear asset even if the car is no beauty. If top teams suffer reliability problems, then the podium should be within Force India’s reach, at least early on. A first win cannot be discounted, such is the degree of uncertainty about how the new regulations will pan out.
99 - Adrian Sutil (Germany)
21 - Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico)
A rookie last year, Gutierrez now represents continuity. Sauber will expect more consistency from him now. Swiss-based Sutil brings experience from Force India and is looking forward to the challenge after spending all of his career to date at one team. Money, or the lack of it, could be a brake on performance over the course of the year for a cash-strapped team that fought doggedly to stay afloat last year.
25 - Jean-Eric Vergne (France)
26 - Daniil Kvyat (Russia)
Kvyat has replaced Ricciardo and will attract plenty of interest as the most promising driver yet to emerge from Russia. Last season’s GP3 champion, the Ufa-born driver is as at ease behind the wheel as he is fluent in a range of languages. He’s still only 19 and definitely a talent to watch. Vergne missed out on the Red Bull drive and knows he needs to showcase his talents if he is to have a longer-term future in the sport. The switch to Renault engines from Ferrari may not help him.
19 - Felipe Massa (Brazil)
77 - Valtteri Bottas (Finland)
Williams are looking more and more like a team on the up following the switch to Mercedes power. And they desperately need that, having plumbed new depths last year with just five points on the board. Massa replaces Maldonado and is eager to show he still has plenty to offer despite being eclipsed at Ferrari by Fernando Alonso. Former Ferrari race engineer Rob Smedley has also come on board and the experience of technical head Pat Symonds is starting to show. There are new sponsors and the tidy-looking car set the pace in Bahrain testing and chalked up plenty of laps. After scrabbling about for points in 2013, Williams could be back among the podium contenders.
17 - Jules Bianchi (France)
4 - Max Chilton (Britain)
A switch to Ferrari engines, inevitable after Cosworth quit the sport, is a big step in the right direction for Formula One’s smallest team. The line-up is unchanged, another bonus. Money remains extremely tight, however, and that will limit how much they can achieve in performance terms. A first point might just be on the cards if races prove as unpredictable and the other cars as unreliable as some fear they will be.
10 - Kamui Kobayashi (Japan)
9 - Marcus Ericsson (Sweden)
An all new line-up, bringing crowd-pleaser Kobayashi back to F1 while Ericsson makes his debut. Even the team admit the car is no looker, but they need it to narrow the gap with the midfield runners if team owner Tony Fernandes is not to lose patience. Like all the Renault teams, they have had problems in testing but have also been the most reliable. A challenging season ahead but with more potential than in the past. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)