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Formula One preview: New era promises shake-up

Photo: Hasan Jamali/AP

New rules will make Sebastian Vettel's bid for a fifth straight F1 championship a steeper challenge.

(AP) -- For jaded Formula One fans weary of Sebastian Vettel's dominance in recent years, an overdue shake-up is coming.

A switch to six-cylinder turbo engines has forced a radical redesign of the cars, with the aim of making the sport more relevant to the car industry and tempting major auto makers back to F1.

While such changes tend to ultimately benefit the big teams, who have more resources to put into design and trouble-shooting, the change could see some of the major players struggle early.

How the teams adjust to the technical challenges will be the major theme of the season's racing, with juicy subplots such as how Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen manage what could be a combustible relationship as teammates at Ferrari.

Off the track, there are also major issues, most notably the future of the sport's commercial boss with 83-year-old Bernie Ecclestone facing bribery charges in Germany. Many eyes are also on Michael Schumacher, who remains in a coma in a French hospital months after he suffered head injuries in a skiing accident.

Preseason testing has raised some eyebrows, with Vettel - who will be aiming for his fifth straight drivers' championship in 2014 - and his Red Bull team struggling with a series of technical problems, while Felipe Massa at his new team Williams the unlikely name at the top of the timesheets.

It will be tough to bet against Red Bull and designer Adrian Newey quickly coming up with solutions to the preseason glitches, but Vettel knew the restricted running in preseason put his team at a disadvantage for the March 16 season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

"We haven't done enough laps, the speed is not there compared to some other teams, so we have to wait and see when we get there," said Vettel, who last season matched Schumacher's record of 13 victories in a year and equaled the nine consecutive wins of Alberto Ascari. "There's no reason to paint everything black. We know that it's a difficult time but everyone is aware of that and motivated to get out of it, get going and find out where we are."

If Red Bull is off the pace in Australia and the early races, it will have plenty of opportunities to catch up in the 19-race season. The Russian Grand Prix is the new addition to the calendar in October, while the Austrian Grand Prix returns in June. The Korean Grand Prix has been dropped, while the Indian Grand Prix is off for 2014 ahead of an expected early-season return in 2015.

Red Bull's preseason struggles have been caused by Renault's teething problems with the new V6 engine and associated parts of the power train. That has also impacted the other Renault-supplied teams: Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham.

The trouble for Renault is that the engines have now been set for the season ahead, with no major changes allowed, so there is a fear the problems will be difficult if not impossible to resolve.

The Mercedes-powered teams have flourished in preseason, with the eponymous factory team a clear favorite for the early races to build on the second-place finish in 2013, while Williams and Force India have looked strong, less so McLaren. The Mercedes teams did roughly twice as many laps in preseason testing than the Renault or Ferrari-powered cars.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who will sport the No. 44 on his car this season as F1 switches to personally-chosen numbers instead of the previous season's finishing order, was playing down his favorite status for Melbourne.

"We have a strong package but I don't feel we are guaranteed to be the guys ahead," Hamilton said.

Mercedes does have the benefit of continuity because it is one of only two teams to retain the same driver pairing from 2013, along with Marussia.

There has been plenty of shuffling in the 2014 driver lineup but not many new faces. The debutants in Melbourne will be Kevin Magnussen at McLaren, Marcus Ericsson at Caterham and 19-year-old Russian Daniil Kyvat at Toro Rosso, while Kamui Kobayashi returns at Caterham after a year away.

The most intriguing driver pairing is at Ferrari, where Raikkonen returns to partner Alonso - the man who replaced him at the Italian team in 2010.

The Finn has the speed to challenge Alonso as the team's top driver - something Alonso struggled with in his one season partnering then-rookie Hamilton at McLaren. There is also the potential for a personality conflict, with Raikkonen's well-crafted languid image being a marked contrast to the Spaniard's disciplined approach.

Vettel's new teammate is Daniel Ricciardo, who replaces Mark Webber and will be a distinct No. 2 to the German. Two promising pairings will be at Force India, where Sergio Perez joins Nico Hulkenberg as both seek to belatedly deliver on their status as the next big things in F1, and at Williams, where the experienced Massa will cast off the long-held No. 2 role at Ferrari and become a team leader alongside promising Valtteri Bottas.

Teams and drivers for the 2014 Formula One championship:

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RED BULL

Base: Milton Keynes, England

Constructors' Championships: 4

2013 Constructors' Championship: 1st

Engine: Renault

Team Principal: Christian Horner

Test Drivers: Sebastien Buemi, Antonio Felix da Costa

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Sebastian Vettel

From: Germany

Age: 26

Debut: 2007 U.S. Grand Prix

Races: 120

Wins: 39

Pole Positions: 45

Fastest Laps: 22

2013 Drivers' Championship: 1st

Best performance in Drivers Championship: 1st (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)

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Daniel Ricciardo

From: Australia

Age: 24

Debut: 2011 British Grand Prix

Races: 50

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 0

Fastest Laps: 0

2013 Drivers' Championship: 14th with Toro Rosso

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 14th (2013).

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MERCEDES

Base: Brackley, England

Constructors' Championships: 0

2013 Constructors' Championship: 2nd

Engine: Mercedes

Team Principals: Toto Wolff (corporate), Paddy Lowe (racing)

Test Drivers: Sam Bird, Paul di Resta

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Nico Rosberg

From: Germany

Age: 28

Debut: 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix

Races: 147

Wins: 3

Pole Positions: 4

Fastest Laps: 4

2013 Drivers' Championship: 6th

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 6th (2013)

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Lewis Hamilton

From: Britain

Age: 29

Debut: 2007 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 129

Wins: 22

Pole Positions: 31

Fastest Laps: 13

2013 Drivers Championship: 4th

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 1st (2008 with McLaren)

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FERRARI

Base: Maranello, Italy

Constructors' Championships: 16

2013 Constructors' Championship: 3rd

Engine: Ferrari

Team Principal: Stefano Domenicali

Test Drivers: Pedro de la Rosa, Marc Gene, Davide Rigon

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Kimi Raikkonen

From: Finland

Age: 34

Debut: 2001 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 193

Wins: 20

Pole Positions: 16

Fastest Laps: 39

2013 Drivers Championship: 5th (with Lotus)

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 1st (2007 with Ferrari)

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Fernando Alonso

From: Spain

Age: 32

Debut: 2001 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 216

Wins: 32

Pole Positions: 22

Fastest Laps: 21

2013 Drivers Championship: 2nd

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 1st (2005, 2006 with Renault)

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LOTUS

Base: Enstone, England

Constructors' Championships: 0

2013 Constructors' Championship: 4th

Engine: Renault

Team Principal: Gerard Lopez

Test Drivers: Charles Pic, Nicolas Prost, Marco Sorensen

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Romain Grosjean

From: France

Age: 27

Debut: 2009 European Grand Prix

Races: 45

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 0

Fastest Laps: 1

2013 Drivers Championship: 7th

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 7th (2013)

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Pastor Maldonado

From: Venezuela

Age: 28

Debut: 2011 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 58

Wins: 1

Pole Positions: 1

Fastest Laps: 0

2013 Drivers Championship: 18th

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 15th (2012 with Williams)

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MCLAREN

Base: Woking, England

Constructors' Championships: 8

2013 Constructors' Championship: 5th

Engine: Mercedes

Team Principal: Eric Boullier

Test Driver: Stoffel Vandoorne

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Kevin Magnussen

From: Denmark

Age: 21

No races

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Jenson Button

From: Britain

Age: 34

Debut: 2000 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 247

Wins: 15

Pole Positions: 8

Fastest Laps: 8

2013 Drivers Championship: 9th

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 1st (2009 with Brawn)

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FORCE INDIA

Base: Silverstone, England

Constructors' Championships: 0

2013 Constructors' Championship: 6th

Engine: Mercedes

Team Principal: Vijay Mallya

Test Driver: Daniel Juncadella

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Sergio Perez

From: Mexico

Age: 24

Debut: 2011 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 56

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 0

Fastest Laps: 2

2013 Drivers Championship: 11th (with McLaren)

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 10th (2012 with Sauber)

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Nico Hulkenberg

From: Germany

Age: 26

Debut: 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix

Races: 57

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 1

Fastest Laps: 1

2013 Drivers Championship: 10th (with Sauber)

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 10th (2013 with Sauber)

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SAUBER

Base: Hinwil, Switzerland

Constructors' Championships: 0

2013 Constructors' Championship: 7th

Engine: Ferrari

Team Principal: Monisha Kaltenborn

Test Drivers: Giedo van der Garde, Simona di Silvestro, Sergey Sirotkin

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Esteban Gutierrez

From: Mexico

Age: 22

Debut: 2013 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 19

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 0

Fastest Laps: 1

2013 Drivers Championship: 16th

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 16th (2013)

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Adrian Sutil

From: Germany

Age: 31

Debut: 2007 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 109

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 0

Fastest Laps: 0

2013 Drivers Championship: 13th

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 9th (2011 with Force India)

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TORO ROSSO

Base: Faenza, Italy

Constructors' Championships: 0

2013 Constructors' Championship: 8th

Engine: Renault

Team Principal: Franz Tost

Test Drivers: Sebastien Buemi

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Jean-Eric Vergne

From: France

Age: 23

Debut: 2012 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 39

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 0

Fastest Laps: 0

2013 Drivers Championship: 13th

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 13th (2013)

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Daniil Kyvat

From: Russia

Age: 19

No races

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WILLIAMS

Base: Grove, England

Constructors' Championships: 9

2013 Constructors' Championship: 9th

Engine: Mercedes

Team Principal: Frank Williams

Test Drivers: Felipe Nasr, Susie Wolff

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Felipe Massa

From: Brazil

Age: 32

Debut: 2002 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 191

Wins: 11

Pole Positions: 15

Fastest Laps: 14

2013 Drivers Championship: 8th (with Ferrari)

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 2nd (2008 with Ferrari)

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Valtteri Bottas

From: Finland

Age: 24

Debut: 2013 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 19

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 0

Fastest Laps: 0

2013 Drivers Championship: 17th

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 17th (2013)

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MARUSSIA

Base: Banbury, England

Constructors' Championships: 0

2013 Constructors' Championship: 10th

Engine: Ferrari

Team Principal: John Booth

Test Drivers: To be announced

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Max Chilton

From: Britain

Age: 22

Debut: 2013 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 19

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 0

Fastest Laps: 0

2013 Drivers Championship: 23rd

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 23rd (2013)

---

Jules Bianchi

From: France

Age: 24

Debut: 2013 Australian Grand Prix

Races: 19

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 0

Fastest Laps: 0

2013 Drivers Championship: 19th

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 19th (2013)

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CATERHAM

Base: Leafield, England

Constructors' Championships: 0

2013 Constructors' Championship: 11th

Engine: Renault

Team Principal: Cyril Abiteboul

Test Drivers: Robin Frijns, Alexander Rossi

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Marcus Ericsson

From: Sweden

Age: 23

No races

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Kamui Kobayashi

From: Japan

Age: 27

Debut: 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix

Races: 60

Wins: 0

Pole Positions: 0

Fastest Laps: 1

2013 Drivers Championship: Did not compete

Best performance in Drivers' Championship: 12th (2010, 2011, 2012 with Sauber)

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