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Top Dogs: Who Will Win The F1 Fights This Year?

Part 1

“Rivalries in sport are awesome.”

That’s Mark Webber speaking, and he should know: he was involved in one of the most intense rivalries we have seen for the last few years during his great Formula 1 career at Red Bull.

Webber was looking back at the Prost v Senna days when McLaren’s ‘Dream Team’ turned nightmarish and the two great drivers lost their focus because all they could see was each other.

It wasn’t quite that way with Sebastian Vettel and Webber, and in any case Mark has taken that element of F1 2014 away by going off to sports car racing instead. In the absence of the Vettel-Webber fights, where should we look for our rivalries this season?

If we’re looking at intra-team relationships, the first answer has to be: Ferrari.

Like McLaren all those years ago, the Scuderia has opted to bring together two of the foremost drivers of the day in Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Will the feisty Spaniard and the Flying Finn work it out between themselves?

Their ultimate boss, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, even admitted that putting them together was ‘dangerous’, but it’s a risk the team in red is willing to take as Ferrari seeks its first title of any kind for six years.

Many people, Webber included, believe Alonso to be the best in the business, especially on a Sunday afternoon; Raikkonen starts with the psychological knowledge of knowing he has already been a Ferrari world champion, back in 2007.

And Kimi doesn’t move over – just ask Romain Grosjean and his engineer!

“I don’t see the reason why it wouldn’t work,” said the Finn in Singapore soon after the news of his return to Maranello broke.

“We are all old enough to know what we are doing and for sure the team is working for the right things to make sure. If there is something, I’m sure we can talk it through. It’s not like we are 20-year old guys any more. I might be wrong, but time will tell, but I’m pretty sure everything will be good.”

Why wouldn’t it be? We’re talking about three world titles, 52 Grand Prix victories, 38 pole positions and 60 fastest laps between them, so they know which way the car has to be pointing.

Switching from red to silver, what about Mercedes? They’ve just dominated the first hit-out of 2014 in Jerez and all seems sweetness and light – but will that continue when it comes down to racing for real?

Hamilton has the edge here: he’s a world champion, after all, with 22 wins to his name, while Rosberg has only just started troubling the scorers with three wins of his own.

Does being the German in a German team count for anything in these international days, or will ex-McLaren man Paddy Lowe balance things out for Lewis now he’s followed him to the Silver Arrows?

Those are the teams likeliest to attract our attention if it’s internal rivalries we want – and no, we haven’t forgotten Red Bull Racing, but it will be a pleasant surprise if the next Aussie in line, Dan Ricciardo, can be as big a nuisance to Vettel straight away as Webber was a couple of years back.

Ricciardo is already on record as saying he wants to learn from the four-time champ. “I want to try and get some success,” he says, “and to do that firstly I have to respect him and then go forward from there.”

If you want a clue to Dan’s thinking, check out the animal portrayed on his helmet. It’s a honey badger, and the sweet name shouldn’t deceive us: Dan says it’s the most fearless in the animal kingdom, a cute little guy who can turn into a bit of a savage. Was the endlessly smiling driver thinking of the animal in the cockpit?

The Jerez test just gone suggested that Red Bull (and especially Renault) have some catching up to do already in the early days of the ‘new’ Formula 1. All fans will hope, for the sport’s sake, Vettel is seriously challenged, especially as viewing figures dropped because of what Bernie Ecclestone described as “the less than competitive nature of the last few rounds” of the 2013 championship.

Just to remind you, Seb won nine on the trot at season’s end en route to a crushing title win…

Not so long ago we had F1’s ‘Big Five’ in action, meaning Vettel-Webber-Button-Hamilton-Alonso. With Jenson’s McLaren squad in rebuilding mode, we should perhaps discount him as a serious contender and Webber isn’t in the mix any more.

So the quintet this year is likely to be Vettel-Rosberg-Hamilton-Alonso-Raikkonen.

Can Kimi rattle Seb’s cage in a red car? Is Alonso able to use the Finn’s experience to develop the F14-T into a championship-leading machine from the outset? Is Nico ready to step up another gear into this exalted company?

The odds on Rosberg look very tasty before the season gets under way. He has matured into the real deal, and beneath that urbane exterior there lurks a very fine and determined driver.

But in this uncertain age of power trains and turbo-charging, in the end it could be the team rather than the driver who decides it – and that’s what we shall consider in the second part of our mini-series.

As Webber says, rivalries in sport are awesome…

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