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Chaos and confusion at starting line

Sir Humphrey Appleby might have been comfortable with the technical jargon which pervades Formula One but it can induce the vapours in many others.

Lee McKenzie says Sebastian Vettel may struggle at start
Lee McKenzie says Sebastian Vettel may struggle at start

As we gear up to the launch of the new championship campaign in Melbourne this weekend, for instance, people should be asking whether Sebastian Vettel can maintain his supremacy over his rivals or whether the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso can regain the initiative.

Yet, there is at least one Scot in the midst of the action who seems clued up on the raft of changes which have been implemented in 2014. Lee McKenzie, the BBC's pit-lane reporter, has grown accustomed to the have-suitcase, will-travel nature of flying around the globe and sticking her microphone into the faces of the luminaries. Better still, she can tell her ERS [Energy Recovery Systems] from her elbow and seems unfazed by the sport's continual redrafting of the regulations.

This season, for instance, there are new rules a-plenty: the previous 2.4litre V8 engine has been cut to a to 1.6litre V6 turbo with hybrid boost; every gearbox must last six races (which is two more than in 2013); the Pirelli tyres will be one kilo heavier and downforce will be reduced by 15% by cutting rear wings and front wings to help overtaking; and there will be double points for the final race of the campaign in Abu Dhabi, allied to a new totting up system for drivers hit with penalties, which means multiple offenders face an automatic one-race ban.

Some of these innovations have been controversial, to say the least. And, as McKenzie told Herald Sport, there are genuine concerns over how they might affect events at Albert Park. "This is the biggest set of changes we have ever seen in F1 and there are lots of concerns among the teams, because nobody really knows how things will go this weekend," said the woman from Ayrshire. "I've heard worries that only a handful of cars will qualify for Sunday's main event, while others have told me they are fearful their cars won't make it to the chequered flag, because of the introduction of a fuel limit, which is going to make drivers change their style and their tactics and get used to fuel conservation.

"One or two of the drivers are looking different from the way they did last year. Lewis Hamilton, for instance, is full of confidence, he has lost weight, but gained a significant amount of knowledge from working with his Mercedes crew and I expect him to challenge for the title from the outset. In fact, he is my favourite at this stage."

Where this leaves Vettel, who is bidding to win a fifth consecutive championship - a feat achieved by Michael Schumacher between 2000 and 2004 - is unclear, but the normally affable German has been wandering around with a frazzled look in the last few weeks and there were even reports of a hissy fit with his mechanics as he strove to adjust to the shock of the new.

Red Bull, now denied their super-reliable V8 vehicle, have been similarly rattled and Vettel's words betray his underlying anxiety. "It is just a bloody difficult time, because it is hard to make all these changes in such a short time," he said. "Right now, it is impossible to have any expectations at all.

"It's tough to calculate where we are, but it's fair to say we are not favourites to win in Melbourne. But I don't see anybody getting upset, because we all just have to get on with it. Of course, I would prefer to be in better position. But it's worse for the mechanics, crawling around all day on the floor putting the car together for the umpteenth time."

McKenzie thinks their travails may be short-lived - "Red Bull are famous for sorting out any glitches and they will get up to speed pretty quickly" - but there could be early opportunities for their opponents to generate momentum and a hefty points advantage.

It promises to be confusing, chaotic, incident-packed and unpredictable. Which may be exactly what F1 needs after the tedium of Vettel's processional march last year.

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