Ex-F1 driver Derek Warwick believes that the sport will see a “change of the guard” this season.
The 2014 campaign got under way on Sunday, with Mercedes making the early headlines at the Australian Grand Prix.
After impressing during pre-season testing, the German manufacturer maintained their form in Melbourne, with Lewis Hamilton taking pole and Nico Rosberg claiming the race victory.
They have been hotly tipped as the duo to beat this season, with the previously dominant Red Bull looking a shadow of the team who claimed the constructors’ title last term.
World champion Sebastian Vettel was forced to retire after just three laps in the season opener with a power unit problem, while team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified after finishing second as his car was found to have exceeded the maximum permitted fuel flow rate.
Rosberg finished the race 24.5 seconds ahead of Ricciardo, with the McLaren duo of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button eventually completing the top three in the revised standings.
And Warwick, who is president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, believes that fans will see new powerhouses emerge this year.
“I think we’ve got a change of the guard,” Warwick told Perform. “I think the Mercedes are going to be difficult to beat all year, they’ve got two of the strongest drivers as a package in F1.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Lewis Hamilton is the rawest, quickest race driver in Formula One today.
“He’s coupled with Nico Rosberg, who is just a fraction behind him in terms of raw speed but possibly just ahead of him in intelligence and ability to make sure he gets that car to the finish in the best possible situation.
“There is a change of the guard, it looks like we do have a dominant car which is a bit of a shame really but that’s motor racing. It is nice for everyone to see something other than a Red Bull at the front.”
That is not to say Warwick expects it to be an easy drive to the titles for Mercedes, and the former Renault and Lotus driver insisted it would be wrong to discount the defending champions entirely.
“Don’t write off Red Bull just yet,” he continued. “Trying to package these ERS (Energy Recovery System) packages has proven very difficult.
“I think they did a lot of changes between the last test in Bahrain and here (Melbourne), and you have to say that they were competitive.
“I think after four or five races, if they get their act together, that Red Bull will be quick, there’s no doubt in mind, and I think they will challenge.”
Vettel’s retirement in Melbourne added to a difficult testing programme in which he struggled to complete laps on the track due to various performance issues, but Warwick is convinced that the German’s quality will still shine through over the course of the season.
“In terms of Sebastian, I think he’s got the raw end of the stick,” he added. “I don’t think he did a bad job or a poor job (in Melbourne), it was just a case of him getting too many gremlins within the turbo, the energy recovery system etc.
“We know he’s one of the best drivers out there, we don’t need to ponder too much on the fact that he was out-qualified and out-raced.” (Source: scoresway)