Australian Grand Prix heralds biggest set of rule changes as F1 goes green | Paul Weaver

Traditionalists fear worst but the shake-up – bar double-points decision for the last race – should be applauded in general

Even Nostradamus did not make any predictions about the 2014 Formula One world championship, when the sport faces probably the biggest set of rule changes in its history.

Many traditional F1 fans have been dismayed by the prospect of cars that will be heavier, slower and quieter as the sport embraces green technology. After all, they have inhabited a land of noisy and sometimes vulgar excess and do not understand words such as "efficiency" and "economy".

Yet the rule changes, viewed as a whole, must be embraced with enthusiasm because, principally, they will shake up the old order as never before. The deck has not only been thoroughly shuffled but many of the cards will be strewn on the floor after the first race of the season in Australia on Sunday.

Red Bull, who have dominated the past four years, are unlikely to do so this time, at least not for the opening few races. The engine represents the most fundamental change of all – it is now a 1.6-litre V6 turbo instead of the 2.4-litre V8 – ending years in which they have been a little too reliable and samey.

That means F1 will no longer be all about aerodynamics. And the four teams who hold Mercedes engines – Mercedes themselves and their customers at McLaren, Williams and Force India – appear to have the advantage over those that have Renault or Ferrari power units. It will not be a bad thing to see Red Bull playing catch-up.

The initial fear that the new cars would be about as fast as those in GP2 has already been disproved. Some are faster in the straights then they were last year and at some tracks they may even be faster overall. And if the corners have been torquey and slower, the wheelspin encountered is both a challenge for the drivers and a thrill for the fans.

The energy recovery system, which replaces Kers, is also to be applauded, a more integral piece of equipment that generates twice as much power and places F1 where it always should be: at the cutting edge of technology and innovative design. It generates energy under braking and more power using waste heat from the engine's turbocharger.

A fuel limit has been introduced but it is not as harsh as some suppose: these cars will use less fuel, with much of the power coming from the hybrid technology. On average, cars will be running about two?thirds of the fuel load they carried last year.

The biggest problem, especially in the early races, will be reliability, with perhaps half the field failing to make it to the chequered flag, but that can be an entertainment in itself. In the past few years the cars have been a little too reliable and predictable. Aesthetically, the look of the car is less of a triumph. Those anteaters look ugly, even though the lowering of the nose has been introduced for safety reasons. The front wing has also been narrowed, the exhaust pipe moved and the DRS opening increased.

Away from the car, a number of things have been done to make F1 life more interesting, including a prize for the driver winning most poles, and permanent driver numbers, which must come from between two and 99. This could lead to the creation of some iconic digits, which in turn could open up marketing opportunities. Meanwhile, teams can use four drivers instead of two during Friday practice, which will enliven the show.

The worst change of all, a crass piece of thinking that cheapens the sport, has been to award double points for the last race in Abu Dhabi on 23 November, to help sustain interest until the end of the season. This forgets that two of Sebastian Vettel's four championships went to the wire. Having got many things right, this is an absolute howler.

The changes

Engine The biggest difference of all, with a 1.6-litre V6 turbo replacing the old 2.4-litre V8 as F1 turns green. It is the first time we have seen turbos since 1988. The new engine will produce 600bhp, while the old version was capable of 750bhp, but extra power will come from the new ERS system.

Energy recovery system (ERS) This replaces Kers and produces more power, an extra 160bhp against 80bhp, and it can be used for just over 30 seconds per lap. It works by generating power using waste heat from the turbocharger, while generating energy under braking.

Fuel This is one for the strategists, with fuel limited to about two-thirds of what it was before. Each car is allowed a maximum of 100kg (about 135 litres) per race. Before, there was no limit, but most cars carried around 160kg. The new limit means the driver must work closely with his engineer.

Weight The minimum weight has been raised from 642kg to 691kg. This is because of the increased weight of the new power unit. It has placed extra pressure on the drivers to be as light as possible before a race.

Double points The daftest change of all. The sport has decided to award double points for the last race in Abu Dhabi on 23 November in the hope that interest in the destination of the championship will last longer. It could have been worse: there was a move to make this apply to the last three races.

Rear wing The lower beam wing has been outlawed and the main plane is shallower. The DRS slot is bigger than in 2013.

Front wing This is narrower, reduced from 1800mm to 1650mm. The maximum nose height has also been dropped from 550mm to 185mm

Penalty points A driver will be banned for one race if he collects 12 penalty points on his superlicence during a 12-month period. For smaller infringements, stewards can also impose a five-second penalty.

Central exhausts One central exhaust pipe, turned upwards to stop the flow being used to produce downforce via the diffuser, replaces last season's double tailpipes.

Gears Gearboxes will have eight forward gears instead of seven, which each team must nominate before the start of the season.

Testing In-season testing makes a comeback. Four two-day tests will be held in the course of the year, with the first one coming after the Bahrain Grand Prix next month.

Pole prize The driver who wins most poles in 2014 will be awarded a new trophy. If tied, the trophy will go to the driver with most second places.

Driver numbers Drivers can now choose career numbers, between 2 and 99. Number 1 will be reserved for the champion driver, although he does not have to use it.

Friday drivers Teams can now use four drivers, instead of two, in Friday practice, although there are still only two cars. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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