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Story highlights

The biggest shake-up of Formula One rules for two decades hits the sport in 2014.

The hybrid cars have a new turbo engine and rely on more power from recovered energy

Cars must race with less fuel and are subject to aerodynamic design changes

Red Bull design guru Adrian Newey says 2014's competitive order will be a guessing game

CNN  — 

Formula One cars are undergoing some major technical changes for the 2014 season.

With a reconfigured engine and chassis to consider, as well as new fuel and weight limits, F1 teams will be working flat out in the off-season to get their cars ready for testing early next year ahead of the first race at Melbourne in mid-March.

But will the regulation changes make a difference to the sport’s half a billion television viewers?

CNN asked some of the sport’s main protagonists for their expert opinion on what the 2014 revolution really means.

Engine wars

Formula One’s 2.4-liter V8 engines have been consigned to the scrapheap and the wraps are about to come off the new generation of 1.6-liter V6 turbos.

Next season’s speed machines will be hybrids, galvanized by a power train where 600 bhp of power comes from the engines – compared to 750 bhp in 2013. The rest of the juice will come from kinetic energy recovered under braking – a concept that has been in F1 since 2009 - and thermal energy from exhaust gases.

The new energy recovery system has the shorthand name ERS and aims to ramp up the sport’s green credentials as well as chime more closely with technical advances in road cars.

Between them, Renault – the power behind Red Bull’s era of dominance – Ferrari and Mercedes will supply engines to all the teams in 2014.

After nearly three years in the planning, the manufacturers will get their first taste of who has the more efficient and reliable power train when preseason testing begins in January.

“One of the big challenges is making sure when we hit the ground in January that the whole thing functions correctly,” Rob White, who heads up Renault Sport F1’s engine team, told CNN.

“These new engines are extremely challenging in many respects – to come close to matching the present generation of F1 engines is a big, big ask. Reliability is going to be an even bigger challenge.

“F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport – it has the word motor in it – and the spotlight will be on the motor unit more particularly in the early days of this rules cycle.

“My feeling is that there will be a period in the beginning which will display those differences (between the old and new engines) which will be visible even to non-expert eyes.”

A new tune for motorheads

The soundtrack to F1 is definitely changing.

The switch from an eight-cylinder, naturally-aspirated engine to turbo-charged six-cylinder engines means a new sound will reverberate round the track and through TV sets worldwide.

The fierce mechanical squeal of the V8s – often compared to a swarm of angry wasps – will be replaced by a softer, lower-pitched hum.

The trio of engine suppliers have posted teasers of how the turbo engines will sound online, and the new noise appears to have saddened and even angered many of the sport’s fans.

“The cars will sound different but they will still sound impressive, and they will still sound loud,” White assured.

“It’s like asking whether you like Motorhead or AC/DC. Both in concert are still pretty loud.”

A new look for 2014 models

Engines may be hogging the headlines, but 2014 also introduces tweaks to the aerodynamic rules which dictate how the cars look.

The car design rules affect four main areas – the nose and front wing, the rear wing, the cooling systems and the exhaust.

But will watching fans be able to play “spot the difference” between the 2013 and 2014 cars when the new chargers roll out of the garage?

“If you went to someone in the street who doesn’t normally look at cars and said ‘spot the difference’ they wouldn’t see it,” McLaren sporting director Sam Michael told CNN.

“A normal Formula One audience will, however, see a difference, for sure.

“Physically, the front of the car will look quite different. The front of the chassis has come down by 75 millimeters, the whole nose has been lowered and the front wing has come in 75 mm each side.

“The back of the car is completely different because there will be no rear lower wing and the upper rear wing is smaller.

“Now the exhaust comes down the sidepods, but in 2014 that’s all gone, the exhaust will come out through the middle of the car.

“It’s all going to look very different.”

Read: Lewis Hamilton eyes level playing field in 2014

The cars may look different from their current incarnations, but will each team produce a distinct design next season?

“It’s likely that the packaging will have a greater variety next year than we’ve seen in the last couple of decades,” McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh told CNN.

One particular hot spot to watch is the front of the car – Caterham technical director Mark Smith says the nose of the 2014 models could be “strikingly different up and down the grid.”

Design revolution?

A major change in F1’s technical rulebook can open the door to innovation.

The last shake-up in 2009, for example, saw the dawn of the double diffuser, a clever interpretation of the rules which helped Brawn Grand Prix win that year’s world driver and constructor championships.

Brawn, which now competes as Mercedes, was one of three teams to launch cars with the innovation while rivals, including Red Bull, soon raced to add the aerodynamic device to their cars.

But Smith, the man overseeing the design of Caterham’s 2014 car, predicts there won’t be any game-changing innovations wheeled out next season.

“The double diffuser happened because of a creative idea that wasn’t universally spotted by the teams,” Smith told CNN.

“I don’t know if there is anything in (the 2014 rules) of that order.”

Read: Discovering the real Sebastian Vettel

The regulations that govern car design are carefully laid out in millimeters by the sport’s governing body the FIA, whose main aim is to curb spending and speed, and increase safety.

Even Red Bull chief technical officer Adrian Newey – the design genius behind the car that has raced to the last four world titles – conceded the scope to come up with an inventive interpretation of the FIA’s design handbook is “increasingly getting smaller.”

But even if there is a slither of a chance to be creative and gain a competitive edge, that is what drives on F1’s thinkers.

“From a technical point of view, it’s extremely exciting,” Michael, a former technical director at the Williams F1 team, said with a twinkle in his eye. “I can’t even sleep at night.

“Seriously, sometimes you do struggle to sleep because you think, ‘Oh wow, we can do this and that’ and ‘Oh God I hope no-one else has thought of that.’ That’s what we do.”

Endurance racing

The men behind the wheel may have only just hung up their gloves after another intense season, but there is no time for F1 fatigue with new rules on the horizon.

“There are so many massive changes,” Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg told CNN.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen and where the main performance advantages are going to come from, whether the engines are going to be deciding things between the different teams or whether it will be more the car – we’ll have to wait and see.”

Read: Sebastian Vettel’s lonely life in the fast lane

There is one particular challenge the drivers will have to adapt to in 2014: finishing a race with less fuel on board.

The green theme continues as 2014 cars can guzzle 100 kilograms of fuel during the race, compared to 150-160 kg in 2013.

Renault engine chief White also explains another key change: “There is a fuel flow limit. The instantaneous fuel consumption will be limited to 100 kilos per hour above 10,500 rpm. Last season there was no limit and typically a 2.4-litre V8 ran about 160 kilos per hour at the end of the straight.”

Both these changes mean the cars will be very different to drive.

The key change for the drivers will be managing the fuel consumption of the car. Even before these changes, drivers were often told over the pit-to-car radio to save fuel during races.

“There will be a lot of fuel-saving early in the race,” Force India driver Adrian Sutil told CNN. “It will be a big challenge.

“It will be like a long endurance race like at Le Mans, that’s how you drive.

“I expect (to see) some cars at the beginning([of the 2014 season) rolling out with one lap to go without fuel on board, so it opens up some opportunities. It could well be a chance for smaller teams to finish in top positions.”

But White believes that, even with one eye on the gas gauge, the essence of how a race is won will remain the same.

“It’s difficult to overstate how game-changing the importance of fuel efficiency becomes, but it is perhaps a little difficult to grasp how absolutely compatible that is to going racing,” he explained.

“The lap time will be very similar, the overall car performance will be very similar. These are still going to be races, the fastest car will still win.”

Guessing game on the grid

There is an adage in Formula One that a big rule change can shake up the order of the grid and, to echo the biblical parable, the first could be last and the last could be first.

In reality, the teams with the most resources – the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes – have more time, staff and money to develop their cars than those on limited budgets like Caterham and Marussia.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has estimated that the 2014 rule change could cost his champion team an extra $33 million – a whopping figure that suggests it might be harder than ever for the sport’s have-nots to close the gap on the teams at the top.

Read: Red Bull guru predicts spicy 2014 season

“I’m not someone who subscribes to big regulation changes leveling the playing field,” agreed Caterham technical director Smith. “I don’t think that happens.

But could there be a glimmer of hope for fans hoping for a more competitive season?

“This time around it could be different,” Smith added. “Engine manufacturers have had to go back to the drawing board.

“The pecking order on the grid is as much about the power unit regulation change as anything else.”

Is there a chance that Red Bull, the dominant force in F1 for the last four seasons, could slip up when the new era dawns?

“Yes there is,” said Whitmarsh, whose McLaren team is hoping to race back to the front after an uncompetitive 2013 season. “There is a chance (Red Bull’s engine supplier) Renault could.”

Even Newey, who favors car design based on evolution not revolution, concedes that the sport is entering the unknown.

“The car that will brush aside all others will be a car having the combination of good engine and good chassis,” he said.

“Who will come up with the ideal combination? That’s the big guessing game for all of us.”