Nico Hulkenberg believes that the F1 establishment will continue to be shaken up as the teams work to understand the new technical formula in front of them this season.
The German finished sixth in the first race of the new turbocharged V6 era in Melbourne but, with the likes of reigning world champion Red Bull and pre-season pacesetter Mercedes both running into problems, acknowledges that there is little that is predictable so far in 2014.
With Hulkenberg's sixth place being backed up by Sergio Perez's promotion into the points several hours after the Australian Grand Prix had finished, Force India heads to round two in Malaysia this weekend holding down fifth place in the constructors' standings, but the German sees no reason why that cannot be improved as the teams race to hone their new machines.
“This year, we'll see bigger jumps and changes in the pecking order during the season,” he reasoned, “There are still some teams that need to sort out their issues and they will probably become stronger. All teams, including us, will have room for improvement and development is going to be very fast.”
With pre-season testing leaving teams with more questions than answers, Melbourne provided a boost for the Force India squad, with Hulkenberg admitting that the opening round had passed off more smoothly than he had anticipated.
“I tried to be open-minded going into the race and, in reality, it was all quite straightforward,” he confirmed, “It almost felt like a normal race from last year, with no major surprises.
“We had issues with front left graining in the race, which we didn't have all weekend. I think it was due to the cooler temperatures and it cost quite a bit of performance in the first two stints on the soft tyre. On the medium it was pretty good.
“There were no concerns for us with the fuel management, which was helped by the extra parade lap and the early safety car, and we ran reliably during all the sessions, which is a big positive to take forward.”
The new era of F1 has brought more than just new technology, with the drivers having to adjust their driving style to cope with increased torque and lower grip levels, amongst other traits. Hulkenberg, however, revealed that some things haven't changed that much.
“Again, it's not too dissimilar to last year,” he noted, “It's a bit slower because of the regulations and you feel the loss of downforce compared with 2013. Overtaking also seemed to be quite difficult, unless you are following a car that is really struggling. For example, you could see that Fernando [Alonso] couldn't really make a move on me.”
With that in mind, however, the German is looking forward to returning to Sepang this weekend.
“Malaysia is going to be a tough challenge with totally different track characteristics and higher temperatures, which always leads to higher tyre degradation,” he concluded, “It should be a good test of the new cars because it's much more open than Melbourne, with a nice variation of high and low-speed corners, plus two long straights.”