After an absolutely enthralling 2012 Formula 1 Season that saw 8 different winners (including an unprecedented 7 from the 1st 7 races) the most since 2003 and an unprecedented 6 World Champions competing, the F1 circus resumes in earnest on March 5th for 1st practice in Melbourne, Australia for the opening round of the 2013 F1 Season. The 2012 Season saw a record 20 races on the Calendar including the return of the United States Grand Prix for the first time since 2007, this time at a new circuit in Austin, Texas. This season shall only feature 19 races as the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain has been dropped as the venue is now going to alternate hosting the Spanish Grand Prix with Barcelona and the proposed New Jersey Grand Prix has been postponed until 2014.
This season marks the last hurrah for the current 2.4 Litre V8 engines that have been the norm since 2006 and the current F1 Regulations, introduced in 2009 as well as a ban on the double DRS briefly pioneered by Mercedes and Lotus last year. From next year, 1.6 litre V6 Turbos shall rule the roost. The cars themselves should look much better this year with the introduction of the vanity panel to cover up the controversial stepped-nose that featured on 9 of the 12 teams’ cars last season and generally looked out-of-place.
As for the teams themselves, there are only 11 teams contesting the 2013 season following the demise of H.R.T at the end of 2012 meaning the number of cars to be eliminated in each of the first and second parts of qualifying drops to 6.
On the drivers front, there are 5 newcomers for this season, Esteban Gutierrez, Valtteri Bottas, Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton which should bring the total number of F1, F2 and Indy 500 drivers to have started a round of the F1 World Championship during its entire existence to a nice round 750! (637 F1, 103 Indy, 10 F2. Remember, the Indianapolis 500 was included as an F1 World Championship round from 1950 to 1960 and F2 entrants occasionally raced alongside the F1 entrants in the 1950’s and 1960’s, believe me I have counted).
The 2013 F1 Driver Line-Up:
Red Bull Racing-Renault
1. Sebastian Vettel
2. Mark Webber
With all the driver changes only 4 teams remain unchanged and one of which is defending triple Champions Red Bull Racing. After dominating the 2011 Season with the RB7, Sebastian Vettel was initially playing catch-up in 2012 without the benefit of off-throttle blown diffusers, only winning the Bahrain Grand Prix prior to Singapore. At that race, Vettel took advantage of Lewis Hamilton’s retirement to win and promptly went on to win in Japan, Korea and India to put his title hopes back on track as Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari was no match for his Red Bull. In the end, an enthralling final round in Brazil saw Vettel claim 6th place and win his 3rd straight title by 3 points. Only Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio have previously achieved this. Vettel will most certainly be the favourite to make it 4 in a row in 2013 but the opposition will be more determined than ever to beat him unless the great Adrian Newey can help it. Australian Mark Webber has also been retained once again, having endured an up-and-down season in 2012. Having been soundly thrashed by his German team-mate in 2011, Webber found the RB8 more to his liking in 2012 and proceeded to regain his 2010 form and claim victory at Monaco and Silverstone. But as Vettel’s performances improved in the 2nd half of the season, Webber’s tailed off and he dropped to 6th overall, his lowest ranking since 2008. Whether that will be the case again in 2013 remains to be seen but this could well be Mark Webber’s F1 swan-song.
3. Fernando Alonso
4. Felipe Massa
One of the most impressive teams of 2012 was Ferrari. The F2012 was as slow as it was ugly at the start of the season and although it improved as the season progressed, it remained only fast enough to get on the podium. In spite of that, the hard-charging Spaniard Fernando Alonso still managed to claim 3 wins, including a surprise win in the wet in Malaysia with Sergio Perez’s Sauber on his tail and led the championship for the vast majority of the season as well as winning at home in Valencia and in Germany. Indeed, Ferrari even benefited from McLaren’s problems to narrowly beat them to 2nd in the Constructor’s championship. Only the car’s constant lack of pace and two unfortunate retirements in Belgium and Japan really hindered Alonso as Vettel gained the upper hand and even then, Alonso still only lost the title by 3 points. A more competitive Ferrari in 2013 should hopefully allow Fernando to challenge for that 3rd title that has already eluded him 3 times now. After failing to impress in 2010 and 2011, Felipe Massa looked to be on his last legs at the start of 2012, the lack of competitiveness of the F2012 notwithstanding. For much of the season, it looked as though Massa would be replaced not just for 2013 but before the end of 2012, especially as Ferrari’s protegé Sergio Perez was impressing so much at Sauber. In the end, Massa’s performances picked up to the extent of scoring his 1st podium since 2010 in Japan and backing that up with 3rd at home in Brazil, thus saving his seat for 2013 which was already looking much safer after Perez switched to McLaren. Could Massa’s return to form in the latter stages of 2012 be just a flash in the pan? Or is the Brazilian genuinely beginning to regain the form he showed prior to his accident in Hungary in 2009? Only time will tell.
5. Jenson Button
6. Sergio Perez
Lewis Hamilton’s departure from McLaren means 2009 champion Jenson Button is now the Woking team’s clear number one and is set to become the most experienced British driver of all time. 2012 did yield 3 wins for Button, the first race in Australia, the last race in Brazil and in between, the Belgian Grand Prix. On the whole though, the British driver’s performances combined with the various problems McLaren experienced during the course of the season were somewhat below par after finishing Runner-Up to Sebastian Vettel in 2011 and proving that McLaren was not Lewis’ team after all. His new team-mate shall be the impressive Mexican driver Sergio Perez. Sergio was of course a Ferrari protegé but the Prancing Horse’s ongoing indecision over what to do about Felipe Massa allowed the McLaren team to snatch the Mexican from under their noses. Perez had a very impressive season with Sauber in 2012, scoring 3 podiums in Malaysia, Canada and Monza. He even came close to scoring the 1st win for himself and Sauber as a privateer in Malaysia, chasing Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari but running wide in the closing stages and eventually losing ground. Perez however, also had more than his fair share of mistakes and collisions and the fact that he failed to score in the last 6 races after his switch to McLaren was confirmed may mean McLaren are taking a bit of gamble by taking him on unless he learns to keep his nose clean a bit more often. He now has a great chance to become Mexico’s first Grand Prix winner since the late Pedro Rodriguez in 1970. This could be the penultimate season for the McLaren/Mercedes combination as the team are allegedly looking to switch to Honda power from 2015.
7. Kimi Raikkonen
8. Romain Grosjean
The most improved team of 2012 was by far the Lotus team. Having won the battle over the rights to the Lotus name, the former Renault/Benetton/Toleman team bounced back from a disappointing 2011 season that had started so well, to become regular front-runners and claim 4th overall in the Constructor’s Championship. The return of 2007 Champion Kimi Raikkonen injected new life into the Lotus team, to a point that their former talisman Robert Kubica was long forgotten. The Finn’s return to F1 after 2 years in the World Rally Championship saw him show such consistency that he finished every race with just one non-score, an all-time record. The E20 was not quite fast enough to beat the McLarens and the Red Bulls but Raikkonen did inherit the team’s first win since 2008 (the 80th for the Lotus name) in Abu Dhabi after Lewis Hamilton retired. Indeed, thanks to the problems encountered by the McLarens, Kimi Raikkonen ended up finishing a distant 3rd overall in his 1st year back and he is still very much at the top of his game. Hopefully, the Lotus will allow Kimi to go for more than just wins in 2013. Kimi’s team-mate remains Swiss-born French driver Romain Grosjean somewhat fortuitously. Having already endured an ill-fated part season in 2009 with the team when they were Renault, Grosjean returned to F1 after winning the Auto GP and GP2 titles, much more prepared in 2012. Unfortunately, despite some impressive performances including 3 podiums, Grosjean very quickly became a magnet for trouble even more than Maldonado and Perez put together! More often than not, Grosjean retired from races after colliding with other drivers, several times on the first lap. After causing a multi-car pile-up at the first corner in Belgium, Grosjean became the first driver since Mika Hakkinen in 1994 to receive a race-ban. He continued to make contact with other drivers to the extent of colliding with Pedro de la Rosa in qualifying in Brazil. Branded a ‘First-Lap Nut-case’ by Mark Webber, Grosjean has nonetheless been given another chance by Lotus for 2013 but really needs to to erase his erratic driving of 2012. If he does, he could potentially become France’s first Grand Prix winner since Olivier Panis in 1996.
9. Nico Rosberg
10. Lewis Hamilton
The current economic climate and other major occurrences such as the (2nd and this time for good) retirement of 7 time World Champion Michael Schumacher, have led to 7 teams changing their line-ups for the 2013 season. The most notable being Britain’s Lewis Hamilton replacing Schumacher at Mercedes after being associated with McLaren since his teens. After a 2011 season that he declared as his worst ever season, Lewis really got his act together in 2012, winning in Canada, Hungary, Italy and America. The British driver was only denied a realistic shot at the title by the combination of the botched pit-stops and reliability woes that blighted McLaren’s season, especially in Singapore and Abu Dhabi when he was leading. Lewis is arguably taking the biggest gamble of his career by joining Mercedes from McLaren but then so did Michael Schumacher when he joined Ferrari from Benetton and look how that turned out! The 2008 Champion joins his former go-karting team-mate Nico Rosberg at a team that looked to be on the up at the start of 2012. It certainly looked that way for Rosberg as the German claimed pole and his first win at his 111th attempt and Mercedes’ first since 1955 in China. The team was unfortunately destined to decline dramatically as the season wore on to extent of failing to score in 5 consecutive races dropping to 5th place in the Constructor’s Championship which they nearly lost to Sauber. Rosberg’s performances therefore were always going to drop off and in the end, he dropped from 7th overall in 2009, 2010 and 2011 to 9th with only 4 more points than he scored in 2011.
11. Nico Hulkenberg
12. Esteban Gutierrez
With Hamilton replacing Schumacher and Perez replacing Hamilton, Sergio’s place at Sauber has been taken by the impressive Nico Hulkenberg. The ‘Incredible Hulk’ already looked promising after his debut season with Williams in 2010 in which he claimed the team’s first pole since 2005. He shook off his 2011 absence with some fine performances for Force India that culminated in him leading the season-closing Brazilian Grand Prix on merit before colliding with Lewis Hamilton. Hopefully, the German can build on the progress made at Force India and if Sauber can capitalise on their best ever season as a privateer team then there is no reason why Hulkenberg should not be able to score a podium or two. That could be a big ‘if’ though since Chief Designer James Key has defected to Toro Rosso. To keep their Mexican sponsors satisfied, Sauber have replaced Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi with Esteban Gutierrez. In Kobayashi’s defense, he did become only the 2nd Japanese to set a fastest lap in China, and the 3rd to score a podium at home in Suzuka during the 2012 season. There has understandably been some controversy over such a decision but winning the 2010 GP3 title and finishing 3rd in GP2 last season shows that Gutierrez does have some potential, maybe not quite as much as his compatriot Perez, but it is definitely there. Remember, this is the same team who unearthed the talents of Raikkonen, Massa, Vettel and Robert Kubica to name but a few.
14. Paul di Resta
15. Adrian Sutil
With Hulkenberg off to Sauber, Britain’s Paul di Resta resumes his role as team-leader at Force India. The Scotsman went into 2012 as team-leader but as Hulkenberg’s performances picked up, di Resta’s tailed off despite narrowly missing out on his 1st podium in Singapore. This may well be the reason why di Resta remains at Force India for 2013 despite being linked to Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes during the 2012 season. 2013 looks likely to be a make-or-break year for di Resta if he is to get into a top team or at the very least, stay in F1. After much deliberation and looking at various drivers, Force India have re-hired German Adrian Sutil for 2013. Sutil missed the 2012 season after being replaced by Hulkenberg and missing out on a seat at Williams. To make matters worse, he was found guilty of committing G.B.H on Renault/Lotus team-member Eric Lux and handed an 18 month suspended sentence. In spite of that, Sutil returns to F1 with the team he has spent his entire F1 career with so far (including his debut year in 2007 when the team competed as Spyker) and only time will tell if he still has what it takes otherwise this may just be a temporary reprieve.
16. Pastor Maldonado
17. Valtteri Bottas
Venezuela’s Pastor Maldonado remains at Williams for a 3rd season in 2013. Having endured a miserable debut season in 2011 in what was Williams’ worst ever and being labelled a ‘pay-driver’, Maldonado appeared to silence his critics with a dominant run to victory in Spain (the first for Williams since 2004 and the first ever for a Venezuelan). But from that point on, he became a bit of a magnet for trouble (but then so did Perez and especially Grosjean) and all too often collided with other drivers, thus only scoring 20 points in the other 19 races. This meant all the progress made by Williams only moved them up one place in the Constructor’s Championship. This year, Maldonado will really need to control his aggression if he is build on the progress made in 2012. It is safe to say Bruno Senna was under pressure to live up to the standards of his legendary Uncle and he did not quite manage to overcome it. The Brazilian has been replaced by F1’s latest ‘Flying Finn’ Valtteri Bottas, the 2011 GP3 Champion who spent 2012 regularly appearing in Friday practice sessions for Williams (at Senna’s expense) in lieu of a progression to GP2. He becomes Williams’ first Finn since Keke Rosberg and if 2012 was anything to go by, Bottas may have picked a good year to race for Williams. It is about time too, he has been a Williams reserve since 2010!
Scuderia Toro Rosso-Ferrari
18. Jean-Eric Vergne
19. Daniel Ricciardo
The last team to retain both of their 2012 drivers are Red Bull’s junior team Scuderia Toro Rosso. For a team that is notorious for sacking at least one of their drivers within a couple of seasons or so, Toro Rosso caused a shock when they sacked both Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari at the end of 2011 despite marked improvement from both drivers. In their place, Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne took over and both immediately fought for points in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. It was Daniel Ricciardo who eventually scored his first points on home soil. Despite his inexperience and the Toro Rosso still languishing at the tail-end of the mid-field ahead of only Caterham, Marussia and H.R.T, the 2009 British F3 Champion still managed to score on 5 further occasions and even placed the car 6th on the grid in Bahrain! It is safe to say Daniel Ricciardo did have a slight advantage over Jean-Eric Vergne thanks to contesting 11 rounds of the 2011 season for H.R.T, his qualifying performances certainly showed that as Vergne tended to struggle in that area. On the whole, it was Vergne, Ricciardo’s successor as British F3 Champion who ended up scoring better results. He only scored 4 times all season after narrowly missing out on a points finish on his debut. Both have been given another chance for 2013 but they will have to learn to how to get it together in both qualifying and race conditions this year, much like Alguersuari and Buemi before them, to remain in F1 beyond this season or at least gain a promotion to Red Bull Racing. There is further pressure for the two drivers to cope with as Red Bull have their latest protegé Antonio-Felix da Costa waiting in the wings, Ricciardo and Vergne have definitely been warned!
20. Charles Pic
21. Giedo van der Garde
As well as Sauber, the other teams to have changed their line-ups completely are Caterham and Marussia. Caterham promised much in 2012 after losing the right to call themselves Lotus such as scoring their first point and breaking into the midfield but ultimately failed to live up to that promise. Indeed, it took a lucky 11th (their best result to date) from Vitaly Petrov to retain 10th place in the Constructor’s Championship on count-back. In spite of that, for financial reasons, the team have replaced both the Russian and Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen for 2013. Their lead driver will be Frenchman Charles Pic, who nonetheless had an impressive debut season with Marussia last year. Indeed, Pic has managed to succeed where his predecessors Jerome d’Ambrosio (his one-off appearance in Grosjean’s place aside) and Lucas di Grassi failed. Moving to Caterham may only be a small step for Pic unless the team can make any significant progress but all he can do in the meantime is continue to impress the way he did at Marussia. Much like Force India, Caterham looked at various drivers for the 2nd seat before finally deciding on Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde. The Dutchman finally graduates to F1 from GP2 after 9 years of trying, having tested for several F1 teams including Super Aguri, Spyker/Force India, and Caterham. Van der Garde becomes the first Dutch F1 driver since Christijan Albers lost his Spyker seat mid-way through the 2007 season. Giedo’s F1 break has been a long time coming and if matters still do not improve at Caterham, his finances may be his only hope of continuing beyond this season regardless of how he performs.
22. Jules Bianchi
23. Max Chilton
Marussia showed much improved form in 2012 after two struggling seasons as Virgin. Indeed, they still failed to score but their form, combined with Caterham’s woes meant Marussia twice manage to seize 10th overall on count-back. Indeed, after Timo Glock put in a heroic performance at Singapore to finish 12th (the team’s best result to date), it looked as though 10th place in the Constructor’s Championship was assured. That is, until the final round in Brazil when Charles Pic lost out to Vitaly Petrov in the battle for 11th in the race, snatching 10th place overall back for Caterham. With H.R.T having gone into liquidation over the winter, Marussia go into the 2013 season once again at the bottom of the entry list. What is more, the financial repercussions of losing 10th place overall to Caterham have prompted the release of the experienced Timo Glock 2 years early. After an attempt to replace the German with Brazilian driver Luiz Razia fell through, the team finally settled upon 2009 F3 Euroseries Champion Jules Bianchi. The Ferrari backed Frenchman finished Runner-Up in World Series by Renault in 2012 after 2 years in GP2 and regularly appeared in Friday practice as a Force India reserve. Indeed, Bianchi was poised to replace Nico Hulkenberg at Force India until the team re-hired Adrian Sutil. Bianchi very much has racing in his blood as his Belgian great-uncle Lucien raced in F1 in the 1960’s and won the 1968 Le Mans 24 Hours. In the low-pressure environment of a small team, Jules Bianchi will just have to keep his nose clean as much as possible and build on the promise he has already shown in the junior formulas. Bianchi’s team-mate, who’s seat was already assured will be British newcomer Max Chilton, forming the first all-rookie line-up since 2010. Chilton has already come under fire for potentially being a pay-driver like so many before him but finishing 4th overall in GP2 last year must show that he does have some talent. Max Chilton was Marussia’s official test and reserve driver during the 2012 season after Spanish lady driver Maria de Villota lost her eye in a testing accident. Like Bianchi, Chilton also has racing in his blood as his older brother Tom is already an accomplished Touring Car driver, winning the 2010 BTCC Independent’s title and now contesting the WTCC. Max Chilton will certainly have a lot to prove in his first season. At least the team have conceived their car using a wind-tunnel instead of CFD for a change and with former Renault team-manager Pat Symonds (of Singapore 2008 infamy) on board, things can only get better.