11 teams battled for the Formula 1 constructors' championship. Only one could take the prize and it was Red Bull who triumphed for a fourth successive season. Here's how they and their rivals fared in 2013.
Infiniti Red Bull Racing | Championship: 1st, 596 points
The Red Bull RB9 – still an evolution of the 2009 RB5 – was beaten to the chequered flag just six times in 19 races and its primary strength was that it could clearly run more downforce than its rivals. The car was limited early on in the season due to the lack of understanding with the tyres, but once Red Bull got their head around them – combined with the modified compounds – they stole a march on their rivals. Renault’s engine mapping enabled Sebastian Vettel to feel comfortable in turning into corners extremely early, which raised questions about traction control, although these were desperate comments rather than justifiable concerns. Very few drivers feel comfortable with the car sliding on corner entry and correcting it by stamping on the throttle, but it’s an aspect which suits Vettel to a tee. Webber didn’t gel with that style, which often left him playing catch-up both in qualifying and the race, with one limitation spiralling into another. The finite aspects of Red Bull’s domination of the era remained a mystery, although damp conditions in Austin briefly showed the air flow to the watching world. The strategy team frequently bested their rivals, with Japan a key example, although the senior management did not deal well with the situation in Malaysia. The mechanics remained the best in the pits, although their desire for a sub two second stop – eventually achieved in Austin – meant there were a few errors, of which Mark Webber bore the brunt. Now heavily linked with Renault - via title sponsors Infiniti - Red Bull branding now features less prominently on the car.
Mercedes AMG Petronas | Championship: 2nd, 360 points
Mercedes leapt from fifth to second, aided by increasing the windtunnel to 60% and boosting the team’s budget at the end of 2011. There were also significant personnel changes, as Norbert Haug departed in place of Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda, while Paddy Lowe joined the team from McLaren. The rear of the car wasn’t as extreme as the Red Bull but the Mercedes was very good at getting its tyres up to temperature, hence the run of pole positions. But the car was harsh on its tyres on race day, especially the rears, and this sent Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg tumbling down the order in Bahrain and Spain. Hamilton took a victory in sweltering conditions in Hungary and the tyre issues were somewhat alleviated (no doubt assisted by the ‘private’ test) but the Brit struggled with feeling the car properly under braking, hindering one of Hamilton’s strongest areas. Mercedes also discovered a chassis problem on Hamilton’s car, which accounted for some of his late season pace deficit. The duo of Hamilton and Rosberg worked well together, although the team will miss the presence of Ross Brawn on the pit wall in 2014. A few technical problems hindered the drivers early in the season, while a strategy errors cost points, most notably in Monaco, Singapore and Korea.
Scuderia Ferrari | Championship: 3rd, 354 points
The F138 began the year as a contender for victories and Fernando Alonso duly obliged in China and Spain, aided by the car’s strong tyre preservation on front-limited circuits. However, an upgrade package introduced in Canada left the team scratching their heads, with its weaknesses badly exposed across a single lap at Silverstone. The team was back on the podium after the summer break at the low-downforce circuits but by then their aero problems and the change of tyre structures hindered their progress. The rear of the car didn’t let the front know what it was doing, leaving the drivers suffering with the machine at their disposal. One key strong point of the car was its strength at the start, which regularly allowed Alonso and Felipe Massa to gain places. Strategy tended to be better than 2012 – when some dubious decisions contributed to losing the title – but early in the year a few wrong calls cost Alonso major points, while Massa occasionally lost positions due to unfavourable pit stops.
Lotus F1 Team | Championship: 4th, 315 points
Lotus once again produced a feisty car that was kind on its tyres. Kimi Räikkönen turned up in Australia, qualified only seventh but eased to the victory after stopping once fewer than his rivals. That strength was utilised early on by the Finn, but that meant tyre warm-up was an issue. Both drivers struggled in the damp in Malaysia, while low-grip conditions in Canada were also problematic. Lotus emerged as a serious contender to Red Bull mid-season, aided by Ferrari’s struggles, while the switch to 2012 tyres aided Romain Grosjean, who is typically more aggressive with the front of the car. Lotus introduced a longer wheelbase car later on in the season, which aided downforce but was not warmly received by Räikkönen, who was also struggling with the modified tyres and a bad back. The E21 was a fundamentally strong car, which was developed well and gained a march on Ferrari and Mercedes in the second half of the year. Off-track, the team struggled with their cash flow and Räikkönen cited it as a key reason to jump ship to Ferrari.
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes | Championship: 5th, 122 points
McLaren’s plummet from title challengers to points contenders was startling. The Woking-based team adopted a radical approach to the MP4-28, including pull-rod suspension, but the team struggled with a general lack of grip. Over bumps the car was particularly bad, while under braking there were also several issues. Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez both struggled with the balance of the car – with the Brit especially at sea when the balance is difficult – and Button was frequently caught out by a balance change or varying grip levels; the pace was regularly good in practice but simply evaporated in qualifying. Saturday was not a strong point of either driver, which often left them playing catch-up in the race and meant that the loss of Hamilton was particularly felt. Button’s smoother approach was contrasted with Pérez’s more attacking style but neither driver could work wonders. Calls were made as early as Australia for McLaren to abandon the MP4-28 in favour of 2012’s iteration, but the team opted to retain faith in a car whose potential was ultimately severely limited. McLaren kept pace with the rate of development, but they were inevitably always a significant chunk down on their rivals at the front. Title sponsors Vodafone depart after seven years with McLaren.
Sahara Force India | Championship: 6th, 77 points
In a season defined by tyres, Force India was the team caught out by the mid-season change. In the early part of the year, the team was able to run lightly on their rubber, qualify well and race even better. Adrian Sutil led in Australia, while Paul di Resta embarked on a sequence of top 10 race finishes. But the tyre switch hurt the team and they began dropping out in Q2, leaving them mired in the midfield with a recalcitrant car. The drivers made errors as they battled the increasingly difficult machine, although matters briefly improved once Force India completely abandoned the car at their home race in India. However, fifth place in the championship could have been achievable had the team been more reliable early in the season. A captive wheel nut failure in Malaysia forced both drivers out, while a slow pit stop restricted Sutil in Spain. Strategic calls were also poor, as di Resta was eliminated several times in Q1 when he was a top 10 contender, with the Brit thrown out of qualifying in his home race for an underweight car.
Sauber F1 Team | Championship: 7th, 57 points
Sauber tried to copy the Red Bull package in their design of the C32 but struggled woefully, causing the rear end to be going anyway but forwards for much of the first half of the season. The narrow sidepods were visually striking but this simply exacerbated the rear end problems. An upgrade package for the Italian Grand Prix worked wonders, allowing Nico Hülkenberg to challenge for podium positions. The improvements were best demonstrated in Italy and Korea, where the increased traction and high top speed permitted Hülkenberg to stay ahead of his rivals, without losing too much time through the high-downforce section in the middle sector. Rookie Esteban Gutiérrez struggled with the ill-handling car and despite his improvements, Sauber was a one car team for much of the season. Financial constraints were thrown into public view courtesy of deal with Russian investors - meaning Sergey Sirotkin joins as test driver next year - while retention of Gutierrez owes much to continued support from Mexican telecommunications giant Telmex.
Scuderia Toro Rosso | Championship: 8th, 33 points
Toro Rosso moved up a position in 2013 thanks to Williams’s struggles and enjoyed a brief flourish mid-season. Daniel Ricciardo excelled in qualifying, while Jean-Eric Vergne’s brilliance in low-grip conditions in Monaco and Canada led to strong results. The drivers were significantly split as Ricciardo performed better at longer-radius corners in hot conditions, while Vergne was prominent at circuits that required an aggressive, attacking style. The mid-season switch to 2012 tyres hurt the car, particularly at the front end, which left the STR8 struggling with its tyre usage towards the end of the race. Ricciardo’s frequent Q3 appearances also left him running out of tyres during the race, which was often accentuated by Toro Rosso’s strategists being outwitted by their midfield rivals. Brake issues plagued the team for a few races – notably in Korea – but eighth place was the maximum position available with the tools at the team’s disposal. Technical director James Key is improving the squad, although having a factory in Italy and a windtunnel in England causes limitations.
Williams F1 Team | Championship: 9th, 5 points
Williams took a bold gamble with the exhaust blowing on the FW35 but were caught out, causing the car to handle badly and unpredictably. The aggressive Pastor Maldonado could not get the feel from the front end of the car that he required and grew frustrated, while Valtteri Bottas’s smoother approach reaped rewards, especially in qualifying in Canada. However, the pace of the car was brutally exposed in the dry and he tumbled down the order. Improvements were made late on in the season after concept was completely abandoned, which allowed Bottas to score four points in Austin. Williams focused too heavily on the front wing of the car, which detracted attention from other areas of the car. That the car was a contender again for the final few races must raise questions about why so much focus was diverted into a failing concept beforehand. The technical department was restructured mid-season, with the experienced Pat Symonds roped in to oversee changes. Loss of Maldonado three years into five year deal with oil giants PDVSA means that the team receives compensation, while there were hints in Brazil from deputy team principal Claire Williams that a major sponsor has been signed.
Marussia F1 Team | Championship: 10th, 0 points
Marussia secured 10th place in the championship after focusing on their reliability early on in the year, with their decision rewarded (the clincher was Jules Bianchi’s 13th place in Malaysia). KERS was added for the first time and there were very few reliability issues with their new device, while the team then switched their attention to 2014. The last major upgrade came for the Spanish Grand Prix and they inevitably slipped behind Caterham afterwards, although remaining within touching distance of their rivals. The financial constraints on the team mean that they regularly punch above their weight in terms of pace, while an inspired tyre choice in Belgium allowed both cars through to the second segment in qualifying.
Caterham F1 Team | Championship: 11th, 0 points
Caterham abandoned significant progress on 2013 and subsequently lost out on 10th place during the early season flyaways to Marussia, when they effectively raced with a tweaked 2012 car. A major upgrade package arrived for the Spanish Grand Prix, with most development focusing on the front wing and the exhaust. The balance of the car improved, but by the time gains were being made, greater focus was placed back upon 2014. The team frequently bested Marussia but the low attrition in 2013 removed hopes of gaining tenth place back from their rivals. They also suffered more reliability problems than their nearest rivals, with Charles Pic particularly affected. A vanity panel was briefly added but this was a season to forget for the green team.