By Phillip Horton on Wednesday, January 2, 2013
The magnificent 2012 season may well be consigned to the history books, but the upcoming year promises to be another fantastic season of Formula One. We may not even be halfway through the off-season, but fear not, as car launches and testing begins in less than a month’s time. Here’s what to look forwards to in 2013… and there’s a surprising amount of sub-plots…
Vettel aims to make it four
Only three men in history have won four world championships. With relatively stable rules, and following a strong second half to 2012, can Vettel kick on and become the youngest quadruple Formula One champion? Moreover, will we see a stronger all round package after the trials and tribulations of 2012?
Alonso still aiming for three
Despite Fernando Alonso being widely regarded as the all-round best driver, he has now gone six seasons without winning the championship. On three of those occasions, he has entered the final event with a chance of the crown. After an outstanding 2012 season, can he lead Ferrari forwards once again? How he bounces back after such a battling, but ultimately fruitless, season will be intriguing.
The rejuvenation of Massa
Felipe Massa ended the season as a man reborn, culminating in his emotional podium in Brazil. Massa’s pace and performances improved from Monaco onwards, with the results really showing as the season drew to a close. In a team dominated by the mercurial talent that is Alonso, simply getting close to the Spaniard is a good result. Massa cannot afford to begin 2013 as he started 2012. Beginning 2013 as he ended 2012 will justify Ferrari’s continued loyalty.
Perez at McLaren
Sergio Perez may have spent the last few races getting into scrapes, but beneath the ragged edges there is a talented racing driver. It’s easy to forget that the Mexican is still inexperienced, but in the MP4-28 he will have a very good car at his disposal. How the relationship between Perez and Button develops – ten years between them both in age and F1 experience – will also be intriguing to watch, as well as how the team copes on a Saturday, with neither driver citing qualifying as a key asset.
Hamilton flies the nest
Lewis Hamilton has always been with McLaren. This year, he is not. He is now a Mercedes driver. No-one can be quite sure what the W04 will allow Hamilton to achieve results-wise, but the 2012 season shows that Hamilton is at the top of his game. Even in a sub-par car he may still shine; you only have to look at how Alonso’s reputation has grown in cars that haven’t been the best.
Just how good is Nico Rosberg?
It is one of F1’s million dollar questions. Ever since his arrival on the scene in 2006, it’s been difficult to rate Nico Rosberg in comparison to his team-mates: Mark Webber, Alex Wurz, Kazuki Nakajima and Michael Schumacher. Rosberg has shown, in parts, to be a driver capable of challenging at the top. In Lewis Hamilton, he has a front running driver as his team-mate. 2013 could be Rosberg’s defining season.
Lotus aiming for the title
Lotus was a revelation in 2012, but now it’s time to kick on and properly challenge the top three of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren. The E20 was a fundamentally good car that lacked one lap pace, which hindered their progress in the race. Can Lotus improve Saturday performances and move further up the grid?
More Kimi Raikkonen
Yes yes yes. He’s back for another season with Lotus and, although it’s quickly becoming a worn out cliché, he knows what to do. The sport is richer courtesy of Raikkonen’s presence on the grid.
First Lap Nutcase or champion in waiting?
Although every F1 fan should want Kimi Raikkonen to stay in the sport forever, he is not the long term future of Lotus. That honour is bestowed to Romain Grosjean, but the amicable Frenchman needs a strong 2013. He has the pace and racecraft to become a world champion – several races from 2012 testify that – but he has to cut out the first lap collisions, albeit some of which were not his fault. It’s time to dispel the First Lap Nutcase tag.
The Incredible Hulk at Sauber
The Sauber C31 was a competitive car that could have won a race. Nico Hulkenberg was one of the stars of 2012, once he got going – a theme throughout Hulkenberg’s career in single seaters. A podium will be a minimum requirement, assuming the C32 is comparable to the C31, while a race win might also be a target. Ferrari will be watching.
Hotly tipped rookies
It’s always difficult to know what to expect from F1 rookies, but Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) and Valtteri Bottas (Williams) have been tipped to shine by those who have worked alongside them. Gutierrez is fast and wild, while Bottas supposedly has the speed to rival Pastor Maldonado. There will be the inevitable errors, but studying their progress will be fascinating. How will Hulkenberg and Maldonado react to their rookie team-mates?
A fightback from Faenza
Although Toro Rosso’s 2012 season was underwhelming, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne showed flashes of brilliance to suggest that they have a long term future in the sport. STR was cut adrift from a strong midfield last year, meaning that 2013 will be crucial for both racers and they will be hoping that new technical director James Key can strengthen the squad. Don’t be surprised if Antonio Felix da Costa joins the revolving door at STR if one of Ricciardo or Vergne underachieves in the eyes of Helmut Marko.
The battle at the back
Neither Caterham nor Marussia has made huge noises about moving into the top 9 in 2013, but getting nearer to the points should be possible. Both teams will take steps further towards the midfield, although the focus appears to be on 2014. Nevertheless, it’s highly probable that these two teams will battle it out for the financially lucrative tenth place, a task made a little simpler now that HRT has exited the sport.
20 races, classic tracks
Okay, so it might end up being nineteen if a venue cannot be found for race twenty, but we’ve got another set of classic tracks to host the 2013 championship. Monte Carlo, Montreal, Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Singapore, Suzuka and Austin all return, while the season will begin and end in its rightful locations: Melbourne and Interlagos.
DRS rules changing
It may seem like a minor change, but in practice and qualifying drivers are now only permitted to use DRS in the allocated zone – or zones – rather than anywhere on track. This could actually help Ferrari, whose qualifying struggles in 2012 were suggested to be instability under braking when the DRS reattaches. Will the reduced DRS usage over one lap help improve Ferrari’s Saturday pace; their two 2012 pole positions came in the rain, where DRS is not used.
Farewell to the V8s
The V8 engines may not sound as great as the V10s or V12s of the past, but the engines that have been raced since the start of 2005 have become the most reliable in history and enabled the sport to see close, competitive racing. Besides, anyone standing trackside won’t complain about the noise of a V8!
Politics, politics, politics…
The last couple of seasons have been relatively quiet on the political front. The Concorde Agreement has yet to be officially ratified, while discussions over the 2014 rules, particularly regarding the engines, is set to be a prevalent theme. Who’s going to end up with which engine…?
No more stepped noses!
Not since the days of Alain Prost had F1 become so obsessed with ugly noses, but in 2013 a ‘vanity panel’ is available for teams to cover the stepped nose and create a smooth, aesthetically pleasing, transition.
More exciting Q1
The first twenty minute segment of qualifying has been a little dull on occasion over the past three years, with the Q1 victims usually consisting of two Caterhams, two Marussias, two HRTs and a Toro Rosso. But with six cars now out of Q1, it means that seventeenth place will no longer be safe enough to make Q2. Saturday afternoon might get a little trickier for some midfield runners.