Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Many of the pre-season changes to Formula One originally promised a very exciting season. Lewis Hamilton left McLaren – the team that launched his racing career – to join Mercedes. Lewis’s portentous move may have signified his new team were serious about regular wins. Sergio Perez had shown sparks of brilliance and replaced Hamilton at McLaren; the Woking team was hoping to utilise the Mexican’s talents. Adrian Sutil returned to Force India, and there was a slate of rookies: Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi took the reins at Marussia; Giedo van der Garde raced for Caterham; Esteban Gutierrez started at Sauber; and Williams had promoted third driver Valterri Bottas, who had demonstrated astonishing speed in many first practice seasons in 2012.
In preparation for major changes in technical changes in 2014, there were small modifications to safety rules, so most F1 cars in 2013 were evolved from their 2012 counterparts. Tyres became generally softer than their 2012 versions. Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembrey said: “The 2013 season continues the philosophy adopted by Pirelli last year in evolving the original 2011 range of Formula One tyres. The goal is to continuously set new challenges for the drivers and to ensure that all the teams start the new season on a level playing field when it comes to the tyres.”
Around the streets of Melbourne, it originally appeared that three teams had obtained the right levels of wear on their tyres: Lotus, Ferrari and Force India. The Australian Grand Prix was a tense strategic battle between Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso, where the Finn eventually triumphed. Force India picked up 7th and 8th, whilst Lewis Hamilton dashed for fresh rubber near the race’s end, attaining 5th. Defending champion Sebastian Vettel qualified on pole, but was 22 seconds behind Räikkönen by the final lap.
The Red Bulls charged forth in Malaysia. The furious fight between Vettel and Mark Webber invoked stern words from Team Principal Christian Horner; particularly after both cars were told turn down their engines. Despite these coded orders, Vettel swept around Mark Webber for the victory. Post-race, Webber snapped at his team-mate: “Multi-21, Seb; Multi-21!” The Red Bull’s Malaysian dominance was not exported to China: Fernando Alonso took a great win, followed by Räikkönen and the newly-competitive Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. The Bahrain race had the exact same podium as in 2012: Vettel took the win, with the Lotus cars of Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean on the next two steps. In Catalunya, Fernando Alonso was powered to a great victory by the cheering Spanish crowd, and his Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa attained his only podium of the year.
The Spanish race was chaotic, featuring 82 pit-stops. Alonso had succeeded through a rare four-stop strategy, leading to many vocal concerns over the Pirelli tyres, which seemed to have the durability of thin plastic bags. Vettel’s vacillating performances were due to the severe problems that his RB9 was having with tyre wear, despite its aerodynamic superiority.
The Monaco Grand Prix featured a resurgent Nico Rosberg taking the chequered flag, though the Mercedes’s strategy appeared focused on tyre preservation, heavily slowing the rest of the field. Valterri Bottas managed to qualify his inferior Williams car to 3rd on the Canadian GP grid, though Bottas slipped backwards, and did not even finish in the points – over a lap behind race-winner Vettel. Respects are paid to the track marshal at the Montreal race who died from injuries sustained in his duties. Formula One – as with all motorsport – simply would be impossible without the brave work these marshals do.
Britain has managed to consistently provide exciting races, though 2013’s one will be remembered for decidedly wrong reasons. The British GP was punctuated by delaminating tyres: the unravelling rubber brought out the safety car and ruined the races of Hamilton, Massa and Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne. Vettel suffered his one and only failure of the season whilst leading, handing the victory to Rosberg. The celebrations over these wins were spoiled when it was revealed that Mercedes – in their 2013 car, no less – had taken part in a secret test with Pirelli. As punishment for bringing the sport into disrepute, Mercedes were banned from Pirelli’s remedial test in Silverstone. In Germany, Jules Bianchi’s abandoned car began rolling backwards, instigating an instant safety car. Räikkönen was unable to catch Vettel, so the German had his first home win, with Grosjean holding off Alonso for third.
Tougher tyres were made for the Hungaroring, with numerous new restrictions on the degrees of camber and bans on tyre-swapping. The Hungarian GP saw Lewis Hamilton to become the first Brit to win in a Mercedes since Stirling Moss. Grosjean had made an astounding move on Felipe Massa on the outside of Turn 4, but received a drive-through penalty for slightly leaving the track. After this race, Vettel reached 172 points, with Räikkönen in range with 134 points, Alonso had 133 points and Hamilton had 124.
These revised rules enhanced the Red Bulls, designed by Adrian Newey. Sebestian Vettel won consecutively the last nine races of the year, establishing an astonishing new record, and equalling Michael Schumacher’s 2004 record of 13 wins in a single season. At tracks necessitating high down-force set-ups, like Singapore, Vettel annihilated the competition – building a 22 second lead over Rosberg, after a safety car, in just ten laps.
These revisions had a deleterious impact on other teams, such as Force India, who earned 59 of their 77 points in the first eight races. Ferrari also came worse off. Neither Mercedes could keep up with Vettel’s new pace, but did attain the silver medal in the Constructors’ Championship. The McLaren’s MP4-28, despite two strong drivers in Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, remained uncompetitive throughout the season, often taking low scoring positions. Only Button’s fourth place in the last race of the season – the Brazilian GP – avoided an historic embarrassment; finally triumphing over the Force India’s VJM06 in the Constructors’ Championship.
Last year, Romain Grosjean was labelled “a first-lap nutcase” by Mark Webber, a charge which was sometimes deserved. There were even flashes of that dangerous form in Monaco, when his Lotus crashed into the rear wing of Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso. After the summer break, where Grosjean had a child and sought a psychologist, the Frenchman was dramatically transformed. Super Grosjean now combined his ferocious pace with delicate and considerate race-craft. A lack of engine air pressure prevented a second place in Singapore, and Grosjean finished no lower than fourth for five consecutive races. Grosjean led the early laps in Japan, and might have won the Race of the Americas, if only the blue shell of unreliability debilitated Vettel’s winning streak.
Toro Rosso finished the championship in eighth, which was unreflective of the STR8’s competitiveness, designed by James Key. Daniel Ricciardo’s performances have earned him a place at the main Red Bull team. Williams had a despondent year, even being accused by their driver Pastor Maldonado of deliberate sabotage. Both the backmarker teams, Caterham and Marussia, showed impressive reliability.
After a proud career in Formula One, Mark Webber moves to racing Porsche supercars in the World Endurance Championships. With new technical rules and another raft of rookies, 2014 should be a fascinating year.