Key F1 staff leave posts
Norbert Haug’s departure from Mercedes-Benz marks the end of an era for the German manufacturer, and emphasises that Niki Lauda has become a major player for the Stuttgart marque.
Former journalist Haug joined the company in October 1990 to run its motor sport activities, which were then focused in sports cars. In addition to ensuring that Mercedes became a major player in F1 — even buying its own team just as rivals were pulling out — he also oversaw considerable success in the DTM and F3.
However, the lack of results in F1 over the past three years weakened his position, which was made even less tenable after Lauda was brought in as chairman of the board late last year.
In another surprise development, Mark GilIan (below) has left his job as chief operations engineer at Williams after barely 18 months in the role. The highly regarded GilIan played a key role in reviving the team’s fortunes in 2012.
Teams prepare for two-way challenge
What promises to be a fascinating 2013 F1 season will officially kick into gear when testing gets underway at Jerez on February 5.
The last year with 2.4-litre V8s will be full of intrigue for many reasons, not least because of the build-up to the new turbo era in 2014.
The cars we will see in 2013 will be subtle developments of those that raced last season, and indeed thanks to relatively minor tinkering with the rules from year to year, they actually have a heritage that stretches back over several seasons.
These days F1 is all about the relentless quest to find performance over the course of a campaign. Regulatory continuity means that most of the last-minute R&D work done by teams in last year’s title fight will continue to pay dividends.
That won’t be the case as we head into 2014. The new turbo engines and associated energy recovery systems mean that the next generation of cars requires a clean sheet of paper.
The top teams have long had groups of engineers dedicated to 2014 concepts, and at some point this summer the focus of the entire R&D staff will shift to the new car and away from the model being raced. Inevitably, that will happen earlier than usual.
Even for teams with seemingly unlimited resources, that process is bound to compromise ongoing progress on their 2013 models as the championship battle approaches its climax. How teams manage that conundrum— without leaving themselves a step behind heading into ’14 —will be one of the keys to the season.
The changes for 2013 may be minor, but there is still some work to do. Pirelli has modified its tyres, and having had a chance to try prototypes only on the Friday of the 2012 Brazilian GP the teams will have to adjust to the new spec. There’s also a clampdown on double DRS systems, a key area of development last year. That comes in tandem with a restriction on the use of DRS: in practice and qualifying its use will be limited to zones where it can be used in the races, whereas before it could be deployed everywhere. DRS is thus less valuable over a lap than it was.
Meanwhile much attention will be focused on Lewis Hamilton and how he fares with new paymaster Mercedes. Many were sceptical about his decision, but Ross Brawn has created an impressive pool of technical talent and this will be the first season when the fruits will be seen. There’s clearly a hope that by dropping out of last year’s development race early, Mercedes has been able to make a big leap for 2013.
Sergio Pérez’s form at McLaren will also be of huge interest as the team adjusts to life without Hamilton, and Jenson Button has a chance to assert his authority. And while there are no line-up changes at Red Bull or Ferrari, it won’t be long before the futures of Mark Webber and Felipe Massa — both on one-year deals — become subjects of debate.
However, the big story will unfold behind closed doors at Brixworth, Maranello and Viry-Chitillon as Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault hone turbo engines for 2014. It’s anyone’s guess as to who will get it right. Adam Cooper
Chilton ready for GP chance
Max Chilton’s arrival at Marussia ensures that Britain will have four drivers on the 2013 F1 grid, and the 21-year-old from Surrey now has the chance to prove that he’s up to the job.
It’s no secret that like his brother Tom — a leading light in touring cars — Max has been propelled through the ranks with the financial backing of his family, and inevitably that has caused some observers to question his credentials.
Although he had a modest record on the way up, Chilton impressed in his third season of GP2 last year, winning the Saturday feature races in Hungary and Singapore and finishing fourth in the championship — an achievement that more than justifies the opportunity he’s landed.
Crucially he also impressed Marussia team principal John Booth, who is taking on his fourth rookie in as many years. Chilton has been employed as a reserve driver since the autumn and Booth says that “his development has been rapid in all aspects”.
It’s worth noting that this time last year little was expected in similar circumstances of Charles Pic, but once he found his feet the Frenchman gave team-mate Timo Glock a hard time, and had built a solid reputation by the end of the season.