2013 Formula 1 season review


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Has that line been used somewhere before?

This wasn’t so much a tale of two cities, though, as a season of two halves. The first was defined by brittle Pirellis, to whose limitations teams were obliged to adapt – performance being sacrificed at the altar of tyre life. The second belonged uniquely to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, who won all nine Grands Prix after the short summer recess.

As Gary Anderson pointed out in Motor Sport’s recent podcast, enforced conservatism didn’t prevent the Vettel/Red Bull combination being most effective during the first phase of the campaign. That said, one can only imagine how many races he might have won – rather than merely 13 from 19 – if he’d been able to untap the RB9’s full potential from day one.

New rules for 2014

As has happened before in the slipstream of a lopsided season, the sporting authorities have reacted with jerked knee – hence the ludicrous adoption of a double-points finale from 2014, not that such a thing would have made a scrap of difference this season just past.

After Michael Schumacher clinched the 2002 world title in July, the FIA altered the scoring and cut the difference between first and second places from four points to two, the instant consequence being a system that rewarded mediocrity.

At the end of the following year, Kimi Räikkönen travelled to Suzuka with a chance of wresting the title from Schumacher, despite having won only one race to the German’s six. Indeed, he would have done so had the double points system been in place at the time – a detail that amplifies the proposition’s nonsensical nature.

It smacks of a desperate quest to sustain viewing figures rather than a readiness to accept the sport’s realities. Sometimes F1 seasons conclude with a flourish – 1958, 1962, 1964, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1999, 2007, 2008 and 2010, to name but a few – and equally often they don’t. Can you imagine double points being awarded on the final day of a soccer season, or double runs being awarded on the final day of an Ashes test (much as that might help England at present)?

Neither can I.

For all his superiority, Vettel still struggles to attract the kind of accolades afforded to drivers with lesser track records, largely because he is perceived to have done most of his winning in the best cars. It’s the manner of his victories, though, that impresses – the way he takes strategic fluctuations in his stride and improvises as required. Carp all you like about the kit, he uses it brilliantly and – at 26 – has probably still to nudge his peak.

That’s another reality.

Assessing the F1 grid

As for the rest, Mark Webber had a dignified swansong in his fifth and final season as Vettel’s team-mate – and pulled off one of the season’s best moves by leaving the sport on his own terms. A lengthy Porsche contract will serve him well both on and off the track.

Ferrari spent most of the year bolting fresh bits onto its F138, only to find that precious few worked. Despite having probably only the fourth most effective car, Fernando Alonso still managed to salvage second in the final standings – albeit 155 points south of Vettel.

Mercedes took several steps forward, but possibly selected reverse in the campaign’s slipstream by allowing Ross Brawn to slip through its fingers. Will a younger, less experienced management team be able to conjure the political delicacy required to get the best from serial firebrand Lewis Hamilton, whose more natural speed was often countered by Nico Rosberg’s more thoughtful approach?

Lotus made a flying start, its E21 sufficiently gentle on fragmenting Pirellis to allow Kimi Räikkönen the luxury of a two-stop strategy (one fewer than rivals) in Melbourne. The Finn fell out of love with the team during the season’s course, however, relations not helped because the team failed to match his efforts – specifically when it came to salary payments.

On the flipside, Romain Grosjean grew in stature, maturity and just about everything else to emerge as a worthy future team leader… assuming there’s still one to lead.

Final standings: top 10
1. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault (397 points)
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari (242 points)
3. Mark Webber, Red Bull-Renault (199 points)
4. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-Benz (189 points)
5. Kimi Räikkönen, Lotus-Renault (183 points)
6. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes-Benz (171 points)
7. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault (132 points)
8. Felipe Massa, Ferrari (112 points)
9. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes (73 points)
10. Nico Hülkenberg, Sauber-Ferrari (51 points)

Driver market heats up

Towards the year’s end, the team made no secret of the fact that it wanted the available, swift and terminally overlooked Nico Hülkenberg to replace Räikkönen, assuming money from loquacious – but sluggish – investor Quantum Motorsports was forthcoming.

We’re still waiting, so Lotus signed the erratic but bolivar-rich Pastor Maldonado, the very driver Hülkenberg outscored almost three-to-one when they were GP2 team-mates in 2009 (the German took the title as a rookie, while Maldonado – in his third season at that level – placed sixth).

It’s a sign of the times, rather than lap times, and a return to Force India is scant reward for Hülkenberg, after a string of fine drives for Sauber. He has yet to spend two consecutive race seasons with the same F1 team, which is vaguely ludicrous.

McLaren opted for a design that was radical in terms of a) front suspension layout and b) not being sufficiently competitive to register a single podium finish. Force India and Toro Rosso faced their usual Sisyphean task in midfield, while Williams slipped behind them as the team struggled to get on top of an aero problem that left the FW35 with an unstable rear end. Rookie Valtteri Bottas got stuck in and showed flashes of real promise, while Maldonado mostly just sulked.

At the back, Marussia got the better of rival Caterham – helped by some terrific, low-key cameos by Ferrari reserve Jules Bianchi. It’s a stark barometer of the task both face, though, that the quickest of their cars was 3.2sec off the pace during Q1 in Brazil (a short lap, remember) in 2010, their inaugural season… and 2.5sec adrift this time.

At that rate of progress, midfield’s comfort might be several seasons away.

More season reviews
Anthony Peacock’s WRC review
Mat Oxley’s MotoGP review, part one
Mat Oxley’s MotoGP review, part two
Alex Harmer’s BTCC review
Gary Watkins’ WEC review

Click here for more from Simon Arron

f1  The real Vettel

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