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F1 2013 – Why not to expect the unexpected

Several elements need to be considered: the 2012 tournament, the off-season and the winter testing.
Sunday, March 10, 2013

March 10th, 2013 (F1plus / Jordan Irvine).- The 2013 Formula 1 season is just around the corner; with little less than a week until cars take to the track in Melbourne, Australia for the first free practice session of the new year, teams, cars, tyres and equipment are already arriving at the track. A new season is always something that is held in high anticipation – the cold of winter is shaken off by the warmth of the Australian and the fire-up of Formula 1 engines fresh off the factory floor ready for the 19 race calendar that lies ahead. There’s a buzz in the air at the first race that can only be experienced at the first race of the season – old friends are re-united and new friends quickly made. Experienced rivals meet new rookies, and teams that have adapted, lost and added new members over the off-season are seen in new team gear for the first time.

It is therefore common practice to start thinking about the season ahead – predictions, thoughts, expectations, hopes and excitement are all part of the build-up process. But before we get into this year, it is customary to review the season prior to this.

Too much happened in the 2012 to recap in detail, so if you really need a meticulous review I’d advise reading my coverage from last season or watching the F1 2012 season DVD. But in short, the main thing to take from last year was that Sebastian Vettel won his third consecutive World Drivers’ Championship, whilst also leading his team Red Bull Racing to their third consecutive World Constructors’ Championship. Fernando Alonso challenged for much of the season, but in the end could not overcome the strength and consistency of Vettel as he made a late season charge for the Championship he would eventually win.

The infamous off-season

To kick-start the off-season, the biggest news in Formula 1 (besides Vettel and Red Bull’s Championship wins) was the collapse of the HRT Formula 1 Team. The 2012 season had not even come to a conclusion before rumours started circulating of HRT’s financial problems, and the team had apparently handed out redundancy notices to staff even before arriving at the final race of the season in Brazil. With 58 races entered, and only 56 started, HRT failed to score a single World Championship point in almost three full, unsuccessful seasons in Formula 1.

Lacking sponsors and financial backing, the team eventually folded at the end of the 2012 season. Assets have since been sold off to pay back some of the debt to creditors and the team is simply another failed attempt at competing in the worlds’ most glamorous motor sport. The usual ‘who will drive where’ hype also took place during the off-season – some driver changes had already been confirmed during the 2012 season such as the huge move that saw Lewis Hamilton jump the McLaren ship to join Nico Rosberg at the Mercedes AMG F1 Team – replacing the second time retired Michael Schumacher. Other driver confirmations took longer; most ‘back-marker’ teams changed at least half, if not all of their driver line-up as the ‘pay driver’ controversy occupied the F1 off-season headlines.

Force India and Marussia were key players in the news that was being churned out – Force India waited until the final two days of the third (and final) pre-season test in Spain to announce their second driver (Adrian Sutil beat Jules Bianchi to the seat – the team cited ‘experience’ as the main reason) whilst Marussia made a last minute change to their line-up, replacing Luiz Razia with Jules Bianchi when Razia ran into ‘financial complications’ before even getting one Formula 1 race under his belt.
The end result saw complete new driver line-ups at Caterham, Marussia and Sauber, whilst Williams, McLaren and Force India added just one new driver to their teams. Ferrari, Red Bull Racing, Lotus and Toro Rosso retain the same drivers for the upcoming season as they had for 2012.

Testing Testing 1-2-3

Formula 1 2013 pre-season testing, if we’re being completely honest and truthful, did not hold the same level of excitement as 2012 pre-season testing did. Why I hear you ask? Well the answer is simple – there were few rule changes in the 2012 off-season to really make a difference to the year ahead. Sure the FIA have allowed modesty panels to cover the ‘ugly’ noses the majority of cars sported in 2012, making them more ‘aesthetically pleasing’ to the fans and viewers at home, but that’s about all the rule changes will allow fans to actually see. There have been other changes which have allowed teams to re-work their exhaust systems and so forth, but no real ‘steps forward’ from last season. And when fans can’t ‘see’ a lot of changes, there is a lot less interest.

2012 pre-season testing was exciting the second the first car, Caterham’s CT01, was launched – immediately labelled as the ‘platypus’ nose, the style was adapted by all but two teams and everyone wanted to see how the changes would affect the drive of the cars. Fans turned out in force at testing, and media from the world over flew in to get a first glance of the cars up close. Everyone also wanted to see how closely the Ferrari F2012 actually resembled the Ferrari F1 Lego model from years before too..!

2013 pre-season testing was a lot more routine. Multiple laps of tyre warming and long ‘race-simulation’ stints, the usual aerodynamic runs, and general pre-season preparation was on the agenda. There was little by way of major dramatics; Pedro De La Rosa’s Ferrari F138 catching fire and Lewis Hamilton’s first crash in a Mercedes were about as high as the level of excitement got at any one time. In short, pre-season testing seemed to pass with little to talk about except the start of the new season, which brings us to now.

What to expect in 2013

As the entire Formula 1 circus starts to descend on Melbourne for the inaugural race of the season, it seems that everyone is making some kind of attempt to predict what will happen in the races ahead. Everyone is looking for some kind of under-dog who will step out this season, or some kind of change that will rock the F1 world. Whilst there is no doubt in my mind that some events of the season ahead will certainly be worth talking about because we didn’t expect them to happen, my advice for the upcoming season would be simple – do not expect the unexpected.

It is not difficult to justify why one should adapt this outlook on the season ahead; this year is a ‘filler’ year, a year where teams will race more because they have to, whilst secondary teams stay in the factory and dedicate their time to the development of the 2014 cars, the year when major changes in the rules mean major changes to the cars. Now do not get me wrong, a year of racing is a year of racing, and watching the worlds’ finest and most skilled racers go up against each other is never something to miss. Like a game of golf, the worst day in F1 is better than the best day stuck at work in an office. But please, for your own sake, do not expect any major jumps on the grid.

I cannot sit here and tell you, before the season has even begun, who will win the majority of races this year – nobody can, no matter how skilled. That is the beauty of F1 racing. What I can tell you though, after carefully monitoring pre-season testing, is that there will be little change in the way of contenders for the World Championships this year.

Red Bull Racing, Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus and Mercedes will continue to dominate the front of the grid, which I am in no doubt of. Red Bull Racing and Mercedes spent much of pre-season testing playing down their progress this year; and mediocre testing runs made onlookers doubt their stability so far this season. I see this as ‘sandbagging’ – purposely playing a psychological game against their main rivals. Ferrari and Lotus seem confident that have developed sound running, reliable cars to compete at the front of the grid, and as long as McLaren work out how to manage their Pirelli tyres this season, they too will push the limits as always. Expect good things from all of these teams.

The middle of the grid will also remain unchanged in my opinion. Sahara Force India, Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso seem ready to battle it out as they did the year before, looking to make up the bulk of the mid-runners and score as many mid-field championship points as possible. I’d expect to see any one of these cars finishing in the top 10 at any race. Williams, Force India and Sauber will be the teams to watch in particular – rookie Vallteri Bottas should provide a much needed boost to a Williams team who has struggled in recent years, whilst the return of Adrian Sutil to Force India will give the team a strong, competitive and consistent driver with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Sauber’s new line-up also combines rookie skill (Esteban Gutierrez) with experience (Nico Hulkenberg).

No change at the back of the grid in 2013 – Caterham and Marussia will be looking to make considerable steps towards the middle of the grid again this year, hoping for valuable World Championship points that will ultimately result in the much needed prize money to prepare for the major changes due to take place in 2014. With little full-time Formula 1 racing experience (only Caterham’s Charles Pic has raced just one season in Formula 1 thus far) it will be interesting to see how the teams match against each other in the early stages of the calendar.

Here are some questions I am constantly getting in the build-up to next weekend’s race; will Sebastian Vettel win a fourth World Drivers’ Championship this year? Will Red Bull Racing dominate their way to a fourth World Constructors’ Championship? Can Fernando Alonso do what he almost did last year, and score Ferrari a long awaited (and needed) Championship? Will McLaren youngster Sergio Perez surprise us all and do something spectacular? Are Mercedes actually competitive despite the teams’ and Lewis Hamilton’s comments in pre-season testing? Can Bottas really be that good, or is his name just good for trending on Twitter?

My answer to these questions? Honestly, I do not know. I can make all the predictions I want, but like every year, it is impossible to know. So instead, I advise; it may be a ‘filler’ year, but as always F1 is the most exciting sport on four wheels – do not expect the unexpected, but do expect the thrills and spills of wheel-to-wheel racing from the second the greens lights go out in Melbourne. And for that reason, you shouldn’t miss a minute of the season ahead.

Round one of the Formula 1 2013 season takes place on the weekend of March 15 – 17 when racing returns to Melbourne for the 2013 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix.

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