March 14th, 2013 (F1plus/P. Godley).- Heading into a new season you get a sense that all drivers are under pressure, but for these five drivers we believe that 2013 will be a key year in their Formula 1 futures. Dealing with the pressure, or failing to cope with it, can be the difference between success or failure. How will these drivers fare this season?
I think 'Hit and Miss' would just about sum up Romain Grosjean's first full Formula 1 season (although Mark Webber may not agree with the miss part of that...). There were plenty of positives for the Frenchman to take from last season, particularly his pace over one lap on a Saturday and the three podiums he secured in Bahrain, Canada and Hungary. After his race ban it appeared he calmed down, something he probably needed to do to secure his future in the sport.
Many had been calling for Lotus to axe him, but with the obvious talent and speed he has I truly believe that would've been a mistake. Let's not forget it was his first full season, he was driving in a car that was capable of podiums and race wins and was racing alongside Kimi Raikkonen, a former World Champion. Everyone makes mistakes. Every driver makes mistakes, particularly early in their career. Everything is over-scrutinised these days, inevitable given the amount of coverage and replays we have available to us, but it's how you learn from those mistakes that should be looked at more than the mistakes themselves. (I'm sounding like some sort of life coach here, and one that talks to himself at that. Worrying.)
He's shown what he can do in qualifying, he's shown what he can do in races, but it's now time for Romain to show what he can do over a full season. I've predicted him to take pole in Australia and certainly think he and the car have what it takes to do just that. Some people will be looking to criticise his every move; and I for one hope that the vast majority of those moves will be positive ones. He has what it takes to win races that's for sure, and somewhere in the back of my mind I believe he has what it takes to one day win a World Championship. Can he beat Kimi over the course of this season? Possibly not. Can he beat Kimi over the course of a season in one or two years time? Yes.
Given his disappointing end to 2012, many were speculating that the signing of Sergio Perez by McLaren had been an unwise decision. Whilst it's true that Perez didn't manage to score a single point after signing for the Woking outfit, I believe he showed enough earlier in the season to merit a promotion up the Formula 1 field. His drives in Malaysia, Canada and Italy all showed what he can do on his day; it's just unfortunate that he didn't have any more of those days post-signing for McLaren.
Personally I think a few fans aren't pleased with Perez's move to McLaren not because of who he is, but because of who he is replacing. Lewis Hamilton, idolised by millions across the world, has moved on to Mercedes for 2013. Whoever McLaren decided to replace Lewis with was always going to find it tough; after all, they're fairly big shoes to fill. The 'lack of experience' argument doesn't sit well with me either, as this will be the Mexican's third full season in Formula 1. Yes he's only 23, but the likes of Alonso, Massa and Raikkonen were all of similar ages when they got their big break; and it's not as if they've done too badly is it? 3 World Championships between them, which could have easily been 5, is a pretty good return I'd say.
Perez will be under pressure and will probably need to deliver from the outset, but the same can be said of his team mate Jenson. In fact, any driver that has ever driven for McLaren is and was under significant pressure. That's what racing for a top team brings, pressure. And it's how you deal with that pressure that can be the make or break factor in a driver's career. I believe that Perez has what it takes to be a success at McLaren. He's ambitious, hungry and has a spookily good knack of making his tyres last longer than any other driver (possibly bar Jenson). I'd hope, and expect, that he'll take at least a couple of wins this season, surprising many along the way. Will he win the title this season? I doubt it. Will he win it sometime in the future? He has a great chance to, yes.
Paul Di Resta
2013 could be a big, big year in the Formula 1 career of Paul Di Resta. After the first half of 2012 it looked like he'd done enough to secure a seat with either Ferrari or McLaren; sadly a move that never materialised. Several factors went against the Scot; the impressive pace of Williams and Sauber, the resurgence of Nico Hulkenberg in the second half of the season and a disappointing run of just 2 points in the final 6 races saw Di Resta miss out on a top seat and instead have to spend a third season at Force India.
I think the key factor was his team mate. Hulkenberg really began to turn the wick up from Belgium onwards; running in the podium positions in several races, scoring consistently and even being a genuine contender for the victory in the season finale at Interlagos. Hulkenberg's second half to 2012 was probably amongst the top 3 or 4 most impressive in the field, a run that maybe should have seen him take the second McLaren seat over Perez (a belief held by many). Di Resta seemed largely unable to respond, and instead of thriving on the increased media interest and speculation as his German team mate did, he appeared to crumble and disappear in races.
With the return of Adrian Sutil as team mate (more on him in a second), Di Resta is now under arguably the most pressure he ever has been since entering Formula 1 in 2011. Failure to beat his current and former team mate Sutil this season could spell the end of not only his hopes for a front-of-the-field seat in 2014, but his chances of even remaining in the sport beyond this season. It's an important year for Di Resta; and with many solid Formula 1 standard drivers without an F1 drive this season, he'll need to deliver to ensure he's there beyond the end of the year.
He's back! Has he Su-till got it? Apologies, it had to be done..didn't it? Nope? Ok, let's move on. Given the comebacks of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen over the past few years, when the news broke that Adrian Sutil would be returning to Formula 1 with former team Force India, you'd be forgiven for being a bit underwhelmed. After the initial disappointment that Jules Bianchi didn't get the second seat, I realised that Sutil being back is a good thing. As mentioned above, it'll be interesting to see how he compares to his current (and former) team mate Paul Di Resta. You'd have to think that whoever comes out on top between these two will be around again next year, with the other possibly being out of the door?
He has unfinished business with Formula 1 that's for sure. Having left the sport under a somewhat dark cloud, he's back and ready to show that he deserves this second chance. He finished ahead of Di Resta when the two were last together in 2011, finishing the season in 9th place in what was a very good Force India car. He impressed many over both the 2010 and 2011 seasons, scoring points regularly and showing signs of progress year upon year. But, after a year away, can he hit the ground running and prove his critics wrong?
We all know what Sutil can do, and given the difficult times that Force India are reportedly going through, the German was probably the right choice (for this season at least). Heading into the 2013 opener, Force India know what both drivers can do not just as individuals, but as team mates as well. If Sutil can outperform Di Resta the season, then I really do believe it could be curtains for the Scot's Formula 1 career. It's a big year for both drivers and the team. Can they finally deliver a podium finish? Can they convert Saturday pace into race pace on a more consistent basis? Which driver will come out on top?
If you've read any of my pieces before you'll know that I'm a big fan of Pastor, and have been for several years. He took a lot of stick last season, some of it justified, some of most definitely not. I won't go back over that ground too much, but some of the incidents he was blamed for were not, or at least weren't solely, his fault. Part of Pastor's problem (amongst fans at least), was the popularity of team mate Bruno Senna, in my opinion anyway. Two factors why Pastor was retained and Bruno wasn't - money, and speed.
Pastor was simply a quicker driver, particularly over one lap. Some of his drives on a Saturday alone were nothing short of remarkable; Barcelona, Singapore and Abu Dhabi to name a few. His race victory in Barcelona was my personal highlight of 2012, not just because I'm a fan, but because he and the team showed what is capable with good strategy, tyre management and quick thinking. He showed on enough occasions last season that he has the speed to be in Formula 1, but I'd be silly to deny that he didn't have his flaws. There were too many mistakes, too many comings together and too many penalties. He, like Grosjean, appeared to show signs of learning and maturing over the final 5 or 6 races of 2012 into a driver that not only has the speed to race at the top, but the guile and awareness to be up and around others.
If Pastor can harness that blistering speed and manage it with control and discipline then he can fight for podiums and wins again this season. With the increased responsibility of being the experienced driver in the team this season, Pastor will have a new pressure thrust upon him. Much is expected of his new team mate Valtteri Bottas, and as the experienced driver Pastor will want to show that he is the lead driver that can secure the big points for the team. I have a motorsport motto - "Money talks, but so does speed." Pastor has both.