Going full throttle


With the 2013 Formula One season already underway, Seán Craddock looks at what we can expect in the season ahead.

The new Formula One season kicked off in Australia last month. It was the first opportunity for the teams to see if their hard work over the winter months had paid off, and a chance to see how their new car compares to those of their rivals.

There are very few technical rule changes this year, certainly compared to next season when there will be a radical change to the engine. As a result, many of this season’s cars are merely an evolution of the previous one, with teams hoping to fix any weaknesses found over the course of last season.

There have been quite a few driver changes up and down the grid, the most notable being Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes. He already seems up to speed in his new car, achieving a podium finish in Malaysia, despite accidentally stopping at his old team McLaren’s garage for his pit stop. However, early indications show that teammate Nico Rosberg is just as fast as the Englishman and there should be a good battle between the two throughout the season.

Adrian Sutil has returned to Force India, the team that had dropped him last season after he was convicted of assault. The German has already shown that he has lost none of his talent during his year away, leading the opening race in Australia and helping the team to their best ever start to a season.

The battle at the back of the field is closer than ever, with a number of drivers have making the step up from lower categories to Caterham and Marussia. In Malaysia, Marussia’s new driver Bianchi almost qualified ahead of Williams’ rookie Valtteri Bottas in dry conditions; meaning the team could be close to getting that lucrative first point they have been yearning for.

Williams, on the other hand, appear to have lost ground to their rivals this season. Both cars have failed to qualify higher than 16th and Maldonado failed to finish the opening races following two similar driver errors. The car doesn’t look to have the speed to qualify in the top ten, and the team have a lot of work to do if they want to challenge the likes of Sauber and Force India.

James Key joined Torro Rosso last season as chief designer and has designed a completely new car for this season. The car is a step in the right direction and is already quicker than the Williams at this stage of the season.

Both drivers are in their second year with the team and will badly want to out-do each other. No driver has ever stayed at the team after two full seasons, and there’s a possibility one of them will be chosen to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull in the future.

On paper, Red Bull have had the best start to the season. A front row lockout in Australia and a 1-2 finish in Malaysia means the team is leading both championships, but it’s not all carefree at the team after Sebastian Vettel ignored the team’s instructions and overtook Webber to win in Malaysia. The car has incredible qualifying pace, and as long as they can look after their tyres there will undoubtedly be more dominant displays. Despite the in-team conflict, they’re still favourites for the title.

Kimi Räikkönen’s win in Australia has shown the strength of the Lotus team’s car this season. The Finn has finished nineteen consecutive races in the points and the team have the ability to win again this season. If they can improve on qualifying performance, as well as keep their consistency, there’s a chance Räikkönen can mount a title charge and try to add to his 2007 championship.

For McLaren, on the other hand, the new car is off the pace and there are suggestions that the team might resort to using last year’s car. Jenson Button won the last race of last season, but hasn’t managed to carry that momentum over to 2013. Hamilton’s absence won’t help either and they’ll need to turn things around quickly if they want to save their reputation. The team are currently seventh in the championship, with only four points from two races.

Felipe Massa also finished last season strongly, with a podium finish on home soil, and has managed to continue that form into this season. The Ferrari driver is on a run of twelve consecutive points finishes. The Brazilian hasn’t maintained a level of consistency like this since before his 2009 accident that left him out for half a year. The Ferrari car is fast again this season and has started much better than last year’s version.

The man in the other Ferrari, Fernando Alonso, is still looking for that third title and should get another chance this year. Six seasons have passed since his last championship, but the Spaniard is determined to add to his trophy cabinet. A non-finish in Malaysia, after not pitting for a new nose, won’t help his chances and he will have to avoid making more mistakes like that this season.

We are now in the midst of a three week break, before heading to China for round three later this month. The teams know where they need to improve, and with mid-season testing being dropped this season, the break is the best opportunity to develop upgrades.

After two rounds it’s Sebastian Vettel who leads the championship. The German has never lost a championship lead in his F1 career, and with his current form he looks on course to becoming the youngest ever four time champion.