PRE SEASON BUILD UP, DAY 11
Soon we can stop reminiscing and instead evaluate a new year of racing. With 2012 acting as, arguably one of the greatest seasons in living memory, 2013 has a tough ask if it wants to emulate the thrills, spills and closely fought races we had become so accustomed to. The fresher driver line up could help. The average driver age has reduced by four years as five rookies juxtapose five world champions, or put more simply, as Suzi Perry once told me, it has “all the ingredients” for an exciting year.
Australia will play host to the debut grand prix of the season. Situated in the iconic backdrop of Albert Park, this weekend will be the first time we are able to see how far the cars have transitioned since testing and to what the extent the KERS system on the Marussia will affect their overall performance. Testing was inconclusive; the Mercedes looked reliable one minute then on fire the next. Martin Whitmarsh himself admitted that the new McLaren would be altered in time for race day.
It will also be time for us to evaluate the new Pirelli tyre compounds. The tyre-saving duo of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez could well benefit in the McLaren as the telemetry shows the tyres to produce higher levels of degradation. Both have been compared to the legendary Alain Prost in the past. If they can emulate his driving style they may not need the fastest car on the grid.
With the Red Bulls producing yet more innovative designs under the watchful eye of Adrian Newey, this may be all McLaren can rely on. The purple colour scheme may be different but the expectations on the Austrian outfit are still as great as ever. Both the team and their driver, Sebastian Vettel, will aim for an historic four consecutive titles in 2013. With the futures of Mark Webber and both Toro Rosso drivers hanging in the balance, 2013 will be a deciding year. Perhaps the Aussie will finally make it on to the podium at home?
For an experienced driver like Mark Webber, we can use the terms “podium” and “wins” in conjunction with his name. The rookies will have an altogether more challenging task. Esteban Gutiérrez, who replaces an ever popular Kamui Kobayashi at the Swiss outfit, will have to prove himself to a legion of Motorsport fans. The shadow of Robin Frijns will be leaning over, ready to step up if the young Mexican is not up to the task.
Valtteri Bottas will endure similar pressures. Last year’s Williams model gained one win to its name with his team mate Pastor Maldonado at the helm. Crucially, unlike unexpected wins of these kind, this did not occur in the rain, with hot temperatures currently forecast, a points finish is expected in Melbourne. If Williams have taught us anything, it’s don’t rule them out!
Marussia and Caterham will have a real spotlight on them. One of the teams’ drivers is likely to be at the back of the grid following the withdrawal of HRT. Suddenly they cannot rely on the unreliability of the former team’s car, but have to focus on their own. After several years, Q2 should be a reasonable target and anything short of points may highlight a lack of improvements. They too see fresh line ups – perhaps crucial to their 2013 chances? Testing times and previous racing history suggests that Jules Bianchi and Giedo Van der Garde in particular, are ones to watch.
Let’s not forget Force India, for so many do! They did not have the poor season of Toro Rosso but did not match the success of Sauber and Williams. A state of stalemate has ensued, major improvements are required to reach that much wanted fifth place. Nico Hulkenberg came close to a last minute win in Brazil at the end of the season; alas not quite yet for a driver who moves to Sauber next year. Force India’s success in 2013 could well decide the future of Paul Di Resta. Not one of the sport’s most charismatic figures, commentators don’t seem to speak of the Brit in as much detail as some of his peers. He’s going to have to get himself noticed if a move up to a big team is realistically on the agenda. If I was Ferrari, I would be looking to include Hulkenberg in my line up over the Brit.
Force India have taken a slightly unethical approach and reintroduced Adrian Sutil to the Force India fold. Having emerged victorious from the testing battle against Jules Bianchi, the pressure is largely off the German. His connections to the team remain and with his team mate having to fight for his future, Sutil has nothing to lose as his financial backing may keep him there regardless.
My teams to watch next year are Mercedes GP and Lotus. Both secured wins in 2012, Nico Rosberg stood on the top step for his maiden victory in China whilst returning racer Kimi Raikonnen secured an impressive victory in Abu Dhabi. The unchanged Lotus line up will bring continuity for a team who lost a great driver in Robert Kubica. Grosjean’s win at the Race of Champions has silenced numerous critics and I expect 2013 will act as a platform for a fresh start. Very few second chances are handed out in Formula 1 and this is his third. I suspect it will probably be his last; only success will do!
The attention will not be on Nico Rosberg in 2013 despite enjoying his most successful year to date, Lewis Hamilton will join him complete with his Championship winning experience. I think many, including initially myself, were quick to write off Lewis Hamilton’s chances at the team – ultimately he may have the last laugh. As for Rosberg, only more wins and podiums will be enough to ward off the upcoming racers looking to take his place.
Toro Rosso has possibly the biggest contest on their hands, mainly because some parts of the Red Bull Junior team are flawed. There are more drivers emerging from the feeder series than there are seats in Formula 1. Antonio Felix da Costa, Daniel Abt and Daniil Kyvat are all in the hunt to replace Ricciardo and Vergne. With the Aussie promising to do everything it takes to force his former friend turned team mate to the sidelines, consistency will be key.
The cars are yet to be fired up in Melbourne but already we begin to judge the position and standard of each driver. That time is near again so, Ladies and Gentlemen, let the celebrations begin! Soon the cars will line up in Melbourne as the 2013 season is officially underway. Let’s go, go, go.
This blog post is the eleventh in this year’s pre season build up. For the next four days, ‘stoodonthepodium’ will be bringing you exclusive interviews, stories, analysis and more from the world of Motorsport.
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