TopCashBack F1 Season 2013 Preview

Posted on 18 Mar 2013 Posted in  TopCashback Tips & Updates
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Twelve months ago, Sebastian Vettel was preparing to kick-start the defence of his championship title, with his rivals trying to work out the best way to dethrone the champion from his place at the top of the pile.

Sounds familiar?

Those exact words were used to introduce a look ahead to the 2012 F1 season and it’s a case of much the same as the field heads to Australia for the start of the 2013 campaign, with the young German having become only the third driver in the history of the sport to win the title for three successive seasons.

It also means that, at the age of just 25, Vettel now finds himself alongside such legendary names as Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda and Jackie Stewart as a triple F1 champion – with only Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio and Alain Prost having won more.

Unlike in 2011, Vettel didn’t have it all his own way en-route to the 2012 crown, which was decided over the biggest F1 season ever – with no fewer than 20 hard fought races being used to determine who emerged on top of the pile.

A record seven different drivers won the opening seven races of the year and there would be eight victors in total before Vettel eventually saw off the dogged challenge of Fernando Alonso in the season finale in Brazil.


It was a season that will live long in the memory and there is little doubt that the 2013 campaign has a lot to live up to as a result, but the fact there are no major changes to the technical regulations means that a wide open battle for honours is again expected, with a number of teams and drivers going into the new season with a realistic chance of fighting for the title.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any changes however, with the biggest one being the decision taken by the governing body the FIA to ban the ‘double DRS’ system pioneered by Mercedes last year.

The device helped to give the team an added straight-line speed boost by channelling air from the rear wing to the front wing when the Drag Reduction System was being used, with the decision ultimately taken to ban the technology for 2013.

A more passive system, as trialled by numerous teams and which can stall the rear wing for a straightline speed boost is allowed, although it has proved to be tricky to master for those who have tried to make the technology work thus far.

The only other change that will be noticeable to fans watching on from home will be to the front of the car, where a ‘modesty panel’ is now allowed to hide the stepped nose designs that divided opinion amongst fans last year.

In terms of the sporting regulations, there are changes to the DRS rules for the new season, with drivers no longer allowed free use of the system in practice and qualifying, as had been the case in the past. Instead, the device – which sees drivers able to open a flap in the rear wing for a straight-line speed boost – can now only be used in the same zone where it can be used on race day; the move being taken in an attempt to improve safety.

After the packed 20 race schedule last year, the F1 calendar actually decreases in size this season to 19, although that move isn’t one that was planned by either the FIA or commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone.

A 20 race calendar had originally been announced, with a new event to be held on the streets of New Jersey replacing the European Grand Prix in Valencia. However, when it became apparent that the circuit wouldn’t be ready in time, the decision was taken to put the race back to 2014, thereby opening up a potential gap on the calendar.

A revision to the calendar opened up space for an extra race on European soil, with Turkey, Austria, Portugal and France all being mentioned as possible replacements for what should have been the second event in the United States. With no deal done however, it was eventually confirmed that the title will be decided over 19 races with the season opener again being held around Albert Park in Melbourne, and the famous Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo again playing host to the title decider.

So, with the new season getting underway in Australia this weekend, what are the chances of the class of 2013?

Defending champion Vettel is the man everyone will be trying to beat, and it would be a brave man who bet against him being right at the sharp end of the field again this season.

The new RB9, again designed by the mercurial Adrian Newey, is very much an evolution of the car that carried Vettel to his third title last year, although it has been difficult to tell just how good the new car is over the course of pre-season testing in Spain, with Red Bull playing its cards close to its chest throughout.

There were no glory runs for a quick time in any of the three tests, while the team did it all it could to keep prying eyes away from the new car whenever it returned to the garage. However, as was the case ahead of last year, the RB9 has seemed to be quick on longer runs during testing; a fact that bodes well for the Milton Keynes-based team as it heads for Australia.

It’s almost certain that Vettel will be a championship contender, with team-mate Mark Webber hoping that 2013 will be the season when he is able to consistently challenge his young partner.

The Australian led Vettel in the championship battle until Belgium but just as the German came good and went on a winning run that would ultimately lead him to glory, so Webber endured a more trying spell that left him to finish the year down in sixth spot and facing a public dressing down from Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko – who suggested the elder statesman of the grid wasn’t capable of maintaining a title challenge across a full season.

If anything, such comments should only seek to motivate Webber even more going into 2013 and the 36-year-old will start the new season aware that that the opportunities for him to add an F1 title to his name are decreasing with every passing season.

Who emerges as the closest challenger to the defending champions remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that Ferrari – who would ultimately finish second to Red Bull last year – are going into the new season in much better shape than twelve months ago.

Last year, Ferrari went into the opening race of the year on the back foot after a troubled pre-season programme with the F2012, which wouldn’t be a match for its rivals throughout the year. It was only thanks to the talents of Fernando Alonso that Ferrari remained in contention for the drivers’ title right to the end, with the Spaniard producing a series of stunning performances to maintain a title challenge in a car that shouldn’t have been in the mix.


The new F138 has been a much stronger performer in winter testing this year, with Ferrari benefitting from a deal that has seen it using Toyota’s wind tunnel in Cologne to develop the new machine. Issues with its own facility at Maranello played a part in the troubles that were encountered last season, with the team unable to rely on the results that were being provided.

Given how close he came last year, Alonso goes into the new season eager to secure that elusive first title in Ferrari colours, with the Spaniard almost certain to be one of the men who will push Vettel close as the season goes on.

How Felipe Massa performs in the sister car will ultimately determine whether Ferrari finds itself pushing for championship honours on two fronts, with the Brazilian well aware that he has to raise his game in 2013. Through the first half of last season, it looked like the former championship runner-up was heading for the exit door with just 25 points scored in the eleven races prior to the summer break. By contrast, Alonso picked up 164 in the same period.

A return to form in the latter part of the season was enough to earn Massa another season with the team and there is no doubt that he now needs to repay the faith shown in him as he seeks to end a winless run the goes all the way back to the 2008 season finale in Brazil; the race where for a fleeting moment he thought he was taken the title away from Lewis Hamilton.

While Ferrari spent much of last year trying to extract more pace from its car, speed wasn’t the issue for McLaren, with reliability being its big problem in 2012 as a series of DNFs ultimately ended any hope the team had of taking championship honours.

It’s all change for 2013 however, with the team electing to not simply run an evolution of last year’s car, but instead to produce a completely different design for the new campaign.

Such drastic changes mean that the team has spent more time than it rivals working on things like set-up, which in turn means that the real potential of the new MP4-28 has yet to be seen.

It’s not only on track where McLaren has faced change over the winter however, with the departure of Lewis Hamilton being a blow to the team that had nurtured him from karting right through to his F1 title. The fact that technical director Paddy Lowe is also set to follow Hamilton to Mercedes at the end of 2013 is another issue the team needs to face, with it highly likely that Lowe will take a less hands-on approach ahead of his impending move.

Hamilton’s decision to move on means Jenson Button now takes on the mantle of team leader, with the 2009 champion having made no secret of the fact that he was looking forward to moulding the team around him following the departure of his fellow Briton.

Having struggled at stages with the Pirelli tyres last year, Button has already expressed confidence that there will be no repeat this year and he’ll need to up his game if he is to help the team to take a first title in five years.

Alongside Button, Sergio Perez moves into the big time having been chosen as the man to replace Hamilton – a move that immediately heaps pressure onto the shoulders of the young Mexican. There is no doubt that the former GP2 racer produced some star drives last year with Sauber, but he also made mistakes; scoring just one point in the final seven races of the year and going off the boil somewhat after news of his move to McLaren broke.

Perez is without one of the most talented drivers on the grid and has made no secret of his desire to win races and try to launch a championship challenge in his first year with the team. How he gets on looks set to be one of the more interesting aspects of the year ahead, with the real possibility that a future champion could emerge.

If Perez was one of the surprise packages on the driver front last year, then Lotus were one of the surprises amongst the teams with the E20 proving to be a good enough package to allow Kimi Raikkonen to launch a championship challenge in his first season back on the grid.

The new E21 has proven itself to be quick in pre-season testing but Lotus has also endured its fair share of problems as well – meaning the team managed fewer laps than all bar one of its rivals during the tests that took place in Spain.

The team has been keen to stress that it expects no repeat of the various issues when the real action gets underway and Raikkonen will hope for more than the single win he secured last year in Abu Dhabi. It looked like the former champion had never been away for much of last year as he scored in every race bar one and with a quick car underneath him, the former Ferrari man will be a dangerous rival for the likes of Vettel and Alonso.


Team-mate Romain Grosjean is arguably just as quick as Raikkonen, but he needs to add consistency after a 2012 season that yielded podium finishes but also saw him become the first driver to pick up a race ban since 1994 after the start-line incident in Belgium. The Frenchman faced an anxious wait before his place with the team was confirmed and he will now aim to earn headlines for the right reason during the year ahead.

If he can remove the mistakes from his game, Grosjean could be a dark horse for victories in the new car and how he performs will be a key factor in whether or not Lotus can break into the top three.

The top three has to be at lead the aim for rivals Mercedes, who go into 2013 seeking to make amends for a year that promised much but ultimately delivered little last year.

Nico Rosberg’s win in China should have been the catalyst for a step forwards for the Brackley-based team but instead it dropped dramatically off the pace to end the year in a distant fifth place; being left to fend off the challenge of Sauber rather than putting pressure on the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari.

Hopes are high however for the year ahead, with the F1 W04 having topped the times in the final pre-season test of the winter and with the new car being seen as a vast improvement over the car it replaces. While the team has one eye on 2014 when the new engine rules come into play, the large technical team in place has worked hard to produce a car that can challenge towards the front of the field, with a sense of optimism about what the year ahead may hold.

Signing Hamilton from McLaren to replace the departing Michael Schumacher has ensured that the team will be in the spotlight during the year ahead and the Briton appears happy in his new surroundings, now free of some of the commitments he was faced with in his former team.

While pre-season didn’t start well for either Hamilton or Rosberg when they faced problems on first hitting the track, it ended with the pair leading the way on the final two days of running and they head to Australia in confident mood as a result.


A title challenge may be too much to expect for either driver, but both are capable of victories and should help Mercedes achieve its aim of closing the gap to the teams in front.

While the top five teams from last year are the five most likely to challenge for race wins in 2013, the battle within the midfield is set to be just as closely-fought.

Having pushed Mercedes closer than anyone expected before finishing sixth last year, Sauber will hope to replicate the kind of form that saw it finish on the podium four times last year.

While its 2012 drivers have moved on, the signing of Nico Hulkenberg for 2013 could prove to be a masterstroke, with the German one the most highly-rated drivers on the grid. His performance for Force India in Brazil last year showed what he is capable of and if the new C32 is as good as Sauber’s last car, Hulkenberg could be set for his best season to date.

Team-mate Esteban Gutierrez moves up from the reserve role into a race seat with a big reputation, but the youngster readily admits that the season ahead is all about learning. A busy pre-season saw him complete more laps than anyone else and Sauber will now look to polish another rough diamond and help the Mexican in his development.

Force India fell short in its bid to secure a top six finish last year and the aim for 2013 will be to put that right with the new VJM06.

The team has been forced to deal with awkward questions about its financial state over the winter thanks to the problems faced by owner Vijay Mallya and his business empire, while it wasn’t until the final test of the winter that the team confirmed its driver line-up after re-signing Adrian Sutil to partner Paul di Resta.

Di Resta showed his speed again last year, most notably in Singapore, but endured a trying end to the season capped by a heavy accident in Brazil. The Scot was overlooked for a drive elsewhere despite being linked with bigger teams and he’ll now hope for a strong season to show why his name has been mentioned alongside teams like McLaren and Ferrari. Sutil’s return comes after the team decided to give him a rare second chance, and his past experience could be crucial as Force India looks to regularly challenge for points in the year ahead.

Regular points will also be the aim for Williams, who head into 2013 looking for more consistency than in 2012. Pastor Maldonado’s win in Spain was a surprise but it was a rare high point in a season that ultimately didn’t realise its potential.

The FW35 only debuted in the second test of the winter but performed solidly in Barcelona, with both Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas eager to impress. Maldonado’s win in Spain showed the potential he has but – in similar vein to Grosjean at Lotus – he now needs to remove the mistakes that blighted the rest of his season last year.

Bottas moves up to a race seat having impressed in his Friday outings last year and big things are expected of the young Finn who is widely expected to be the one to watch amongst the rookie brigade. A lack of recent racing experience could be the only thing to work against him early on.

Behind Williams, Toro Rosso pairing Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo will also hope for a better season in 2013 after a difficult year last year with a car that lacked the pace to consistently push towards the top ten. Now with former Sauber man James Key overseeing the technical team, the STR8 appears to be a step forward based on the performance in pre-season testing, with the battle between the two drivers set to be one of the more interesting to watch this year given that a possible drive with Red Bull is at stake.

The demise of HRT over the winter means that Caterham and Marussia will do battle to avoid the wooden spoon, with both teams facing up to what looks like being a difficult season. Caterham only just managed to secure tenth in the standings last year and goes into the new season being realistic in its targets having lost the experience of Heikki Kovalainen – with Charles Pic and Gideo van der Garde replacing the Finn and his 2012 partner Vitaly Petrov.

Marussia has also lost its experienced driver after it was forced to part company with Timo Glock for financial reasons, although his replacement Luiz Razia has already departed after sponsorship money failed to materialise.

The fact that the team was able to bring in Jules Bianchi to partner fellow rookie Max Chilton means it has one of the most highly rated youngsters on the grid behind the wheel, but the harsh reality is that points are unlikely in the team’s fourth season on the grid.

And so with the teams preparing to hit the track ‘Down Under’ it’s almost time for the talking to stop as the real business gets underway. Who will emerge on top of the pile when the action kicks off remains to be seen, but if 2012 is anything to go by, only one thing can be said for certain.

Expect the unexpected.

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