A quarter of the 2013 World Drivers and Constructors Championship season has run it’s course so who is hot?
So far the championship has seen winners from Lotus, Red Bull and Ferrari with the winning honours shared by three drivers; Kimi Räikkönen, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso all of whom are World Champions.
Lotus appear really hot, while the management is cautious about it’s chances of providing Kimi Räikkönen with a championship winning car, Kimi is chomping at the bit. Since his win at the opening Australian Grand Prix he has put together a string of three consecutive 2nd place finishes which with one seventh place finish adds up to a consistency that makes Kimi the fancied underdog amongst the three emergent title contenders.
Down sides to Kimi’s challenge are that Lotus Technical Director James Allison electing to go on ‘gardening leave’ last week pending a move to another team, widely speculated to be Ferrari and that Kimi’s relatively inexperienced team mate Romain Grosjean has not shown the consistent form exhibited by either of the de facto number two drivers at Red Bull or Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel disobeyed team orders to throttle back and jumped his team mate Mark Webber to win the Malaysian Grand Prix after which he had to eat humble pie for his misdemeanor and took a pasting in the press. However despite another win in Bahrain one further third and two fourth place finishes added to the and even having taken advantage of Mark when his main anticipated rival Fernando Alonso had to retire Sebastian leads the championship by a scant four points, thanks to the consistent challenge from Kimi.
So far Sebastian has shown the necessary beyond the pail determination to get the job done. The simmering money would be on Sebastian becoming the youngest four-peat World Champion and Red Bull to become four-peat constructors champions.
The third title contender, Fernando Alonso, is the only one of the three who has suffered a gross team error, when he was advised to stay out after an accident on the opening lap of Malaysian Grand Prix which saw him crash out on the second lap. Fernando was also the victim of a sticking hinged element on his rear wing in Bahrain which required multiple unscheduled pit stops from which he did exceptionally well to recover an 8th place points paying finish. This is not the first time this issue, which affects the drivers ability to pass on the straights and get safely around the corners, has afflicted Ferrari so it is disappointing that the problem has not been properly resolved.
These misfortunes along with convincing wins in China and Spain mean that Alonso sits third in the points standings 17 points adrift. The question remains can Ferrari deliver a consistent challenge to Red Bull ? Their car has the speed and the team have some momentum but for my money Alonso backed up by the erratic Felipe Massa is the tepid bet, already on the back foot, more likely to finish second in the championship to Sebastian for a third time than to beat him.
The characteristics of the Pirelli tyres, as last year, do not seem to suit any one team consistently from one track to the next although they do appear to suit Lotus, Red Bull and Ferrari better than the rest. Pirelli as sole suppliers seem to be in a no win situation in this respect, they were asked to produce tyres for this season that had a bigger difference in performance between the hard and soft options, both of which have to be used during the course of a dry race and they have done what was asked, but have come in for enormous criticism for doing precisely that.
Lewis Hamilton left McLaren at the end of last year to join Mercedes Benz expecting to challenge for race wins if not the championship. Lewis’s performances have been a definite fillip for Mercedes who have not delivered a competitive car. Disappointingly Lewis does not seem to be able to direct the team towards providing what he needs as shown when he dropped from 2nd on the grid to a lapped 12th place finish in Spain, clueless on how to manage the situation and not impressed that he was racing a Williams that beat him.
Sitting fourth place in the constructors table Mercedes are unlikely to catch the top three and unlikely to be caught by anyone in the foreseeable future so I wonder if they are already thinking about abandoning further development this season in favour of putting all of their efforts into next season, team Principle Ross Brawn was the beneficiary of just such a strategy in 2009 all he has to do is convince his drivers and the Mercedes Benz board this is the way to go.
Fifth in the constructors table are Force India whose drivers Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil are fighting for points scraps with the similarly Mercedes powered McLarens. With four points paying finishes and a best of 4th in Bahrain Paul is a better than expected 8th in the drivers table. Adrian meanwhile has scored points just once on his return from a sabbatical. With the rival McLaren team being seen to put in whatever it takes to bring their car up to speed I doubt Force India will be able to maintain their two point advantage in the constructors championship, but it will be a close fought battle.
Gambling on a radical approach to this years car rather than an incremental development of last years race winning car, has not paid off for McLaren. To their credit McLaren have dug deep to make their cars faster, but so far without success. That they are trying hard is evidenced by the fact they turned up with a new front wing in Spain but refrained from using it until it had been properly tested and passed as legal on the governing FIA’s own equipment.
Jenson Button has shown the more consistent form with four points paying finishes and a best of 5th in China while Sergio Pérez managed a best of 6th in Bahrain where Jenson and Sergio had a falling out, with Button calling on his team to control Perez who he judged to have used rough tactics. The McLaren management would have done well to tell each driver what the tyre situation was relative to the other and avoided the on track misunderstanding in the first place. McLaren have the resources to get the better of Force India in the constructors championship but they are unlikely to win a race this year.
Seventh in the constructors table are Torro Rosso for whom Australian Danielle Ricardo has scored two points paying finishes with a best of 7th in China and Jean-Éric Vergne a best of 10th in Malaysia. The pressure is on these two to pull rabbits out of the hat this season or they will find themselves, facing a similar fate to their predecessors Sébastien Buemi and Jamie Alguersuari, looking for work as sports car drivers and TV presenters.
Sauber are the only other team to have points thanks to Nico Hulkenburg who managed a best 8th place finish in Malaysia, if Sauber want to beat Torro Rosso in the constructors championship they will have to find away to get Mexican rookie Esteban Gutiérrez to finish better than 11th as he did in Spain.
Shockingly Williams have managed a best of two non points paying 11th place finishes for each of their drivers Pastor Maldonado in Bahrain and Finn Valttteri Botas in Malaysia as the team appears to be suffering the same fate as McLaren by trying to take a quantum leap forward rather than settling for steady development of last years winning car. Williams will need to apply resources to this years car, perhaps better saved until next year, just to score points this season.
Marussia have a best 13th place finish courtesy of Jules Bianchi which is surprising since they are the only team to use spec Cosworth motors while Caterham who use race winning Renault motors have managed a best finish of 14th in Malaysia courtesy of Charles Pic. One of these two teams is going to be out of pocket at the seasons end as, in a change from last year, only the top ten teams will be paid prize money at the seasons end. Don’t be surprised to see former race winner Heikki Kovalainen make a return to Caterham in its attempt to get the better of Marrusia.
Summing up the drivers championship has emerged as a three way contest between Vettel, Räikkönen and Alonso while realistically the constructors championship is a two way battle between Red Bull and Ferrari, I believe Vettel will win his fourth championship in a row but I wouldn’t expect to get much sleep between now and the seasons end if I were a gambler.
Ralph Colmar can also be found at: www.psychoontyres.blogspot.com