Melbourne: It's that time of year again…

Melbourne: It's that time of year again…

13 March 2013 – Just 67 days separated the final race of the 2012 season and the opening car launch of 2013. This week, following a trio of tests in Spain, the fast-paced world of Formula 1 roars back into life on the streets of Melbourne. Can Red Bull remain in the driving seat during a fourth successive double title defence, or will a clutch of ever-hungry rivals finally come up with the goods to topple the team’s reign?

Quite honestly, the answer to that question will only emerge after Saturday’s qualifying session in Australia. It's a cliché, but we are yet to witness low fuel, on-the-limit laps from the 22-strong field and, as a host of drivers have explained, testing has been extremely difficult to read. Reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel went so far as to say it has been the least conclusive pre-season phase during his time in the sport, but what can be deduced from the 12 days of running is that there are a number of fundamentally strong cars out there, all capable of challenging at the front on their day.

Before studying the pecking order in more detail, it is important to discuss a couple of regulation changes. With the sport entering the final year of its V8 engine era, ahead of a switch to turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 units in 2014, arguably the biggest modification comes on the tyre front. Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery told GPUpdate.net in the latter stages of 2012 that: "we’re trying to bring back some degradation levels, because quite frankly at the end of the season we were in negative degradation and maybe not where we were asked to be." The tyre compounds are now softer, will degrade at a faster rate and ultimately increase the number of pit-stops. This factor, in addition to a DRS restriction that is set to take the edge off Red Bull’s qualifying gains, paves the way for what should be an even closer season.

Fernando Alonso may well be the man to take advantage of the situation, having recently described his new Ferrari as ‘200 times better’ than its predecessor was 12 months ago. Just three points eluded the Spaniard during his incredible battle with Vettel in 2012 and, although he believes Red Bull and McLaren’s respective designs hold an advantage, there is an air of confidence at Maranello that he can go one better this time out. As was proven on a near-perfect level last year, the two-time Champion simply needs a car within the ballpark of the leaders and he can do the rest.

From McLaren's point of view, the 2013 season will be an extremely interesting affair. It’s a case of staying calm and taking any poor early results on the chin as the team gets a handle on a heavily-revised car, before theoretically reaping the rewards with a much wider development programme as the year wears on. The squad should be in the mix with Red Bull from the early stages, but Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus will be snapping at their heels and waiting to capitalise on any persistent issues.

This leads us on to one of the most engrossing aspects of the upcoming campaign, with Lewis Hamilton’s debut season at Mercedes looking likely to yield more than had initially been expected when he put pen to paper on his headline-grabbing three-year contract. The Briton is well known for extracting the maximum from any given package and, with the Silver Arrows appearing to be on the fringes of the top three, he will be a vital asset to the team. Whether he can win races remains to be seen, but you wouldn't bet against him if the F1 W04 is within touching distance of the front row.

The midfield battle could also throw up a few surprises. With Williams drivers Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas praising a much improved car, the outfit has everything in place to leapfrog Force India and Sauber. Of the latter two teams, Nico Hülkenberg's arrival at Hinwil – which ironically led to Adrian Sutil's comeback – produces the most intrigue, as another strong year would reinforce his chances of landing a front-running drive. Toro Rosso looks set to be closer to this pack under the technical guidance of James Key, but it is hard to see Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Éric Vergne being able to turn many heads under normal circumstances.

One less team at the back of the grid – after HRT’s demise – may be an overall negative for the sport, but it applies further pressure on Caterham and Marussia to up their game and edge closer to the midfield. Charles Pic, Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and young British hopeful Max Chilton are all race winners in GP2, although with both teams hovering around 3 seconds off the lead pace at the final Barcelona test, you would expect chances of points to be confined to a freak Grand Prix.

Having studied the regulation changes, divulged pre-season testing and made predictions, let's get the 2013 Formula 1 season underway. We're ready. Are you?

Mike Seymour
GPUpdate.net Editor

related

Comments

Latest News
Full
Compact

  1. Wednesday 22 October 2014

  2. Sam Michael set to leave McLaren 13:15

    Sam Michael set to leave McLaren

    McLaren Sporting Director Sam Michael is to leave the team at the end of the season. A McLaren spokesperson has confirmed...

    F1
  3. Lotus expects to keep Grosjean for 2015 11:12

    Lotus expects to keep Grosjean for 2015

    Lotus team owner Gerard Lopez says he expects to retain Romain Grosjean for the 2015 season, despite admitting that the...

    F1
  4. 09:43

    Photos: Márquez, Pedrosa visit Indonesia

    MotoGP
  5. Pérez on brink of new Force India deal 09:34

    Pérez on brink of new Force India deal

    Sergio Pérez says he is likely to sign a fresh Force India deal "in the next week", a move that would complete the outfit's...

    F1
  6. Video of the Day: Wolff on F1 title success 05:15

    Video of the Day: Wolff on F1 title success

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff discusses the brand's maiden Formula 1 Constructors' success.

    F1
  7. Tuesday 21 October 2014

  8. 16:03

    Book F1 tickets and join the action live!

    F1
  9. Silverstone senior executives suspended 13:55

    Silverstone senior executives suspended

    The British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) has taken "a closer role" in the day-to-day running of Silverstone following the...

    F1
  10. Caterham insists team not threatened 12:25

    Caterham insists team not threatened

    Caterham has dismissed media reports suggesting that Caterham Sports Limited (CSL) being placed into administration will...

    F1
  11. Lotus mourns death of Total chief 11:08

    Lotus mourns death of Total chief

    Lotus says it has been left "shocked" and "deeply saddened" by the death of Christophe de Margerie, Chairman and CEO of team...

    F1
  12. Spa to fight Nissan's use of Eau Rouge name 09:50

    Spa to fight Nissan's use of Eau Rouge name

    The Spa-Francorchamps circuit says it will contest an application from car manufacturer Nissan to trademark "Eau...

    F1
  13. Video: Miami welcomes Formula E 09:30

    Video: Miami welcomes Formula E

    Watch as the track layout for the Miami ePrix, scheduled to take place on March 14 next year, is revealed.

    Formula E
  14. Miami reveals Formula E circuit layout 09:22

    Miami reveals Formula E circuit layout

    Miami has become the latest Formula E host to reveal its track layout for the electric championship. Produced by track...

    Formula E
  15. Pons retains Tunjo for 2015 FR3.5 season 09:07

    Pons retains Tunjo for 2015 FR3.5 season

    Pons Racing has confirmed that Óscar Tunjo will remain with the team in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series next year. The...

    FR 3.5
  16. Video of the Day: Nasr samples FW08C 05:11

    Video of the Day: Nasr samples FW08C

    Williams reserve Felipe Nasr sampled Keke Rosberg's 1983 FW08C at the team's Partner Day at Silverstone.

    F1
  17. Monday 20 October 2014

  18. Brawn, Domenicali on new Accident Panel 17:54

    Brawn, Domenicali on new Accident Panel

    Former Formula 1 team bosses Ross Brawn and Stefano Domenicali have joined the FIA's new Accident Panel, which has been put...

    F1
  19. Moscow Raceway earns licence for F1 races 17:14

    Moscow Raceway earns licence for F1 races

    Moscow Raceway has been granted an FIA Grade 1 licence, allowing it to stage Formula 1 races. The track, located some...

    Misc
  20. Wolff confirmed for Race Of Champions 15:04

    Wolff confirmed for Race Of Champions

    Susie Wolff will become the first female driver to compete at the Race Of Champions after signing up for this year's event...

    F1
  21. De Vries gets FR3.5 seat with DAMS 14:43

    De Vries gets FR3.5 seat with DAMS

    McLaren junior Nyck de Vries will compete in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series with reigning champion team DAMS next...

    FR 3.5
  22. Lotus to trial new nose design at Austin 13:58

    Lotus to trial new nose design at Austin

    Lotus will test a new nose during practice for the United States Grand Prix, as the team looks to finalise its design for...

    F1
  23. Rossi says tyre choice crucial to victory 13:23

    Rossi says tyre choice crucial to victory

    Valentino Rossi says choosing the extra-soft Bridgestone front tyre was crucial to his second victory of the season at...

    MotoGP
  24. Force India retains Hülkenberg for 2015 10:08

    Force India retains Hülkenberg for 2015

    Force India has confirmed that Nico Hülkenberg will continue to race for the team next season. Hülkenberg, 27, returned t...

    F1
  25. Silverstone, Le Mans back on FR3.5 calendar 09:19

    Silverstone, Le Mans back on FR3.5 calendar

    The World Series by Renault package, which includes Formula Renault 3.5, will return to Silverstone and Le Mans next...

    FR 3.5
  26. Sainz Jr. elated by championship success 07:22

    Sainz Jr. elated by championship success

    Red Bull youngster Carlos Sainz Jr. hailed his "incredible" season after he succeeded Kevin Magnussen as Formula Renault 3.5...

    FR 3.5
  27. Video of the Day: Mercedes celebrates title 05:04

    Video of the Day: Mercedes celebrates title

    Mercedes celebrates its first Formula 1 Constructors' success at its bases in Brackley and Brixworth.

    F1
  28. Sunday 19 October 2014

  29. DTM champion Wittmann gets Toro Rosso test 20:39

    DTM champion Wittmann gets Toro Rosso test

    Marco Wittmann will receive a Formula 1 test with Toro Rosso as his reward from BMW for winning this year's DTM...

    DTM
  30. Verstappen ends F3 season in third place 17:11

    Verstappen ends F3 season in third place

    Future Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen has finished his sole FIA Formula 3 European campaign in third place after losing...

    F1
  31. Kubica: Formula 1 return would be a dream 14:30

    Kubica: Formula 1 return would be a dream

    Robert Kubica says he has not yet given up on the prospect of returning to Formula 1 at some point in the future and will...

    F1
  32. 13:38

    Latest FR3.5 photos: Sunday at Jerez

    FR 3.5
  33. Dominant Rowland wins FR3.5 finale at Jerez 13:37

    Dominant Rowland wins FR3.5 finale at Jerez

    Oliver Rowland claimed victory in the final race of the Formula Renault 3.5 season as he controlled proceedings throughout...

    FR 3.5
  34. 09:20

    Latest MotoGP photos: Sunday at Phillip Island

    MotoGP
  35. Márquez 'not on the limit' before crash 09:19

    Márquez 'not on the limit' before crash

    World Champion Marc Márquez says he was not riding on the limit when he crashed out of the lead in the Australian Grand Prix...

    MotoGP
  36. Rossi wins incident-packed race in Australia 06:50

    Rossi wins incident-packed race in Australia

    Valentino Rossi claimed his second win of the year in an incident-packed Australian Grand Prix after World Champion Marc...

    MotoGP
  37. Video of the Day: Pedrosa on Phillip Island 03:00

    Video of the Day: Pedrosa on Phillip Island

    Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa chose his fondest Phillip Island memory ahead of Sunday's race at the track.

    MotoGP
  38. Saturday 18 October 2014

  39. 13:52

    Latest FR3.5 photos: Saturday at Jerez

    FR 3.5
  40. Stevens wins, Sainz Jr. clinches title 13:51

    Stevens wins, Sainz Jr. clinches title

    Carlos Sainz Jr. clinched the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 championship at the very first corner of the final round in Jerez...

    FR 3.5
  41. Ecclestone: Las Vegas targeting Formula 1 race 09:32

    Ecclestone: Las Vegas targeting Formula 1 race

    Bernie Ecclestone says a Formula 1 race could be held on the streets of Las Vegas in the future. Ecclestone has long seen...

    F1
  42. 07:54

    Latest MotoGP photos: Saturday at Phillip Island

    MotoGP
  43. Márquez flies to pole position in Australia 06:21

    Márquez flies to pole position in Australia

    MotoGP World Champion Marc Márquez claimed pole position for the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island ahead of Ducati...

    MotoGP
  44. Video of the Day: Bottas let loose in FW18 05:07

    Video of the Day: Bottas let loose in FW18

    Williams driver Valtteri Bottas was given the opportunity to drive the FW18, Damon Hill's World Championship-winning car...

    F1
  45. Friday 17 October 2014

  46. Button will only stay in F1 with 'competitive' car 16:13

    Button will only stay in F1 with 'competitive' car

    Jenson Button could move to endurance racing if he fails to land a competitive Formula 1 seat for 2015. Fernando Alonso,...

    F1
more news