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. Friday 28 November 2014

  2. 18:34

    F1 2015: How the grid is shaping up

    F1
  3. Marko: Abu Dhabi test proved Sainz Jr. is ready 18:22

    Marko: Abu Dhabi test proved Sainz Jr. is ready

    Red Bull Motorsport Consultant Helmut Marko says Carlos Sainz Jr.'s performance at this week's post-race test in Abu Dhabi...

    F1
  4. Sainz Jr. joins Verstappen at Toro Rosso 17:05

    Sainz Jr. joins Verstappen at Toro Rosso

    Toro Rosso has confirmed that reigning Formula Renault 3.5 Series champion Carlos Sainz Jr. will make his Formula 1 debut...

    F1
  5. F1 2014: The best radio messages 16:58

    F1 2014: The best radio messages

    One popular aspect of modern Formula 1 is the interaction between drivers and teams during races. Although selective, radio...

    F1
  6. 14:46

    Book F1 tickets and join the action live!

    F1
  7. Miller concludes positive test in Malaysia 14:33

    Miller concludes positive test in Malaysia

    LCR Honda's Jack Miller was encouraged by the progress he made in adapting to MotoGP machinery during a three-day test at...

    MotoGP
  8. Video: Buemi surprises Renault owner 13:31

    Video: Buemi surprises Renault owner

    Red Bull reserve driver Sébastien Buemi surprises a Renault owner at the Circuito de Jerez.

    F1
  9. Ricciardo: No added pressure for 2015 11:40

    Ricciardo: No added pressure for 2015

    Daniel Ricciardo says he does not feel any added pressure for the 2015 season, after impressing in his first campaign with...

    F1
  10. Wolff steps up to Williams test role 09:16

    Wolff steps up to Williams test role

    Williams has announced that Susie Wolff will be stepping up to the position of official test driver for the 2015 Formula 1...

    F1
  11. Nasr: Sauber did not choose me for money 06:14

    Nasr: Sauber did not choose me for money

    Felipe Nasr says Sauber's decision to sign him for the 2015 season was based on driving ability, rather than how much money...

    F1
  12. Video of the Day: Hamilton in slot car race 05:09

    Video of the Day: Hamilton in slot car race

    F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton takes part in a slot car race with BBC Radio 1's Nick Grimshaw.

    F1
  13. Thursday 27 November 2014

  14. Vettel: Ferrari success will take time 16:47

    Vettel: Ferrari success will take time

    Sebastian Vettel says he is under no illusions about the challenge he faces at Ferrari, admitting that it "will take some...

    F1
  15. Hülkenberg to race at Le Mans with Porsche 15:32

    Hülkenberg to race at Le Mans with Porsche

    Nico Hülkenberg will compete in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans with Porsche next year alongside his ongoing Force India...

    F1
  16. Räikkönen: Arrivabene is the perfect team boss 14:05

    Räikkönen: Arrivabene is the perfect team boss

    Kimi Räikkönen reckons new Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene will propel the Italian marque towards the front of the F...

    F1
  17. Video: Räikkönen joins the logistics race 12:07

    Video: Räikkönen joins the logistics race

    Ferrari logistics partner UPS takes Kimi Räikkönen behind the scenes at its WorldPort facility.

    F1
  18. Kubica heads Monza Rally entry list 11:43

    Kubica heads Monza Rally entry list

    Ex-Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica, MotoGP star Valentino Rossi and NASCAR's Kurt Busch are the major names on the entry list...

    Misc
  19. Toro Rosso to name second driver on Monday 10:13

    Toro Rosso to name second driver on Monday

    The driver joining Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso for the 2015 season will be revealed on Monday, Red Bull advisor Helmut...

    F1
  20. Nasr thanks Williams for 2014 opportunities 09:27

    Nasr thanks Williams for 2014 opportunities

    Felipe Nasr has thanked Williams for the opportunities he was given as the team's test and reserve driver during the 2014...

    F1
  21. Pirelli pleased with reaction to 2015 tyres 06:14

    Pirelli pleased with reaction to 2015 tyres

    Pirelli says it is "very pleased" with the feedback it has received from drivers over the new 2015 tyres it brought to this...

    F1
  22. Video of the Day: 2014 Formula 1 highlights 05:02

    Video of the Day: 2014 Formula 1 highlights

    Relive highlights from the 2014 F1 season, in which Lewis Hamilton claimed his second world title.

    F1
  23. Wednesday 26 November 2014

  24. 16:49

    F1 photos: Abu Dhabi testing - Day 2

    F1
  25. Lynn delighted with maiden Formula 1 test 16:48

    Lynn delighted with maiden Formula 1 test

    Newly-crowned GP3 champion Alex Lynn described his first experience of F1 machinery as "fantastic", after testing for Lotus...

    F1
  26. Marciello: Impossible not to think of Bianchi 16:28

    Marciello: Impossible not to think of Bianchi

    Raffaele Marciello says fellow Ferrari academy driver Jules Bianchi was at the forefront of his mind as he made his Formula...

    F1
  27. 14:38

    Post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test: Day 2 results

    F1
  28. Wehrlein fastest as Abu Dhabi test concludes 14:37

    Wehrlein fastest as Abu Dhabi test concludes

    Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein topped the timesheets on the final day of testing at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit,...

    F1
  29. Vergne announces Toro Rosso exit 14:26

    Vergne announces Toro Rosso exit

    Jean-Éric Vergne has announced that he will not be racing for Toro Rosso in Formula 1 next season, with Red Bull bosses...

    F1
  30. Marko: Vettel's Ferrari visit breached contract 12:12

    Marko: Vettel's Ferrari visit breached contract

    Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has claimed that Sebastian Vettel breached his contract by making an early appearance with new...

    F1
  31. Force India trials 'Info Wing' display system 10:04

    Force India trials 'Info Wing' display system

    A revolutionary LED display system, designed by Lewis Hamilton's father Anthony, was tested by Force India in Abu Dhabi on...

    F1
  32. Video: Lewis Hamilton surprises karter 09:06

    Video: Lewis Hamilton surprises karter

    Lewis Hamilton surprises nine-year-old karting champion Harley Haughton on BBC Radio 5 live, just hours after he was crowned...

    F1
  33. Ecclestone says Qatar 'ready' for F1 race 08:45

    Ecclestone says Qatar 'ready' for F1 race

    Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says Qatar is planning to host a Grand Prix in the near future. If negotiations lead...

    F1
  34. Bottas: New Pirelli tyres more consistent 07:42

    Bottas: New Pirelli tyres more consistent

    Valtteri Bottas says he experienced "more consistent" tyre degradation on Pirelli's development 2015 rubber at this week's...

    F1
  35. Video: Stewart on Hamilton's title win 05:04

    Video: Stewart on Hamilton's title win

    Sir Jackie Stewart offers his views on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton's title-winning 2014 campaign.

    F1
  36. Tuesday 25 November 2014

  37. Leal remains with Carlin for 2015 18:36

    Leal remains with Carlin for 2015

    Carlin has confirmed that Colombian racer Julián Leal will remain with the team for the 2015 GP2 season. Leal, 24, has...

    GP2
  38. 17:28

    F1 photos: Abu Dhabi testing - Day 1

    F1
  39. Honda says rivals faced same early issues 17:27

    Honda says rivals faced same early issues

    Honda says the teething problems it is facing at this week's Abu Dhabi test are no different to those endured by rival...

    F1
  40. GP2 champion Palmer eyes Force India role 16:11

    GP2 champion Palmer eyes Force India role

    GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer says he would like to occupy a role in Formula 1 with Force India, after testing for the team in...

    F1
  41. 14:23

    Post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test: Day 1 results

    F1
  42. Bottas tops first day of Abu Dhabi test 14:22

    Bottas tops first day of Abu Dhabi test

    Williams driver Valtteri Bottas set the standard on the opening day of the post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test at the Yas Marina...

    F1
  43. McLaren-Honda targets immediate success 12:52

    McLaren-Honda targets immediate success

    McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier says the team will be targeting success from the very first race of its new engine...

    F1
  44. Lynn to make F1 test debut with Lotus 12:08

    Lynn to make F1 test debut with Lotus

    GP3 champion Alex Lynn is set to make his Formula 1 test debut with Lotus on the second day of this week's post-season...

    F1
more news