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. Thursday 27 April 2017

  2. 17:12

    Follow GPUpdate on Instagram in 2017!

    F1
  3. Rins out for 'six to eight weeks' after surgery 16:07

    Rins out for 'six to eight weeks' after surgery

    Suzuki rider Álex Rins has undergone successful surgery in Barcelona following a heavy accident during practice for the Grand…

    MotoGP
  4. 15:22

    Latest Formula 1 photos: Thursday at Sochi

    F1
  5. Video: Ferrari's Russian GP preview 15:02

    Video: Ferrari's Russian GP preview

    Ferrari looks ahead to this weekend's Russian Grand Prix by analysing the challenges of the Sochi Autodrom.

    F1
  6. Bottas not worried about team orders 14:43

    Bottas not worried about team orders

    Valtteri Bottas says he is not worried about Mercedes imposing any team orders, expressing confidence that "all of my good…

    F1
  7. Drivers offer mixed views over 'shield' 14:11

    Drivers offer mixed views over 'shield'

    Formula 1 drivers have offered mixed views over the 'shield' head protection device that could be introduced from the 2018…

    F1
  8. Haas moves to Carbon Industrie brakes 13:41

    Haas moves to Carbon Industrie brakes

    Haas will run with Carbon Industrie brake products from this weekend's Russian Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom, following a…

    F1
  9. In photos: Russian GP from 2014-16 11:23

    In photos: Russian GP from 2014-16

    Sochi Autodrom, situated in and around the Olympic Park, will host the fourth Russian Grand Prix this weekend. GPUpdate.net…

    F1
  10. Speed bumps added to Turn 2 at Sochi 09:18

    Speed bumps added to Turn 2 at Sochi

    Speed bumps have been added to Sochi Autodrom's Turn 2 ahead of this year's Russian Grand Prix, in a bid to stop drivers from…

    F1
  11. Video: What's on Robin Frijns' phone? 09:02

    Video: What's on Robin Frijns' phone?

    Find out what's on Robin Frijns' phone, including photos of an epic karting battle with Stoffel Vandoorne.

    FE
  12. Lowe expects 'strong' Williams in Russia 08:45

    Lowe expects 'strong' Williams in Russia

    Williams Chief Technical Officer Paddy Lowe says he expects a "strong" performance from Williams at this weekend's Russian Grand…

    F1
  13. Video of the Day: Sergio Pérez on Sochi 05:38

    Video of the Day: Sergio Pérez on Sochi

    Force India driver Sergio Pérez talks through a lap of the Sochi Autodrom, home of the Russian Grand Prix, where he secured a…

    F1
  14. Wednesday 26 April 2017

  15. Pagenaud hails 'courageous' Alonso over Indy 15:48

    Pagenaud hails 'courageous' Alonso over Indy

    Reigning IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud thinks Fernando Alonso's decision to compete at this year's Indianapolis 500 is…

    Indy
  16. Suzuki: COTA result crucial for development 14:18

    Suzuki: COTA result crucial for development

    Suzuki Team Manager Davide Brivio says Andrea Iannone's performance at the Circuit of the Americas will be "crucial" for the…

    MotoGP
  17. Hülkenberg hopeful over Renault race pace 11:27

    Hülkenberg hopeful over Renault race pace

    Renault's Nico Hülkenberg is hopeful that the team will be able to demonstrate improved race pace in Russia this weekend…

    F1
  18. Video: Onboard lap of Sochi Autodrom 10:22

    Video: Onboard lap of Sochi Autodrom

    Ahead of this weekend's Russian Grand Prix, ride onboard for a lap of the 5.8km Sochi Autodrom circuit.

    F1
  19. Wolff encouraged by progress of juniors 09:34

    Wolff encouraged by progress of juniors

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has praised the progress made by youngsters Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon in Formula 1 this season…

    F1
  20. Monger thanks supporters after accident 08:41

    Monger thanks supporters after accident

    Billy Monger has expressed gratitude for the "awesome and truly inspirational" support he has received in the wake of his…

    Misc
  21. Hildebrand to make return at Phoenix 08:24

    Hildebrand to make return at Phoenix

    J. R. Hildebrand will return to IndyCar at Phoenix this weekend, having sat out the preceding event at Barber through…

    Indy
  22. Preview: F1 field faces Olympic challenge 07:32

    Preview: F1 field faces Olympic challenge

    Formula 1 moves on to Sochi Autodrom for the fourth round of the season, where another Ferrari/Mercedes battle is anticipated.…

    F1
  23. Video of the Day: GP of Alabama cutdown 05:37

    Video of the Day: GP of Alabama cutdown

    Watch extended highlights of last weekend's Grand Prix of Alabama at the Barber Motorsports Park.

    Indy
  24. Tuesday 25 April 2017

  25. F1 to focus on 'shield' system for 2018 20:13

    F1 to focus on 'shield' system for 2018

    Formula 1 is to favour a 'shield' head protection device for the 2018 season, rather than the previously proposed 'halo' system…

    F1
  26. Pérez: Force India has taken opportunities 15:47

    Pérez: Force India has taken opportunities

    Sergio Pérez has praised Force India for taking its chances in the early rounds of the 2017 season, enough to put the team at…

    F1
  27. Sirotkin to get practice run in Russia 14:15

    Sirotkin to get practice run in Russia

    Renault reserve driver Sergey Sirotkin will make his first practice outing of the season at his home Grand Prix in Russia, the…

    F1
  28. Pirelli expecting one-stop Russian GP 13:30

    Pirelli expecting one-stop Russian GP

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli is expecting this weekend's Russian Grand Prix to be a one-stop race, given the "low-severity…

    F1
  29. Video: Michelin's all-weather FE tyres 12:04

    Video: Michelin's all-weather FE tyres

    Formula E provides an insight into the technology behind Michelin's all-weather tyres.

    FE
  30. Lorenzo: Front tyre graining hid step 11:12

    Lorenzo: Front tyre graining hid step

    Ducati's Jorge Lorenzo is adamant that he made another "step forward" at the Grand Prix of the Americas, pinning his late slump…

    MotoGP
  31. Newgarden hails 'fluid' Penske integration 09:53

    Newgarden hails 'fluid' Penske integration

    Josef Newgarden has praised Penske for its efforts to help him integrate over the off-season, after he claimed his first victory…

    Indy
  32. Video: Alonso's Alabama IndyCar visit 09:03

    Video: Alonso's Alabama IndyCar visit

    Follow Fernando Alonso as he tours the IndyCar paddock at the Barber Motorsports Park.

    F1
  33. Alonso targets two-car McLaren finish 07:32

    Alonso targets two-car McLaren finish

    Fernando Alonso hopes that McLaren-Honda will be able to record a two-car finish at this weekend's Russian Grand Prix, after a…

    F1
  34. Video of the Day: Kvyat 360° Sochi lap 05:36

    Video of the Day: Kvyat 360° Sochi lap

    Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat takes you on a virtual 360° lap of Sochi Autodrom ahead of the Russian GP.

    F1
  35. Monday 24 April 2017

  36. Video: Alonso press conference at Barber 16:04

    Video: Alonso press conference at Barber

    Watch as Fernando Alonso fields questions about his upcoming attempt at the Indianapolis 500.

    F1
  37. In photos: Alonso visits IndyCar paddock 12:35

    In photos: Alonso visits IndyCar paddock

    Fernando Alonso attended last weekend's Grand Prix of Alabama as part of his preparations for an assault on the Indianapolis 500…

    F1
  38. Video: Performing a perfect FE pit-stop 12:02

    Video: Performing a perfect FE pit-stop

    Venturi driver Maro Engel talks through the key elements to pull off a perfect Formula E pit-stop.

    FE
  39. Viñales vows to return 'stronger' after crash 11:12

    Viñales vows to return 'stronger' after crash

    Maverick Viñales says he will quickly put his crash at the Grand Prix of the Americas to the back of his mind and return…

    MotoGP
  40. Venturi calls up Dillmann for Paris ePrix 10:20

    Venturi calls up Dillmann for Paris ePrix

    Tom Dillmann will make his Formula E debut with Venturi in next month's Paris ePrix. Dillmann, who won the Formula V8 3.5…

    FE
  41. Rossi's 2017 title lead 'a great surprise' 10:02

    Rossi's 2017 title lead 'a great surprise'

    Valentino Rossi says it comes as "a great surprise" to himself and Yamaha that he leads the MotoGP title race after the first…

    MotoGP
  42. Video: IndyCar GP of Alabama highlights 09:32

    Video: IndyCar GP of Alabama highlights

    Watch highlights of Sunday's IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama at the Barber Motorsports Park.

    Indy
  43. Márquez 'back' in title race with Austin win 09:16

    Márquez 'back' in title race with Austin win

    Repsol Honda rider Marc Márquez says he is "back in the championship" fight after his victory at the Grand Prix of the Americas…

    MotoGP
  44. Video of the Day: Prema's 'Guess the song' 05:24

    Video of the Day: Prema's 'Guess the song'

    Prema Formula 2 drivers Charles Leclerc and Antonio Fuoco, along with Formula 4 pair Juri Vips and Juan Manuel Correa, challenge…

    F2
more news