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. Saturday 20 December 2014

  2. McLaren sure it understands test woes 09:17

    McLaren sure it understands test woes

    McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier says the squad understands the problems which affected the team during its first...

    F1
  3. Video of the Day: Ferrari F1 demo in Bologna 05:11

    Video of the Day: Ferrari F1 demo in Bologna

    Watch highlights of Giancarlo Fisichella's Ferrari Formula 1 demo at the recent Bologna Motor Show.

    F1
  4. Friday 19 December 2014

  5. BayernLB files law suit against Ecclestone 17:31

    BayernLB files law suit against Ecclestone

    German bank BayernLB has confirmed that it has filed a law suit against Bernie Ecclestone in relation to the sale of Formula...

    F1
  6. Ferrari confirms Vergne as test driver 16:40

    Ferrari confirms Vergne as test driver

    Ferrari has confirmed that former Toro Rosso racer Jean-Éric Vergne has joined the team as test driver and will focus on car...

    F1
  7. F1 2014: Biggest controversies of the season 16:17

    F1 2014: Biggest controversies of the season

    Formula 1 was full of talking points both on and off the track in 2014, with team-mate clashes and regulations being...

    F1
  8. Rossi expecting boost for America in 2016 14:19

    Rossi expecting boost for America in 2016

    Alexander Rossi believes that 2016 could turn out to be a positive year for America's involvement in Formula 1, when Gene...

    F1
  9. Campos replaces Hilmer in GP3 line-up 12:09

    Campos replaces Hilmer in GP3 line-up

    Adrian Campos' eponymous team will replace Hilmer Motorsport in GP3 next season. Campos, whose outfit returned to GP2 in...

    GP3
  10. Toro Rosso on upwards trajectory – Tost 09:42

    Toro Rosso on upwards trajectory – Tost

    Toro Rosso Team Principal Franz Tost believes that his squad is on an upwards curve after the outfit recovered from a...

    F1
  11. Nasr chooses 12 as race number 07:44

    Nasr chooses 12 as race number

    Felipe Nasr has confirmed that he will race with number 12 when he makes his Formula 1 debut with Sauber in 2015. Nasr,...

    F1
  12. Video of the Day: Mercedes duo design cars 05:04

    Video of the Day: Mercedes duo design cars

    Mercedes-Benz has celebrated winning both Formula 1 world titles with special models of the AMG SL 63, created by drivers...

    F1
  13. Thursday 18 December 2014

  14. 17:03

    Book F1 tickets and join the action live!

    F1
  15. Ecclestone formally reappointed to F1 board 16:40

    Ecclestone formally reappointed to F1 board

    Bernie Ecclestone has been reappointed to the Formula 1 board and will continue as CEO of the Formula One Group, while Luca...

    F1
  16. New Sauber passes FIA crash tests 16:06

    New Sauber passes FIA crash tests

    Sauber has confirmed that its 2015 Formula 1 chassis, the C34, has passed the first stage of the FIA's mandatory crash...

    F1
  17. Horner: Newey will still attend some races 14:09

    Horner: Newey will still attend some races

    Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says Adrian Newey will still attend a selection of Formula 1 races next season, even...

    F1
  18. Tech 1 signs Aurélien Panis for 2015 season 10:36

    Tech 1 signs Aurélien Panis for 2015 season

    Aurélien Panis, son of ex-Formula 1 driver Olivier, will graduate to Formula Renault 3.5 with the Tech 1 Racing squad next...

    FR 3.5
  19. Lotus approached Alonso over 2015 seat 09:23

    Lotus approached Alonso over 2015 seat

    Lotus owner Gérard Lopez has revealed that the team gave Fernando Alonso "a real option" to consider for the 2015 Formula 1...

    F1
  20. Video of the Day: Ferrari's Christmas lunch 05:09

    Video of the Day: Ferrari's Christmas lunch

    Ferrari recently hosted staff and representatives at its annual Gestione Sportiva Christmas Lunch.

    F1
  21. Wednesday 17 December 2014

  22. Ferrari tyre chief to leave at end of year 15:45

    Ferrari tyre chief to leave at end of year

    Ferrari tyre performance chief Hirohide Hamashima will leave the team at the end of the year, as the Scuderia continues to...

    F1
  23. Video: Carlos Sainz's title-winning season 13:49

    Video: Carlos Sainz's title-winning season

    Relive Carlos Sainz Jr.'s journey to the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 title. Next year, the Spaniard graduates to Formula 1 with...

    FR 3.5
  24. Watson takes on expanded Toro Rosso role 12:07

    Watson takes on expanded Toro Rosso role

    Newly-appointed Toro Rosso Team Manager Graham Watson will take on an expanded role following Sporting Director Steve...

    F1
  25. Wolff: Spa clash allowed Mercedes to clear air 09:56

    Wolff: Spa clash allowed Mercedes to clear air

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the clash between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton at the Belgian Grand Prix allowed him to...

    F1
  26. Video of the Day: Hamilton on his 'greatest year' 05:17

    Video of the Day: Hamilton on his 'greatest year'

    Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton reflects on "the greatest year of my life" after winning the 2014 Formula 1 world title and...

    F1
  27. Tuesday 16 December 2014

  28. Fry, Tombazis to leave Ferrari in reshuffle 18:48

    Fry, Tombazis to leave Ferrari in reshuffle

    Ferrari has announced that Pat Fry and Nikolas Tombazis are to leave the outfit as part of a major reshuffle under new team...

    F1
  29. Stolen Red Bull trophies recovered from lake 15:57

    Stolen Red Bull trophies recovered from lake

    A number of trophies stolen in a burglary at Red Bull's Formula 1 headquarters earlier this month have been recovered from a...

    F1
  30. Ferrari secures backing from América Móvil 15:37

    Ferrari secures backing from América Móvil

    Ferrari has secured a new sponsor in the form of Mexican telecommunications giant América Móvil. The company's arrival f...

    F1
  31. Di Montezemolo: Vettel the right choice for Ferrari 13:12

    Di Montezemolo: Vettel the right choice for Ferrari

    Former Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo says the team made "the right choice" by signing Sebastian Vettel as Fernando...

    F1
  32. Vergne 'very happy' with Formula E debut 12:36

    Vergne 'very happy' with Formula E debut

    Jean-Éric Vergne says he was "very happy" with his debut weekend in Formula E, despite losing a potential victory on the...

    FE
  33. Marussia F1 assets to be auctioned 09:31

    Marussia F1 assets to be auctioned

    The collapsed Marussia Formula 1 team's various assets will begin to be auctioned off by administrators on Tuesday, the...

    F1
  34. Video of the Day: Red Bull's 2014 season review 05:04

    Video of the Day: Red Bull's 2014 season review

    Red Bull Racing takes a look back at its 2014 Formula 1 campaign in the form of a Parallax video.

    F1
  35. Monday 15 December 2014

  36. Gutiérrez named Ferrari reserve driver 14:55

    Gutiérrez named Ferrari reserve driver

    Ferrari has signed Esteban Gutiérrez as its test and reserve driver for the 2015 campaign. Gutiérrez makes the switch a...

    F1
  37. Alguersuari says Formula 1 is 'a big GP2' 14:53

    Alguersuari says Formula 1 is 'a big GP2'

    Ex-Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari says Formula 1 is now less of a challenge for rookies, describing the top echelon as...

    F1
  38. Frijns officially parts ways with Caterham 11:47

    Frijns officially parts ways with Caterham

    Robin Frijns has officially split from the Caterham Formula 1 team, with his contract expiring on Monday. The Dutchman...

    F1
  39. Video: Race Of Champions highlights 11:02

    Video: Race Of Champions highlights

    Enjoy highlights of the 2014 Race Of Champions, won by ex-Formula 1 driver David Coulthard.

    Misc
  40. Nielsen joins Williams as Sporting Manager 09:11

    Nielsen joins Williams as Sporting Manager

    Williams has appointed Steve Nielsen to a new role of Sporting Manager with immediate effect. Nielsen's switch comes just...

    F1
  41. Button insists multi-year McLaren deal necessary 08:57

    Button insists multi-year McLaren deal necessary

    Jenson Button says that a multi-year deal with McLaren was necessary due to the nature of the squad's new project with...

    F1
  42. Video of the Day: McLaren unveils 2015 line-up 05:02

    Video of the Day: McLaren unveils 2015 line-up

    Go behind-the-scenes at McLaren's Technology Centre in Woking during last week's announcement of its 2015 driver line-up.

    F1
  43. Sunday 14 December 2014

  44. Hamilton wins BBC Sports Personality of the Year 22:28

    Hamilton wins BBC Sports Personality of the Year

    World Champion Lewis Hamilton has added to his post-season accolades by winning the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of...

    F1
  45. 19:20

    Latest Photos: Race Of Champions 2014

    Misc
  46. Coulthard storms to Race Of Champions crown 19:18

    Coulthard storms to Race Of Champions crown

    Former Formula 1 driver David Coulthard became the Champion Of Champions as he beat Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein...

    Misc
  47. Lorenzo takes class win in Abu Dhabi 15:46

    Lorenzo takes class win in Abu Dhabi

    Two-time MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo took a victory in the Gentlemen class at the Gulf 12 Hours in Abu Dhabi,...

    Misc
more news