In a new feature on Richland F1, four of the writers on the website answer questions about the season so far as we prepare to enter the second half of the 2013 Formula One season at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend.
Who is your driver of the season so far?
Abhishek Takle: Driver of the year? I’d say it’s a close run thing between Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Vettel is leading the title standings, has won four races and has driven very maturely this year. Kimi on the other hand has also been remarkably consistent not just this year but since his return to Formula One as shown by his record-breaking 27 straight points finishes. However having said that, Kimi just shades Vettel for driver of the season honours because personally for me, Vettel’s stolen win in Malaysia takes the shine off an otherwise impressive campaign for the German.
Ernie Black: I’m going to say Lewis Hamilton. I expected Kimi to be a contender because I expected his Lotus to be competitive and that’s the biggest reason. Hamilton is only 10 points behind Kimi, which to me, is very impressive.
Alex Goldschmidt: In many respects, there are several drivers that are in reach of this accolade, but my driver of the season so far is Lewis Hamilton. Having made the move to McLaren, he seemed a lot more like himself and has come out of his shell, rather than being a “controlled” individual. He was clearly very realistic on how he felt he might fare in his first year at Brackley, but both the team and himself have clearly exceeded expectations all round.
Trent Price: Lewis Hamilton. He’s having the kind of year Alonso had in 2012 but may just have a better car in the 2nd half to capitalize on his early excellence.
Red Bull have put aside internal politics to lead both championships. Do you think Mark Webber will be a) in a position to and b) allowed to win a race in his final nine races?
AT: Absolutely! We’ve seen how well Mark Webber can go when things fall into place for him. Motivation will certainly not be a problem but what Webber needs is for things to go smoothly. Webber and Vettel would no doubt have fought it out for the win in Germany had Webber’s first stop gone according to plan, with the spillover of events from Malaysia providing a mouth-watering sub-plot and adding that extra bit of intensity, tension and enmity to what could have been an almighty scrap between the two Red Bulls.
Will he be allowed to win? Not sure. But it doesn’t matter. I think with Webber leaving and no doubt also feeling like he has a score to settle following Malaysia, the straight-talking Aussie will go for it even if he’s asked to hold back or move over. He’s leaving so he’s got nothing to lose by disobeying team orders.
EB: Mark is always in a position to win a race, however I would say it is highly doubtful Red Bull would allow him to take the victory if Vettel is not in a position to benefit from it (i.e. Vettel out of the points and Webber can take away points from Seb’s rivals).
AG: I think that Mark should be given an equal opportunity to contend for race victories now he has announced that he will be leaving for the WEC next season, but with Sebastian being ahead of the pack in the race for the title once again, it depends on what the hierarchy may have already decided.
TP: With Mercedes coming on strong and most of Sebastian’s opposition having willing team-mates at their disposal, the jury is definitely out on this! A may dictate B and much as B may dictate A.
Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus have all won races with varying form otherwise. Which team is best-placed to challenge Red Bull for the title?
AT: Judging by recent form, I would have to say Mercedes. Ferrari seem to have fallen away and going by recent comments from Alonso which were met with a swift and very public rebuke from President Montezemolo combined with the Alonso to Red Bull rumours, it would seem that all is not well between Ferrari and their star driver. Mercedes, on the other hand, have without a doubt produced the fastest car of the lot this year. The trouble for the Brackley-based squad, however, has been managing tyre wear which has compromised their races. For Lotus the problem is qualifying. They seem to have recovered their Sunday pace after a brief mid-season drop off in performance but their lack of speed over a single lap on Saturday leaves the Enstone-based squad with too much ground to make up in the race even if they have the pace to win. With Mercedes looking formidable post Hungary, qualifying higher up will be crucial if Lotus is to sustain its title tilt.
EB: It’s tough to say. Lotus is clearly very competitive but if Mercedes has been able to sort out their tyre woes, I would say Mercedes. Sadly Ferrari seems to have lost ground, therefore, unless they make a remarkable turnaround, they may be out of the running.
AG: I would have to say that it is between Lotus and Mercedes to bring the fight to Red Bull with the latter best placed as they have shattered the illusion that Red Bull dominates qualifying, with both Hamilton and Rosberg pushing the W04 to its limits over a single lap to secure around 70% of the pole positions thus far. The team have been optimistic, but their performances so far have been impressive, with wins in Monaco, Silverstone and Hungary. This was even though the team had the so-called “private” Pirelli test, that was a bone of contention from the minute the story was made public. However, Ross Brawn’s handling of the whole saga just showed how well-oiled this Stuttgart powerhouse is becoming, even though Toto Wolff has said that points are a priority for the remainder of the season. However, it seems clear that Mercedes want to properly upset the apple cart and show Red Bull they can’t have their own way.
TP: Waiting on how Mercedes handles the fast corners at Spa I’d say Brackley are poised for a late run at the title, but if anything they could take valuable points off Alonso and Raikkonen.
In the midfield, can we expect McLaren to finish on the podium – let alone win a race – in the second half of the season? Is it time for the British team to switch focus to next season?
AT: No. The fight at the top is extremely tight and I don’t see McLaren being in a position to challenge for the podium unless we have an unusual race. They do seem to have improved in recent races and are getting ever closer to Force India in the constructors standings but challenging Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus is a different matter. They should have switched focus to 2014 after it became clear that the Spanish Grand Prix upgrades hadn’t improved their fortunes by much. We’re past the half-way mark in the 2013 season and with significant changes due for 2014, best to write off the season and put all your eggs in one basket.
EB: McLaren can certainly podium. The unexpected is always to be expected in F1. I would imagine many teams will have already decided to switch focus to 2014 and McLaren should be one of them.
AG: They will already have made an effort to push their focus towards the 2014 season, as they seemed to admit this a couple of months ago, but no team with the legacy McLaren has will not bring updates to the second part of the season, as Button has been optimistic that the team will do well at Spa this time around. I think a podium is possible, but a win might be out of reach unless some freak occurrence happens due to weather or some other divine intervention.
TP: McLaren may yet pull a few tricks – especially Button’s prowess in changeable conditions. If they’re in the back end of the points, either Button or Perez could be a headache for a championship contender having an off-day. A full switch to 2014 would be wise – even if it didn’t work out for them last year!
On a similar vein, should Williams plough more resources into catching Sauber for 8th in the constructors’, or simply draw a line under this season?
AT: Perhaps it is more important for Williams than McLaren to shift focus to 2014 given the limited resources available to the former world champions. Yes, they couldn’t carry last year’s improvement through into this season but with Pat Symonds now on board it’s best for the Grove-based outfit to focus on next year instead. But then again, given their limited resources eighth place in the title race and the extra amount of cash that would bring is probably worth fighting for.
EB: Difficult decision for Williams, however if I were running the team, I would have to weigh the opportunity cost of continuing development in the hopes for 8th vs the difference in prize money between 8th and 9th.
AG: There is no real point in continuing the work of the FW35, which has been a real disappointment for the Grove squad this year, which has been further compounded by both Toto Wolff and Mike Coughlan moving on after last season, which saw the team pick up its first win in 8 years thanks to Maldonado’s drive at Barcelona. The new Mercedes tie-in could help the team, as it all changes once again for 2014, so they could be on to better things, if they concentrate on the light at the end of the tunnel.
TP: Six points might seem a paltry sum for Williams to overhaul Sauber and yet that number has been unatainable for half the year for the Grove outfit. A focus on next year allied to some canny strategy for the remainder of 2013 might be the order of the day.
At the back, Caterham and Marussia are going head-to-head for 10th. Can Caterham catch them? If so, will it be Charles Pic or Giedo van der Garde to top Bianchi’s P13 in Malaysia?
AT: It would be easy to say Charles Pic off the cuff. But the fact is that Pic has had a year’s worth more of Formula One experience compared to his team-mate, crucial in today’s era of limited testing as a result of which rookies are forced to do their learning and make their mistakes in full view of the public. Yes, van der Garde has had some off days but has also shown flashes of potential. With the Dutchman clocking more and more experience as the season wears on, Pic might not find it as easy to show his team-mate a clean pair of heels as he did at the start of the year.
EB: This is all very speculative. We know Caterham has switched focus to 2014 and I suspect Marussia will probably do the same. It’s anyone’s guess and anyone’s game.
AG: Caterham has come back from the depths at the very last moment to snatch glory ahead of rivals Marussia, especially as we saw this last season with Vitaly Petrov’s move at Interlagos this year. They will be able to do this if they keep being consistent on the upgrades they bring to the table for the rest of the season, but Marussia have been stronger since the onset with the Frenchman showing he’s the real deal. For me, I think it is more likely Charles to be the one to to possibly outdo Bianchi’s efforts this year than van der Garde. Simply put, Pic has more experience, as well as having the measure of his Dutch teammate this season.
TP: Either team only needs a point at this stage so there’s no rest for either Caterham or Marussia. Giedo van der Garde definitely has his tail up and if he can capitalize on this Hungary form he could be the saviour – with any luck that won’t mean a P45 for his efforts!
What will be the ‘big story’ of the second half of the season?
AT: It’s either going to be the tyres (as everyone learns how the altered Pirellis behave) or, if they manage to keep it going, Mercedes’ resurgence. Another story to keep an eye on, though, will be relations between Fernando Alonso and Ferrari. As I said above there seem to be indications of a rift between Alonso and the team and it will be interesting to see how the story develops. It may all amount to nothing in the end but the fallout from any rift would significantly shake up the driver market in the near future if not this year.
EB: I would say on track Big Story would be reliability and the ability to finish races. Off track Big Stories might be more prevalent and for that I would say politics and driver announcements.
AG: For me, I think the biggest story will be regarding the contract for the tyre supplier for 2014, as Michelin have shown in some respects a valid interest int he sport, especially with having had previous experience within F1. Pirelli are saying that the contract issue is bizarre, to say the very least, as no real light has been shed on exactly what will happen. It all comes down to tyres once again.
TP: Team Orders!
At which race will the title be decided?
AT: While Vettel may not quite have the title all wrapped up it still doesn’t feel as close a championship as it did last year and I doubt it will go all the way down to the wire. Having said that, I don’t expect anyone to run away with it and the title battle may well run until the penultimate round.
EB: I think the title has already been decided and it is just a matter of time and arithmetic before it’s official. Barring any significant change in luck or form, I would say Vettel will claim his fourth title on or before Abu-Dhabi.
AG: It should come down to the wire like it did last season, but I think it will either be Abu Dhabi or Austin where we could see the champion crowned.
TP: At the 2013 United States Grand Prix – hopefully not the United States courts in 2014!
Silly season is in full swing. Who will Red Bull and Ferrari go with for 2014?
AT: No suspense over the Red Bull seat anymore and though there hasn’t been any official announcement comments from Raikkonen’s manager and other reports seem to indicate that Daniel Ricciardo has clinched the second Red Bull seat. As for Ferrari, Montezemolo has once again put Felipe Massa on notice and Ferrari have a pool of talented drivers to choose from but with the Maranello squad one never knows. If Massa picks his form up as he did last year we could well see the Ferrari family stick with the Brazilian for another year.
EB: Red Bull: Vettel and Riccardo; Ferrari: Alonso and Massa.
AG: In this instance, I think it will be a case that when we find out just who goes to Red Bull, the pieces of the puzzle that make up the 2014 driver’s market will fall into place. Until this happens, there has been so much speculation as to just who gos where, as Alonso’s manager has met with Red Bull, Kimi is either rumoured to go to the champions or back to the Scuderia, Hulkenberg is in the frame for Lotus, and even Sauber seems to have issues with the Russian consortium that looked set to fund them. So it is still up in the air until some official releases come this way. But if Ricciardo doesn’t get the drive, is the Red Bull Junior Team program one worth having?
TP: Ferrari should remain unchanged given they need stability for the new regulation changes. Red Bull? Juan Pablo Montoya’s not doing much next year…
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic.