2013 is unlikely to go down in the history books as being a classic Formula One season, but it was nevertheless an important and enjoyable one. Sebastian Vettel romped to his fourth consecutive world championship with what was perhaps his most dominant performance yet, winning a record-equalling nine races in a row. The German driver has firmly established himself as an all-time great of the sport, and scarily, he’s only 26 years old.
However, the year got off to a somewhat quiet start for Vettel and Red Bull. Despite clinching a soggy pole position at Albert Park, both parties were dwarfed in Australia by Kimi Raikkonen, the race winner by virtue of tyre management, and Fernando Alonso, who simply outraced him. Vettel bounced back with an incredibly controversial win in Malaysia, passing teammate Mark Webber against team orders, but once again the team appeared to lack that killer pace many expected. With victories in China and Spain, Alonso appeared to be in the box seat to stop Seb, despite the German driver winning in Bahrain. His wins had coincided with Alonso’s DNFs, meaning that he was yet to prove that he had the edge over the Ferrari. Throw in Nico Rosberg’s win in Monaco, and the championship looked to be wide open.
In Canada though, Vettel produced a peerless performance that would set the tone for the rest of the season. For the first time all year, he outclassed the rest of the field and moved into a comfortable championship lead heading to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Despite retiring from the race, it was perhaps the turning point in the title race, putting him out of reach. Five tyre failures prompted Pirelli to rapidly change its design of tyre, despite the teams initially rejecting the move before the incidents. The change back to the 2012 construction of tyre ruined Force India’s season, aided Sauber and – unquestionably – helped Vettel out. Very few drivers can balance raw pace with tyre management as well as he can.
And from that moment on, it was The Sebastian Vettel Show. Barring one minor blip in Hungary when Lewis Hamilton scored his first win for Mercedes, the German driver won everything. Nine straight wins, another world title and a place in F1 history.
Of course, this isn’t to say that, without the tyre debacle, Vettel and Red Bull would not have won their championships. What made both parties so dominant was that they improved and excelled cumulatively. That may lack semantic sense, but it essentially means that they got better, and better, and better. Both Ferrari and Mercedes failed to put up a sustained fight across the course of the season. At times, both were the quickest team out there, yet neither could capitalise and make this advantage last any more than a race or two. Just as they did in 2012, the Vettel/Red Bull machine never faltered. It was easily his best title win yet.
Sadly, financial dramas were part and parcel of the off-track news this season. Both Sauber and Lotus ran into serious monetary issues, blighting their on-track successes. However, both have secured a future in the sport, even if the latter’s signing of Pastor Maldonado has left a bad taste in the mouth of many. For Sauber, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The late-season form of both Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez was highly encouraging, and in Adrian Sutil, the team has signed a seasoned and experienced driver. If the Swiss team can get the car right in 2014, then it could be a big year for them.
The award for the most underwhelming team of the year undoubtedly has to go to McLaren, though. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh labelled it their annus horribilis as neither Jenson Button nor Sergio Perez reached the podium all year long. However, it was not for want of trying. The team spirit remained; the efficiency remained; it was purely the car that was at fault. For those reasons, Perez’s jilting may seem harsh, but the powers that be at Woking clearly see something special in World Series by Renault champion Kevin Magnussen.
The battle at the back raged on between Caterham and Marussia, and it was perhaps more feisty than ever. The Anglo-Russian outfit upset the odds by turning up in Australia and outclassing their emerald rivals, led by Jules Bianchi. Although Marussia’s advantage lasted all of four races, the team did enough damage in that time to ensure a tenth place finish in the constructors’ championship come the end of the season. Caterham will be eager to bounce back in 2014, but with Ferrari power, Marussia will also be up for a fight.
Of course, the off-track stories were rife in 2013, thus complementing the racing. Mercedes found themselves caught up in a debacle over secret (or was it private?) testing, acting as a prologue for the tyregate fiasco at Silverstone. On the same weekend, Mark Webber confirmed that he would be retiring from F1 at the end of the season, and his exit was accompanied by that of Cosworth and the V8 engine, which will be replaced by a turbocharged V6 next year. In many ways, 2013 marked the end of an era.
And so we arrive at 2014. New engines, new rules and regulations, ugly noses and Kimi Raikkonen back in a Ferrari. Only one team (Mercedes) to have confirmed its line-up for 2014 has an unchanged line-up, and the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Pastor Maldonado may flourish with their new teams. Let us revel in what has been a momentous season of grand prix racing, and be full of excitement for what is to come.
82 days to go…
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic.