Mid Season Review

From round 1 in Australia, it was thought that tyre management was to play a crucial role in the performance and strategies of teams. This has definitely been the case as the season has unfolded. It seemed only Lotus were immune from tyre management issues with Kimi securing a comfortable win at Albert Park. Round two, and off to Malaysia, saw a very controversial win for Vettel and a very tense podium for the Red Bull 1-2 finish. Red Bull weren’t the only team to issue team orders in relation to driver orders. Mercedes’ Hamilton finished third, but felt his podium finish was more deserved by Rosberg (who was arguably faster, but respected his orders not to pass his team mate).

Alonso was next to secure a win at the Chinese Grand Prix after a superb race by the Spaniard. Mercedes were looking strong in qualifying, but again couldn’t maintain race pace against Ferrari and the Lotus of Kimi. It seemed to be a race between Alonso and Kimi, until Kimi sustained front wing damage after a collision with McLaren’s Perez. Despite suffering considerable understeer, Kimi raced on and was able to fight off Hamilton to secure second place 10.1 seconds behind the Ferrari.

Vettel was victorious again at the Bahrain Grand Prix, though Red Bull and Formula 1 fans alike were split down the middle of a Team Webber/Team Vettel debate surrounding the “Multi-21” team orders. Rosberg got off to a strong start but conceded the lead to Vettel on the third lap and was unable to maintain his pace eventually finishing ninth. Again, Mercedes were strong in qualifying, but hadn’t quite got the tyre management which was crucial on race day. Alonso’s race was anything from perfect in Bahrain, who suffered from a malfunctioning DRS (remaining open) and was forced to battle the straights without it, eventually finishing eighth. Button had a strong start to to the race but eventually succumbed to tyre management and a late fourth pit stop saw him finish tenth. Both Lotus’ had my attention in Bahrain. After a poor qualifying Kimi gained six places to finish second, and Grosjean gained eight places to finish third.

Round 5 and the Spanish Grand Prix was a home victory for Alonso. The Sunday was a perfect race for the Ferrari, who despite qualifying fifth on the grid, made his way to the front and become to first driver to win at Catalunya from further back than the first row on the grid. Webber had a poor start but eventually finished fifth behind his team mate. Tyres were again an issue for every driver, except for Kimi Raikkonen. Kimi drove with a perfect balance aggression while still nursing his tyres, and was capable of a three-stop strategy (while most drivers struggled with four). The Lotus’ strategy paid off as he was able to take Vettel as he slipped in for a fourth stop, eventually finishing second. Mercedes’ Hamilton showed a stronger race day finishing third.

There was a bit of drama at the Monaco Grand Prix after it had emerged that Mercedes had conducted a secret tyre test after the Spanish Grand Prix. The test seemed to pay off for Mercedes as Rosberg secured a victory after qualifying on pole.  Teams discovered after the race that Mercedes managed to get extra wear out of the tyres but swapping the L-R rears. The race was red flagged when Maldonado crashed into a protective barrier after making contact with Marussia’s Max Chilton. Kimi was lucky to score a point in the race after a late puncture and pit put him in last place. The incident stricken Monaco Grand Prix concluded with Rosberg maintaining a comfortable lead, and the Red Bull’s of Vettel and Webber taking out second and third on the podium.

In contrast, the Canadian Grand Prix went ahead with very little incident for the drivers, though following the apparent success of Mercedes rear tyre switching in Monaco, most teams could be seen adopting the same strategy for round 7. Webber pace suffered from an incident with van der Garde, Sutil executed a very impressive pirouette mid race (in which he somehow managed to avoid contact with everyone and everything), Hamilton and Alonso has a brief battle for second and third, and Kimi secured a points finish to equal Schumacher’s most consecutive race finishes in the points. The resulting podium consisted of Vettel, Alonso, and Hamilton (in that order).

The British Grand Prix was strewn with tyre blow outs from the likes of Hamilton, Massa, Vergne, and Perez. Webber had a poor start, and to add insult to injury, suffered considerably after wing damage from contact by Grosjean.  Apart from being a dangerous race, the blow outs cost  Hamilton his shot at the podium. Vettel looked set to take the podium until suffering from gearbox failure forcing him to retire on lap 42. Grosjean was the final car to retire from the race on lap 52. Webber showed us all just what he is capable of  by making a spectacular comeback after the final safety car to eventually finish second. Alonso, who was on a similar pit strategy to Webber during the safety car, was able to get better speed and grip out of the tyres to make his way past Kimi. The final podium stood as Rosberg, Webber, and Alonso.

The most recent race in Germany was a home victory for Sebastian Vettel as he managed to keep Kimi’s preying Lotus at bay during the final laps. Webber again suffered from a race incident that considerably impacted his position putting him a lap behind his competitors. Though following the safety car deployed after Bianchi’s retirement, Webber was able to un-lap himself and had fantastic drive from there on out to finish an impressive seventh.  Romain Grosjean had an flawless race in Germany, demonstrating a truly impressive drive throughout the entire race. After a incident stricken British Grand Prix, all teams were banned from rear tyre swapping, resulting in considerably less grip and slower lap times by the Mercedes and Ferrari teams.

Looking back over the first half of the season, the Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, and Lotus teams have been successful on race days. Lotus are currently sitting fourth in the constructors championship, but this is largely accountable to incidents occurring later in the race affecting Kimi’s position. I’d expect in the second half of the season for Lotus, and especially Kimi, to gain more points on race days. Tyre management has been an issue for all teams over the first half of the season. Though following the Pirelli Tyre Testing at Silverstone, I’d expect tyre wear not to be as strong of an issue for teams for the remainder of the season. Mercedes early dominance in the season has been attributed to their participation in tyre testing in Spain. Although, aerodynamic improvements to the Mercedes F1 W04 would have had considerable advantage on track like Monte Carlo, where downforce and grip around the many corners play a more vital role than speed in race performance. Consequently from participating in the tyre test in Spain, Mercedes are the only team not to test in Silverstone this week.

Now lets look at some stats;

2012

2013

Position

Driver

Points

Driver

Points

1

Fernando Alonso

129

Sebastian Vettel

157

2

Mark Webber

116

Fernando Alonso

123

3

Sebastian Vettel

100

Kimi Räikkönen

116

4

Lewis Hamilton

92

Lewis Hamilton

99

5

Kimi Räikkönen

83

Mark Webber

93

In the Driver’s Championship for 2013, we are still looking at the same drivers taking out the top 5 positions (although with some order change). Vettel has moved up three places to currently sit at the top of the championship with a very healthy 34 point lead on Alonso. On that note, Alonso was taking out the top position last year, and is currently second. Kimi has moved up two places to third. Lewis Hamilton, despite changing teams has stayed in roughly the same points and is fourth. Mark Webber was second in the championship this time last year. In 2013 Webber is currently in fifth position, a hefty 64 points behind his team mate. Despite a 34 point difference between Vettel and Kimi, I think the second half of the season will close the gap between the two. Mark Webber’s announcement to retire from Formula 1 at the end of the season (and the open seat at Red Bull) could result in some quite successful races for Webber. Now that the pressure is off him, and he’s got a clear path in Le Mans, we might see some more of the old Mark Webber (before he went all dark and twisty). I think his race performance will improve, but mainly his attitude may be a bit nicer.

Ricciardo, Vergne, and Kimi will also be drivers to watch for the second half of the season, largely due to the seat that Webber is leaving open at Red Bull. Personally I would love to see Daniel Ricciardo in a Red Bull seat (and we’re getting a taste of that this week as he tests for RB at Silverstone), but I’m worried that he isn’t quite ready to leave Toro Rosso. Ricciardo is a driver will tremendous skill and potential, and I want to see him master that before he moves on. Vergne, another young driver with potential often placing higher race days than his team mate, will be a driver to watch closely in the following races as both the Toro Rosso drivers are essentially undergoing a job interview (at 300km/h). Kimi Raikkonen has been favourited as the driver to fill the empty seat at Red Bull, and to be honest, he’s the driver I’d most like to see in the RB10 next to Vettel. There is a lot of talk about who’s a better driver out of Vettel and Kimi, but when it comes down to it you can’t really compare the two until they’re in the same car. So if Kimi does join Red Bull, we can finally see the two race against each other from an equal footing. Now that will be a season to watch.

2012

2013

Position

Constructor

Points

Constructor

Points

1

Red Bull-Renault

216

Red Bull-Renault

250

2

Ferrari

152

Mercedes

183

3

Lotus-Renault

144

Ferrari

180

4

McLaren-Mercedes

142

Lotus-Renault

157

5

Mercedes

98

Force India-Mercedes

59

The gap in the Constructors Championship is huge. 67 points between Red Bull and Mercedes. It’s obvious who the favourites are to take out the Constructors Championship, but (as I mentioned in relation to Kimi), I expect to see Lotus move up in the points and possibly bump Ferrari down to fourth. Despite Alonso driving consistently well for Ferrari, his team mate seems to be struggling with his F138, and this may cost the team points in the later half of the season. Force India, while being 98 points behind Lotus in the Constructors Championship, have performed well in the first half of the season. Paul di Resta has consistently scored in the points, and looks in good set to finish off the season well. His team mate, Adrian Sutil, has had less luck only managing to finish in the points on three more occasions since Australia, though he’s a strong driver and the car is looking better in each race (especially on the corners). While McLaren have had a shaky first half of the season, the week of testing at Silverstone and extra time between races to work on their MP4-28, should see a more successful second half.

There’s a lot to think about for the races to come. Personally I most interested to watch the competition for the Red Bull seat unfold, but we’ll see what happens.

– Alex

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