F1 End-of-Term Report
With the FIA gala now finished, the F1 results are now set in stone. So let's have a look at the end-of-term report for the teams and drivers competing in the pinnacle of motorsport.
Let's start with the champions. Red Bull came into the year with, for many, nothing to gain and everything to lose. They had 3 back-to-back double title wins, with only McLaren (1988-1991) and Ferrari (2000-2004) either matching or bettering this record. The worst case scenario was they didn't repeat the feat a 4th time, while the best would see them drawing level with the most successful 4 years of McLaren's history. To the disappointment of many and the joy of the rest they achieved this only 4 years after they had first had a car capable of challenging for wins. Unquestionably it is Red Bull who have consistently built the best cars for the 2009-13 F1 regulations. But what of the drivers?
Vettel of course dominated the year if you look at points alone, winning the title by 155 points or over 5 wins. However, for the first 10 races of the year he won only 4 times. The title was won in the final 9 races where he set the record for the most consecutive wins in a single season, taking every chequered flag from Belgium to Brazil – and pushing his gearbox close to death after a fair number of them. Did the summer break give him the rest he needed to demolish the field in the latter half of the year? Did Red Bull improve the car to the extent it was utterly dominant post-break where it was merely a solid frontrunner before? Did Seb's rivals drop the ball massively in the end? There's a good case for all 3 of these theories. The first is a simple matter of where the consecutive wins fell in relation to the summer break. The second seems likely to a point as, barring Belgium, Webber was also on the podium in every race he finished in the second half of the year. The Aussie’s 3 retirements reflect Newey's knack of pushing the limit of reliability for the sake of a dominant car. For an earlier example look to the McLaren MP4-20: the fastest car on the 2005 grid, but prone to failures. Perhaps part of the reason Newey defected to Red Bull in the first place. Did their rivals drop the ball? Hardly. McLaren did, but that was before the season began and they really weren’t rivals of the champions this year. Ferrari? With 5 podiums in a 3-team battle for 2nd they were destined not to win, and one assumes a change of focus to 2014, they were as good as they could be with the resources a compromised design still had. Mercedes? With 3 wins before the break and only 3 podiums after it, probably. Lotus? They lost Kimi for the final 2 races, and they were restricted on funds that their rivals had pouring out of their ears in comparison. Ultimately the rest of the top 5 perhaps didn't make it hard for seb in the end – but have Red Bull focused properly on 2014, or has this year compromised their future? Either way, Seb has certainly earned his place there for next year.
Webber had a very different season to his teammate. Deciding early on to leave the sport for the WEC, he continued to play the game he always has done: race as fast as he can regardless of his teammate. Sadly the popular Australian failed to win a race in his swansong year, though 7 hard-earned podiums still came his way. Him being beaten by his teammate in Monaco – not to mention winner Rosberg – showed the fans it was perhaps time he hung up the [blue] Red Bull overalls for good after previous impressive drives there gave him rare opportunities to put Vettel in the shade. In place of glory, however, Webber became something of the sport's bad boy, dropped to last on the grid in China for fuel issues and dropped 10 places on the Korean grid after 3 reprimands were earned – squeezing Rosberg off the track in Bahrain, speeding under yellow flags in Canada and running across a semi-live track to jump onto Alonso's airbox to get a lift back to the pits. If you have to go, you might as well stick it to the establishment first. Certainly the WEC's gain, and Webber will unquestionably be missed.
Mercedes were the revelation of the year, basically trading places with their woeful former works team McLaren. After Lewis Hamilton arrived and told the media that the title wasn’t a reasonable prediction, many could be forgiven for thinking he was bluffing when the team took 3 wins in the first 10 races. However, barely gracing the podium from Belgium onwards showed that all was not yet well in the Mercedes camp – although Brawn's impending departure likely hurt team morale and certainly didn’t help their bid for either championship. While the car was hard on tyres, it deserved better results than it got in the second half of the year.
Rosberg wore the number 9 on the nose, but while he was close to Lewis, when the car was at its best it was the number 9 chassis that suffered from poor reliability, retiring in Australia (with Lewis 5th) China (Lewis 3rd) and Germany (where Lewis won). In spite of this there was only 18 points between them at the end of the year. The statistics show Hamilton was the better driver, but in reality Rosberg put up a defence that was ultimately undermined more by the car than the driver, especially as it was Nico who took the first two wins of the year for Mercedes – Monaco and Canada. It is worth noting here that those two circuits could hardly be more different, Monaco being the great equaliser among engines as downforce and sheer nerve take over, while Canada focuses more on what is under the engine cover. A good all-round year from Nico then, but rarely where he could be when it mattered.
Hamilton said from the start he expected nothing of 2013 and simply wanted to get to know the team ready for 2014. a Button-esque return to the McLaren pit box early in the year was somewhat embarrassing for all parties but that aside he beat Nico in all but 4 races where both finished. Having just concluded that Nico was every bit a match for Lewis when fate didn’t intervene, it was more a case of close but no cigar for the German.
Ferrari, Italy’s favourite stable, were beaten by their age-old German rival for the first time in F1 in over half a century. Ignoring the fact that Mercedes have only had 3 years in the sport in the intervening time, this is a monumental statement. The Prancing Horse took 2 wins to the Silver Arrows' 3, but instead of having to get used to a new driver they were preparing to say farewell to their faithful number 2. Ironically, it was only after he was confirmed to be leaving that Massa really came alive, but in the end it simply wasn’t enough for Ferrari to jump Mercedes. Something of a failure by the standards with which Maranello's finest opened the millennium. [Forgive me any typos from now on, it's 4am and I just caught myself adding random Welsh words and I'm already past my deadline!]
Fernando Alonso, proclaimed by many as the most complete driver in F1 today, took both the scarlet victories of 2013. That Massa took none is no surprise in itself, although it shows that the car simply wasn’t up the standard we have come to expect of them over the years. Of course, circumstances have conspired against Felipe hugely since late in 2008, but there can be little doubt over who the better driver is. While Schumacher couldn’t (or, perhaps, wouldn’t) touch his 2006 teammate in Brazil, Alonso made the podium with Felipe a distant 7th. Fernando's relationship with the boss, however, was less dominant. Luca di Montezemolo destroyed his own TV in 2010 when Alonso won the title – no issue for the president's bank balance, I'm sure – and has recently been at loggerheads with Alonso on what appear to be minor factors, but in Ferrari could make or break a career, especially with Raikkonen returning next year. Alonso may have been the closest driver to Seb in 2013, but the new era will show what he is really capable of – and many are tipping a very flustered Spaniard in the 2014 Ferrari.
Felipe has had a good run at Ferrari, winning races in 2006, racing for the title in 2008 and even holding it until the weather gods dictated Glock not be able to hold 5th. Since then he has never won a race, although some still argue he should have won in Germany 2011, in spite of Alonso's superior pace. His eventual – and, frankly, inevitable – sacking from Ferrari after a further 4 years of service post-injury galvanised him and the Massa of old came out in flashes, although his only podium of the year came early on in Spain, split from his winning teammate in cruel retrospective irony by his 2014 replacement's Lotus. That race perhaps sums up Felipe's career as much as his 2013 season: fast, but never quite fast enough. Here's hoping Williams can give him what he needs to return to his 2008 form.
Lotus have been a controversial team this year, with the high-profile departure of Kimi Raikkonen and the subsequent finance-based hiring of Pastor Maldonado after a sponsorship deal fell through which would have allowed them to sign Nico Hulkenberg – the fans' preferred choice as well as their own. Winning the curtain-raiser in Melbourne, followed by 4 podiums in the next 4 races – including one for the much-improved Grosjean – made them look like genuine title contenders but they tailed off, taking only 3 more podiums before the summer break, followed by a further 6 afterwards which were undermined by a lack of funds and the loss of Kimi from Austin and Interlagos. After a promising start to the year they only overtook McLaren – and only the most biased of history books will claim that as a genuine success given Woking's form in 2013.
Kimi Raikkonen, the Iceman, led the championship leaving Australia. Upon leaving Malaysia he had lost that lead to Vettel. From then on the Finn never quite made the same impression again, despite his teammate making a real step up over his previous campaigns. 5th overall, he only beat Romain by 12 points – a dire effort on past form given Grosjean's reputation for pushing too hard and finding another car or a wall to drive into. Ask any hater and they immediately throw Spa 2009 or – more commonly - Spa 2012 at you. Ask his fans, and you hear stories of the awesome drive in Suzuka this year, or the less-than-polite message to Kimi late in the year to get out of the Swiss driver's way. Although not in quite those words. Did he have the contract in place as he started to fall away, or did Ferrari simply turn a blind eye as they head-hunted their last champion? I doubt we will ever know exactly when discussions started, agreements were reached or contracts were signed, but whatever the case the reduction in pace is hardly natural for a motivated Raikkonen: for an unmotivated example, remind yourself of 2008 and the pre-Hungary form against Massa. Ferrari will be hoping they have the 2007 Kimi not the late 2013 version.
Romain Grosjean is a driver I can't say a bad word about, mainly because of the missus being a huge fan. However, what I can say without ending up with a lot more space in my bed is that he has mellowed over the winter to an incredible extent. This is perhaps proof that Lotus can work with Maldonado and sand down those rough edges as well. Looking solely at 2013, however, Lotus' second driver, at least in part retained for his connections – Boullier as his manager (a throwback to Briatore/Alonso, even down to the same factory) and Total sponsorship have certainly done nothing to hurt his career. As mentioned before, Spa 2012 is the low point of his F1 career, but Suzuka is definitely a high. Beating the Bulls off the line and for many deserving the victory that day as well, the story of 2013 for Romain is one of coming of age, the day he finally hit the big time in F1. One to watch for the future, that's for sure.
McLaren. I almost want to leave their paragraph there, because you all know what I'm going to say, and typing it at 5am seems more laborious than other teams' reports. However, they deserve the column inches as much as any team so here goes. A generally unpopular choice for replacing Lewis came in the forum of Sergio Perez, who ran into difficulties early on but in Bahrain proved he could match Button, albeit annoying the 2009 champion with a bit of rough driving. After something of a breakdown last year after his McLaren contract went public, Sergio settled into the team and performed fairly well given the equipment. However, he could only take two thirds of Button's points from the year and for a team like McLaren where they excel at pitting 2 top-tier drivers against each other – although you can ask Hamilton and Alonso, or Prost and Senna, how well that works in practice at times – that simply isn't good enough. Did he deserve the McLaren seat? No, it should have been Hulkenberg's. Did he deserve to lose it for 2014? No. Perez' departure shows McLaren’s failure rather than a flaw in Sergio, to my mind.
Jenson Button was perhaps surprised by Sergio's driving, even if he had no bad words to say about his teammate to the media. However, the Brit could only take 73 points which simply didn’t match the top 8 drivers at all, even Massa beating him by 39 points where only 2 years earlier Jenson was Seb's closest match over the year, including that incredible drive in Canada. Is the 2009 champion losing his touch, or was the car simply too unbalanced and – dare I say it? - missing too much grip for him to extract performance from it? Either way, 2014 is a year he deserves to show us which it is. Both parties will hope it was the car, as that is what has now been scrapped. I somehow can't see it being sent to Goodwood or showing up in the Donington museum any time soon.
Sergio was a larger factor in the team's report than I intended so there perhaps isn't so much to say for him here, but it is worth noting that while Jenson matched his best position – a single 5th place, in India – Jenson only matched it once (China) and finally beat him with a 4th in Brazil. That those 2 results were almost totally responsible for the difference between the drivers shows how well matched they were in spite of the general feeling of frustration at McLaren’s apparent panic signing of the Mexican in the wake of Hamilton’s departure.
Force India were impressive in 2013. While they came nowhere near a win – unlike in 2009 – they pushed for 5th against the lacklustre McLaren, budget differences and perhaps driver class eventually forcing them to call off the chase. However, di Resta was a single point behind Perez at the end of the year, and with a higher best finish - 4th in Bahrain, although Alonso's rear wing malfunction arguably helped. The team seemed to have made a step forward early in the year but it looked as though they ran out of money mid-season, forcing them to rest on their laurels. Certainly after summer they managed a 6th, an 8th, 2 9th places and 2 10ths. McLaren managed a 4th and a 5th in that time. Worth watching in the midfield battle of 2014 though.
Paul di Resta demolished his teammate by some 19 points, 48-29 according to the statistics. In reality the pair were much closer, with neither being obviously on top all year. Paul suffered a long run of qualifying misfortune, which came to a head before it was brought back up to the standard of an upper-midfield team. He qualified 5th twice – in his native Britain and his ancestral Italy – and took the best post-break race result for the team in Abu Dhabi with 6th. Sadly for Paul's F1 career the team look increasingly likely to replace their entire line-up, with Hulkenberg confirmed and Perez strongly rumoured for 2014. The general consensus is that he will replace his cousin Dario Franchitti after the Indy star retired on medical grounds after a series of heavy shunts, but he has had a good run in F1. In my view, however, he hasn’t excelled and it is time to look elsewhere.
What keeps bringing Adrian Sutil back to the team he joined in 2007 as Spyker I don't know. He doesn’t bring much money and, frankly, has never been a particularly great driver. Considering he was hired over the highly-rated Jules Bianchi – a move that has been ever less popular outside Marussia as the year went on – his score barely breaking half of his teammate's will have gone down like a lead balloon in the garage. Perhaps this is why he has never raced for another outfit, although rumour has it he is off to Sauber in a straight swap for Hülkenberg. Whether that is true or not, I can't help but feel Force India would be better off without him.
Sauber had a dire start to the year, scoring only 7 points before the break. The final 9 races, however, yielded 50 and pulled them ahead of Toro Rosso who seemed to tail off. A solid midfield team, Sauber are looking steady as they go into 2014, finances aside.
Hülkenberg looked impressive as he always has – 2010 putting a Williams on pole, 2012 eventually coming good in the Force India – by taking 51 points for Sauber despite a trying year both on and off the track. With Sauber unable to pay his wages and Ferrari stepping in at the last moment to help their unofficial junior team, as well as a car that couldn't race in the opening round, Nico must have thought he was dreaming. This couldn't be the same team that looked so impressive in 2012 and nearly won in Malaysia but for a lapse in concentration for Perez? His 4th in Korea showed that neither Sauber nor Nico had lost their pace for good. With a confirmed return to Force India next year, we will see if the synergy can come good from the first round this time and the young German might get a chance to show exactly how irritating he can be for the big teams who many think should have hired him by now.
Esteban Gutierrez was nowhere for much of the year, bringing money and a lack of pace to the team. However, one 7th place in Japan proved he wasn't totally worthless, even if it made no difference in championship terms. While his 6 points were nothing compared to Nico's 51 and a seat at Sauber hasn't exactly been earned, he has improved over the year and may continue to do so, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him given a second chance in the Swiss team, especially with his Telmex backing.
Toro Rosso were looking very racy early on but went off the boil by summer. 8th overall was hardly what they would want, with 6th their highest championship finish back in 2008 when they beat the Red Bull squad courtesy of Vettel and Ferrari power. However, with 3 10th places and a single 7th, the latter part of the year was basically a write-off after 2 10th places, 2 8th places, a 7th and a 6th prior to the break.
Ricciardo, Red Bull-bound for 2014, didn’t dominate his teammate to the extent I would have liked for him to prove he deserved the seat over Vergne. Only 7 points apart and without the best result of the team's season, he has nothing going for him beyond marketability and experience, having driven for HRT prior to the pair jumping into Toro Rosso. For me Daniel has fallen away a little this year rather than stepping up, and Red Bull seem to have turned a blind eye.
Jean-Eric Vergne was perhaps the better all-round package in Toro Rosso this year, with the best position of the team's 2013 campaign in the form of 6th in Canada. However, that wasn't enough to convince Red Bull top brass that he was more ready for the Red Bull seat than Daniel and JEV has to settle for another year running at the back of the points. While the order is set to shake up for 2014, I somehow doubt Red Bull will want Toro Rosso to have a chance of repeating 2008, and Vergne is condemned to lead that flawed charge while used as a benchmark for Kvyat – indirectly being measured against Vettel through Ricciardo.
As a Williams fan this is where it gets painful. A year after taking a surprise victory came the worst season I can remember – 5 points, only scoring in 2 races, and a very public spat with the team's most recent race winner. OK maybe that last bit is nothing new for those of us who followed Williams when they kept losing world champions the year after their title: Mansell to Indy for 1993, Prost retiring for 1994 and Hill forced to defect to Arrows for 1996 to name but 3. The sole benefit to this dire year is that anything 2014 throws at them can only be an improvement.
Pastor Maldonado is hardly popular with Williams or their fanbase any more, having publicly accused the team of sabotage and claimed they haven't treated him properly. He rescinded the allegations later but Williams won't be too sad to see the back of him for 2014, especially as he only achieved a single point all year and lost out to his rookie teammate.
Valtteri Bottas was touted as Williams' next great driver through 2012 and into 2013. As it turned out he showed flashes of brilliance, generally bringing the car home ahead of Pastor 10 times out of 19. Finishing the year with 4 times the score of his more experienced teammate was only half the story: an impressive Saturday in Canada saw him qualify 3rd, and while he failed to score that weekend he certainly turned heads. He was driver of the day for most in Austin as well, taking the fight to drivers in much better machinery than his own and proving he could race wheel to wheel and keep his head. Only contact with Hamilton in Brazil marred his reputation, and then opinions were divided. I could write an article on that incident alone so I will say no more there, but Valtteri and Felipe will be a decent pairing at Williams in 2014. Watch this team very closely.
Marussia have finally made it into 10th. They should have done it in 2012 but for Pic letting Petrov's Caterham through to ensure his new team had the best budget possible. The extra money should stand them in good stead for an assault on the lower midfield in 2014.
Jules Bianchi came into the season vying for a Force India seat which I still maintain he deserved over Sutil. However, while he suffered reliability issues his teammate did not, Jules finished ahead in all races bar Monaco – brake failure – Germany – expired engine, causing THAT reversing Marussia – Singapore – simply beaten - Japan – tangled with van der Garde - and India – simply beaten. But for technical issues, 17 out of 19 races saw Jules on top. Small wonder he has a 2014 contract in his pocket – though why it is still with Marussia I'm not so sure.
Max Chilton came in with somewhat limited success in GP2 but a heavy wallet. He brought the car home in every single race, but rarely finished ahead of anybody. Marussia want him to stay for his reliability but if the team move forward he looks likely to hold them back on actual pace.
Caterham are probably the biggest losers of 2014, not just because they finished the year 11th of 11 but because this is the first time they haven't been in the coveted 10th place. They came into the season the hot tip for scoring the first points of the young teams, but as with Marussia they failed to improve on previous seasons.
Charles Pic managed to take 14th in Malaysia and Korea, one more than his teammate. However, largely because of the car he had something of an anonymous year, beating Giedo 12 races to 7 but losing out to Bianchi in 9 races didn't help either him or the team. He will need to push harder to achieve what is expected in 2014.
Giedo van der Garde settled in as you would expect of a rookie driver in a backmarker team. Occasionally beating his teammate on raw pace, never too far behind the lead car and matching Pic's best result with a 14th in Hungary, Giedo earned his seat and, for me, the right to stay into the next era of Formula One.
Next week: The GP2 End-of-Term Report.