A Happy New Year to all my readers, and here’s to a great season of F1 in 2013! What have we to look forward to? There are plenty of changes, with the following already confirmed:
- Lewis Hamilton moves to Mercedes in place of the retired Michael Schumacher.
- Nico Hulkenberg has side-stepped from Force India to Sauber, and will partner rookie Esteban Gutierrez.
- Valtteri Bottas steps into Bruno Senna’s shoes a Williams, alongside Pastor Maldonado.
- Charles Pic will race for Caterham, with the second seat still unconfirmed.
- Max Chilton will join Charles Pic at Marussia.
- At the time of writing the second Force India seat is undecided, with the likely players being Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi.
- Sergio Perez, of course, joins Jenson Button at McLaren.
The demise of HRT has left use with empty slots on the grid, but that is unlikely to be noticed. It is a pity that Pedro de la Rosa, who worked hard and admirably for the Spanish outfit, has seen his F1 career brought to an inglorious end.
So, who should we be watching carefully in the early stages of the season? Logic dictates that the ‘big three’ – Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari – will hit the ground running, but as with 2012 there could be surprises in store. I expect the midfield to be a jumble for the first few races as teams sort out their new packages, but any thoughts that Mercedes will continue to flounder should be shelved; this is a serious team, with a strong driver line up and a committed and very talented technical staff, the only concern being that of the old ‘too many cooks’ scenario. Given, however, that many have worked under Ross Brawn before, the fruits of the collaboration should – on paper – be impressive.
Williams is an interesting conundrum; their 2012 was good, a much-improved season on recent ones, and if they can again deliver a quick car then all eyes will be on Bottas, as the young Finn is very highly regarded by the team. Sauber seems to be banking all on Hulkenberg – not a bad decision in any way – as young Gutierrez is something of an unknown quantity. They also have the ability to produce a fast car, as evidenced last season.
The dark horse, as it was last year, is surely Lotus, where Kimi Raikkonen is again partnered by Romain Grosjean. Grosjean has the opportunity this season to iron out his often wayward mistakes, and to deliver on the obvious speed and promise that he clearly has. I predict he will shine, as will his charismatic team mate Raikkonen.
The most pressing question regarding driver changes is not that regarding Hamilton – we know he can drive, and deliver – but of his replacement: Sergio Perez has pace, that we have seen on many an occasion, but can he make it consistent? The young Mexican would do well to learn from his experienced team mate – Button – and not rush into things too quickly. McLaren can be a double edged sword for a young driver – you only need to ask Heikki Kovalainen for confirmation. Again, I believe Perez has it in him to rise to the occasion, and he could be the surprise of the season.
Two drivers who will be missing from the grid are worthy of mention: Kovalainen, for me, is much, much better than the sum of his results so far, and is likely to be out of a drive thanks to Vitaly Petrov’s Russian money and a sizeable wad courtesy of Charles Pic. Kamui Kobayashi has also fallen victim to the need for money, with Gutierrez seemingly continuing the Mexican trend at Sauber for financial reasons. It is a pity to see Kobayashi left out, as he has charisma and talent.
So, the first test – for those who like to clock-watch – begins at Jerez on the fifth of February. That should see most of the bigger teams out with their new cars. Who is my tip for the title? It’s a long shot, but I’m going to predict that Lotus will get things right this year, and that Raikkonen will in with a shout, with Vettel and Alonso fighting it out with him. A bit like last year, then!