Team orders, tyres and Sebastian Vettel’s dominance. Those are three things that the 2013 Formula One season will most likely be remembered for.
After a season which featured seven different winners in the first seven races, and a championship that went down to the wire, 2012 was always going to be a tough act to follow. Initially however, the signs looked promising.
Five winners from four different teams in the first half of the season suggested a close title battle. Indeed, it was only Sebastian Vettel’s consistency that had seen him pull out a championship lead. The German’s only misfortune of the season came at the British Grand Prix, when he was denied victory through gearbox failure.
He had not done himself any favours in the eyes of the fans earlier in the year though. At Malaysia, he’d gone against Red Bull’s “multi 21” team order and denied Mark Webber victory. As the reception he got at Silverstone after retiring proved – the golden boy was now the sport’s archetypal villain. It would not be the last time he would be jeered through the duration of the season.
Had it not been for a couple of tactical errors from Ferrari, the championship may have been even closer at the midway point. Ferrari left Fernando Alonso out with a broken front wing in Malaysia, which rather predictably lead to the Spaniard’s retirement when it eventually failed completely. Then came Bahrain where a glitch with his DRS system saw him make two unplanned visits to the pits. On a track where Ferrari’s pace had been competitive, it cost him a chance of challenging for victory.
But two dominant wins for Alonso, in China and Barcelona respectively, seemed to suggest that Ferrari were in contention for the title.
Mercedes too seemed to be in the hunt. After the trials and tribulations of previous seasons, the German manufacturer was the most improved team of 2013. A brace of pole positions showed what tremendous speed the car had over a single lap. However, their conversion rate was poor, as they struggled with tyre wear more than any of their rivals. It would mean that while the Silver Arrows would qualify strongly, they’d often end up going backwards in a race.
They tried to rectify this by agreeing to a tyre test with Pirelli following the Spanish Grand Prix. In the Italian tyre company’s defence, they had contacted all teams, but Mercedes were the only one to take them up on the offer of testing. Rosberg and Hamilton completed 1,000km of running in 2013 spec cars whilst wearing black crash helmets to avoid any onlookers from knowing their identity.
The story only broke at the following race in Monaco, and both Mercedes and Pirelli would be summoned before an FIA tribunal to explain themselves. All the while, Formula One was no closer to solving the troubling issue of tyre failures that had been witnessed sporadically at previous events.
Pirelli requested a switch to 2012 spec tyres, but without getting the unanimous approval of the teams (all of whom had different agendas), FIA rejected the proposal. The sport then moved on to Canada, with Vettel taking his most convincing win of the season at a track that had previously eluded him.
The British Grand Prix was next, and perhaps the decisive moment in deciding the outcome of this year’s championship. A spate of failures throughout the duration of the Grand Prix saw one of the calendar’s most important races coming close to being red flagged. Throughout the chaos though, Nico Rosberg claimed his second victory of the season after a superb performance in Monaco.
The immediate backlash that followed resulted in the FIA finally granting approval to Pirelli to resort to its 2012 spec rubber. Under the threat of a strike from the drivers should there be any more tyre trouble, the German Grand Prix went ahead. It featured two bizarre incidents – the first when a cameraman was hit by Mark Webber’s errant wheel in the pit lane, and the second when Jules Bianchi’s Marussia rolled backwards onto the track after suffering engine failure.
The former would result in immediate changes to the number of people allowed to work in the pit lane. On track however, Sebastian Vettel held off Kimi Raikkonen and a resurgent Romain Grosjean to claim victory. In doing so, he rewrote two pieces of history, having previously never won his home Grand Prix, or any race in the month of July.
Vettel would be denied next time out in Hungary. A small error in qualifying from the triple champion, combined with a stunning lap from Lewis Hamilton, saw the Mercedes driver claim yet another pole position. On a track where it is notoriously hard to overtake, and given Hamilton’s strong record at the track, the race result never looked in doubt.
Hamilton therefore took his first – and only – win of the season, after tyre failure robbed him of a shot of winning the British Grand Prix. Despite coming in to 2013 with low expectations, he also maintained his stat of having won a race in every year that he’s been in Formula One.
The summer break started, but the sport still remained in the headlines courtesy of Fernando Alonso and Ferrari. After the team’s performance dropped off following his empathic win in Spain, Alonso realised his title hopes were slipping away. He was openly critical of the team, and his manager was spotted talking to the boss of Red Bull – Christian Horner.
This led to the extraordinary development of the president of Ferrari, Luca di Montezemolo, giving Alonso a public rebuking via Ferrari’s official website. Despite denials to the contrary, this soured the relationship further, and the previously unthinkable scenario of Alonso leaving the team became a lot more realistic.
At the same time, Red Bull was searching for a new driver. The embattled Mark Webber officially announced what had been rumoured for a while – his defection to the World Endurance Champion and Porsche’s new LMP1 project. The news led to fevered speculation of who could replace him, with the candidates being Kimi Raikkonen and the two Toro Rosso drivers – Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne.
For a short time, even Alonso was linked, but Raikkonen appeared to be the favourite. Despite numerous negotiations, the Lotus driver failed to put pen to paper and Ricciardo was eventually announced as Webber’s successor. Meanwhile, at Ferrari, Felipe Massa was dropped after seven years of loyal service. His replacement was announced as Raikkonen – the very driver Massa had been team mates with from 2007-2009.
To some people’s surprise, Alonso was kept on. However, rumours persisted of the double champion’s potential move back to McLaren for 2015 throughout the remainder of the year.
On track, the second half of the season was the Sebastian Vettel show. Depending on who you talked to, the switch to 2012 spec tyres favoured Red Bull. On the more durable tyres, Vettel could unleash more of the performance of the RB9 which had previously been pegged back.
He set new records to claim nine straight victories, and duly claimed his fourth consecutive championship in India with three races to spare. In three races, his winning margin was over half a minute. Some found it boring, others claimed foul play, while the minority simply marvelled at man and machine in perfect harmony.
There still remained stories within the paddock though, one of which was the sorry tale of McLaren’s season. The team had won more races than anybody in 2012, but failed to even finish on the podium this year. Sergio Perez suffered a tumultuous time, and attracted the ire of numerous drivers – not least of which, his own team mate, Jenson Button.
In the Mexican’s defence, he was hardly given a good hand with this year’s McLaren often failing to make it through to Q3 in qualifying. Despite a couple of strong performances late in the season, his fate was sealed and he was axed in favour of the team’s hot shoe protégé, Kevin Magnussen, for next year.
Lotus enjoyed a much more competitive time on circuit than McLaren, winning a race and finishing on the podium numerous times. But off track, the team appeared in disarray with constant reports of the financial strife they were in. It came to a head when Raikkonen announced to the world’s press that he hadn’t been paid a “single euro” of his 2013 contract – before adding it was the only reason he’d signed for Ferrari.
After coming close to not racing in Abu Dhabi out of protest, Raikkonen opted out of the final two races of the season to undergo back surgery. Some believed him, whereas the more cynical alleged it was related to his deteriorating relationship with the Enstone based squad.
On track, the 2013 season will probably not be viewed as a classic in years to come. However, off track, there was plenty to keep people talking, for good and bad reasons. But what fans will be hoping is that the new regulations provide Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull with a lot more competition in 2014.
Final F1 2013 Championship standings:
1. Sebastian Vettel – 397
2. Fernando Alonso – 242
3. Mark Webber – 199
4. Lewis Hamilton – 189
5. Kimi Raikkonen – 183
6. Nico Rosberg – 171
7. Romain Grosjean – 132
8. Felipe Massa – 112
9. Jenson Button – 73
10. Nico Hulkenberg – 53