With just over a month to go to the start of F1 testing and 72 days to the first race in Melbourne, let’s look at some of the things which are likely to define the 2013 season.
With no significant change to the aero regulations and teams obliged to commit significant resources to their 2014 cars, it’s likely that we will see the field bunched up in the first half of 2013, as the gains become harder to find and massive resources are required to cope with the significant design changes in the 2014 regulations.
However it’s unlikely that we will see eight different winners again as we did in 2012, which happened as the teams came to terms with the loss of the exhaust blown diffusers at the same time as new Pirelli tyres. So chances are this year that the top three or four teams will share the wins between them, with Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari fighting for the wins with Lotus probably joining in too. Mercedes will be a major question mark, with the spotlight on the under performers now that Lewis Hamilton has joined. Sebastian Vettel starts the season as the favourite, with Red Bull ending 2012 in strong form.
In the second half of the season the wealthier teams will pull ahead as they will be able to continue developing while the back of the grid teams will have to focus more on 2014 so will drop away gradually, but I predict a very close midfield battle this year and lots of close racing.
The pressure will be on for the rookies in the midfield teams like Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas to get regular points as the fight for P5 to P9 in the constructors’ championship will be close this year.
The pressure will also be on journalists to get the right number of “t”s and “r”s when spelling their names!
One area where teams are likely to innovate is the development of passive secondary DRS devices of the kind trialled by Lotus last year, which do not require the functioning of the main DRS switch to operate it (that has been outlawed in the 2013 rules). A fluidic switch which operates at a certain air pressure is one way of making a passive device open.
There will also continue to be a lot of work on getting the exhausts to channel into the diffuser as we saw in 2013, as there are good gains to be had there.
Slower qualifying, more pit stops
The use of DRS has been changed for practice and qualifying and the drivers can only use it in the appointed DRS zone, as on race day. This was done due for safety reasons as it was felt that it was being used in some risky situations in high speed corners. The DRS was worth a second or more on some circuits, and perhaps half of that will be lost from the new ruling, although the FIA is keen to have two DRS zones where possible, as we saw at some venues in 2012. Although some fans still don’t like it, it has improved the racing without doubt.
Meanwhile Pirelli has promised tyres which will lead to a choice between two and three stops, rather than one or two stops as we saw at the end of 2012. The tyres warm up more quickly for a qualifying lap, which will help drivers with a more gentle style, like Jenson Button.
Better looking cars
The FIA were as keen as anyone to get rid of the ugly stepped noses on the F1 cars and have introduced a rule allowing teams to bridge the step from the top of the monocoque to the nose with a laminate panel. This should improve the look of the cars, which is an important part of the appeal of the sport.
The FIA will also apply tougher front wing flex tests, with loads applied in different areas on the wing. I learned before Christmas that there are some amazingly clever technologies at large from the aerospace industry which can get carbon composite to flex with the introduction of an electrical current. This would achieve the effect of getting the wing tips to dip for extra downforce…but would be illegal in F1.
A busy year off track
There is likely to be a resolution to the question marks hanging over Bernie Ecclestone following the conviction of Gerhard Gribkowsky for corruption in Germany last year. Ecclestone has done two interviews this week on the subject, telling the Sunday Telegraph,
“(CVC, F1’s commercial rights holders) will probably be forced to get rid of me if the Germans come after me. It’s pretty obvious, if I’m locked up”.
But then following that up today with a confident line in an Italian newspaper to the effect that the matter will never come to court.
Either way the matter is likely to be resolved in 2013.
It is worth noting in passing that 2013 has now begun and there has been no confirmation of the signature of the new Concorde Agreement, which binds in all the teams, the FIA and CVC/Ecclestone. The old Concorde Agreement has now expired.
Another major global company expected to come into F1 this year with the Lotus team is US aviation-to-security giant Honeywell.
F1 Business expert Zak Brown said in our latest JA on F1 Podcast that there are likely to be more consumer packaged goods brands coming into F1 in the next 12 months, thanks to its strong global media reach.
Europe is still in recession with long term problems to be resolved and this is likely to impact the circuits hosting events, as we have already seen Spain has gone down to one race, there is still no race in France and there is doubt about the Nurburgring.