2013 season might not go in the history books as a classic. Throughout Formula 1's 60 year history, we've seen championships go down the wire to the final round. We quite haven't forgot the year 2010, when four drivers had a mathematical chance of clinching the title going into the final round. Or 2007 when debutant Lewis Hamilton lost the title by just one point, only to win it the following year by the same minimal margin. 2013 won't surely join this list of season. Rather, it will be compared to Vettel's own campaign in 2011 or his compatriots dominant years in early 2000s, particularly 2001, 2002 and 2004. Vettel has been in superb form all year, clearly showing that he has improved over 2012. In fact, he scored enough points this season to win the constructors championship single handedly. Nevertheless, it was still a great season with its fair shares of dramas. Multi 21, multiple tyre blowouts and the secret tyre test. It had all the ingredients to keep us occupied during the course of nine months. Lets look back at this year.
Red Bull - End of an era or start of a new one?
2009 brought a number of rule changes with it, leveling the play field and changing the running order for next few years. Red Bull who had been a midfielder previously was able to exploit the regulations in the hands of Adrian Newey to emerge on top. Ferrari and McLaren, who trailed fastest cars for last two seasons were left behind in the mid field. The major car manufacturers, BMW, Toyota and Renault also failed to pose a challenge in 2009 . Instead it was Honda, rebranded as Brawn GP that took the title after gaining a big advantage early in the season with their double diffuser. Red Bull successfully copied this concept but by that time it was too late - Brawn GP and Button had a massive advantage in their respective standings, and despite having the fastest car during the latter part of the season, Red Bull couldn't clinch their first ever title.
But from 2010, Red Bull emerged as a dominant force, one which no other team could beat in the standings for four consecutive years. Not bad for a team that, until a few years ago, was ridiculed as a energy drink brand.
But the major talking point of the Austrian team's season was the multi 21 incident. That incident probably acted as a trigger in Webber's move to Porsche in World Endurance Champion. While we don't need to explain the incident in detail, we must look at its consequences of Webber's performance. After the incident, the Australian seriously wanted to get out of this situation, the team and the environment. His lack of confidence in his team inevitably hurt his performance(he scored almost half as points as Vettel). But what we saw from the the 37 year old in Brazil was truly exceptional. He seemed to be enjoying the race, and showed the kind of aggression you expect from a top level driver. After the race, he admitted that he might not be equal to Vettel or Alonso, in terms of sheer talent, he had worked really hard to fight with these guys at the top.
Red Bull can control the car in 2014 but not the engine
Talking about Red Bull's 2014 form, it's still a doubt. One can broadly classify the rule changes into two parts - those to the engine and electric power, dubbed together as power units and those to the aerodynamics. Adrian Newey always prefers an empty drawing board to start with and history has showed that he has always produced the fastest car whenever there's a regulation change. But this regulation is the biggest we can remember in recent history and Renault will be the most important determinant for their success in 2014.
Mercedes - Right philosophy to win races, but is it good enough to win championships?
Mercedes entered Formula 1 at a time when many rival manufacturers exited the sport amid the global economic turmoil. After three reasonable years in the bottom half of top field, they got a wake up call from the Daimler board - either win the championship or we are pulling out. That order/warning brought a number of changes to the team including a new philosophy of multiple heads at the top.
This strategy seems to be working until now. They are up from fifth in the championship in 2012 to runners up in 2013. They also doubled their points tally, scoring three more victories and added eight more pole positions to their name. They've also solved the tyre issues which have hurt them since their very existence.
Further, they now have highly talented drivers to take the wheel of W04. Lewis Hamilton is widely regarded as the fastest driver on the grid in terms of raw pace, and even though he's had problems with his new employer's brake system and how it performs in the wet, he performed reasonably well in 2013. Nico Rosberg showed his talent this year by not only matching but also beating his highly regarded teammate at multiple occasions.
But the question stays there. Can they take the fight and win the prestigious drivers and constructors title? And there are more questions - Can Toto Wolff take those decisions at the pitwall in the same way as Ross Brawn? Can he handle cases like tyregate with same level of calmness as the former Mercedes team principal. Can Mercedes meet people's expectations and produce the fastest and the most reliable engine? Only time will tell.
How Rosberg fared against his new teammate Lewis Hamilton
Qualifying head to head: Hamilton 11 / Rosberg 8
Poles: Hamilton 5 / Rosberg 3
Wins: Hamilton 1 / Rosberg 2
Podiums: Hamilton 5 / Rosberg 4
Race head to head: Hamilton 10 / Rosberg 9
Points: Hamilton 189 / Rosberg 171
Ferrari - Another year without title forces teams to change strategy
It's been another tough year for Ferrari with the Italian squad failing to provide a car with which Alonso could add to his two titles. Despite a strong start to the season including victories in China and Spain, the team lost out in the in-season development race to its rivals and a chance to win their first title since 2008. But the change in form was not entirely down to the team not able to develop car over the course of the season. The post Silverstone tyre change changed fortunes for almost every team on the grid and Ferrari was not exception. And the team didn't hesitate to point out how it worked against them. “We built a car to work with certain tyres, with which we proved to be very competitive. Then the tyres were changed, definitely proving to be a disadvantage for us and an advantage for others.” explained Luca di Montezemolo at the end of the season.
Last year, Fernando Alonso was able to drive every single bit out the car and even more to fight for the championship till the very last race of the season. But this year, he simply lost patience. After a great start to the season, he would have thought 2013 was his best chance of taking an elusive third title but such hopes soon turned useless and Alonso showed his frustrations when he said he would prefer 'someone else's car' as his birthday gift. Ferrari simply doesn't like their driver to speak ill of them(cough Alain Prost, cough!) and Alonso's quote started a whole row of disputes between the Spaniard and the Maranello team. And the solution came in form of Kimi Raikkonen. An A-rated driver alongside another one - a far thought from Ferrari's conventional strategy but probably their last option considering what has happened over the past few years. Their sour relationship could turn a lot worse, in Alonso's words, if Ferrari fail to produce a good car next year. Further, it might even force Alonso to exit the team, for a drive at Red Bull or McLaren, as the case may be.
Massa's year in words
It's been another tough year for Felipe Massa with the Brazilian failing to score half as many points as his teammate Fernando Alonso. His season went off to a good start with his podium at Spain as one of his highlight of the year. But that podium was overshadowed by Alonso's victory at his home race - summing up the inside dynamics at Ferrari.
Massa's strength has been qualifying, where on many a occasions he put his car ahead of his double world champion teammate. But that pace seems to fade off, for some reason on Sundays. And since he, on occasions, qualified higher than Alonso, there was going to be an on-track clash between between the two of them. In Italy, he obeyed to the team orders and let Alonso go through but when it was announced that he was going to be replaced by Kimi Raikkonen, he changed his mind and decided to give Alonso a fight. However such efforts went futile, at least in Japan, where the Spaniard found a way past his teammate.
His season review, unfortunately won't be complete without mentioning the Moncao Grand Prix where the 32 year old crashed multiple times in practice, qualifying and the race at the exact same place - the opening corner - Sainte Devote. That was followed by a string of negative comments that served as ignition in Ferrari's decision to drop him for next season.
Technical changes and Kimi Raikkonen - Ferrari's formula to return to winning ways
Ferrari turned their focus on 2014 early in the season and only time will tell whether this strategy will pay dividends or not. They've further strengthened their technical squad with a number of high profile changes - the biggest one being James Allison - who returns to Ferrari after a stint at Lotus. He'll serve as team's new Technical Director, subsiding Pat Fry to the post of Engineering director. Further, they've hired Kimi Raikkonen to partner Alonso in an all explosive line up. The team is hungry for success and 2014 provides them the best opportunity to return to winning ways
Lotus - Financial troubles makes them lose their star driver
Lotus are somewhat inconsistent - at one race they may have two cars on the podium and at the next race they might be fighting for barest of points. However, in the second half of the season they turned out to be the closest challenger to Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel. The E21 is extremely similar to its predecessor - fast at high downforce circuits and countries with high temperatures and comparatively slower at low downforce circuits and places with low temperatures.
Talking about the two drivers, Kimi Raikkonen was strong as usual - starting the season with a bang with victory in Melbourne. He stayed in the championship fight till the summer break, scoring five more podiums in the process. However, he started to lose a bit in the second half of the season, most probably due to non-payment of salary. At Belgium, he retired from the race due to a brake issue and in Italy, he finished out of points in 11. These two races brought an end to his streak of 38 consecutive race finishes. Frustrations grew to its peak in India when his engineer swore while asking him to get out of Grosjean's way. Raikkonen replied in similar fashion and the next weekend, he openly accused the team for not paying him a single euro all season. And having had already signed for Ferrari for 2014 and beyond, he decided not to part in final two races of the season, putting his back-surgery as an excuse.
This year also saw a new Romain Grosjean whose consistency, particularly in the second half of the season was in total contrast with the Grosjean of 2012 and another fast but fragile driver - Pastor Maldonado. He did have a torrid weekend - in Monaco where he crashed repetitively in practice sessions before crashing into Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo in the race to end his and the Australian's weekend. Otherwise, he performed exactly like a top class driver The most impressive chapter of his second season with Lotus was the sequence of races between Korea and United States where he scored four podiums in five races, including one from 17th on the grid in India.
Pastor Maldonado's admission
It's surprising to see a top team like Lotus not being able to hire a driver of their choice for a simple reason that he doesn't bring money. It's crazy to see the Enstone based outfit hire a pay driver who was outpaced and outqualified so many times by a rookie driver in the same car. But what we know is that Pastor Maldonado is a quick driver. His victory at Spain and the front row grid spot in Singapore was no fluke. Lotus have made it clear that they are confident of giving a similar treatment to Maldonado and turning him in a consistent driver, without losing any of his speed. Maldonado, like Raikkonen was particularly frustrated with Williams in 2013 and maybe that was a major reason why he performed way below a driver who has won a race before on merit.
Kovalainen - Valsecchi spat
After Raikkonen's decision to leave the team, Lotus were left with a tough decision - whether to replace the Finn with their test driver Davide Valsecchi or someone with more experience. Since Eric Boullier had ''enough of rookie drivers'', he went for experience. The team's philosophy was that an experienced driver would be better for Lotus to take the lead in a close fight for second in the championship. And while Kovalainen impressed by making it into Q3 in his comeback race in Austin, he was rather poor in the race, failing to score points. In Brazil, he qualified in 11th place in wet conditions but had another poor Sunday - failing to do anything in dry conditions. In the hindsight, it would have been much better for the team to opt for Valsecchi. At worse, he would have failed to score a single point.
Lotus' 2013 campaign in stats
Victories - 1
Podiums - 14
Pole positions - 0
Championship - 4th
Read Other Parts of our Season Review