2013 season is off to a flying start with three different drivers winning the first four races of the season. The new generation of Pirelli tyres are one of the talking point of the season, as they were in 2012. Lotus and Force India are the two teams who are able to maximise from the new tyres, while Mercedes are struggling to manage them. Apart from tyres, use of two DRS zones in first four races of the season have grabbed attention. The rule has made overtaking way too easy and the car in front finds it hard to defend its position. Meanwhile, Jules Bianchi has proved himself to be the most impressive rookie of the year with some amazing drives during the first four races of the season. So we analyse in details the key talking points of the season and performance of the top 5 teams.
Tyres do the Talking
Tyres continued to play an important role during the first four races of 2013 as they did during the first half of the 2012 season. F1's official supplier Pirelli softened their 2012 tyres and teams are finiding it hard to understand them. Many teams were forced to make extra pit stops during the race as they took too much life out of their tyres. One team which is finding it particularly hard to manage its tyres is Mercedes. The Brackley based squad has a serious problem of overheating its rear tyres and it is hurting them severely during the race. On the other hand, teams like Force India and Lotus are rather easy on their tyres and the former took an emphatic victory using a two-stop strategy during the opening round of the season - the Australian Grand Prix.
DRS and Entertainment
DRS or the drag reduction system is a device introduced in the 2011 Formula 1 season to aid overtaking. However, in the 2013 season, DRS has made overtaking way too easy and almost impossible for the car in front to hold its position. And with FIA using two DRS zones at each of the four flyaway races, some people are even questioning the existence of DRS and that it should be banned from the sport.
Another place where DRS came into limelight was in Bahrain where Fernando Alonso's DRS got struck in open position. Alonso was forced to pit early to get his DRS wing closed and when he re tried the DRS system, it got struck in open position again. The Spaniard then had to make another stop losing crucial time in the process.
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Red Bull - Fastest but in 'War'
Red Bull look strong again in 2013 with Sebastian Vettel taking a 10 points lead in the Drivers Championship and the team 16 points clear off 2nd placed Lotus in the Constructors Championship after 4 races of the season. During the three pre-season tests in Spain, Red Bull were seen hiding the rear of their cars. They also avoided any low fuel runs. The reason for this behaviour became clear in Australia when Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber locked the front row of the grid. However, in the race, due to certain reasons, Red Bull's performance was average and Vettel finished in a disappointing 3rd place.
Race pace was't a problem for the Austrian team in the next three race with Vettel winning two of them. And at the other remaining race, i.e. China, he just missed out on a podium finish.
But what might be Red Bull's biggest hindrance in their way to a fourth consecutive title is the intra-team battle between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. The two teammate have had some moments in the past, the most infamous one happening at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix where Vettel in an unsuccessful attempt to overtake Webber crashed himself into retirement. Webber meanwhile was able to continue the race after pitting for a new front wing.
Those sparks were reignited at this year's Malaysian Grand Prix where Sebastian Vettel against team's instructions to hold station(in form of the infamous code 'multi 21'), fought wheel to wheel with his teammate Mark Webber for over a lap before overtaking him for lead of the race. Vettel was also heard being rude on the radio and in an interview he said that he would do the same in the future.
Image Courtesy: Lotus F1 Team
Consistent and now Fast - Lotus F1 team
Lotus F1 team was probably the most consistent team of the 2012 season. This year, not only they are consistent but also fast. In fact, they are the closest rival to Red Bull in both the constructors and the drivers championship.
Kimi Raikkonen started the season with a bang with an emphatic victory at the Australian Grand Prix. After a less impressive outing at Malaysia, the Finn scored his second podium of the season in form of a 2nd place finish in China. A week later in Bahrain, he qualified in a poor 8th place. But his race pace was good and on a two stop strategy, Kimi Raikkonen finished the race in 2nd place. An important thing to note here is that Raikkonen's win at Australia also came on a two stop strategy making it clear that Lotus are very easy on tyres, just as they were in 2012.
Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean had a quite start to his 2013 campaign. While the Frenchman was not involved in any first lap crashes, he was neither able to score some good points. However, fortunes turned his way when he was given a new chassis at the fourth race of the season in Bahrain and Grosjean maximised out of this chassis by taking the final spot on the podium having started the race outside of top 10.
But whether Lotus can fight till the end of the champion is still a doubt. The Enstone based team doesn't have the financial resources of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes and once teams have an understanding of the tyres, one of their major advantage will be reduced.
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Ferrari - The unlucky Alonso and back to form Massa
2013 has been a topsy turvy season for Ferrari. Unlike last year, Ferrari were able to manufacture a car which could fight for the championship straight away. Also, Massa has been in top form.
But their so called No 1 driver has been unlucky on two occasions. At Malaysia, after starting from 3rd, Alonso clipped the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel, damaging his front wing in the process. He and his team decided not to pit and at the start of next lap, his front wing failed, forcing Alonso into the gravel trap and his first retirement of the season. The next blow came at Bahrain where Alonso's DRS got struck in open position. He was forced to make his first stop on lap 8 where mechanics were successfully able to close their DRS. But the team decided to try the DRS again, and it responded with the same result. He was forced to make another pit stop losing crucial time in the process.
So as Ferrari heads towards the European season, they'll be at least happy that they've got a strong car at the season which they can develop on to win their first title since 2008.
Image Courtesy: Mercedes
Mercedes - No 'Sundae' Celebrations
Mercedes had a bizarre end to their 2012 season campaign, scoring only 6 points in last 6 races. But in the first four races of 2013, they exceeded expectations according to Lewis Hamilton, who joined the team earlier this year. As of now, the Brackley based squad has scored two pole positions, two podiums and is currently fourth in the drivers championship with 64 points.
But one thing which everyone back at Brackley is concerned about is the direct contrast between their qualifying pace on Saturday and race pace on Sunday. While Mercedes have been extremely quick in qualifying, scoring two pole positions in first four outings, their pace during the race is dismal. For example at the last race in Bahrain, Nico Rosberg who qualified on pole only went backwards in the race and ultimately finished in a disappointing 9th place after being forced to make four stops.
So why is Mercedes so slow on Sunday? The answer lies in how the Mercedes W04 treats its tyres. The W04 is particularly hard on its tyres, especially the rear tyres. It heats its tyres very quickly and soon the tyres are out of their working range. Once the new generation of Pirelli tyres are out of their working temperature, they start wearing quickly and there is a significant drop in performance. The team is trying hard to fix this issue but don't expect an overnight solution to a problem that has hurt the team for so many years.
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McLaren - Poor car and a budding rivalry
McLaren had one of their worse starts to their season in Formula 1 this year after they took a major decision to revolutionise their 2012 car instead of simply updating it. So instead of starting the season from first first row on the grid, as they did in 2012, they barely made into the top 10 in qualifying, that too with only one driver.
They brought some updates to their car over the next few races and Jenson Button on a two stop strategy was able to finish in 5th in China. After four races, the team is 5th if the drivers championship with 26 points, 38 points off their nearest rival Mercedes.
Another major change which came at McLaren was the departure of their star driver Lewis Hamilton in favour of Sergio Perez. Perez, who had a poor end to his 2012 campaign had an equally bad start in 2013. However, he showed his sparks in Bahrain with a strong 6th place finish. But what got the attention was his wheel to wheel battle with teammate Jenson Button, which the latter wasn't particularly happy with.