Ruthless Rants, Raves and Reflections: The Non-Standard Issue F1 2013 Preview.

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Every year, I make it a point to write an introductory post on the members of the F1 grid, but in a different and unexpected way. This year, I’m having a bit of a trouble completing it (don’t get me wrong, it’s still going to be bouncebackably awesome, I assure you), and I realized that what’s holding me back was the mixed bag of emotions that I’m harboring towards the upcoming season. I need to let it all out and lay my cards on the table before I can move on, and so this shall be the outlet for that.

I’m not an objective F1 fan. Just thought I’d put it out there. If you want a so-called objective, detailed and technical analyses on the new season, then you can move on. At least I’m not like a lot of legitimate journalists who claim objectivity and yet reek of bias like they’re doused with some class C-imitation perfume. Also, I will not make concrete predictions because I’m not a fortune-teller and I prefer to adopt the ‘Que sera, sera’ attitude this season. Will it work? Maybe not, but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.

Now let me get this out of the way: I am incredibly, unequivocally sad that my all-time favorite driver Michael Schumacher will not be racing this season, or…ever. It has been months since he has announced his retirement and yet, I’m still teetering on the ledge of denial. I suppose the finality of his decision will fully sink in on the first GP but for now, I am still wondering on whether I will be 100% emotionally-involved this season.

Before I digress any further, here’s my own brand of an F1 2013 preview:

Red Bull Racing:

Barring their annoying over-protectiveness with their car’s rear parts during winter testing, they still look quite strong and solid, and I reckon they will still be the favorites to win the Constructor’s title–that is, if they manage to avoid any cockfights between their drivers. The so-called “god of aero” Adrian Newey will still be the designer to beat. Sebastian Vettel seems to have matured significantly after winning his 3rd WDC, and if he can carry-over even half of the form he had in 2012 to this year, then his Australian teammate Webber will have a Herculean task of outperforming him. While some fans appreciate the standard “driver equality” PR drivel, we all know that the team’s golden-haired, blue-eyed boy really is Vettel. So better give 200% of what you’ve got, Webber, for this may be your last year with the team and you might as well give your potential future employers a good show.

Scuderia Ferrari:

I sometimes find it painful to write about this team mainly because while I still consider myself a fan, the truth is that I’m not 100% emotionally-involved in supporting them anymore. Having said that, I do like and admire Fernando Alonso’s racing moxie and I believe that he’ll still be Vettel’s biggest rival for the WDC yet again. His teammate Felipe Massa needs to realize how incredibly lucky he is to have kept his job for 2013, and he can start repaying the team by finally getting over his multi-year racing rut, stat. Sadly, Alonso is the clear numero uno and so Massa’s main task is to make sure that he maintains status quo and offer his…full cooperation. The fight for the Constructor’s title against Red Bull may be slightly closer this year, but it is interesting to note that the Scuderia has already enlisted the help of the legendary designer Rory Byrne in designing their 2014 contender. A sign of desperation or an advanced masterstroke? Time will tell.

McLaren:

For the first time in 5 years, they will not be The Lewis Hamilton Team, and for that, my sometimes-irrational dislike towards them has already significantly decreased. Sergio Perez from Sauber was confirmed as the new driver just days after Hamilton’s departure, and not a few eyebrows were raised. Will the Mexican be able to take the pressure of the highly-corporate world of McLaren? Can he fill the shoes of his predecessor? Will he even become a serious Championship contender? I have my doubts, but then again, his teammate Jenson Button is also notorious for needing a “perfect car” to achieve notable results, so in this regard, it will be fascinating to see how the dynamics between these two will play out. Also, will the team back Button more for the Championship by virtue of seniority, or will they solely depend on the results? At least for now their two drivers have already followed each other on Twitter, and that’s like, half the battle, isn’t it?

Mercedes GP:

Lewis Hamilton shockingly left his “racing home” McLaren to take up a staggering offer from Mercedes. The move left a bad taste in the mouths of some fans, especially since it was played out in the media that he was signed behind Michael Schumacher’s back, effectively pushing him out of the team and into permanent retirement. Some Macca fans called him a traitor, while some sadly surmised that he must have had enough of McLaren’s highly rigid rules and regulations. What ever the real story is, Lewis will be watched like a hawk this season, as he tries to prove that his risky move was the correct decision. And let us not forget that he will renew his “rivalry” with ex-GP2 teammate Nico Rosberg, who has been with the German outfit since 2010, and might just be the de facto team leader. This, in addition to the massive personnel restructuring that the team has undergone in the off-season, will make it very engaging to follow Mercedes, as the so-called “Three-Year Project” has come and gone and it is now the crucial sink-or-swim time for them.

Lotus GP:

2012 was a year of clear contrast between their 2 drivers: Romain Grosjean suffered several high-profile crashes and shunts which earned him a race ban and most certainly did not endear him from his fellow drivers, but he also notched podiums and significant points for the team. Then there’s Kimi Raikkonen, who was absent from the grid for 2 years but came back like he was never away—easily scoring points, podiums, a win and finishing every lap barring 1 throughout the whole season. It was almost too good to be true and my fear is that 2013 will see the Finn have some reliability issues with the car, and heaven forbid, a few retirements in the mix. Then again, that’s part and parcel of racing, and we must remember that he’s had his share of those even in his WDC-winning year at Ferrari, so we must not expect a carbon copy of his 2012 season. Raikkonen will definitely be up there in the Championship fight, it’s just a matter of having the car’s cooperation and sorting out his qualifying performances. As for Grosjean, I expect the Frenchman will be a tad “tamer” in his approach to racing, and I believe it will be possible for him to get a few podiums and maybe even his first win. It seems strange but the combination of the poker-faced Finn and ever-smiling Frenchman is working quite well, and I shan’t be surprised if the Enstone outfit does get the coveted-3rd place in the WDC for this year.

Scuderia Toro Rosso:

Strangely, I always seem to forget this team and their drivers whenever I make an F1-related list. It can’t be a good thing when I remember the likes of Marussia and Caterham better than Red Bull’s sister team, no? Perhaps it’s because post-Vettel era, the team has been on a steady plateau in midfield, and while their drivers Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo are more than half-decent and have shown traces of brilliance on-track last season, they badly need to step up their games and show that Toro Rosso is more than just a midfield contender. After all, this is a team that is not afraid to switch drivers mid-season—and with the talks that their two drivers are not “friends” anymore, this may turn out to be quite a turning point for the team.

Sauber:

This team that nurtured talents such as Raikkonen, Massa and Heidfeld is one of the very few teams in F1 that is difficult to dislike, but they confounded many by letting both their 2012 drivers go—Sergio Perez was released to go to McLaren and Kamui Kobayashi’s contract was not renewed. However, the signing of the alleged-Ferrari and Red Bull target Nico Hulkenberg from Force India signaled the team’s intent to improve on their 2012 performance, and might just be the most serendipitous move of the year. The German is joined by GP2 alumnus Esteban Gutierrez, a rookie who has the misfortune of squaring off with the on-form Hulkenberg and filling the shoes of his fellow Mexican Perez in the team.

P.S. Based on their numerous pre-season team engagements, the 2 drivers seem to be getting along swimmingly, and we all know that Sauber has a history of concocting unintentionally-hilarious PR stunts/events, so I personally cannot wait to see what they will make these two do over the course of the season.

Williams:

Pastor Maldonado may be scarily-unpredictable on-track, but the fact of the matter is that he gave Williams their first race win in ages last year and for that, he is now the clear leader of the team. I do not expect him to drastically change his driving/racing style, I reckon his win will have given him tons more motivation and let’s admit it, his crazy on-track reputation has got us all keeping our eyes on him during those frantic race starts, yes? Finally, 2012 test driver Valtteri Bottas will get the chance to prove if he really is worth the type and the famous Twitter hashtag as he takes over Bruno Senna’s seat for this year. I actually think his numerous FP stints in 2012 will greatly aid him and he just might become the best-performing rookie of 2013.

Force India:

They made us wait for eons on who will be their 2nd driver that by the time they did it, it became one big anticlimax. Well done. I have nothing against Adrian Sutil, he’s actually a decent and proven driver. If anything, I’m actually sort of pleased that he came back just so we can see how awkward his on- and off-track encounters with ex-friend Lewis Hamilton will be. As for Paul DiResta, well, he’d better find someone or something to light a match under his bum, or risk being outperformed yet again by a teammate. You won’t land your dream McLaren drive by getting whipped, boy. Overall, I have no strong feelings for this team but I do hope they get over the reported financial troubles and get to stay on in F1.

Caterham:

They not only changed the shade of green of their car’s livery, but they dropped both of their experienced 2012 drivers as well. Marussia’s 2012 rookie Charles Pic joined them and 2012 test driver and GP2 veteran Giedo van der Garde was promoted to a race seat. I honestly do not know what to expect from this team this year, as these two relatively-inexperienced drivers have the task of “defending” their team’s WCC 10th spot, which was delivered by their more- experienced drivers last year with practically sweat, tears and blood. I suppose what will be of most interest is how they will fare against their fellow backmarker team Marussia, especially since there is the element of the Giedo van der Garde vs Jules Bianchi rivalry in the mix.

Marussia:

Just when we thought Force India had the biggest pre-season cock up by massively delaying their 2nd driver announcement, Marussia went one step lower by making a last-minute driver switch. Brazilian Luiz Razia was hired and terminated within 23 days without even getting to test their 2013 car, all because of a sponsor of his that failed to hand over a payment. Shortest F1 career ever? Possibly. Ruthless and humiliating? Very. Razia was replaced by the 2012 Force India test driver and Ferrari Academy alumnus Jules Bianchi, which fuelled the rumors even more that Marussia will switch to Ferrari engines come 2014. And then of course there was the issue of them dropping Timo Glock to accommodate the so-called “pay drivers”, which incidentally includes their first confirmed 2013 driver Max Chilton, who did not win the approval of a lot of the hardcore F1 fans who believe that only his father’s money and not his talent got him the coveted seat. Meeoow.

As for the results of winter testing and what we can glean from them, the short of the long is that testing times mean absolutely sod all. So for those getting terribly excited about it, take a seat and help yourselves to a chill pill.

End of rants, raves and reflections.

The good news is that the Australian GP is only a few days away, and while we still won’t have a clear picture on where the teams and drivers stand after the race, it is historically-impossible for Melbourne to give us a dull GP weekend. Albert Park always delivers cracking, heart-in-your-throat, what-the-hell-was-that types of races, bless its cotton racing socks. So take a deep breath, and before you know it, the sheer madness of Formula One 2013 shall be upon us yet again. Ready? Let’s be honest, could we ever really be?

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