It is the season for top ten lists, so here are some of the things that will stick in our memory from the 2013 season:
1. Sebastian Vettel’s Indian donuts –
despite rules and regulations that appear to ban drivers from having any fun after winning a race, Vettel provided the perfect antidote to the almost constant booing that greeted his appearances on the podium. Choosing to perform celebratory donuts in front of the stat line grandstand was applauded by the Indian crowd, whose cheers could be heard over the sound of his engine. A fitting way to celebrate his fourth consecutive title.
2. Spa Francochamps Qualifying–
In Spa this year it rained on the Saturday. While not unusual, the drying track through Q1 gave the opportunity for the smaller teams to try something different. While everyone else was running on intermediate tyres, Both Marussia’s and Giedo van der Garde in his Caterham opted for slicks. This allowed these three perennial backmarkers to get into Q2 and start further up the grid than was normal (and consigning Williams, Toro Rosso and the Sauber of Esteban Gutiérrez to remain in Q1). The excitement didn’t stop there, although Q2 remained dry, rain falling as Q1 started meant that most drivers tried to get an early lap in on slicks. Only Paul di Resta opted for intermediates from the start and as a result looked like he was in line for his first pole position (he may even have smiled), as the track was too wet for slicks and by the time they had changed from slicks the best of the conditions had gone. However, the weather at Spa hadn’t finished yet, and remarkably the track had dried enough by the end of the ten minute session for the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers to better di Resta’s time (his smile would have to wait for another day).
3. Multi 21 –
In Malaysia Red Bull tried to impose team orders on Sebastian, to allow Webber to win the race. Vettel proved that he was unwilling to let this happen, and this appeared to be the catalyst for the unsporting crowd reaction at subsequent races. What stands out for me though is the contrasting styles used by Christian Horner and Ross Brawn in informing their driver’s that they were to maintain position. It became clear that while Brawn was very much in control at Mercedes, Vettel ran the show at Red Bull.
4. Emergence of Romain Grosjean –
At the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix, Mark Webber was hit in turn two by Romain Grosjean, wrecking both their races. Speaking to the press afterwards, Webber labelled the Frenchman a first lap nutcase. In the early part of this season Grosjean continued to be beset by incidents that did his reputation no good, and many were asking when he was going to be replaced by a more consistent driver. The team however showed faith, and by the Japanese Grand Prix in 2013 Webber had changed his mind about Grosjean and complimented him on his driving in their battle for second in the closing part of the race. That Grosjean has emerged as a driver deserving to lead a team came just in time for Lotus, as their star driver chose to leave them for Ferrari. Whether they can have the same influence on Pastor Maldonado remains to be seen.
5. Bahrain tyre delamination’s –
Pirelli changed their tyre construction for 2013 in order to address some teams concerns over maintaining tyre temperature. To do this they changed the Kevlar belts used in 2012 for steel belts. While this change helped most teams other than Red Bull (who were no longer able to make full use of their downforce advantage), some odd tyre failures started happening. In Bahrain there were a couple of tyre delamination’s, and while air remained in the tyre allowing the driver to retain some control and to drive back to the pits, this allowed Red Bull the opportunity to start requesting a change in tyres.
6. Silverstone tyre blow outs –
While earlier in the season there had been several tyre delamination’s, this time the failures were different with the sidewall failing resulting in explosive tyre failures. It was so bad that Charlie Whiting considered stopping the race. Only the fact that he wouldn’t be able to re-start it (as the cars would need to still run on the same Pirelli tyres) meant that the race kept going. This race ensured that the tyre construction would be changed, and as a result handed the season to Vettel as it allowed the aerodynamic superiority of his Red Bull to be exploited to the full. With such a big change in regulations coming in 2014 the other teams stopped developing their 2013 cars allowing Vettel to win the final nine races of the year.
7. Webbers taxi ride –
If Mark Webber didn’t have bad luck he wouldn’t have any luck at all. His firey retirement from the Singapore Grand Prix on the penultimate lap was unusual enough (we haven’t seen very many engine failures in recent Grand Prix, something that may change in 2014). However his lift back to the pits by Fernando Alonso got many fans searching through old photos of similar occurrences. Particularly once the FIA Stewards penalised both Alonso and Webber for the incident. Almost every ex driver who has been a driver steward has taken part in one of these taxi rides, and the fake invoice created by one enterprising tweeter took on a life of its own, as various media who should know better reported it as genuine.
8. Mercedes ‘secret’ tyre test –
Following the tyre issues that had occurred in the early part of the year, Pirelli asked for a tyre test using current cars (that could provide the tyres with representative loads). While in-season testing is banned within the regulations, Mercedes believed Pirelli had obtained permission for the test which was conducted directly after the Spanish GP. This didn’t become public knowledge until Nico Rosberg mentioned the test to other drivers before the following Monaco race. The big issue seemed to be that the team’s two race drivers had used plain black helmets, rather than their own distinctive yellow ones, and that in this way it was a ‘secret’ test. The fact that Ferrari had tested in the week leading up to the Spanish race on the Barcelona track was OK because it was a year old car (still excluded by the regulations) and driven by their test drivers. At least some steps have been taken to try and address this shortfall in tyre testing (although possibly not enough).
9. Bottas in Q3 –
In qualifying for the US Grand Prix at Austin, Valtteri Bottas put the Williams where it had no right to be. By far the best qualifying position for the team for the year, he was none the less disappointed to qualify ‘only’ ninth. After setting the fastest time in Q1 and fourth in Q2 he really did start to show his potential as a driver, much as his predecessor in the Williams did when Hulkenberg performed so well at Brazil in 2010. This however was a dry session, not one affected by making the right tyre calls on a damp track. To underline his impressive performance, his team mate couldn’t even get out of Q1.
10. Lotus / Kimi Räikkönen radio message –
before the Indian GP, Kimi had already announced his intention to re-join the Ferrari team. This possibly had an impact on the language used by Lotus when requesting that Räikkönen let his faster team mate through, but more pressing was Massa catching the pair of them. While I can’t see the resulting quote selling as many T-shirts as ‘Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing’, it certainly highlighted the breakdown in the relationship between team and driver.