Lewis Hamilton believes that newly crowned triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel is likely to make it four in a row with another championship win in 2013, and cited the skills of Red Bull designer Adrian Newey as a major factor in that expected success.
Vettel is only 25 years old, and yet his stats are already staggeringly impressive: Three championships, 26 wins and 36 pole positions from only 101 races. At the rate he is going, Vettel could even challenge the achievements of recently retired legend Michael Schumacher.
Formula One is an extremely technical sport, which places massive emphasis on car competitiveness. Schumacher’s three difficult years with Mercedes have shown just how difficult it is to achieve success in an under-performing car. Vettel has had the quickest car, or close to it, for his three championship-winning seasons, and much of that advantage is down to Adrian Newey.
Newey has been designing winning cars for over 20 years, at Williams, McLaren and now Red Bull. His input at Red Bull has transformed the team into a powerhouse with dominance similar to that of Ferrari ten years ago. And Newey has shown no signs of leaving, which bodes well for Red Bull.
When asked by Sky Sports News about next year’s championship, Hamilton was clear about his expectations for Vettel and Red Bull:
“It’s going to be hard to beat Sebastian next year,” Hamilton said. “I think Sebastian’s going to have another amazing car.
“The car he had this year was fantastic. It’s going to be an evolution of that next year.
“Adrian only seems to get better with age; I think he’s going to do something pretty special next year as well.”
While Newey is likely to produce a good car again, he has acknowledged that it will be difficult to find aerodynamic gains with the current stable regulations:
“It is increasingly difficult because there are no real regulations changes compared to this year and it will be the fifth season since the 2009 rule changes… The field is converging and you can see how competitive it is in the fact that we had eight different winners this year,” Newey told Autosport.
Hamilton has not talked up his own title chances, largely due to the lack of pace shown by his new team, Mercedes, in the 2012 season. Mercedes won only won race, in China, and had a thoroughly uncompetitive end to the season. So it comes as no real surprise that Hamilton would deflect attention from himself by predicting more success for Vettel. Better to be the surprise winner than to forecast glory and then taste defeat.
HRT is currently for sale, and the general impression in Formula One is that buyers are not exactly queuing up. Considering that the team’s history consists of three thoroughly uncompetitive seasons, that is perhaps not so surprising. But the sale of the team does present an interesting opportunity to the existing big teams.
Each of the 12 current Formula One teams operates independently. That is, each team designs, builds and races its own chassis. Engines are sourced from one of four suppliers: Renault, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz or Cosworth. There are some technical partnerships between the teams, notable examples being Caterham’s use of Red Bull’s gearbox and McLaren’s technical partnership with Marussia. But in general, the the teams exist in isolation.
There is one exception to the pattern of separation between Formula One teams. And that is the relationship between Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso. Both teams are owned by energy drink giant Red Bull, and until regulations made it illegal from 2010 the two teams ran essentially the same chassis. Toro Rosso is, for all intents and purposes, the junior Red Bull team, and is used to develop drivers. It famously produced currently triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who drove for Toro Rosso during 2007 and 2008 before moving to Red Bull Racing in 2009.
Red Bull’s ownership of two teams has some particular benefits. From a marketing perspective, it provides an advertising platform twice the size of any other in Formula One – instead of having two cars in Red Bull colours, there are four. For driver development, it is the perfect solution. In-season testing in Formula One is virtually forbidden for reasons of cost saving. Other teams run test and development drivers during Friday morning practice on Grand Prix weekends. Red Bull runs their development drivers in full race seats at Toro Rosso, which gives the drivers infinitely better experience than any other team can offer. From a strategic perspective, one sixth of the grid is racing for Red Bull, which is crucial on the track – a Red Bull Racing driver in the fight for the World Championship can count on having an easy time passing a Toro Rosso.
Having a junior team works very well for Red Bull. So why not for other teams? Fairly obviously, it is a question of finance. Red Bull are prepared to pump money into two teams, and it is paying off. They are winning the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships consistently, and have a ready supply of capable drivers waiting in the wings. Perhaps the other teams with big budgets should look at a similar idea. The teams in such a position are Ferrari, McLaren, and possibly Mercedes.
Taking over HRT would have some significant advantages over starting a new team or running a separate development program outside of Formula One. The team already exists. It has a base in Madrid and a race team with three years of experience. In Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan, HRT has two capable race drivers. All that is required is funding and the right technical personnel to help the team progress. And, to be frank, HRT’s performance cannot get worse. For three seasons, HRT cars have been at the back of the field. The only available direction is forward.
Red Bull saw the value in HRT in 2011, when there was a need to give Daniel Ricciardo a taste of racing at the highest level. Red Bull paid for Ricciard to drive for HRT in 11 races of the 2011 season before offering him a full-time driver for Toro Rosso in 2012.
This is a golden opportunity for one of the big teams in Formula One to create an increased presence in the sport. A junior team equipped for driver development has already shown value for Red Bull. It is time for one of the other major players in Formula One to follow suit.
Red Bull have been referred to the stewards at the German Grand Prix for having illegal engine maps.
FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer examined the engine maps on both RB8 cars and considered them to be in breach of Article 5.5.3 of the 2012 Formula One Technical Regulations as he found the maximum torque output in a certain range of revs to be significantly less than the engines are known to be capable of producing.
In addition, Jo Bauer considered that the illegal engine maps would also alter the aerodynamic characteristics of the cars, which is illegal under this season’s regulations.
The stewards are currently looking into the potential breach, which could result in penalties for Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. If the cars are found to be illegal, Vettel and Webber may be excluded from the results of qualifying and demoted to the back of the grid. They may even be required to start from the pitlane, as they would be required to change the engine maps for the race, which would put them in breach of parc ferme regulations.
It seems unlikely that the Red Bulls will not be allowed to race.
Red Bull have announced that Mark Webber will continue to drive for the team in 2013, following his win at the British Grand Prix on Sunday.
The Australian is currently second in the Drivers’ Championship and, along with Fernando Alonso, is one of only two drivers to have won more than one race this season. Considering that level of performance, it was only a matter of time before Red Bull moved to secure his services for next season. The contract that has been signed is just for 2013, continuing Webber’s recent trend of making decisions one year at a time.
With this announcement, Red Bull becomes the first of the front-running teams to confirm their 2013 driver line-up. Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, Michael Schumacher at Mercedes and Felipe Massa at Ferrari have yet to announce their plans, creating speculation as to what will happen in those teams.
There has long been speculation that Ferrari will seek to replace Massa for 2013, with Webber rumoured as a possible replacement. Webber confirmed the contact saying, “There were discussions with Ferrari, but my decision was to stay here.”
Now that his immediate future is decided, Webber can get on with the business of trying to become the first Australian to win the World Championship since Alan Jones in 1980.