13 March 2013, Ferrari – The winters seem to get shorter every year and just three and half months on from that thrilling finale in Sao Paolo, here we are about to tackle the first race of the 2013 season. Not a great deal has changed since that November day at Interlagos, but the new year features one less team and one less race, so that Scuderia Ferrari and ten other teams will tackle nineteen grands prix. As far as the rules are concerned, the bulk of the regulations are identical to last year, even if there are a few minor changes such as the fact DRS use is now restricted in qualifying, whereas before it was free. 2013 will mark the end of an era, as it is the last time, for now at least, that the F1 cars will be powered by normally aspirated V8 engines, so that in Ferrari’s case the 056 power plant will be taking its curtain call. Everything remains stable on the technical side at the Prancing Horse team, with the new organisational structure running smoothly and the senior personnel remaining unchanged, while the driver line-up is the same it has been since 2010, the two drivers totalling ten years service at Ferrari, with Fernando Alonso now starting his fourth season with the Maranello squad, while Felipe Massa has already worn the famous red race suit for seven years. The Spaniard feels the team is ready for the challenges that lie ahead. “I think we are more or less ready for Melbourne,” he maintained. “Of course, we would have liked more testing, but the rules are the same for everyone and we completed our programme throughout the tests. I feel confident in the car, while knowing Australia will not be easy. As usual, our aero development will be the key to having a good season, while getting a good understanding of the new, more complicated Pirelli tyres will also be essential.”
The stability when it comes to the technical regulations means that the majority of teams was able to get a car to run reliably during the very limited twelve days of pre-season testing, which is why everyone is being very cagey about making any predictions for the 2013 championship. While it’s true that it is very difficult to make any meaningful assessment of everyone’s relative performance, because of different fuel loads and test programmes, at Scuderia Ferrari, we are prepared to stick our collective neck out and make a bold prediction as to who will be the winner in 2013: the answer? The viewers, spectators and race fans, who look set to be treated to a vintage season of close racing, with more than a handful of teams looking like serious contenders for race wins and podium finishes. Felipe Massa reckons the season might not be as open as last year’s. “I expect the drivers from two or three teams to do most of the winning,” says the Brazilian. “As for ourselves, we start the season with a better car than we did last year, so I am happy and positive with the way testing went, when I felt the car evolved from the first day to the last, when I was happy with the balance of the F138 and felt comfortable at the wheel.”
One should not expect too many answers on Friday either: as a temporary street-type circuit, Albert Park is very green, with little running completed in FP1, so it will be on Saturday afternoon that teams will stop being coy about what they can do and deliver the year’s first fairly accurate litmus test of relative performance. However, the Melbourne track is good at hiding the truth. One factor that will no longer be a problem is the cold weather tyre degradation we saw in Barcelona in what was a colder than usual final two test sessions. But on the other side of the world, Melbourne is going to be much hotter than usual at this time of year. Currently, temperatures are in the mid 30s, although these should drop to mid 20s on Friday and Saturday and possibly get as low as 19 on race day. However, the experience gained at the Catalunya circuit regarding Pirelli rain tyres will not be useful this weekend. On the tyre front, the choices in Albert Park are aggressive. “We will have the Supersoft tyres and I like that as I always prefer the softer end of the range,” revealed Felipe. “In fact, managing the tyres, as well as making improvements to the aero side of the package through the year will be very important, but we really need to be perfect in every area, also on the mechanical side of the car. Personally, I plan to start the 2013 season the way I went during the second half of 2012 and then build on that.”
What can one expect of Alonso and Massa this weekend? Predictions serve no purpose except to turn round and bite you when you least expect it. Clearly, the F138 is better born than the F2012 and it would be disappointing if both drivers did not make it through to Q3 on Saturday evening in Albert Park and therefore secure top ten places on the grid. Anything else would be meaningless speculation. Nevertheless, one can risk an extrapolation based on the relative strengths down the pit lane at the final round last year, which means it is reasonable for the Scuderia to expect to be within the top three teams in Albert Park. “I don’t think we will see one team dominate, but also I don’t expect seven winners in the first races, like last year,” added Fernando. “It will be very close and from our point of view, a good result this weekend would remove some of the stress. I enjoy the Albert Park circuit, it is technical and difficult and the track, being a street circuit, evolves throughout the weekend.” Felipe is also looking forward to finally going racing. “I can’t say Albert Park is my favourite track, but I love coming to Australia, which is a great country with very nice people who really like their racing. The track here is demanding, but I expect the F138 will be well adapted to it and that we can have a good first weekend.”
The Australian GP has a habit of providing some surprises, but it would take a brave man to bet on Ferrari adding to its tally of seven wins Down Under, the last dating back to Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 victory. Fernando was victorious here in 2006, but not at the wheel of a red car, while Felipe’s best result is a third place trip to the podium in 2010.
Force India have finally completed their driver line-up for 2013, confirming that Adrian Sutil will race alongside Paul di Resta. Sutil returns to Formula One after a year on the sidelines.
Most of the teams confirmed their driver line-ups well before the start of pre-season testing in February, but Force India chose instead to wait until after they had run both of their candidates for the second race seat – Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi – at last week’s second test in Barcelona. Both drivers impressed the team, but in the end Force India went with the experience of Sutil rather than put a new driver in their car.
Sutil has already driven for Force India for four seasons, and for the team’s previous incarnation, Spyker, for a year. He is highly rated in the paddock and is expected to deliver results in his second stint at Force India. He was paired with Paul di Resta in 2011 before his brief absence from the sport, which adds some continuity to his career and the workings of the team.
Dr Vijay Mallya, Team Principal and Managing Director: “The decision over our driver line-up has not been an easy one and we have given it great consideration over the last few months. It was a close call, but ultimately we felt that Adrian’s experience and historic links to the team gave him the edge, and will provide us with the best possible chance of realising our ambitions for the coming season. If he can rediscover the exceptional form he showed in the second half of 2011, I’m confident that we can pick up where we left off at the end of 2012. As for Jules Bianchi, he has impressed us enormously with his speed and work ethic, and I’m hopeful we can continue working with him this year to help him develop into a future Grand Prix driver.”
Adrian Sutil: “I’m delighted to be back in Formula One, especially with a team I know so well. I’m very happy and I want to thank Sahara Force India for giving me a second chance. Having been away from the sport, I’m even more determined to achieve my goals in Formula One. Things went really well at the Barcelona test last week and it almost feels as though I’ve never been away. Driving the car felt so natural and I was able to get back in the groove quickly and find the limit. Now my focus is on making the most of the final test session this week, working with the team in the simulator and getting myself in the best possible shape for Melbourne.”
Marussia will mis the last pre-season test, after their car failed the last of the FIA’s mandatory crash tests. That means the team will arrive in Australia (assuming they can correct the issue and pass the test) with absolutely no mileage on their car.
Driving a Formula One car is dangerous at the best of times. The acceleration, braking, and corning abilities of the cars are staggering. The very idea of participating in a session on a grand prix weekend in a car that has never hit the track is ridiculous. At best, the car will be slow. At worst, it is a death trap.
A slow Formula One car is about the most dangerous thing imaginable. The closing speeds of the cars under braking are mind-blowing. A Red Bull could be braking 80 metres later than a Marussia in Melbourne in three weeks time. The potential exists for accidents like that of Mark Webber at Valencia in 2010, where he ran into the back of Kovalainen’s Lotus because he was surprised by how early the Lotus had to brake.
This is not the first time that a team is arriving at the first race with no testing. HRT have done it for the last two years. In 2010, they ran their cars for the first time in qualifying for Bahrain. In 2011, with the 107% rule re-introduced, they failed to qualify for Australia, to the surprise of no-one.
The regulations do not require a car to run in testing before it can take part in a grand prix weekend. In that regard, the regulations are woefully indequate. The FIA needs to wake up and realise that, by allowing this to happen, they are deliberately creating an unsafe environment for racing. Formula One is dangerous enough already. Why make it worse?