What to look forward to in 2013

Unfortunate as it is, but it is now time to consign the brilliant 2012 season to the history books, and look forward to the next. Will the 2013 season deliver as many thrills and spills?

Let’s have a look at some of the things that could make the 2013 season great:

Continued competitiveness at the front

As Sebastian Vettel searches for his fourth world title on the trot, double world champion Fernando Alonso attempts to win his first title since 2006.

Meanwhile, Jenson Button will try his best to lead a reshuffled McLaren team to glory, while Lewis Hamilton will settle into Mercedes and attempt to push the team to the front of the grid.

Ferrari, despite their vocality on every single issue in F1, have struggled in recent years, and look to a resurging Felipe Massa to improve the team’s chances at a constructor’s championship.

The 2012 season saw one of the closest and most competitive grids ever seen in the sport, and with little change in the rulebooks for 2013, most of the teams at the front should be able to continue racing for wins. It is likely that Red Bull will continue to have one of – if not the – most competitive cars on the grid, and it will be fascinating to see who will try to topple them.

I estimate that up to 5 teams will have a shot at the title for next year, and that’s good news for F1.

An ever-improving Lotus team

Despite a huge increase in fans and supporters in 2012, Lotus’ actual season was a disappointment. They lost out on opportunities for victory in early races, and only an inherited win for Kimi Raikkonen in Abu Dhabi spared their blushes.

To put it simply, the team too often failed to exploit the fantastic race pace of the E20, and single lap pace was lacking. This must improve for 2013 if the team wishes to challenge for the title.

Romain Grosjean will be looking to recover from a terrible second half of last year, and will be doing his best to turn excellent pace into actual finishing results. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen will presumably continue as the team leader, and should be able to reap rewards from the Lotus’ fantastic reliability and (hopefully) improved pace.

Considering how close Raikkonen got to the title this year, even before his win in Abu Dhabi, then Lotus are a serious force to be reckoned with this year.

Can Hamilton’s move reap rewards?

One of the most controversial news stories of last year was Lewis Hamilton’s surprise move to a struggling Mercedes team. There will be massive pressure on the Brit to transform the team into a title-winning squad.

That’s an odd statement though, as the team won their previous title only back in 2009. A slump in form in 2010, coupled with a series of underperforming cars, has held them back since. So what does Hamilton bring to the table? Awesome speed and a newfound maturity certainly helps.

Partnered with karting teammate Nico Rosberg, Mercedes now has one of the most exciting driver duos in the sport. Which driver ends up on top is anyone’s guess, but either way, 2013 will be a defining season for both drivers.

A more unpredictable Q1

The exit of HRT will either come as a disappointment or a relief to fans, but their demise has resulted in a much more exciting prospect for Q1 in qualifying.

With the 3 new teams taking up 6 of the 7 drop zones up to 2012, Q1 has been one of the few uneventful parts of an F1 weekend. However, with one less team at the back of the grid, the midfield teams now have a much bigger risk of being knocked out in the first part of qualifying. This also applies to the frontrunners, who will have to push harder to avoid being caught out.

Overall this will result in better competitiveness and more exciting racing in Q1. It also raises the prospects of slower cars being caught out by the 107% rule, as the frontrunners may be forced to take on the option tyre in this session, raising the bar for the teams behind.

Small DRS rule change – big consequences

A minor change to the technical rulebook in 2013 has stated that the DRS device can only be used in its designated zone during practice and qualifying. While it seems unnecessary, looking closer into the matter will show what consequences this has.

By lowering emphasis on DRS in qualifying, teams will no longer give their cars longer gears to benefit from the DRS, only to see that benefit slide away in the race.

This will also provide a boost to Ferrari, whose F2012 struggled in regards to rear stability when braking and disengaging DRS at the same time. For some reason, when the DRS flap deactivated, it failed to provide sufficient downforce for a split second, meaning the car would lose grip when braking for corners in qualifying.

This problem dogged the Ferrari team for all of last year, but it will no longer be an issue in 2013. Hopefully this means that they can improve on their poor qualifying form, and actually challenge Red Bull and McLaren on Saturdays.

Goodbye to stepped noses?

Stepped noses proved to be a flop with fans in 2012, many of whom engaged 100% nostalgic capacity and bemoaned the look of the current generation of cars.

Thankfully, the FIA has introduced an optional panel, to be fitted to the cars’ nosecones to eliminate these controversial steps. Before 2012, a safety measure meant that the front of the nosecone was to be lowered – but the rear was to remain the same height. This is what caused the controversy in 2012, and it’s good to see the matter finally come to a close.

For the record, I didn’t actually mind the stepped noses – the initial surprise is the only thing bad about them.

Hulkenberg and Sauber – a step up or sideways?

Force India described Nico Hulkenberg’s switch to rival team Sauber as a “step sideways”, an opinion shared by more than a few in the paddock. Can Hulkenberg prove them wrong?

Nico is one of the finest talents in F1, finishing off the 2012 season with a series of brilliant drives. In only his second season, he has taken a pole position, and nearly took a shock win in last year’s season finale. However, his performances in 2013 may be limited by what Sauber can produce.

But we’ll have to wait until March to see how the Hulkenberg/Sauber combination works. Nico has the potential to be a race winner and world champion in the future, so this is a hugely important moment in his career.

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