We are now halfway through the 2013 season, and Sebastian Vettel again holds a commanding lead in the championship – a sizeable 38 points over nearest rival Kimi Raikkonen.
But if the form of the first half of 2013 is anything to go by, we’re in for an unpredictable battle all the way to the end. Let’s have a look at the drivers who will take the fight to the Red Bull:
Gap to Vettel: 38 points
Finishing form in 2013: 1-7-2-2-2-10-9-5-2-2
To say that his return to F1 has been a success would be a massive understatement. Kimi has been on the pace from the get-go, and has shown nothing but sheer determination and speed every time he’s out on track.
What holds him back though is the team itself. Lotus is bearing the brunt of severe overspending in recent years, and they have shown to be unpredictable when it comes to car development. A temporary slump from Monaco to Silverstone hurt Raikkonen’s chances of making steady progress, and it remains unclear whether Lotus can keep up to Red Bull in the development race.
The E21 can be described as “erratic” when it comes to performance between races – track temperature impacts on their car moreso than others, and this tends to make or break their race weekends before they even begin.
But when the car is on the pace, so is Kimi, every single time. The emergence of Romain Grosjean as a more reliable teammate may also come in handy, as the team may opt to use him as a tactial tool to delay his rivals. If Raikkonen is to win the championship, it won’t be by out-pacing the Red Bull, rather by clever tactics and strategy.
Gap to Vettel: 39 points
Finishing form: 2-DNF-1-8-1-7-2-3-4-5
Rumours of a rift in the Ferrari garage wouldn’t be unrealistic – Alonso has been unhappy with the pace of his Ferrari for some time now, and he can only do so much with the 3rd fastest car.
Like Raikkonen, Alonso is being forced to put more pressure on his team to achieve results, but Ferrari’s leadership has struck back, claiming Fernando should put the team before himself. This has produced a rather worrying situation where Fernando may lack the support from Ferrari in order to win the title.
To make matters worse, Alonso is not the faultless driver he was last year. A bizarre decision to stay out with a broken front wing cost him a Malaysian Grand Prix finish, and Fernando made the mistake of accidentally activating his broken DRS wing in Bahrain, despite having just pitted to have it fixed down.
It’s clear that he has been rattled by years of chasing the apparently unassailable Vettel, and it is now a case of whether Alonso will jump ship altogether, or continue to fight with Ferrari. Despite being a fan, I can’t see any realistic chance of the Ferrari/Alonso combination catching Sebastian in this form.
The next 2 races are expected to suit the F138 though, so if we are to see any late-season charge, we will have to see Fernando perform well in Spa and Monza.
Gap to Vettel: 48 points
Finishing form: 5-3-3-5-12-4-3-5-1
Only a week ago, I assumed that the 2013 title battle was a 3-horse race. It seemed impossible that the tyre-melting Mercedes could possibly mount a charge. But mount a charge it did, in the searing heat of Hungary no less. Lewis Hamilton is now equipped with the best car to take down Sebastian Vettel, but is it too late?
A 48-point gap is by no means unassailable – look at what Fernando Alonso managed after Silverstone 2010. But the fact that Red Bull are so strong in the second half of the year is the biggest issue. Tackling Vettel at the power circuits – Spa, Suzuka and Austin – will be Hamilton’s biggest test.
Another factor will be Lewis’ reliability – we know all too well what happens when Hamilton goes off the rails, and to do so in 2013 would be catastrophic. I feel that he still lacks the precision driving that Raikkonen excels in, and this could be the difference between becoming the champion and crashing out at the decisive moment.
Lewis has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last 2 years, but it remains to be seen whether he can tackle his major weakness in 2013.