Season in Review – Sauber – Reverse Gear

After the heroics last year at Hinwill where drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez claimed multiple podiums between them, it was back to reality this year for Sauber. Sergio Perez was snapped up by McLaren (before being dumped after a single season) the team moved to secure the services of Nico Hulkenberg who has been the midfield star over the past few seasons. Kamui Kobayashi couldn’t be retained despite being a fan favourite as the teams independent status means they have to look for sponsors and pay drivers. The Telmex sponsorship is a little of both, with Carlos Slim happy to part with cash for any driver as long as they are mexican thus Esteban Gutierrez was promoted from GP2 to partner the hulk for 2013.

Unlike 2012 the car was no match for the Pirelli’s and in the first part of the season it chewed its way through rear tyres like a Mercedes, however after the tyre change and a clever upgrade in Hungary the season turned around but the team couldn’t catch their rivals and well back to 7th place. Nico Hulkenberg scored the lions share of points as Gutierrez looked like a fish lacking copious amounts of water, the Mexican would turn things around somewhat in the latter part of the year claiming a single 7th place to put some points on the board. At this time however his team mate was scoring faster than anyone in the midfield recording a 4th, 5th and two 6th places in the final half of the year.

However despite this up turn in form, it was looking like the bank balance was heading the other way. It was revealed that Hulkenberg had not been paid at all during the season and the team were in serious trouble at one point with winding up orders asked for from various suppliers. The team have taken on some wealthy Russian backers but it may lead them to having to place Sergy Sirotkin in the car next season, which could be a disaster as he has little pedigree in even the traditional feeder series for the top flight. However this hasn’t discouraged Adrian Sutil from signing up in a straight swap for Nico Hulkenberg and will lead the team next year. His team mate is still a mystery and could depend on which set of foreign investors have the deeper pockets.

Season in Review – Toro Rosso – Purpose Fulfilled

While Toro Rosso began the season with much chest pounding that they were aiming for 6th place in the constructors it was not to be, however after many years seemingly without purpose arguably they have fulfilled it this year. The team made aggressive hiring over the close season with the recruitment of Sauber’s technical director, James Key, however the car still was at the rear of the midfield battle. However it was still capable of being squeezed into Q3 by Daniel Ricciardo on a few occasions. Furthermore the team increased their points total from 2012 and moved up one place in the constructors, although much of that was down to Williams failures than their success.

Retaining their driver line-up from the previous season the car struggled with the fragile early season Pirelli’s and the pairing went relatively unnoticed until Mark Webber announced that he was retiring from the senior Red Bull team at the end of the year.  This meant there was an opportunity to move to the World Champions over in Milton Keynes and it was Daniel Ricciardo who delivered enough to be selected, mostly on his raw pace showings on Saturdays.

His team mate who will be retained alongside GP3 champion Danill Kyvat still struggles come Saturday and needs to sort out this flaw if he has ambitions of greater things, however for now Toro Rosso have produced their second Red Bull driver. There were factions inside the Red Bull organisation that wished to see Kimi Raikkonen in the team but they were drowned out in favour of using a current driver.

Interestingly the team have cut back their young driver program to only 3 drivers for the coming year alongside the two drivers in Toro Rosso. Depending on how well Ricciardo does it could be a long time before STR are required to blood any more serious contenders. Weirdly with the team so far away from the main team its difficult to use it train staff, while a switch to Renault power trains next year will allow them to borrow more Red Bull technology they still have develop a large portion themselves. Furthermore in 2014 we will see the return of in-season testing so the arguments for running two separate F1 teams is growing weaker by the minute.

Season in Review – Williams – Rise and Fall

After the dizzying heights of Spain in 2012 Williams and Pastor Maldonado were expected to go onto greater things in 2012, however it was not to be and the season ends with a remarkable shift in personnel. Williams finished only one place higher in the constructors last year (8th) however they claimed 76 points and a victory against this years paltry 5 came across two races. After 2012 with Mike Coghlan on board the team dispensed with pay driver Bruno Senna in favour of GP3 champion Valtteri Bottas and retained Pastor Maldonado and his PVDSA millions. (however after he won a race in 2012 that’s hardly a surprise!)

Hopes were high but right from the start of the season things started to go wrong, the first sign was Toto Wolff leaving through the exit door marked Mercedes and after the car failed to live up to expectations the team dispensed with one shamed technical director for another, Pat Symonds. It wasn’t until the end of the season when the team moved away from blowing its rear diffuser that they started to make progress and it was Valtteri Bottas who picked up the pieces of Williams season towards the end of the year.

This lead to Pastor making the remarkable claim that the team were tampering with his car in Brazil as he failed to match the performance of his team mate and that he had brought more to the team than they had to him. Unsurprisingly Pastor announced his departure and his large chequebook has landed him a place further up the pecking order at Lotus while Williams have secured the services of Felipe Massa and Rob Smedly for 2014.

Much more will be expected from the Grove based team if they are truely to revive their brand and not go the way of many of the other great independent Formula 1 teams. Now lead by Claire Williams she needs to steer them in the right direction in this new era.

Get Yer Gimmicks Out!

The first meeting of the FIA Strategy group has produced quite a few ideas to change the make up of Formula 1 over the next few years. The group is made up of the FIA (who get 6 votes), the commercial rights holder (CVC/Bernie – also 6 votes) and 6 of the biggest teams – Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Lotus and Williams (1 vote each).  – How Sauber aren’t there as the 4th longest serving team is quite a travesty in my opinion.

The big news should of been the fact that they have agreed to implement a cost cap from 2015, in principle at least which gives Todt the power to start to implement proper cost controls from on high. Interestingly either Ferrari is concerned at the escalating spending power of Red Bull or the FIA squeezed them hard not to use their veto. The Scuderia have long been against a cost cap, however it will all depend on how it is imposed and what restrictions it will have.

However the big story on the back pages today is not the cost control or the fact that drivers will now pick a permanent number a la Moto GP (a non issue really lets be honest as the numbers are kind of irrelevant) but the fact that the FIA will award double the points for the last race of the season. The BBC points out that this would of changed the championship 3 times over the last 20 years, with Raikkonen in 2003, Felipe Massa in 2008 and Fernando Alonso in 2012 being crowned in place of Schumacher, Hamilton and Vettel. Unfortunately to add insult to injury the last race of the season in 2014 is set to be Abu Dhabi giving it double the points of Monaco, Silverstone, Spa or Monza. Its yet another unnecessary gimmick tinkering with the sport, where was Ferrari veto when you need it huh!

The only other thing of note was there will be an additional tyre test on the 17th – 20th of December to help Pirelli develop their compounds for next year, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari, Force India and Toro Rosso will all take part.

Hulkenberg disproves god and signs for Force India

Knock and the door will be opened,  or not in the case of Nico Hulkenberg who will return to Force India in 2014 after failing to find a drive with the top five.  The German previously raced for the Silverstone based team in 2012 before setting sail for Sauber this year. However once again the fiscal situation didn’t all add up and there was a gaping hole in the colllumn marked salary at Hinwill. Nico is rumored to have taken a portion of his salary up front for next year after difficulties last time he raced in white, green and orange.

The most interesting aspect has not been the announcement but the lack of one with regards to his team mate. Force India have traditionally always waited until after the season ends and announced both drivers together. Current drivers Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil remain in contention alongside McLaren outcast Sergio Perez.

 

Season In Review – Marussia – New Lowly Highs

Continuing the season in review with the team who after 4 seasons of trying finally reached the lowly heights of 10th place in the Constructors Championship – Marussia

File:Jules Bianchi 2013 Malaysia FP1.jpg

Marussia had in previous seasons been the last of the serious efforts on the grid but had managed to finish behind the shambolic HRT outfit in their previous guise as Virgin GP. With the team now folded it meant that the worst they could was finish 11th and 2013 was a season to be optimistic for the team. Charles Pic had been poached by rivals Caterham, leaving a hole in the budget rather than the talent department but this was to be easily filled by perennial GP2 challenger Max Chilton and his large chunk of his fathers Aon money. The team had also now long ditched its attempts to use only CFD to design their cars and had former world champion technical director Pat Symonds on the books.

The first stumbling block was the realisation that either they hadn’t got enough money for the season or that the real challenge would come in 2014 so it was worth covering their costs with a pay driver. The team sent Timo Glock off to DTM (in fact Charles Pic is the only driver to survive in F1 after driving for the team!) and managed to sign up GP2 runner up Luiz Razia. A risk surely but with a good junior pedigree he should of provided some speed and a stern test to Chilton. However it was not to be as the Brazilians sponsors didn’t pull through so despite testing the car the team were still on the lookout for another driver with support to pilot the MR-02 for the season. At this point an offer came along from the other more famous red team: Ferrari.

Jules Bianchi was offered to Marussia in exchange for what we believe to be a greatly reduced costs for engines in 2014 (as no other stickers appeared on the car) which would tick the boxes the team were looking for. Increasinly it seems the top teams are funding the really talented drivers and finding them births lower down the grid. Red Bull have Toro Rosso (and even got the wallet out again for Daniel Ricciardo to toddle around in an HRT for half a season), McLaren attempted it with Kevin Magnussen and now Ferrari have Marussia. But what a turn up for the books that deal would be.

With the team later confirming that the last real update they brought to the car was the Barcelona the business was done early with Jules Bianchi gaining a 13th place in Malaysia to seal 10th place in the Constructors and a nice little boost of prize money. However they will need to repeat the feat in the next two seasons to really reap the rewards and become a Category 2 team.

Max Chilton on the other hand didn’t posses the raw speed of Jules Bianchi but did manage to finish every single race of the season, a first in the history of the sport. Despite having the luxury of doing the complete testing programme he was regularly shown up come Saturday and a deficits of over a second were not uncommon, some progress was made in the latter half of the season but the Briton didn’t shine too brightly against the Ferrari back Bianchi. An average deficit of +0.585 (The worst apart from Esteban Gutierrez who did manage to overcome his issues during the season) over the season in qualifying and an average finishing position of 21st (compared to 19.89 for Jules) do not suggest he is the next World Champion.

Next season will see the team running Ferrari power and continue with Jules Bianchi, the strong indication that for the first time Marussia will stick with its driver pairing and give Chilton another season – and Marussia financials some stability. Its a big year for the two teams at the back of the grid as the new regulations present an opportunity to get on terms with the established teams, it really could be make or break in 2014.

Season In Review – Caterham – New Lows

We start off the traditional end of season look with the last placed team – Caterham.

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In a first for the team in green after finishing ahead of their young team contemporaries, Caterham found themselves last in the standings after the wheels stopped turning in Brazil. With no HRT to create a rolling road block at the back of the pack, Jules Bianchi’s 13th place in Malaysia sealed the deal for the other 2010 entrant still surviving. At the back of the grid this year development was halted very early due to the massive shake up next year in the regulations so there was never going to be much hope for Caterham to really progress despite years of promises otherwise.

The team decided to release Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen to replace them with Charles Pic from Marussia and rookie Geido Van Der Garder. In a change to the teams principles this saw no real experience in the garage (apart from Pic’s lone season at rivals Marussia) but plenty of cash to fill the coffers at Leafield. But it was telling that the team had to re-recruit Heikki to drive in FP1 to help develop the car throughout the year as the in-experience of their drivers showed.

Unfortunately for Caterham a slow start hampered them and although they were generally faster than Marussia throughout the year the “other car in red” was definitely the faster package out of the box. The drop to last place wont harm Caterham’s financials too much as to stay a category 2 team (which Caterham have become bringing much more prize money) you have to finish 10th or higher in 2 of the last 3 seasons. This leaves it imperative that the team can outscore Marussia next year and could see Heikki return to the car.

As for the drivers Geido Van Der Garder’s heroics in Spa spring to mind and by the half-way mark the Dutchman had certainly turned the tables on his more experienced French team mate and looks the better of the pair. However how good either are is up for debate as neither provide a good yard stick.

Next season is going to be key with a huge spike in costs and without new sponsors or big money pay drivers expect there to only be 10 teams rolling into Australia in 2015.