FIA F1 2013 mid-season review

As the motorsport calendar reaches its mid-point, FIA.com takes a look at the championships in a mid-season review. Today it’s the turn of Formula One.

The first half of the 2013 Formula One season was dominated by talk of tyres. But with teams now on top of the new Pirelli constructions, the run to the chequered flag in Interlagos promises to provide dramatic racing between the grid’s top talents.

Despite Red Bull’s strong lead in the constructors’ standings, the 2013 season has not been an easy one for the team. During the Malaysian Grand Prix, in-house politics were brought dramatically to the fore when Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders and overtook teammate Mark Webber for the win. And the team’s usual strategy of taking advantage of Vettel’s qualifying pace to put the German on pole with a view to securing a lights-to-flag win has not paid off this season, thanks in no small part to Mercedes’ Saturday dominance.

Lewis Hamilton was roundly criticised for his decision to move from McLaren to the Silver Arrows this season, but the Briton has secured four poles, one victory, and three podium finishes, while teammate Nico Rosberg has three poles and two wins to his name. Those seven combined pole positions have proved to be a thorn in Red Bull’s side, and now that the Mercedes appears to have overcome its severe degradation issues the Brackley racers are in a strong position to remain in the fight during the nine races to come.

But Red Bull are not an easy team to beat; they have proved themselves capable of both impressive car development and consistency where it matters – on track. Their 69 point lead in the constructors’ standings is not unassailable, but it does give the team a strong advantage heading into the second half of the season.

Lotus started 2013 on a high, with a win for Kimi Raikkonen in Melbourne. But that early strong form has not led to further victories for the Finn or for the team, with Raikkonen collecting five second-place finishes while teammate Romain Grosjean has two third-places to his name. While Lotus have been in the fight at every race, thanks partly to a car that has run well on the 2013 tyres whatever their specification, the E21 has not had the outright pace in qualifying to make Sundays easy for the team.

It has proved to be a disappointing year for Ferrari, even though the team are third in the constructors’ standings, with Fernando Alonso third in the drivers’. The F138 proved itself to be an early-season race winner, with victories in China and Spain, but poor qualifying results have hampered the team’s efforts to challenge Red Bull and Mercedes for wins since the European season began in earnest. Alonso should never be discounted from a title challenge, but the Spanish racer’s growing frustration is causing public ructions within the team. On the other side of the garage, Felipe Massa’s season has been moving in a downward trajectory after a strong start that saw the Brazilian outqualify his teammate on a regular basis.

One of the biggest surprisesof the season was McLaren’s dramatic slump in form, with the usual front-runners finding themselves struggling in the mid-field. Thanks to a mid-summer improvement, the Woking racers left Budapest only two points shy of technology customers Force India in the constructors’ standings. Based on recent performances, the second half of the season should see McLaren back in the fight nearer the front, with Jenson Button predicting a podium finish in Spa.

Force India have had an impressive season, building a car that far outshines the team’s resources – humble, compared to many of their rivals. Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta have both delivered on track, regularly finishing in the points and establishing Force India as the strongest of the mid-field contenders. The similarly budgeted Sauber have had a far more challenging year, arriving in Melbourne with a car that struggled with rear-end stability and two drivers new to the team. Nico Hulkenberg has done his best with the equipment at his disposal, securing the team’s seven points, while teammate Esteban Gutierrez has acquitted himself well for a rookie.

Toro Rosso are not  a team fighting for titles and wins, although the Firenza-based team has shown significant progress this season, thanks in no small part to strong qualifying performances from Daniel Ricciardo and impressive race drives from Jean-Eric Vergne. The Toro Rosso battle has been between two teammates fighting it out for the chance to replace the departing Webber at Red Bull, and while Ricciardo is the top pick from the junior team, Raikkonen is also on the radar.

Further down the grid, it has been a disappointing season for Williams, who brought home their first point of the year from Budapest. The car lacks downforce and has proved challenging enough for both Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas to drive that the Grove racers undertook a mid-season overhaul of their technical team. It may be too late for a 2013 turnaround, however.

Marussia and Caterham continue their battle for 10th, with Marussia overhauling their rivals in the standings for the first time since the two teams joined the fray in 2010. Both teams started the 2013 with new driver line-ups, and Marussia’s rookie pairing of Jules Bianchi and Charles Pic were treated to a more stable car to drive than rivals Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic. By the Bahrain Grand Prix, Caterham’s struggles were such that the team drafted in ex-driver Heikki Kovalainen to advise on improvements.

While the first half of the season was dominated by the tyres, the second half promises much in the way of close racing and a thrilling fight to the finish in Interlagos.