MotorSportsTalk’s F1 2013 mid-season review – part two

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Following on from part one of MotorSportsTalk’s mid-season review, in part two the Formula One writers detail and dissect their top three stories from the season so far – be it for the right or wrong reasons.

Tony di Zinno’s top three

Tiregate. Unfortunately the dominant story throughout the first half of the season.

Mercedes’ one-lap pace vs. tire falloff. They’ve been great in qualifying all year but not able to sustain in the races. Still, Rosberg’s been great and Hamilton’s made us all look dumb for deriding his move from McLaren.

Webber retiring. One of the great one-liners in the sport, and the oldest driver on the grid, heads to the WEC with Porsche. Personally, I’ll miss his candor.

Christopher Estrada’s top three

Pirelli’s problems. Formula One’s tire manufacturer was charged with making a tire that could liven up the proceedings on Sundays. That indeed happened, but in a way that nobody expected or wanted. Their issues peaked with multiple failures in the British Grand Prix, which led to a rollout of new tires that married this year’s compounds with last year’s design. One hopes that, as a result, the second half of the F1 calendar will feature more emphasis on where it ought to be: the racing.

Mercedes’ evolution. Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel are still chugging along, but I’d say that what’s been happening for the Silver Arrows in 2013 has made them the most fascinating team to watch. Mercedes came in with high hopes after attaining the services of Lewis Hamilton. But for a good part of the first half, the headlines were instead focused on the ascension of teammate Nico Rosberg. However, Hamilton’s win in Hungary may have proven that the team’s finally neutralized the tire problems which had blunted their qualifying prowess. This story is most definitely, to be continued…

Who will replace Webbo? Mark Webber’s move to sports car racing in 2014 spells the end of a solid F1 career that has seen some considerable triumphs. It also opens up a prized seat at Red Bull alongside the ruthless Vettel, and that’s led to lots of talk as to who will get the call – Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have all found themselves dubbed as potential candidates. Who’s it going to be?

Luke Smith’s top three

The curious case of Pirelli. It’s been quite a year for Pirelli and we’re only half way through the season. Firstly they were deemed guilty of producing a tire that was ‘too bad’ for the drivers. So, to correct this, they held a private test with Mercedes which was eventually deemed illegal. Then, the safety of the drivers was put at risk at Silverstone, prompting another tire revision in Germany before eventually bringing back last year’s constructions. What next?

The demise of McLaren and Williams. The two dominant teams of the late ’80s and early ’90s have both faltered greatly so far this season thanks to two terrible cars. It has certainly spiced up the racing in the midfield, and it gives their drivers extra impetus to impress in the second half of the year. A winless year for McLaren would be bad, but a podium-less year? Unthinkable.

Marussia and Caterham’s battle. If you have read my work on MST, you will know that I’m a big fan of the backmarkers. Caterham and Marussia’s battle is raging on throughout the season, and both Bianchi and Pic have the makings of fine drivers in the future. With nine races to go, Caterham need to work hard if they are to finish tenth in the constructors’, while Marussia need to bounce back as soon as possible.

Keith Collantine’s top three

The team orders row in Malaysia. I thought there was a lot of hypocrisy in some of the coverage of Vettel refusing to heed Red Bull’s instructions for him not to pass Webber in the closing stages of the Malaysian Grand Prix. The fact that two years ago at Silverstone Webber conducted himself in exactly the same way Vettel did (albeit unsuccessfully) was widely ignored. That said, Vettel did himself few favours by first appearing to repent his actions, then insisting Webber didn’t deserve to win the race. He should have stuck to the latter view from the start.

Webber leaving F1. I don’t doubt that Webber’s frustration with life at Red Bull has played some role in his desire to move on to pastures new. But don’t underestimate the sincerity of his misgivings over the direction F1 is heading in with designed-to-degrade tires and, next year, tight restrictions on fuel use. I expect he’ll be more vocal about it once he’s joined Porsche in the World Endurance Championship, which is largely free of the gimmicks F1 has got itself hooked on.

Ecclestone indicted. Bernie Ecclestone himself has admitted Formula One owners CVC Capital Partners may have to replace him if he were found guilty in his bribery case in Germany. With the news of Ecclestone being formally indicted, his four-decade spell in charge of F1 is not yet at an end, but this could be the beginning of the end.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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