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MotorSportsTalk’s 2013 F1 season review, Part 1

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Now that we’ve completed our IndyCar and NASCAR season reviews, it’s time for us to focus on everything that went down from Albert Park to Interlagos in the 2013 Formula One World Championship.

If you’ve been following us this off-season, you know the drill by now. We’ll start with our respective Top 5 stories of the season, followed by our respective Top 10 drivers, and then deliver our capsule reviews over the next couple of weeks.

In the words of Murray Walker, let’s Go, Go, Go…

Tony DiZinno’s Top Five Stories

Vettel’s Fourth Title. I’ve never been a huge fan of one driver or team dominating the proceedings in any racing series; it can have the potential to turn fans off. That said, Sebastian Vettel’s achievements in 2013 had the potential to change the minds of even the most ardent “Vettel haters.” Armed with a car that actually, it seems hard to believe now, wasn’t the class of the field in the first half, Vettel still won four of 10 races while no one else won more than two. “Multi 21” was a disappointment, but it showed his ruthless tenacity when he puts the helmet on. In the second half, coupled with the Pirelli tire construction change and its knock-on effect, Vettel and Red Bull obliterated the competition. Nine straight wins, either dominating from pole or strategic excellence like in Japan, represented the height of his powers. Post-victory donuts were merely the cherry on top. No one else really stood a chance after the summer break.

Tiregate and its effects. All too frequently Pirelli’s tires stole the headlines this year, and no one won from that – not even Pirelli. From Mercedes’ secret tire test at Spain, the spate of blowouts at Silverstone, and the variance between its prime and option tires either way too close or much too far, it seemed all of Pirelli’s efforts and decisions had consequences which they probably didn’t want or expect. Perhaps the bigger issue are the stringent regulations against tire testing with current-year chassis; the fact “tiregate” even became an issue arose from the fact that the only testing of 2013 compounds could come with 2011 or earlier chassis. Fixing that and allowing for several in-season tests would go a long way to eradicating the frequency of tire-related stories in 2014.

The Kimi and Lotus saga. Kimi Raikkonen is awesome at not caring. Lotus, in my estimation, is close to awesome with its social media presence. What was not awesome was Lotus apparently shirking its issue as a responsible team and not paying Kimi, who otherwise wouldn’t care except for the fact that along with alcohol and ice cream, getting paid is one of the few things Kimi cares about. You can’t blame him for seeking alternative options in either Red Bull or Ferrari, the latter of which he signed to for 2014. The Kimi/Lotus pairing shouldn’t have ended like this, and sadly the commercial realities dictated that the team has gone for an underperforming replacement in Pastor Maldonado alongside Romain Grosjean, who grew by leaps and bounds in 2013.

Silly, Silly Season. Raikkonen to Ferrari, Mark Webber leaving F1 for the WEC, Felipe Massa’s inevitable departure from Ferrari, Maldonado at Lotus, Nico Hulkenberg once again missing a top flight ride, and Daniel Ricciardo getting promoted to Red Bull all stole the headlines at various stages this year. Hell, even Fernando Alonso was rumored to leave Ferrari after some battles between he and its management team. The driver swapping is frenetic and at the top of the heap, only Mercedes will carry over its 2013 lineup, and perhaps that consistency will give them an edge… except now Ross Brawn is leaving there so who knows. This is why it’s called “silly season.”

New rules for 2014. A late add into the top-five stories of the year because on top of the already looming, massive change from V8s to V6 power units for 2014, among other adjustments, now comes this raft of sweeping changes that seem to create problems that didn’t previously exist. The backlash has already been strong against the double points finale at Abu Dhabi, the permanent driver number system seems a better idea in theory than in execution, and a cost cap for 2015 lacks specifics that could make it work. A lot to shake out in the offseason as the new rules work their way through the paddock.

Chris Estrada’s Top Five Stories

Sebastian the Fourth. A dominant season by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel transported Formula One back to the days when his German countryman, Michael Schumacher, was beating the tar out of everyone for Ferrari. If not for a gearbox failure at Silverstone, Vettel would have broken Schumacher’s single-season record for wins instead of just equaling it in the end at 13. Nine of those triumphs came in succession to close the season. Plus, his haul of 397 points this year would’ve been enough to give Red Bull the constructors’ title on his own. No doubt there’s many followers of Formula One that are hoping the new technical regulations for 2014 will slow him down. But no matter what happens in the year to come, Vettel delivered a season for the ages.

Multi-21, Seb.” There’s no way around it. To succeed in Formula One, you have to be at least somewhat amiable outside of the cockpit but almost completely cold-blooded behind the wheel. Sebastian Vettel was most certainly the latter during the closing stages of the Malaysian Grand Prix, when he defied team orders and passed teammate Mark Webber for the win – bringing down a firestorm of criticism upon him in the process. Vettel initially apologized for his actions but then effectively retracted it going into Shanghai: “I don’t apologize for winning,” he said at the time. A champion’s killer instinct or a jaw-dropping display of ego? Or maybe both?

The “Tiregate” saga. Pirelli had already been under fire for early-season tire failures, but it got exponentially worse when word got out at Monaco that Mercedes had a secret, three-day tire test following the Spanish Grand Prix. With in-season testing banned in F1, the uproar was immense. Both tire supplier and team got away with a slap on the wrist, however; in fact, for Mercedes, their only big loss was being forced to miss out on the Young Driver’s Test at Silverstone in July. But that would not be the end of Pirelli’s issues in 2013…

Pirelli’s problems peak in Britain. Multiple tire failures at high speed during the British Grand Prix – a disaster that Webber afterwards likened to a game of Russian roulette – threatened to throw the sport into chaos and raised the heat on Pirelli to a new high. After revising their tires for Germany by implementing Kevlar belts, the supplier then rolled out an entirely new specification of tires for Hungary that married the 2012 specifications to the 2013 compounds. Following that decision, the second half of the year went off relatively smoothly. But another challenge awaits Pirelli as it now tries to create a solid tire for the 2014 cars that will be vastly different from what they once were.

Mark Webber says goodbye. One of the more beloved drivers in F1, Webber’s departure for sports car racing is a tough loss for the series. A mainstay for 12 seasons, Webber notched a Top-5 in front of his fellow Australians in his 2002 debut for the humble Minardi outfit. And on he went from there, through a pair of two-year runs at Jaguar and Williams before coming to Red Bull, where he would enjoy his greatest success. His final year in F1 is tough to classify – he, like everyone else, was buried by his machine-like teammate, Vettel, but he still got third in the championship and closed out his F1 tenure with four podiums in the final five races. He deserves all the credit there is for being a fighter to the very end.

Tire woes leave Haas down the grid in Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo comes back onto the track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Tire woes throughout practice and qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix left Haas Formula 1 drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez down the grid ahead of Sunday’s race in Sochi.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas saw his eponymous F1 operation come back down to earth in China two weeks ago when its run of points finishes since debut came to an end.

Grosjean and Gutierrez arrived in Russia hopeful of getting back into the top 10, but both struggled to get temperature into their tires throughout qualifying.

Low temperatures and a green track surface hit all of the teams hard in Sochi, yet Haas seemed more affected than others as Grosjean and Gutierrez qualified 15th and 16th respectively.

“It’s been a complicated weekend so far for us,” Grosjean said. “We’ve been struggling with the grip and the car. It’s difficult to get the tire to work on such a smooth asphalt. We’re progressing, we’re learning and doing the most we can do.

“I still don’t have the feeling I used to have earlier in the season with the car. We really need to analyze that. Then tomorrow’s going to be a long race with a lot of fuel saving. The tires are hard to keep in the window, so it’s going to be challenging for everyone.

“Maybe we can try to be a bit more clever. Let’s do our best, let’s analyse and let’s keep having some interesting data. We’ll see where we are after the race.”

Gutierrez enters Sunday’s race still chasing his first F1 points since the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix, and admitted that Haas needs a few surprises to be in with a chance of reaching the top 10.

“Qualifying was pretty hard. It was difficult to get the tires to work here so it’s been a bit of a challenge,” Gutierrez said.

“I was doing my best, with all the options we have available, to maximize everything but I’m not really satisfied with the result.

“However, we still have a race to do tomorrow. Hopefully a few surprises may come our way that will give us a chance to be up in the points.

“It’s probably not going to be very straightforward, as the pace is not as good as we want it to be, but we will definitely push hard and do our best to get there.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Lowe: Mercedes let Hamilton down

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in the garage during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 technical chief Paddy Lowe says that the team let Lewis Hamilton down after he suffered a power unit failure for the second race weekend in a row during qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton was forced to start last in China two weeks ago after an issue on his power unit prevented him from posting a time during qualifying.

Although he did take part in both Q1 and Q2 on Saturday in Russia, a repeat of the issue on the same power unit meant that Hamilton could not run in Q3.

As a result, Hamilton will start 10th on the grid for the start in Sochi – and only if Mercedes makes no changes to his car.

While teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg was able to sweep to pole position, Hamilton was left to prepare for yet another fightback drive on Sunday.

“Our day has been tainted by a failure which deprived Lewis of a shot at pole – and deprived the fans of what would surely have been a thrilling climax to an immensely close battle between our two drivers,” Lowe said after the session.

“We’ve let Lewis down for the second weekend in a row, so our apologies go to him once again. It’s a cruel twist of fate that, out of eight Mercedes-Benz Power Units on the grid, the problem should befall the same driver twice.

“We’ve been working very hard over the past couple of weeks to understand what happened in China – but unfortunately there is clearly still more work to be done.

“Our focus for the immediate future, however, is on making sure Lewis’ car is in the best possible condition for tomorrow’s race to give him the best chance of making the kind of strong recovery we’ve seen him pull off so many times in the past.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton reprimanded for Russia qualifying misdemeanor

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in the Paddock during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton has been given a reprimand by the FIA stewards for failing to follow the race director’s instructions during qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Ahead of the weekend at the Sochi Autodrom, FIA race director Charlie Whiting had a white bollard placed in the run-off area at Turn 2 to guide drivers where to go if they ran wide at the corner.

The idea was used successfully in Canada last year, and forces drivers to pass through the ‘penalty zone’ that ensures they do not gain an advantage by running wide.

During Q1, Hamilton ran wide at Turn 2 but failed to pass to the left of the bollard. Although he did not gain an advantage or improve his lap time, the stewards still opted to look into his misdemeanor after qualifying.

Late on Saturday, they confirmed that Hamilton had been handed a reprimand for the incident, marking his second of the season. If he racks up one more, he will receive a 10-place grid penalty.

Hamilton ultimately finished 10th in qualifying after an issue on his power unit prevented him from taking part in Q3.

“It’s obviously not a great feeling to be on the sidelines again – but that’s life,” Hamilton said. “I knew there was a problem and that it was probably the same failure that I had in China pretty much straight away. I went out for a second run in Q2 to get a feeler lap and felt the same power loss as last time.

“When it happened in Shanghai it was something we hadn’t seen before and now unfortunately it’s happened again, so we need to understand it. I’ve never been superstitious about these things, though, and I never will be. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll move on and look ahead to the race.”

Hamilton said that Mercedes was yet to decide whether or not it would make any changes to his power unit overnight that may result in him receiving another penalty.

“I don’t know where I’m going to start yet – we’ll wait to see how that unfolds,” Hamilton said.

“But I never give up and I’ll give it all I’ve got to recover whatever I can in the race, like always. It’s not an easy track for overtaking. With the levels of tire degradation and it being so tough to follow here, it’s not going to be easy to make my way forward.

“But there are long straights and we’ve got good pace, so if I can keep the car in one piece I’ll be fighting for decent points I’m sure.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Raikkonen: P4 in Russian GP qualifying ‘better than nothing’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen says that qualifying fourth for the Russian Grand Prix is “better than nothing” after struggling to get to grips with his Ferrari SF16-H car at the Sochi Autodrom.

Raikkonen finished fourth in Saturday’s Q3 session, and will move up to third place on the grid for tomorrow’s race thanks to Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty.

Despite being in a position to lead the Italian marque’s charge against Mercedes and make the most of Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalty, Raikkonen was far from jubilant after qualifying.

The Finn had been set to take third in Q3, only to make a mistake on his final qualifying lap that meant he was unable to improve his time, leaving him P4 at the checkered flag.

“The whole weekend has been tricky: for whatever reason, I struggled all the time to put one decent lap together,” Raikkonen said.

“In qualifying it was a bit better, but I was still fighting with the front end in a few places. It could have been good enough for a second or a third place on the grid, but on my last lap I completely missed the last corner and slid away.

“Obviously I’m a disappointed with what happened, but considering how difficult it has been, this result it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing.

“At least we are in third place at the start, we’ll see what happens tomorrow, I think in the race it’s going to be better.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.