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.

IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.