MotorSportsTalk’s 2013 F1 Season Review, Part Two

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Yesterday, we began our F1 season review with a look back at the biggest stories in the paddock. Now, without further adieu, we’ll follow up with our respective Top 10 driver lists.

Tony DiZinno’s Top 10 Drivers

1. Sebastian Vettel: The first half of the year seemed a false dawn. Yeah, Vettel was good, and in some respects better than the Red Bull RB9 on the 2013 sets of Pirellis. But he wasn’t invincible, and he wasn’t particularly popular after the “Multi 21” fiasco in Malaysia. Fast forward to the second half. Car suits the revised tires better. Vettel kicks championship charge into high gear and goes mental with a record nine straight wins. To me the Japan win stuck out most, as he had to overcome adversity with the varying strategies, and needed a late-race pass of Romain Grosjean for the lead … which he achieved with ease. Peerless, authoritative, and maximized every moment. The donuts made his domination worth it. There was no one remotely close in 2013.

2. Fernando Alonso: Perhaps the opposite of Vettel in that his first half of the year was better than the second, with the two excellent victories in China and on home soil in Spain. Fought through the adversity of a less-than-satisfactory car and, contrary to his boss Luca di Montezemolo’s thoughts, gave it 100 percent and then some in every race. By any account, 2013 was going to be a drop-off from his incredible 2012, when he took an even worse chassis within a race of the championship. But it wasn’t as bad as some made it out to be. Second was his reward, but the car must improve for 2014.

3. Nico Hulkenberg: Nico and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson seem to have much in common. They’re tall, they’re blindingly quick, they overachieve in midfield machinery and they get consistently overlooked by the top squads. This was Hulkenberg’s third season and already with his third different team, but once again he showed the poise, mettle and determination that F1 observers love to witness from a driver in a less-than-race-winning car. The fifth at Monza, the fourth in Korea, the countless other points drives in the second half of the season were excellent. Had his Sauber been anywhere close in the first half, perhaps “the Hulk” would have finished higher than 10th in points.

4. Romain Grosjean: A substantially improved second full season from the Franco-Swiss, and you could tell this was a more mature driver from the word go in Melbourne. Still, there were errors – his horrendous Monaco weekend followed up by more drama in Canada left the lingering doubts as to whether Grosjean could properly keep it all together. But he did that and then some, and it was particularly impressive to see him grow into Lotus’ team leader role in the second half of the year, leave Kimi Raikkonen in the weeds and score six podium finishes. Probably the driver of the year in the second half behind Vettel, but his at-times ragged first puts him fourth.

5. Nico Rosberg: You get the sense that if Rosberg’s timing was better he could emulate his father Keke as a World Champion. I say that because in four successive years, it’s been Rosberg consistently outperforming seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, and this year the 2008 World Champ and new Mercedes arrival Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg’s been good at taking the most of what the day offers – podiums if wins weren’t available and of course seizing the two wins at Monaco and Silverstone this year. But unless the car is the absolute world-beater, we haven’t yet seen Rosberg able to punch above it. He’s very, very good, but hasn’t yet put together a sustained championship challenge as his peers – the Vettels and Hamiltons of the world – have done.

6. Kimi Raikkonen: To be honest, I think it was my then-lack of appreciation for Vettel, or my preferring Kimi, that I rather foolishly declared Kimi my first half driver of the year. All those runner-ups and the Melbourne win in a car not up to par with the Red Bull, but still behind the Mercedes on single-lap pace, was my rationale. Rather surprisingly Kimi languished in the second half with a lack of single-lap pace, and the double-edged sword of Grosjean improving in the other garage and Lotus allegedly not paying him his salary didn’t help things. He fell off worst than most and finished with a dud in Abu Dhabi before leaving the track early. The sport is better when the Kimster is involved, and like his new 2014 teammate Alonso, I pray for Raikkonen’s sake Ferrari builds a chassis worthy of its two pilots.

7. Lewis Hamilton: A good but not great first season at Mercedes for Lewis, one of the outright fastest drivers in the sport. Put simply he was almost too fast in the first half; the car and its tires were excellent on single lap pace, but Hamilton’s relentless style of pushing every lap flat out cost him dearly in several events. It wasn’t a case of if Hamilton would get freight trained despite the pole, but rather when and how much. Still, the Hungarian win was one of the year’s sterling efforts. A hungry Hamilton is a dangerous one, and if Mercedes gets the balance right in 2014, look out.

8. Daniel Ricciardo: The likeable Australian did another good job of making more out of the Toro Rosso than should have been achieved, and his higher ceiling proved the difference in his getting the Red Bull drive ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne in 2014. Ricciardo appears to have the right attitude and mostly laid-back approach on the surface to fit in, but undoubtedly Vettel poses a substantially greater challenge.

9. Mark Webber: F1 will miss Webber’s candid nature and solid professionalism. Red Bull will probably miss him more than they let on; he did, after all, play a vital role in the team securing four straight Constructor’s Championships. But you get the sense that as soon as “Multi 21” happened in Malaysia, Webber was racing with one foot out the door the rest of the year. That’s not what you want from someone in the best car, and despite a few poles, 13 wins to zero in what should be equal machinery spoke volumes. Webber’s a sports car guy now, and the gain should be well worth it for the FIA World Endurance Championship.

10. Valtteri Bottas: A tough call here between Bottas, Jenson Button and Jules Bianchi for the final spot. Ultimately I’ll go with Bottas because he had at least a comparable measuring stick in terms of one-lap pace in Pastor Maldonado, but the Williams chassis itself did them no favors. Still, Bottas got on with the job and at times, proved his star potential for the future. The qualifying lap in Canada, the pass in Austin, those were the highlights. Better still was his professionalism, compared to Maldonado, in the last months.

Chris Estrada’s Top 10 Drivers

1. Sebastian Vettel: Outside of his conduct during the “Multi 21” episode in Malaysia, Vettel was simply superb. He may have had the benefit of a superior car in the Red Bull RB9 but he still had to capitalize on it against a field full of great drivers. And boy, did he ever. It’s not often you see dominance of the magnitude that Vettel exerted in 2013, which saw him equaling and breaking multiple F1 records while claiming 13 wins. And even after he claimed his fourth consecutive World Championship in India with three races remaining on the schedule, he continued to pour it on and closed out the year with a streak of nine victories in succession. We witnessed history, folks.

2. Fernando Alonso: Hamstrung by a car that was OK to begin with but didn’t improve as the season wore on, Alonso had to battle hard to claim his runner-up finish in the championship. But moments such as getting past both Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton on Lap 1 of his Spanish Grand Prix victory showed that’s he still worthy of the title of best pound-for-pound driver in the paddock. Qualifying was a problem during the year with just four starts within the first two rows, but the Spaniard usually got the most out of his equipment on race day and thoroughly won the teammate battle with Felipe Massa.

3. Nico Hulkenberg: If not for Sauber’s poor form in the first half, Hulkenberg would’ve likely been higher up the standings table in 2013. But a series of upgrades to the C32 at Hungary enabled the German to show why he’s amassed a sizable following that believes he’s worthy of a stronger car. Stellar drives at both Monza (qualified third, finished fifth) and Korea (fighting off Alonso and Lewis Hamilton for fourth) stood out, as well as his thrashing of teammate Esteban Gutierrez. Unfortunately for The Hulk, his wait continues for a team at the front end of the grid to give him a ticket out of mid-field purgatory.

4. Romain Grosjean: One wonders if Grosjean has a flair for the dramatic. Things were not looking good for the Frenchman in regards to continuing his F1 career beyond this season, but his turnaround in the second half of the season enabled him to supplant World Champion Kimi Raikkonen as the No. 1 man at Lotus and transformed his reputation from trouble magnet to cool, calm ace. Time will tell if he can keep the pace and cement his new role as team leader in Enstone, but he’s certainly given everybody more confidence that he’s up to the task.

T-5. Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton: Both Mercedes men slot in at the No. 5 position on my list, because both drivers have one-upped the other: Rosberg came in pegged as Hamilton’s sidekick only to bag victories at Monaco and Silverstone, but the former World Champion, while only having one win at Hungary, still managed to outpoint the German. Also, both drivers proved themselves. In Rosberg’s case, he showed that he can be a prime talent in the sport, and in regard to Hamilton, he showed that he can remain every bit as competitive in new surroundings after a long stint for McLaren. Combine those accomplishments with pushing Merc to second in the constructors’ race, and it’s a job well done from them.

7. Kimi Raikkonen: When Raikkonen’s 2013 season is remembered, his messy divorce from Lotus may overshadow all the good things: A season-opening win in Australia, eight podium finishes, and out-pointing his teammate, Grosjean, by more than 50 markers despite missing the final two races of the season. But you can’t help but wonder if, through Lotus’ difficulties in paying him for his services, that he got slightly less enthusiastic about putting his best foot forward on the track. In any case, it’s all done now and he’ll be staring down another former World Champion in Alonso next year at Ferrari. That ought to stoke the Iceman’s fire again.

8. Mark Webber: A third-place finish in the championship with eight podium finishes looks like a thoroughly great season on paper. But Webber went winless in the best car on the grid and also had the misfortune of being up against the unstoppable Vettel at Red Bull. Starts were also a common problem for him during the year. However, the Australian still soldiered on and his season-ending stretch of races was particularly impressive. Like I said yesterday, give him credit for not mentally checking out and for the strong results he had in his final days in F1.

9. Daniel Ricciardo: Steady work from Ricciardo this year compelled Red Bull management to elevate him to the senior team for next season. Qualifying was his strongest suit as he regularly out-hustled Toro Rosso partner Jean-Eric Vergne, and he turned in some strong race day efforts as well with Shanghai and Monza standing out in particular. He may have been held back somewhat by the STR8 but Ricciardo managed to earn his promotion and didn’t really do anything bad to jeopardize that.

10. Jules Bianchi: Missing out on a Force India before the start of 2013 must have stung for Bianchi, but he managed to land at Marussia and despite having very little time for acclimation, he quickly elevated the team past fellow back-marker Caterham. His run at Malaysia proved critical in helping Marussia come away with 10th place among the constructors and a critical amount of prize money as well. Bianchi has gotten people’s attention, and he’ll bear watching for further development in 2014.

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.