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.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”