A new season of Formula 1 is almost upon us. Here's some brief thoughts on what could happen in Australia and beyond...
The car launches, testing and quotes get people chatting again but there is nothing like the anticipation of those five red lights going out at Albert Park for the season to really begin. Normally I like to post before the first race of the year and talk about the changes that have occurred in terms of the rules but there's not a lot to discuss as most things remain unchanged. It should mean more of the same in terms of the competitiveness between the teams. Testing doesn't give away too much and the main things to take from it were probably the fact that understanding the tyres will be vital again
A key change for 2013 is the rules regarding the Drag Reduction System (DRS). The use of the device in practice and qualifying is now only allowed in the designated zones. However there will now be two zones at most tracks this season to encourage teams to gear their cars higher to ensure overtaking is still feasible. You can see the location of the DRS zones for 2013 on AMuS. I'm a bit disappointed to see these changes as i don't think the risk was that big when the usage of the device was unlimited. And the placement and length of the zones had been better at most tracks. Having two zones will change this dynamic but it will depend on the length of the zones and whether there will be separate detection points for the tracks where zones are placed on consecutive straights. Hopefully the zones will be slightly shorter and then we can have the pack being kept closer together with the extra opportunities to use the DRS in a race. Time will tell.
Two zones means that there shouldn't be a major alteration in a team's potential in qualifying but the demise of HRT will make Q1 more pressurised. The last three seasons has seen seven cars exit after Q1 and six of them have usually been the 'new' teams. This season we will have six exit and only four of them will be predictable in Caterham and Marussia. So there will be more of a squeeze in whether you need to utilise the option tyres and of course this could ultimately be key to your race strategy, especially in the early part of the season when tyre degradation can be a big issue.
As for the championship itself you have to expect that Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso will be scrapping it out again. Jenson Button is certainly capable of mounting a challenge if he can get into the groove with his revised car and tyres. And it will be fascinating to see how Sergio Perez does at McLaren. A great young talent but a man who hasn't scored a world championship point since September. Lotus seem to have a very consistent car again so should be more good results achievable for Kimi Raikkonen although i think the title might be a step too far. I really hope Roman Grosjean can remind people how good he is and recapture that early 2012 form. Nico Hulkenberg takes up a new challenge in the graphite Sauber and it could be a tough baptism of fire for Esteban Gutierrez.
The Williams drivers have been bullish about the speed of their new car. I certainly felt they didn't make the most of their package in 2012. In Pastor Maldonado they have someone who has the raw speed to get the car in amongst the front runners and there will be plenty of eyes on Valtteri Bottas as the Finn goes out to prove that he is more than a Twitter hashtag. Force India stopped development of their car towards the end of last season and actually found gains as they concentrated on getting the best out of what they had. With the big rule changes looming in 2014 it will be a big decision for teams in the midfield particularly as to what resources they throw at their current cars as the season enters its latter stages. Force India have got a solid driver pairing in Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil and they'll be hoping to benefit from that with a lot of rookies elsewhere. The stakes are rising at Toro Rosso with Daniel Ricciardo already stating he not only wants to beat Jean-Eric Vergne but destroy him. Charming! The Caterham/Marussia battle may be another 'pointless' one but hopefully they can move in the right direction and that one of them at least can have the glory of a first point.