This 2013 season has seen one of the biggest testing shuffles of FF1M history. It is not just when tests take place but how they also impact development and performance. Gone are mid-season sessions and the development points, in are number of laps (a key real life factor in pre-season measures albeit for true reliability, but still, a cool aspect) and race weekend sessions.
Perhaps the biggest factor is now teams have a more granular control of how they want to develop their cars, with three periods per driver per weekend. There are a few strategies teams in every part of the table can pursue to improve their chances come race day all the way to focusing on the following year. My biggest source of concern was the unpredictability with how many laps drivers would actually drive, and for the most part that has been a surprising point as a very small number of drivers were affected overall. Out of many situations in the past, including the introduction of technologies and testing periods, the current testing method may prove to be the best solution. We shall see how it pans out throughout the season with tangible results and early into 2014’s pre-season.
Before going into the pre-season results and predictions, it’s important to state that this year’s testing also features the last of the possible “driver EXP abuse” following the previous measure of no long-term signing deals or renewals. We also saw looser engine rules allowing an amazing four teams to use the Ferrari engine (by choice, other engines especially the Mercedes were very attractive propositions) and a lone team – Pedersen – pushing every last bit of development it can from their lone supplier. There will definitely be different stories due to this and I expect next season to see some regulation to enforce more balance, for example, Ferrari having 3 selections and the nearest supplier having 2, the Ferrari would become ineligible for another customer team and thus keeping no more than a 1-team “advantage.”
Different strategies in both driver line-ups and areas of development were at full display. Only the AFIA know about the latter but the driver choices clearly played a big role. We saw early surprises and showstoppers GRM and Willows come in with a strong result and splitting the top 6 with Gojira and Tornado – a clear and potentially awesome Mercedes x Ferrari shootout. The last days of testing painted a different picture. The FJR Honda made its first appearance in the top 5 but overall the stable Honda teams were more scattered. The GRM and Willows dropped off considerably.
Why? Looking at driver selections throughout testing, some teams invested on their rookie and test drivers to undertake testing duties and provide an increment in results while others invested in their main drivers to obtain a better overall position or number of laps. There are also the areas of testing where some teams show clear sign of pushing the potency of their engine with others likely investing heavily on reliability, and every combination in between. It is only speculative to say some Aces took the wheel when a team focused on one aspect over the other which was likely driven by rookies and focusing on greatest balance and maybe a more conservative approach.
There is so much that can be speculated but the last couple of days give a decent indication to how we’ll see the starting grid for the first round in the 2013 season, but not necessarily the results. Teams will also likely update their in-season testing based on pre-season results, and that becomes a game onto itself. Expect the top 3-4 teams to focus on their race weekends with a secondary look into full-year/next season (with at least one boss changing it up, thinking he is clever), while the rest of the field shuffles for a strong result by optimizing their cars for that GP.
Pedersen BMW had a rough pre-season. With a very good and balanced driver line-up, possibly fourth best, but being the single BMW-powered squad will make this season one to focus on the 2014 car and looking for scraps. It is difficult to say how much balance there is between performance and reliability but the outcome will be a last place finish. It will be interesting to see their moves in the drivers market and engine options.
Horizon F1 has an interesting make-up: An Irish team led by a German and a Brit, with a North American tester and a cryptic series of pre-season results. The line-up is very balanced and could see especially Sutil sneaking into top 10 positions but despite a very decent car, reliability will be an unknown and other teams have stronger line-ups to make up for any car shortcomings. They will also be in the bundle that fights between 8th to 10th.
AndrewF1 features a FF1M boss-favorite Robert Kubica as their main driver but the quick Pole will have a tough season. Pre-season testing may not be fully indicative of the overall performance due to the amount of experience points gathered and the works Renault engine, but the team will fluctuate between 8th and 10th. Their best bet comes from a possible focus on reliability and thus, making up easy positions on the grid.
Mitchell Racing is sporting the other works Renault engine and didn’t have a strong pre-season with Buemi and Alguersuari lingering in the latter portion of the grid. It will be a tough year for the team with Nico Hulkenberg doing what he can with his car. Much like AndrewF1, the team may still offer some surprises here and there but they will likely find themselves often in the 8th to 10th spots as well.
We still have seven teams to cover and it may seem silly but it is quite difficult to place them. This is where series changes and imminent changes for 2014 make this quite a thrilling scenario that can make this season one of the best.
FJR Honda have the best, or the second best driver of the FF1M grid and 2012 champion, Lewis Hamilton and a promising rookie in Gutiérrez. Coming off a surging end to 2012, the team seems to be focusing on finishing races instead of topping the timesheets. With GP weekend testing, they can be up or down. Being so difficult to place their true performance, they shall be finding themselves fighting for 5th to 7th position early in the season and potentially 4th as their strategy and others’ change after the first few races. Do not be surprised to see Lewis a consistent top 8 runner and occasional top-5 finisher.
GRM shocked the paddock with their first days of testing. With guns slinging, Bottas entrenched himself in the top positions and sent a message. Making the most of the beastly Mercedes engine, they are contenders for good results as Bottas matures throughout the year. With di Resta as second driver, GRM can provide some shock results especially with other cars breaking down. As the season pans out, their powerful customer Mercedes engine may see itself slightly limited by the drivers when going head-to-head with other big teams. They’ll be hovering between 4th and 7th.
ExoliteF1 returned to the sport claiming one of the very top drivers and an experienced and reliable team player. Their Ferrari engine deal means Fernando Alonso will be an immediate threat. The question is how are they prioritizing development and the season? Reaping the benefits of extensively using their test drivers, they may be storming to the front or parking one or both of their cars before the end of many races. They will be most often contending for 4th to 5th places.
Now, the top 4 and the awful job of picking between them.
Shake n’ Bake was another team jumping on the Ferrari train. With a smart pre-season selection, they’re very strong and Sebastian Vettel will be fighting in the top 5 with teammate Maldonado racking up extra points. Reliability will also be an unknown but it is a factor that may also impact three of its direct contenders, meaning Shake n’ Bake can look forward to 3rd to 5th positions, potentially moving up with in-season development.
Willows Racing. The fierce Mercedes squad was surprised by GRM in pre-season testing and pushed it a bit with #1 driver Nico Rosberg taking the wheel on occasion. A very strong race finisher from halfway on the 2012 season, they may struggle to sustain the absolute race pace. In the able but unreliable hands of Nico Rosberg and former outstanding rookie Ricciardo, they will be featuring near the front but may have to rely on DNFs or mishaps by their surrounding teams to snatch victories. They will vie for 3rd to 5th positions most of the time but in-season testing can bring them to 2nd place.
TornadoF1 being placed as second best candidate feels a little weird. They have one of the most balanced driver duo with two drivers at their very peak. Grosjean was a silent warrior in 2012 and Vergne obtained very good finishes. Tornado will be contending for the championship every step of the way and are the favorites to win the first couple of races, at the very least, but maybe this time not being a works team and having their main rival actually focus on the season’s car may see a difficult time fighting the Gojira cars. Look for them to win the constructor’s championship and either be 1st or 2nd in the drivers, only dropping to below that if early fears of the Ferrari-powered cars’ reliability being a curse.
Gojira AutoSport enters 2013 refreshed and revamped with the team owner dedicating time and attention. The driver silly season saw Gojira repeatedly fail to sign a driver and this year’s line-up may cost the championship. Pre-season testing makes the team a clear favorite with Sergio Pérez amassing plenty of experience and laps, with the car showing great pace. Being one of four cars under the same engine has positives but also introduces a lot of uncertainty due to the impact others can have so it is quite uncertain whether the streak of driver DNFs will continue in 2013 or not and this may be Gojira’s biggest challenge. White Pérez may be growing and trying to reach his peak, Kimi Raikkonen returns to the squad in the twilight years of his career. Grossly outshone by his teammate in 2012, Kimi will have a very quick car but may lack the skill to amass victories. Despite the uncertainty in the driver line-up and reliability, it is difficult to write the team off being a contender and Gojira AutoSport is expected to finish in 1st or 2nd with only terrible misfortune pushing them up to 3rd.