F1 2013 preview — Part 2: McLaren, Lotus, Mercedes, Sauber and Toro Rosso
By Berthold Bouman
Teams, drivers and fans are looking forward to the first race of the year: the Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne. After 12 days of pre-season testing the status quo of the 11 teams is still somewhat nebulous to say the least, one thing is certain, the Pirelli tyres will be different from last season, and the Italian tyre manufacturer has predicted at least two pit stops per car this season.
In today’s preview: McLaren, Mercedes, Lotus, Sauber and Toro Rosso.
5. Jenson Button
6. Sergio Perez
Last year Lewis Hamilton left the British team, and this year Jenson Button will be the number one driver, while Sergio Perez will replace Hamilton. Mixed results for McLaren during testing, but it seems the MP4-28 needs more development before it will be a real title contender.
While it has the right speed, the MP4-28 seems to have serious understeer problems, and to add to McLaren’s problems, the car is very harsh on the tyres, which results in massive tyre degradation. But McLaren is still confident about the 2013 season, as there is plenty of room to develop the car.
Plenty of testing problems for McLaren – Photo: McLaren
Button refused to make any predictions for this season. “This year, I don’t think any team really knows or understands the competitive order, it’s been an extremely hard-to-read winter but that’s part of the game,” he told the BBC. “You can have a terrible winter of testing, then turn up at the first race and be competitive. Equally, you can look impressive in winter testing and be nowhere in Melbourne.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted his team encountered many problems during winter testing, “At Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, we’ve faced a challenging few weeks prepping our new MP4-28 for the 2013 season.”
“The often cold and sometimes wet conditions we experienced during pre-season testing in Barcelona and Jerez made it difficult to operate the tyres consistently within their optimal performance window. That issue, combined with a handful of typical testing setbacks, gave us a few headaches.”
But he confidently added, “We’re still working tirelessly to bring more pace to the MP4-28’s performance envelope, and I believe we’ll arrive in Australia in decent shape. the MP4-28 is a new and uncompromising design, and I have great confidence that our design, development and engineering teams will work tirelessly to shave tenths off its lap-times for Melbourne, and for Sao Paulo, and for everywhere in between.”
7. Kimi Raikkonen
8. Romain Grosjean
Lotus also decided not to change their driver line-up, star driver Kimi Raikkonen will stay for another year, and despite his on-track escapades, Romain Grosjean has been given another opportunity to impress his manager and Team Principal Eric Boullier.
During testing Lotus encountered many reliability problems, and both drivers spent a considerable amount of time in the garage. “For sure, we haven’t completed all the laps we wanted during pre-season, but that is often the case. We’ve found a few issues and we have solutions for them, which is positive,” Raikkonen said after the last test day.
Romain Grosjean gets a second chance in F1 – Photo: Lotus F1
Grosjean, who was fastest on his final day of testing, is confident ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, “The E21 feels good in all conditions, which is very promising for the season ahead. Of course, I wish I could have more time in the car before the season starts, but if we’re in the same position on the monitors when we get to Australia I’ll be very happy indeed!”
Also Boullier admitted Lotus had problems during testing, “Pre-season testing was not perfect for us but we are confident in what we have seen from the E21. We had glitches and we didn’t complete as many laps as we wanted, yet we still completed most of the assessments we required and have a good platform heading to the first race of the season.”
And the Frenchman added, “It’s certain going to be a highly competitive season but I’m confident that we’ll be right in the battle at the front.” And indeed, although Lotus has encountered several technical problems, the times they produced were consistent, and the black and gold Lotus was always in the top five.
Add Raikkonen’s magic, and the Lotus E21 can become a real winner this season, while Grosjean has shown he is certainly fast enough for a podium place, all he now has to do is make sure he gets to the finish line.
9. Nico Rosberg
10. Lewis Hamilton
Also Mercedes encountered technical issues that kept the car and drivers in the garage during testing, but there is certainly no doubt about the pace of the new car.
Nico Rosberg scored an impressive fastest lap during the last test day at Barcelona, but team mate Hamilton warned there’s still a lot of work to do. “It is important to bring everyone back down to earth and realise we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.
Lewis Hamilton joined Mercedes – Photo: Mercedes Benz
“It’s everything to play for still. We won’t know until the first race but don’t be surprised if we get to the first race and were not at the front. We have got through everything and we are not in deep, deep trouble. We’re going in the right direction.”
Rosberg agreed with his team mate and said, “I have the general feeling that we are in a better position than in the second half of last year but this is testing not racing, of course. The conditions in the first race will be completely different to here as it will be much hotter in Melbourne and Sepang so we need to wait and see.”
Team Principal Ross Brawn was pleased with the progress the team has made, “We have achieved our objectives for the test programme and the mileage that we have been able to complete has been very satisfying.”
With only one week to go Brawn commented, “We now have one final week back at the factory to complete our preparations; both drivers will be at the factory this week and, as always, there is a lot of work to do in a short space of time. We’re realistic about our performance here and our position once we get to Melbourne, and we look forward to the challenge of a new season ahead.”
11. Nico Hulkenberg
12. Esteban Gutierrez
Two new drivers at Sauber, Nico Hulkenberg left Force India and will be their number one driver, while rookie Esteban Gutierrez will make his Formula One debut for the Swiss team this season. Sauber didn’t produce any spectacular results during testing, and like the other teams, they had their share of technical problems during testing.
Nico Hulkenberg – Photo: Sauber Motorsport
Hulkenberg is a very talented driver who has won all the series he has participated in, and there is no reason to doubt the young German’s abilities. After the last test day he commented, “We have some potential left with the balance of the car and some homework to do before Melbourne. But I think that we found some interesting directions, and overall I’m quite satisfied.”
About the new Pirellis he said, “I’m satisfied with the pace we had in dry conditions, however, we need to do more work on the intermediate tyres, where we have definitely more potential to exploit.” Gutierrez agreed with Hulkenberg’s assessment and added, “It was important for us to work with the intermediate tyres, which seem to be the most difficult ones for us. We had to change quite a lot of things to make them work better.”
Last year Sauber was the surprise of the season, they had a fast car straight out of the box, it will be difficult to repeat that this season, but Hulkenberg is a skilful driver, he confirmed that during the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, perhaps he will be the one to give Sauber their first victory ever.
18. Jean-Eric Vergne
19. Daniel Ricciardo
The last team on the list, Toro Rosso, also continues with the same driver line-up, both Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne will represent Red Bull’s Italian sister team in 2013. No spectacular test results, but the STR8 is a stable and reliable car, however, it needs some more development and set-up work to make it a top ten finisher.
Jean-Eric Vergne – Photo: Toro Rosso
Laurent Mekies, Toro Rosso’s Head of Vehicle Performance said after completing 12 test days, “As the STR8 is fundamentally a new car, with plenty of crucial changes for example on the suspension, on the aero side and in terms of the architecture of the car, we had a very big work load to tackle this month in Spain.”
Also Toro Rosso struggled to understand the Pirellis, “Apart from our car, the other new element was the Pirelli tyres, which have different characteristics to last year’s. Getting a full understanding of how the new rubber works is something that will take longer than we had expected.”
Ricciardo is of course looking forward to his home Grand Prix, “I’m still very happy to be in Formula One, but it’s not enough now. I want to get as much as I can out of it, so the confidence I have now is higher and for those reasons I really believe I can make the results and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do that. If I’m just racing but not doing anything spectacular it’s not enough.”
And he added, “If we can consistently finish in the points that would be a good start. In the points you are really racing for something and when you’re racing for 15th and 16th for sure it’s not as fun. When there’s a prize on the line it makes it more exciting!”