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The 2013 season review - Vettel and Red Bull reach new heights 29 Nov 2013

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing, 1st position) is hoisted on to the shoulders of Nico Rosberg (Mercedes AMG, 2nd position) and Romain Grosjean (Lotus F1, 3rd position) in recognition of his 4th world drivers title. 2013 Indian Grand Prix, New Delhi The Official 2013 FIA Formula One driver photo.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 17 March 2013 Sergio Perez (MEX) McLaren MP4-28.
Formula One Testing, Day 2, Jerez, Spain, Wednesday, 6 February 2013 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F138.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, 19 February 2013 Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Preparations, Hungaroring, Hungary. Thursday, 25 July 2013 Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1 celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 17 March 2013 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB9 and Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB9 battle.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 24 March 2013 (L to R): Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 24 March 2013 Race winner Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari, celebrates with a Ferrari flag in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 14 April 2013 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W04 leads Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 26 May 2013

The final season of the 2.4-litre V8 engine formula was another humdinger, but ultimately it will be remembered for the stratospheric performance level reached by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull in the second half of the year.

The season began on a high, with many pre-season changes guaranteed to make things even more interesting than usual. Lewis Hamilton’s switch from McLaren to Mercedes caused great excitement amid questions over whether the Brackley team really could turn the corner and start to win regularly. At the same time Mexican hotshoe Sergio Perez’s arrival at McLaren generated considerable attention. Other changes included Adrian Sutil returning to Force India and the arrival of a slew of rookies: exciting Finn Valtteri Bottas at Williams, young Mexican Esteban Gutierrez at Sauber, Briton Max Chilton and Frenchman Jules Bianchi at Marussia, and Dutchman Giedo van der Garde at Caterham.

With the teams already gearing up for 2014’s major regulation changes, there were minimal technical rule alterations ahead of the season. Apart from McLaren, who opted for pull-rod front suspension and a raft of other changes on the all-new MP4-28, and Sauber who developed some very sleek narrower sidepods on their C32, most teams went the conservative route of warming over existing design themes.

Rules regarding the DRS overtaking aid were tweaked slightly ahead of the season, with drivers only allowed to use the system in practice and qualifying on those parts of the track where they could be activated in the race, rather than anywhere the driver chose. Active double DRS systems were outlawed, but passive double DRS systems such as those tried by Lotus and Mercedes in 2012 were still permitted.

Front wings had to be even more rigid; ‘vanity panels’ were allowed to alleviate (in most cases) the ugly stepped noses seen in 2012; and every team also had to crash test all of its chassis rather than just one representative unit, as the FIA’s mandatory tests of monocoques and roll-hoop structures were made yet tougher. Finally, the minimum weight of car and driver was increased from 640 to 642kg to compensate for Pirelli’s slightly heavier new tyres, and it was these that had the greatest impact on the season.

The compounds - hard, medium, soft and supersoft - were generally softer than their 2012 counterparts to enhance performance and deliberately generate a higher degree of degradation to ensure a minimum of two pit stops at each race. Revised structures with new materials increased the footprint of the tyre, improving traction and cornering and, in theory, distributing temperature more evenly across the tread surface to alleviate blistering caused by localized heat build-up.

In principle, the new tyres had a wider working range and would be easier to bring up to optimal temperature. The hard and the soft tyres had a high working range, the medium and the supersofts lower, and Pirelli expected this to help teams to better understand the tyres and their interaction with the cars. However, as most would discover, this was easier said than done, which is what made the opening races so unpredictable.

“The 2013 season continues the philosophy adopted by Pirelli last year in evolving the original 2011 range of Formula One tyres,” motorsport director Paul Hembery outlined. “The goal is to continuously set new challenges for the drivers and to ensure that all the teams start the new season on a level playing field when it comes to the tyres.

“Through accumulating more information with each Grand Prix last year, the teams eventually fully understood the tyres, after a spectacular start with seven winners from the first seven races. The result at the end of the year was races with less competition and sometimes only one pit stop. This phenomenon was also observed in 2011, disappointing many fans and prompting some of the teams to ask us to continue developing our tyres further this year, in order to provide a fresh challenge with something different. Our 2013 range of tyres mixes up the cards once more to help overtaking and ensure two to three pit stops per race.”

Initially, three teams appeared to have done their homework the best on that tyre interaction: Lotus, Ferrari and Force India. Kimi Raikkonen won in Australia for Lotus, and Adrian Sutil starred on his comeback by leading the race for a while for Force India before finishing an honourable seventh. Fernando Alonso took second for Ferrari, while defending champion Vettel had to settle for third in his Red Bull.

The German hit back in the hardest manner next time out in Malaysia, however, famously drawing the ire of team mate Mark Webber. As the Australian turned down his engine after receiving the team’s now infamous ‘Multi 21’ coded message, Vettel - behind his team mate in second place - kept his engine on full tune, ignored team orders instructing him to hold station and passed Webber for victory. The incident did nothing to heal the already acrimonious relationship between Red Bull’s drivers, and created considerable bad feeling against Vettel.

However, despite scoring an early season one-two, victory in Malaysia did not signal a wholesale swing in favour of the Milton Keynes team. In China it was Alonso’s turn for victory in Ferrari’s F138, followed by Lotus’s Raikkonen, and Hamilton in a much more competitive Mercedes.

Vettel charged back in front in Bahrain, where he led Raikkonen and his Lotus team mate Romain Grosjean home, before Alonso again came to the fore in front of an adoring home crowd in Spain where he won from Raikkonen and Ferrari team mate Felipe Massa.

At this stage, despite winning two races Red Bull were still in trouble with tyre wear, as were Mercedes, and Vettel was particularly vocal about the manner in which the tyres degraded so quickly. Quite simply, others appeared to have mastered the peculiarities of the new rubber better than Red Bull, even though the RB9 looked to have a clear aerodynamic edge.

In Monaco, where Nico Rosberg scored a surprise win for a resurgent Mercedes, fresh controversy brewed when it emerged that the team had conducted a secret 1000km tyre test for Pirelli using their 2013 cars in Barcelona. Ferrari had done something similar prior to Barcelona, it also emerged, but had done so with a 2011 car, which was permissible.

The Mercedes matter was referred to the FIA’s International Tribunal who found that while the team had not intended to gain a sporting advantage, they had breached F1’s regulations and as punishment they banned the Brackley squad from participating in July’s young driver test at Silverstone.

Meanwhile, Vettel crushed all opposition in Canada to win from Alonso and Hamilton, before the championship literally took an explosive turn at the British Grand Prix in July…

Continued in Part Two

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