Continued from Part One
Lewis Hamilton had steadily been getting more comfortable in his Mercedes F1 W04 by the time of Julys British Grand Prix, particularly with its brake system. Having qualified on pole he was leading his home race comfortably at Silverstone from Vettel when his left-rear tyre exploded. Other equally dramatic tyre failures involving Massa, Perez and Toro Rossos Jean-Eric Vergne quickly followed and, as Rosberg inherited victory after Vettel had retired with a gearbox problem, Pirelli had already begun urgent investigations into what had gone wrong and soon issued mandatory set-up specifications in light of what they learned.
In an effort to curb their excessive tyre wear, some teams were found to have been running the uni-directional tyres the wrong way round (an old ploy often seen in karting) and at camber angles up to four degrees. Now Pirelli mandated that all tyres should be run in one direction only, at no more than 2.5 degrees of camber.
Fingers were crossed there would be no more drama in Germany, as new specification tyres were prepared for Hungary, and to everyones relief there were no problems as Vettel won for the first time at home from the charging Lotuses of Raikkonen and Grosjean.
The new tyres were ready for the Hungaroring and featured a revised construction to go with the Kevlar belt that had been introduced in Germany. All of the teams bar Mercedes had tested them at the young driver test at Silverstone, though Mercedes were given data by Pirelli. And, to everyones surprise including his own, Hamilton dominated the race ahead of Raikkonen and Vettel to score his first big success with his new team and propel himself into championship contention.
As the teams went into the summer break, nobody could possibly have foreseen what lay in store for the remaining nine races, as Vettel was still within reach with 172 points to Raikkonens 134, Alonsos 133 and Hamiltons 124.
It was a slap in the face for Red Bulls rivals when Vettel won at a canter in Belgium, hitherto not one of the best tracks for Adrian Neweys high-downforce cars, and at Monza where low downforce was again the order of the day, but the most crushing victory came for the German in Singapore where Red Bulls phenomenal traction made him completely untouchable. Within three races Vettel has stretched his lead from 38 points to 60 points and would have been even further ahead were it not for the heroics of Alonso who somehow kept the his slipping Ferrari team in touch.
By then the emerging pattern was already prompting discussion of how likely it was that Vettel would win all the remaining races, and to everyones consternation Vettel did just that, equalling Michael Schumachers 2004 record of 13 wins in a calendar year, but claiming one of his own for nine consecutive wins in a season. First came a dominant win in Korea, then another at his happy hunting ground of Suzuka, before further victories in India (where he sealed his title with a jubilant display of donuts), Abu Dhabi and the United States. Heading into the final round in Brazil the only question was whether Vettel would gift Webber one final win, the Australian having announced his F1 departure for sportscars earlier in the season. The answer was an emphatic no.
Clearly, the revised tyres introduced in Hungary suited Red Bull more than anyone else, whilst Ferrari and Force India, whose seasons both unravelled somewhat in the second half of the year, were the worst compromised - harsh luck after their careful winter preparation. Raikkonens campaign also began to fall apart as the new rubber made his Lotus understeer. That suited Grosjean more, and in the latter half of the season he and Webber, whose car was at last more reliable, proved to be the only men capable of getting anywhere near Vettel.
Korea, Japan and India brought Grosjean a trio of third-place podium finishes, followed by a second in Texas, while Webber was third in Italy and Texas and second in Japan, Abu Dhabi and Brazil to pip Hamilton to third place overall in the drivers standings behind Vettel and Alonso.
Mercedes also dipped in the latter half after a promising opening half of the season that included three wins and eight pole positions, four of them in succession for Hamilton. But far from building on his success in Hungary, the Englishman struggled somewhat in the final flurry of flyaways. His races in India and Abu Dhabi were compromised by damage to his Mercedes chassis, but when the problem was discovered in time for the races in the United States and Brazil he was right back in the picture. What is undeniable is that Nico Rosberg proved far greater a match for Hamilton than many had predicted, and indeed the Germans strong form helped Mercedes take a much-improved second place in the constructors standings, behind Red Bull but ahead of Ferrari, despite some tyre wear trouble over the final races.
Raikkonens career at Lotus came to an end two races ahead of schedule when he opted to miss the races in Austin and Sao Paulo to have surgery on a recurrent back injury. The enigmatic Finn should be healed by the time of the first tests of 2014 when hell be reunited with Ferrari alongside Alonso.
Raikkonens absence, allied to stand-in Heikki Kovalainens failure to score points in the United States or Brazil and Grosjeans dramatic final race engine failure, compromised Lotuss chance of improving on fourth place in the constructors table.
Fifth place in the standings was an embarrassment for McLaren, whose ambitious plan to move ahead of their rivals backfired when the MP4-28 failed to enhance the MP4-27s excellent competitiveness. They persevered with the car and steadily improved it, but failed to score a single podium for the first time since 1980. Somewhat ironically in a season without major success, they did become the first team in history to have both its cars classified in every Grand Prix.
At one point Force India were ahead of McLaren on merit, but as they struggled to unlock the VJM06s potential on the revised tyres they slipped backwards, coming under serious threat from Sauber as the Swiss teams fortunes conversely took an upturn. This was partly because of the new rubber and also because they introduced a revised exhaust system which made a big difference in the C32s handling characteristics. Hulkenberg was arguably the most impressive driver in the second half of the season after Vettel - his defensive drive in Korea an obvious highlight - but in the end the British team held fast, taking a highly respectable sixth overall with the evenly matched Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta.
Toro Rosso were only eighth, which did not reflect what a competitive car James Keys STR8 was at times. The Italian teams season was notable for the fierce but friendly battle between Daniel Ricicardo and Jean-Eric Vergne for the vacant 2014 Red Bull seat. The contest eventually went the Australians way, though Vergne finished only seven points back from his team mate in the final drivers standings.
Williams endured another miserable year, reshuffling their technical team mid-season and scoring just five points. The sole positive was the glimmer of hope offered by rookie driver Valtteri Bottas. The Finn starred in qualifying in both Canada and the United States and he should continue to develop alongside Ferrari exile Felipe Massa next year.
At the back, the battle for tenth place in the constructors standings between the two youngest teams, Marussia and Caterham, was as competitive as ever. In the end, Marussias superior early season form - and crucially reliability - enabled them to get the better of their rivals for the first time with young Frenchman Jules Bianchi impressing on numerous occasions.
For 2014, Formula One racing will embrace a new dawn of technical change that will impact car and driver alike, in ways some of which arent yet known. What is certain is that as the normally-aspirated F1 era is finally bid a fond farewell, it could not have had a greater last hoorah - one in which a young driver, who some already rate as the greatest ever, set new standards of success, the likes of which may never be matched again.
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