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Mid-season analysis - Red Bull still the team to beat 07 Aug 2013

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB9 and Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E21 at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB9.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 Race winner Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing and Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F138 celebrate with the champagne on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Race Day, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 9 June 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 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB9 lost a rear wheel.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 14 April 2013 Race winner Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates with Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 and the team. Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday 28 July 2013. Race winner Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W04 crosses the line.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 Race winner Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W04 celebrates in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 26 May 2013 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Qualifying, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 6 July 2013 Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Qualifying, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 6 July 2013 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F138.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 17 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 The wrecked car of Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F138 after he crashed once more at Ste Devote.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 26 May 2013 Race winner Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F138 celebrates.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 12 May 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 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 17 March 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Qualifying, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 6 July 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E21 leads Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Race Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 7 July 2013

With ten races of the 2013 season complete, the Formula One fraternity are now enjoying a well-earned break before the breathless flurry of nine races that will decide the destination of this year’s world titles. In the first part of our mid-season analysis, we take a closer look at the four teams that have streaked away from the pack in the constructors’ standings and claimed every podium position going. Red Bull lead the way, but Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus are not far behind...

Red Bull
277 points (Sebastian Vettel - 172 points, Mark Webber - 105 points)

Looking at the championship situation with ten races gone you could be forgiven for thinking it’s been business as usual for Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull in 2013, with the three-time world champions sitting pretty atop both drivers’ and constructors’ standings. But truth be told, they’ve had to work extremely hard to achieve the position, and consistency has been almost as important as outright speed.

In the RB9 Red Bull undoubtedly have an incredibly quick car, perhaps the quickest, but at times during the early season - such as at Barcelona - they struggled to run at their ultimate pace because of troubling tyre degradation issues. Undeterred, Vettel continued to perform admirably and when Red Bull got on a handle on the issue from Canada onwards, the world champions have been hard to beat with German winning two of the last four races before the break (for a total of four on the season). The switch to Pirelli’s revised rubber in Hungary certainly seemed to do them no harm either.

History suggests that Red Bull will be able to keep the RB9 competitive until the end of the season, but they’ll need to avoid the kind of mechanical problems that saw Vettel retire from the lead in Britain. If they can do that, the 26-year-old will be hard to overhaul in the remaining nine races - and his rivals know it.

On the other side of the garage, Mark Webber has had an inconsistent - and somewhat unlucky - time in what is to be his final season in F1 before departing to sportscar racing in 2014. There is no doubt that the situation in Malaysia - when Vettel appeared to defy team orders to pass Webber for the race win - riled the Australian. But while the German was able to ride out the storm of controversy, Webber was unable to turn his frustration into positive results in the races that followed.

One final tilt at the drivers’ crown may be out of the question, but the 36-year-old remains a fast and effective racer and appears as determined as ever to add to his nine career wins before he bows out of F1.

Mercedes
208 points (Nico Rosberg - 84 points, Lewis Hamilton - 124 points)

If there is one word to sum up the first half of Mercedes’ 2013 season, it would have to be this: eventful. An awful lot happened at the Brackley-based squad before the season even began, with Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda assuming high-profile roles and team principal Ross Brawn piling on the pressure by saying that Silver Arrows must improve on the ‘unacceptable’ performance level they’d shown in 2012. Throw in the addition of Lewis Hamilton and there were plenty of reasons why all eyes were on Mercedes when the action got underway in Melbourne in March.

The Briton wasn’t initially expecting to be challenging for race wins in his first season away from McLaren, but he was on the podium in his second race with the team, thanks largely to some pragmatic team strategy that kept team mate Nico Rosberg behind.

Indeed, the competition between the two former karting team mates has been far closer than many predicted with Rosberg’s smooth, considered approach more than a match for Hamilton’s more rugged style. At the half way point, Hamilton has the edge on pole positions (4-to-3), but it’s his German colleague who is leading the win count 2-to-1 thanks to sterling performances in Monaco and Britain. And if it weren’t for his three DNFs, Rosberg would likely be much closer to his team mate in the points.

But Hamilton, who has struggled with a lack of confidence in the F1 W04 for most of the year, definitely seems to be gaining in momentum as the season goes on, as demonstrated by his peerless drive in Hungary.

The team’s prospects for the second half of the season look good. They don’t seem to have suffered too much from missing the young driver test at Silverstone (having been banned from attending for contravening F1’s rules by taking part in a controversial three-day, 1000 kilometre test with Pirelli using their 2013 car), and the mid-season arrival of Paddy Lowe from McLaren as executive director (technical) has added yet more depth to what was already a talented technical team.

If, as Hungary suggested, the team have turned a corner on the tyre issues that have often plagued them on long runs, they should be contenders all the way to Brazil, even if a championship challenge ends up being beyond them.

Ferrari
194 points (Fernando Alonso – 133 points, Felipe Massa - 61 points)

The first half of the 2013 season has been all too familiar for Ferrari fans. As in other recent years, the Scuderia have, at times, been right at the very front. But far too often for their liking they’ve been out of race-winning contention.

Unlike last year’s F2012, the F138 was relatively competitive out of the box, with Fernando Alonso picking up a solid second place in the season opener in Australia. Felipe Massa also started well, regularly outqualifying Alonso and recording some decent points finishes.

But after Alonso’s accomplished wins in China and Spain, Ferrari’s form has been on a downward slope, with qualifying pace in particular becoming a bigger and bigger problem.

Alonso has managed to keep himself in championship contention with some gutsy drives, but the Spaniard’s frustrations at not running at the front seem to be growing.

Massa, meanwhile, saw his promising early season form unravel with a series of heavy crashes and race retirements that have left him a long way off Alonso’s points tally. A solid race in Hungary will have done him good, but if Ferrari are to climb the constructors’ standings in the second half of the season they’ll need both drivers firing on all cylinders.

As for the drivers’ championship (which the Scuderia have not won since 2007), it would be rash to count Alonso out, even though he slipped back to third in the standings in Hungary. He need only look to his own experiences last year - when his mid-season championship lead was wiped away by Sebastian Vettel - to see how quickly things can change with a decent run of results.

Of course, for Alonso to succeed, Ferrari will need to improve the F138 – and president Luca di Montezemolo has promised that the Scuderia will up their efforts to do just that. The addition of James Allison from Lotus to the team’s technical department won’t transform the F138 back into a race winner overnight, but he might be able to help the team get on top of their on-going correlation issues a little quicker.

Lotus
183 points (Kimi Raikkonen - 134 points, Romain Grosjean – 49 points)

The 2013 season couldn’t have started much better for Lotus - as their rivals struggled with the new Pirelli tyres in Australia, Kimi Raikkonen ran a comfortable two-stop strategy to secure a relatively easy victory.

With the E21 looking particularly good on tyres and Raikkonen seemingly at the peak of his powers, the indications were that Lotus would be serious championship challengers. Whilst that is not necessarily untrue at the halfway point (Raikkonen is second in the drivers’ standings, 38 points behind Vettel), it’s no doubt a frustration to the team that they’ve not been able to reach the top step of the podium again, particularly as Raikkonen has accrued five second place finishes.

Where have they fallen short? Well, the E21 has never been the quickest car on a Saturday, and whilst Raikkonen has proven adept at carving through the field, it makes winning considerably harder. The car’s wet weather pace was also relatively uncompetitive in the early stages of the season, though that hasn’t been such an issue of late.

However, Lotus’s relative gentleness on the tyres has made them a real force in race trim and with some subtly different strategy calls and a little more luck they’d almost certainly have secured another victory. Improving their qualifying form must surely be a top priority for the Enstone-based squad in the second half.

On the driving front, there can be few complaints about Kimi Raikkonen, who entered the mid-season break on a 27-race point-scoring streak. Lotus will be desperate to hang onto the gifted Finn for another season, particularly as Romain Grosjean’s form has continued to fluctuate between brilliant (Germany) and below par (Monaco). However, whilst the Frenchman may have his critics both on and off the grid, he undoubtedly possesses a superb turn of speed and his two podiums (in Bahrain and Germany) show what can be achieved when everything comes together.

It remains to be seen how Lotus will cope in the development race having lost technical director James Allison to Ferrari, but if they can at least stick with their rivals, the ultra-consistent Raikkonen can be expected to push Vettel all the way for the drivers’ crown.

To read part two click here

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