The 2013 Formula 1 season may not be as thrilling as the previous one in terms of drivers’ standings, but after seven races it has already served a good dose of drama via some intra- and inter-team strifes. The latest Mercedes-Pirelli testing controversy has united and divided rival teams in their pursuit of “just racing” – or of lessening competition, which remains to be fierce. Red Bull united with Ferrari for this special occasion, when suddenly all-respected (and not much previously feared) Mercedes became the Number 1 enemy of all.
The FIA Tribunal, which was called as the only option to resolve the matter, was not too harsh in their judgement and handed both the team in question and the tyre manufacturer a reprimand, with the former also missing out on young driver testing in Silverstone in July. The rivals are not pleased with this decision and for many the case will remain open – until the matter disappears from public agenda – as it happens in Formula 1, with 2013 serving a few good examples – and that concerning not only to the rivalry between the teams but also within them…
Let’s look at the relationships between the team-mates so far this season.
RED BULL: Sebastian Vettel (1) and Mark Webber (5)
The first controversy of the season came from the probably most unhappy pairing in Formula 1 today, when the toxic relationship between the two drivers became once again strikingly obvious, after some months of seeming neutrality. When Vettel chose to disobey team orders at the Malaysian Grand Prix, taking away Webber’s chances of a first GP win since Silverstone 2012, he knew very well what he was doing, even if he had not understood the radio messages at the time, as he maintains. In the three-week season break that followed he changed his stance from apologetic to judgemental, announcing that Webber “did not deserve to win” because the Aussie had never proved himself to be a team player. This showed a new side to the charming and friendly Seb everyone had known; while Mark remained his defiant self, showing once more that he is his own man, not ready to meekly stand in his team-mates shadow – even if that most often proves to be the case. After an obvious display of anger over what he believes is Red Bull’s favouritism towards their German champion, the Aussie quieted down – but the resentment for the system is still there, and it is easy to believe Mark is planning to take back what’s his. Whether that would be by moving to a rival team or moving out of Formula 1 altogether, we might find out closer to the summer break when next year contracts begin to be signed. Most likely, however, he will keep his head down, pose to photos with a half-smile and quietly try to outrace his team-mate till the end of the season. Time will also tell which one will be the next to do the dirty on the other when an opportunity arises.
UPDATE 27/06/13: Mark Webber announced today his departure from F1 at the end of the season. He will be driving supercars, joining Porsche’s LMP1 team next year. The Aussie maintains he had made this decision a while back, and it was not intended as a “dig” at Red Bull; however, according to the team principal Christian Horner, he was one of the last people to find out – the morning before Webber made his announcement.
FERRARI: Fernando Alonso (2) and Felipe Massa (7)
After extending his contract with the Prancing Horse for another year by the end of last season – a case that for the media had seemed doomed – Massa was reborn as a driver. From mediocre and highly disappointing drives he shoot out to the very front of the grid and right on the podium by the end of 2012, with the momentum continuing into the present year. This second driver looked like a potential threat to his champion team-mate’s star, when he outqualified him in the two opening races.
And then Massa hit the wall again – quite literally in Monaco, not once but twice and in the same spot on the track. Although the second crash was caused by a mechanical failure, the pundits shook their heads in disapproval, keeping in mind that Massa himself admitted the first crash was a driver’s error. Then in Canada he crashed out in qualifying…
Despite these recent struggles, the Brazilian has not lost the fighting spirit, as he continues to finish races in the points, doing a world of a better job for Ferrari than in 2012. In the meantime, Alonso remains in the spotlight, but when possible praises his team-mate for his efforts, before talking about the superiority of the rivals. Albeit slightly patronising, the relationship has been for a while considered an ideal Formula 1 pairing, consisting of a clear lead and supporting driver. Short Ferrari reins might have something to do with that set-up… and yet it still leaves the team falling behind the internally damaged Red Bull.
LOTUS: Kimi Raikkonen (3) and Romain Grosjean (9)
Another pairing close to perfection… if not for the less experienced ingredient, which in the two years of running has caused the team some considerable trouble. Ambitious and fearless, Grosjean has been branded many names, from “idiot” (Ricciardo) to “first lap nutcase” (Webber), and called on to be expelled from the sport for being a progressive hazard. The first race ban handed to a driver since Schumacher’s two race ban in 1994 was as damaging to the team’s points struggle as to the Frenchman’s reputation; and yet, the management decided to oversee his faults for the benefit of the pairing he made with the 2007 champion. They have taken several joined podiums together with Raikkonen and scored enough points this season to put them ahead of limping McLaren; and yet, they also live separate lives, minding their own business and not having much to do with their rivals or each other, frankly. But keeping the Iceman’s individualist (and somewhat eccentric) personality in mind, this lack of visible warmth between the team-mates is no cause for concern; in fact, as long as it’s other dangerous drivers that the Finn wants to punch, it fair to believe all is well in the Lotus garage.
MERCEDES: Lewis Hamilton (4) and Nico Rosberg (6)
Who would have thought that the apprentice would become the master, when one world champion took place of the other at the Silver Arrows? The arrival of Hamilton to the so far unsuccessfully revived team was probably hoped to be a golden ticket for Mercedes to finally score podiums and trophies – not to mention the all-new-management team working tirelessly to make the transition as pleasant and regret-free as possible for the 2008 champion. The Brit was sceptical from the beginning, however, even despite the better-than-expected results in pre-season testing, and kept on banging about the car not being good enough to win races. All the signs he sent out suggested he was taking a sabbatical from racing, taking it easy this year; and maybe he just got too relaxed – or too downhearted – because he suddenly slipped to the second driver’s seat. When no one was looking, Mercedes’ decent but unremarkable Rosberg shoot out to the top of the grid, to out qualify Hamilton for three races in a row and – to the Brit’s dismay – to win the most prestigious Grand Prix of the year: in Monaco.
“What I’m projecting is not disappointment, I’ve just got stuff on my mind,” Hamilton told AUTOSPORT after claiming third place finish in Canada. “Nico has won a race, so I need to get a win.”
When media agrees that you “finally” outperform your team-mate, as it was with Hamilton in Canada, that’s a sign that something is not working out in the equation. The general opinion still portrays Hamilton as the one to impress and deliver, and he’s the one to know that best. But historically the Brit has not managed well such high expectations, which – whether the wants to or not – might have a negative effect on his currently friendly relationship with Rosberg – and we will sure learn that soon enough if the German’s high form continues.
FORCE INDIA: Paul di Resta (8) and Adrian Sutil (11)
Force India took their time when choosing their second driver to fill in for departing Nico Hulkenberg, who sought his fortunes elsewhere. Paul di Resta was left to test the VJM06 alone for most of winter, to then rub shoulders with two potential team-mates who used the pre-season testing to prove they deserved their F1 seat. Eventually Force India’s reserve Jules Bianchi had to make room for the team’s defamed prodigal son, Sutil. They must have congratulated themselves the choice when the German finished ahead of di Resta in seventh on his first race in a year, edging the team to a good points start. But then two retirements followed by a bumpy form.
Judging by the Brit’s confidence, evident in the quiet yet determined facade with which he approached all 2013 sessions, there had been no questions about him remaining on the team – and yet, with Sutil’s arrival and his first race performance, semi-hushed questions started popping up here and there whether di Resta’s star is not already burnt out. That was a short period of weakness, however, and the Scot silenced the critics with front-row finishes – most remarkably in Bahrain – despite all too often starting from afar in the field and due to no fault of his own. Di Resta kept saying from the start that he didn’t care, who his team-mate would be, as he drives for himself; this hasn’t seemed to change, as there haven’t been any signs to suggest resentment between the two – nor is there love between them. What’s more eminent, however, is Paul’s growing animosity towards the management, who seem to make all the wrong decisions for him in practice and qualifying sessions. For the time being, the Scot has to bite his teeth and get on with it – until he shows flawless consistency, he has little chance of moving to a stronger team – and a more challenging team-mate.
McLAREN: Jenson Button (10) and Sergio Perez (13)
It was a bit of a shock for everyone to find out McLaren’s baby – Lewis Hamilton – would be leaving the team; but McLaren had already a replacement on the ready and put the offer down in close succession to the Brit’s announcement. Sergio Perez’s signing was another surprise for those who saw McLaren in contention for the constructor’s championship, as everyone agreed that the team – now one champion poorer – would have to work extra hard to stay in the competition.
That is so far proving to be the case, as drastically underperforming (compared to last year) McLaren has slipped in the standings behind Lotus and Force India. Button’s typical nonchalant smile has made room for a nervous and forced one and more often he is seen shaking his head in disbelief when once more he doesn’t make it into Q3. On the opposite site of the equation, Perez savours any success, big or small, be it outqualifying his more experienced team-mate or landing the team points – or the mix of both, which gradually becomes a norm. Both drivers have different stakes to play for – the Mexican’s sole presence at the legendary McLaren is a career step in its own right, and anything he does that makes the team happy is another step forward; the 2009 champion, however, has been eyeing a second title for a few years now, but in the current set-up this dream becomes even more elussive for yet another season. And although they both agree the car package is the biggest hurdle in McLaren’s fight for the top spots, Button might also feel the team package needs some fixing.
Upon learning his new team-mate Button declared he would not play an older brother for the young Mexican; and yet, the McLaren relation too often resemble a family affair, when the one sibling tells on another expecting their parents to sort him out and make him behave. Perez has little to loose and much to gain, which combined with his temperament result in a fearless driver who might take one too many risks; but since this has not led to any major issues so far, and kept the team in the points, the McLaren parents stay quiet and let him play. But more experienced Button feels that is not right – especially that more than once his position in the race was jeopardised by the younger kin. The growing rivalry and unease is tangible… and the boys will have to sort themselves out on their own – the McLaren parent’s don’t take sides.
SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO: Jean-Eric Vergne (12) and Daniel Ricciardo (14)
Viewed as the junior Red Bulls, and future successors to the champions’ seats, the Toro Rosso boys should be on top of the mid-field league – and usually they do not disappoint in that respect. Until recently Ricciardo seemed to hold the upper hand, generally attracting more media attention with his disarming smile and upbeat “I just want to race” attitude – and collecting more points than his more timid team-mate. And yet, the last two races have seen Vergne step up his game to finally impress the Red Bull bosses. Looking in retrospect, it has often not been his fault that he wouldn’t finish races, taken out early by a pitlane accident or on-track contact; other times his little experience shone through when he invited DNFs – but Ricciardo has had his share of those as well. The two seem to be quite consistent in their inconsistency; and although they are potentially in contention for the currently most sought for seat in the sport, there is no apparent rivalry between the two and their shared desire to race and do better feels as genuine as it is innocent. On a more serious note – they ought to keep on trying harder to make sure they stay in F1, which after all has proved to sieve the men from the boys.
SAUBER: Nico Hulkenberg (15) and Esteban Gutierrez (16)
Usually when drivers decide to shift to a rival team, it’s for the better package that comes with it; but Hulkenberg’s move from Force India was from the onset viewed as a move sideways, not upwards. The German was performing well in 2012 and maybe that has expanded his ambitions, but not his horizons with the Indian outfit; but quickly enough it became evident that Sauber had little and less on offer to satisfy Hulkenberg’s ego and he is probably regretting his move considering the teams’ standings and his own – with just 5 points from the seven events.
It probably doesn’t help that his pointless rookie is classified just behind him on the leaderboard. Gutierrez has not yet had a major breakthrough, although he has managed to get himself into Q2 a couple of times and finished once just outside the points, in 11. – achievements most of the other novices in F1 cannot be proud of. The Mexican is quietly moulding his racing career and still adjusting to the competitive environment – but one can only guess that he won’t be getting much support from a frustrated, success hungry team-mate.
WILLIAMS: Valteri Bottas (17) and Pastor Maldonado (18)
Hardly a year has passed since Pastor Maldonado amazed the racing world unexpectedly claiming his maiden grand prix victory in Barcelona, in his second year in the formula. What a difference a year makes! Seven races into the season the Venezuelan finds himself pointless and classed behind his rookie team-mate, Bottas. Although, to be fair, Maldonado’s form fluctuated as quickly as it spiked, and in 2012 he only managed three more points finishes after the Spanish GP – none of them on podium, despite some rather promising qualifying.
Williams have not had a great package for a while now (which might explain Toto Wolff’s departure to Mercedes), but this year’s machine is meant to be extremely challenging, if you were to believe
Maldonado who voiced concerns that the car was “undrivable” since as early as pre-season testing – coupled with some unimpressive performances that saw him retire out of three races so far. His credibility started deteriorating, however, when his young and unexperienced team-mate started regularly outqualifying him – without a fault for the last four races, topped off with the stunning performance in Canada when he joined Vettel and Hamilton to start the race from the front of the grid. He might have finished 14. overall, but he put across two strong statements nevertheless: he proved himself as the most promising young F1 addition out of the pool of five rookies and he showed that the car can be competitive. Maldonado’s woes only doubled – and that can’t contribute towards a happy working environment at the Williams garage.
MARUSSIA: Jules Bianchi (19) and Max Chilton (21)
It is no secret how hard it is to get into Formula 1 and to keep the seat; but it must be a brutal blow to be thrown of that seat even before your first drive for the team. That’s what happened to Luiz Razia, who was given the boot after having been confirmed as Max Chilton’s team-mate. The case becomes clearer when you look into the finances behind such moves – which has been suggested the defining factor on which young driver will be promoted into the ultimate formula – of course, clear as far as the teams are willing to disclose. Having lost his Force India drive to Adrian Sutil, Jules Bianchi was left open to offers, despite the Force claiming they would have loved to keep him as reserve – but the Frenchman had a hunger for grands prix and supposedly a good enough bank balance to present him as a better candidate for Marussia’s colours.
Chilton, who had been signed by the team as early as December (early – considering how long the lower classed teams took to filling up the vacant seats) might have been slightly baffled by the team-mate shuffle, but even more so by the visibly superior form of Bianchi, who so far has been regularly finishing races ahead of him, with the exception of Monaco where he crashed out – but only after sustaining damage from debris on track from an earlier crash… between Chilton and Maldonado.
This only all-rookie pairing in 2013 is a tough but fair test for both drivers, who have similar experience of Formula 1 testing prior to getting the real deal, so some rivalry between the two is to be expected. As it stands, it’s Bianchi who’s the favourite, having scored the team’s second-highest finish in their history (13th in Malaysia) – so if Chilton is serious about making a name for himself, things might just get a bit dirty as the season progresses.
CATERHAM: Charles Pic (20) and Giedo van der Garde (22)
If Charles Pic thought that making a move from Marussia to Caterham would mean at least a small step closer to success, he could not have been more wrong. In 2013 Caterham finds itself right behind the red rivals and at the very back of the pack – a surprising result really, if one considers the levels of driving experience in both teams, by which the Greens should have the upper hand, thanks to Pic’s 2012 season in Formula 1. Although van der Garde has not proved to be the black horse of rookies, he still had his moment of personal triumph at Monaco when for the first time he qualified into Q2 only to finish the race where he started – in 15. Although it can only be guessed Pic would be a bit frustrated by his situation, we see too little of these guys to judge their relationship – other than that it’s not doing anything for the team.