The second piece of the 2013 preview is here and once again I dive headfirst into all kinds of speculation about the season ahead. But for now it´s all about the nest three teams and how they will shape the upcoming season.
Today I´ll be talking about Mercedes, Sauber, Lotus and Force India, four mid-field teams with great potential, some truly awesome drivers and they could give us some nice surprises.
Mercedes is one of those teams where you never really know what you get. From the formation, and I am not thinking about the classic Silver Arrowsteam from the 1930´s, but the modern version, the team has had a rather low-key status about them. First it was called Tyrrell and they have three titles to their name. Then British American Tobacco got involved in the late 1990´s, then it was a pure Honda team until they pulled out, leaving Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello in doubt. Ross Brawn bought the team for a penny, turned it around and won the 2009 title, then sold the team to Mercedes. Phew.
The team hired Nico Rosberg and seven time world champion Michael Schumacher, but the return of the most winning driver did nothing for the image of Mercedes. 2010 was so-so, Nico Rosberg secured most of the points, and 2011 was a repeat of the previous year, 4th place in the constructor´s championship. 2012 kicked off with AMG as title sponsor, the high performance division of Mercedes, but the performance of the car and driver left much to be improved. Rosberg finished 9th, with Schumacher in 13th and he retired after the season ended.
So how will they do?
Lewis Hamilton, who was looking for some greener grass and after he had spend his teens with McLaren, he decided to sign with Mercedes, to replace Schumacher. Some say it´s a wise decision, because Hamilton is a driver who needs to push himself further and always prove to himself and others that he can adjust to a new team and that his 2008 title isn´t a fluke. Others think that he has made career suicide, but building a team is no easy feat. Lewis will be partnered by Rosberg, who is staying put, and the two of them know each other very well from junior series. I think that Mercedes might be able to push the front runners from time to time, but still need some work.
Mercedes only had one win in 2012, in a year where 8 different drivers won a race. Not good enough. But a great driver in a new team takes some adjustment, but Lewis is a quick learner, and bloody fast too, so 4th for Mercedes.
The team formerly known as Renault caused the biggest upset of 2012. They managed to sign Kimi Raikkonen, the one-syllable guy who likes to nap a few minutes before a race. In the second race he had the fastest lap time, and he won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The entire season was a truly awesome thing to watch, from the way he can keep the car so tantalisingly close to his rivals, insisting he has the right of way and then gently persuading them to give up. Raikkonen´s style might be one of a tight-lipped, kinda arrogant guy who dorsn´t care about anything, but he is a true racer who cares only about winning.
Lotus also had some issues that wwasn´t all rosy. Romain Grosjean also returned in 2012 for Lotus, after he drove for the previous installment of the team, Renault some years back. Comparing the two drivers may not be entirely fair, since Kimi Raikkonen was the only driver never to retire during a race, while Grosjean did so seven times, most notably during the Belgian GP, where he tried to squeeze Hamilton up against the pitwall, but both lost control. Grosjean was fined €50.000 and received a one-race ban. Oops.
So how will they do?
Grosjean will have spend some time during the winterbreak, to find himself. A driver is only as good as his last race and he almost jumped back onto the F1 scene, making a lot of noise and speculations. 2013 will probbaly be a bit more stress-free for Grosjean and I expect we will see a more mature and easy-going Frenchman. Raikkonen, on the other hand, will do what he is best at. Win. Surprise us. And sleep a little.
Lotus finished 4th last year, and I think that the drivers will score more consistently, but on fewer occasions. I predict a few more retirements for Kimi, less for Grosjean, but more scoring in the lower parts of the board, simply due to the increased competition at this level. 5th for Lotus.
The Swiss Sauber team has always been a black sheep in a way, but one that was always welcome. The team reminds me of my uncle, who is always able to see the lighter side of things and make a humorous comment about it. Sauber is a very good team, but they have had to say goodbye to their best driver, Sergio Perez, who will be driving for McLaren this year, replacing Hamilton. Monisha Kaltenborn has taken over the day-to-day running after Peter Sauber stepped down last year, and with Force India ousted Nico Hulkenberg and newcomer Esteban Gutierrez, who previously was the team´s test driver.
So how will they do?
Kamui Kobayashi was not signed for 2013, a tough decision for many fans. Gutierrez is a talented driver and will need to get his hands on some real race time before we can asess his performance. Hulkenberg has several seasons behind him and will add valuable knowledge to the team, but I don´t expect the leap forward many others do. I expect the team to finish roughly in the same place they did in 2012, mainly because they will not have the same amount of retirements they did last year. Remember, it´s a prediction…2013 will be a transitional year for the team, and it will be very interesting to see if the team´s own predictions about their driver choices will be on the mark.
Perez was definitely the best driver the team has had for many years, and it looked as though Kobayashi might be able to finally develop into a brilliant racer. But with new guys on board and a new team manager, I think we should be happy with 6th for Sauber.
Rumours about Kingfisher´s imminent death, the absence of Vijay Mallya, the future collapse of title sponsor Sahara and a goodbye to Hulkenberg means, that Force India is a joker. They are yet to announce their second driver next to Paul di Resta, but in these very hours, Adrian Sutil´s agent has confirmed that Force India has stated that they want Sutil to race and not, as expected, Jules Bianchi.
So how will they do?
Because of the previous experience of Sutil, the team could collect a lot of points, but everything is up in the air. I honestly have no idea what to believe regarding the rumours we hear, and will not take address them in this article. I will, on the other hand, be carefully optimistic and sprinkle some light points in their general direction, with the odd retirement here and there.
No idea. But to be a little more specific, I think they will stay in exactly the same place as last year, like Sauber. 7th place.