Phuket Sports: Truth, tyres and tall tales – F1

PHUKET: The 2013 Formula 1 rules are much the same as last year, so slower teams have had a better chance to copy and catch-up in the off-season rather than have faster teams increase their lead with innovations. But the new Pirelli tyres are going to degrade even faster than the 2012 versions. So I expect a very close season.

Pre-season testing of the teams’ new cars in Spain is over. The top ten results in order were: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Jenson Button (McLaren), Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber), Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus), Paul di Resta (Force India), Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), Valtteri Bottas (Williams), Charles Pic (Caterham).

What to make of it? Are the results and comments to the media indicative of relative rankings or of crafty camouflage? They are both. F1 teams play their cards so close to their chests that they are nailed on. They may not have used their latest gizmo’s to keep progress up their sleeves, and they could have over-fuelled their cars to slow themselves down. One thing is certain; we are in for some shocks. Following is what I guess.

Red Bull was slower than Mercedes and Ferrari in Spain, and Red Bull faces looked very worried. Perhaps they had taken excellent acting lessons, but I think they are terrified by Ferrari’s progress. I think Vettel will be lucky to make the podium in Melbourne.

Ferrari looks like the team to beat in Australia, and maybe for the season. If they really have a car to match Alonso’s skill, they will be formidable. Barring accidents, he should be on the podium.

McLaren had difficulty with the new Pirelli tyres in Spain. The 2013 tyres have been designed for hot circuits, and Spain was cold. I would not be surprised to see Button on the podium in Melbourne with Alonso.

Despite Nico Rosberg being fastest in testing, I would be surprised if Mercedes managed a podium finish in Australia. They were far behind last season. Lewis Hamilton is a great driver, but I fear that history will say that in changing his colors he cashed in his birthright for a mess of Euros.

Kimi Räikkönen and Lotus will be asking tough questions too. They were not at their technical best in Spain, but expect them to be in the points in the first race, and Kimi would be a good outside bet for a podium position.

Sauber may not have their tyre wear sorted out for Australia. I suspect Williams and Force India will both be happy if they end Melbourne with two cars each in the points. And a newly revamped Caterham would love a point.

Melbourne is a cool street circuit. The cars run with high down force, and it has a bit of mystery about it. Practice sessions tell little; the track starts very green, and evolves fast over the weekend as rubber gets laid down.

After Melbourne, the circus will head to Sepang, where the track is notorious for flooding and upsets. But Alonso, Vettel, Button and Räikkönen all feel at home, and Sergio Pérez did so well last year. Shanghai was Schumacher’s only win for Mercedes last season and then it’s Bahrain where politics overshadow sport, but both are hot. At Catalunya, the race last year looked like a dodgem circuit littered with broken cars. Then it is Monaco where anyone can win who qualifies well, and it’s the high point of the social calendar. Silverstone is at midsummer, and that’s always a great race.

Nürburgring is early July. Initially announcing 20 races for this year, the FIA then scrapped the New Jersey Grand Prix. The circuit will not be ready to host its inaugural race. There was talk of filling the space with Turkey, dropped in 2012 following a disagreement over fees. Austria and Portugal were also mooted. But we now know that the July 21 date will not be filled, leaving a three-week gap between the German and Hungarian Grands Prix.

Neither of these races inspires me much, but the next three are magic: Spa in August, Monza in early September, and Singapore later that month. Spa and Monza are fast hard tracks that can change the face of the championship. Monza is also the jinx circuit – win at Monza and lose the championship! And Singapore is becoming a circuit to rival the social position of Monaco.

Then it’s a mediocre Korean GP and on to Suzuka for the Japanese GP, always one of the great races of the year. India tends to disappoint, but Abu Dhabi in November will be splendid. And if the season is as tight as I think it will be, the winner will not be decided as they head to Austin for the US GP. That was wonderful last season, entertaining and classic. The year ends as always in Sao Paulo. That will be November 24.

A whole year to look forward to. Lies now, truth by Sao Paulo – a splendid prospect!

The Australian Grand Prix starts at 1pm on Sunday and will be shown at The Green Man (click here for details).

— The Digby

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