Half term report 2013

It has been a riveting season so far, 2013. Tyres and teams’ struggles with them have dominated the headlines, but in amongst that there has been some darned fine motor racing, rivalry, intrigue and glory. In this half term report Hugh Podmore analyses each of the runners and riders’ seasons so far and looks ahead to the remainder of the year.

Red Bull Racing: Sebastian Vettel
Vettel has had an interesting season, by his glowing standards. Clearly having lost none of his devastating speed and ability to bore everyone into giving the race to him, he hasn’t enjoyed anything near the supremacy of his first two championship years. And has this been the making of the man? In some ways, yes, as we begin to see his one arguable weakness – that of mistakes under severe pressure – being reduced as he learns to deploy consistency as a weapon in an Alonso-like fashion. But then there’s Malaysia. As was opined here, he’s a racing driver – don’t be surprised that he wants to win. But what we didn’t know was what Vettel would do to win. We now know he’s under that pressure and he will try to win at all costs. Good or bad – you decide. But this boy just became a whole new level of ruthless. 9/10.

Mark Webber
2013 will be remembered for the year Mark Webber retired. How much that has to do with Malaysia is idle debate; there are other factors, like his overall inability to hold a candle to Vettel, and thus the probable lack of future reciprocity for all he has given the Red Bull team. What’s so frustrating is that truly barnstorming performances from the back of the grid (or after some typical misfortune) are marred by mysteriously abject qualifying showings or dreadful starts or the like. It remains to be seen whether the rosy future in sportscar racing enables him physically and mentally to cut loose. If it does, he can be that spanner in Vettel’s works that one gets the sense he’d quite like to be. 7/10.

Lotus: Kimi Raikkonen
Raikkonen is driving as well as he has ever done, and this now merits his inclusion in the very top bracket of driver quality. He intermittently has machinery that can win races, but so far in 2013 consistency is his biggest stick. He has finished no fewer than five times in second place this year, and has been in the points at every race. One does wonder, with Kimi, though. His lack of application outside the cockpit is often affectionately referenced, but could it be this that prevents him from achieving what his talent obviously deserves? It may be this distaste for the sponsorship and car developing side of the sport that as we speak is preventing him from getting that Red Bull drive. For which read certain wins and championships. Oh, Kimi. 9/10

Romain Grosjean
…swears he is on a learning curve and improving solidly, as does his boss, Eric Boullier. What he perhaps acknowledges in this plaintive mantra is that in the paddock and amongst the drivers, his name is a byword for first lap rashness and unsafe manoeuvring. The very last race before the summer break was a case in point, a microcosm of all that Grosjean is. A wonderful, fast racing driver, capable of bravery and dynamism; but shackled horribly and inevitably to some penchant for idiotic, low-speed nudges and shunts. How many more chances will he have? 6/10

Ferrari: Fernando Alonso
Again, it is very difficult to find fault with Fernando Alonso. He is undoubtedly the best driver in the world, a maestro to whom conditions are irrelevant to his level of performance. He has off days less frequently than your average deity; he sees and exploits opportunities that others are yet to conceive of; he fights for the championship effectively single-handed. Why this last? Because Ferrari are yet to show that they can up their game to the level of their driver, or the level required at the top of this sport. Unless they start doing so, Alonso will write off another year. A great pity. 9/10

Felipe Massa
…has endured an up-and-down season, even by his fluctuating standards. The Massa we see in Australia every year is a bundle of optimism and renewal, driving sweetly, outqualifying Fernando this year, and with a distinct sense that the mistakes of yesteryear are but a memory. But then they come back. No other top line driver so frequently crashes at Monaco. No other top line driver spins at the end of the main straight in Germany. No other top line driver exhausts and exasperates quite like him. He is perhaps even emblematic of the malaise at Ferrari. 4/10

Mercedes AMG: Lewis Hamilton
After a pre-season in which Hamilton played down his chances of glory this year, he is the driver with the momentum as we head into the latter half. A fast car, albeit perhaps lethal to its rubber, has helped; off-track troubles certainly haven’t; the challenging Nico Rosberg might have done, inadvertently. Hamilton’s capacity to amaze and pull results out of the bag is perhaps unparalleled, but the fact remains that this mini-era of F1 is not one in which his natural talent – to rinse motor cars and equipment of every last drop of performance – can shine often, because of those damned tyres. Can Hamilton win the championship this year? Yes. Will he? Probably not. 8/10

Nico Rosberg
Until two or three races ago looking like the dominant partner in the team, Rosberg has had a good half-year. He has had the measure of Hamilton (perhaps inevitably in a team he knows well), has outscored his team mate in terms of wins if not points, and has looked generally to be the wiser when managing the Mercedes’ voraciousness with its rubber. And yet, a lack of real consistency and ultimate pace will perhaps lead to the emotional support of the team trickling slowly across the garage. But it’s in his hands. 8/10

McLaren: Jenson Button
A year that will be filed under ‘Character-building’ for the Frome man. The repeated edict that ‘we’re not anywhere near where we want to be’ or ‘the performance just isn’t there’ may well be true, but it is as wearisome to hear as it must be to trot out. Other top-line drivers would be agitating for a move, but not Jenson. He’s a fixture at the team and trusts them to spend all that money rather better next year. As for the battles with his team mate, his experience is just about shading the contest, but expect fireworks in 2014. 2013 is a write off. 6/10

Sergio Perez
Slice of bad luck, that, for the Mexican – moving to a McLaren berth and finding out that the car’s only marginally more competitive than was his Sauber. Still, a few teething troubles apart, Perez has found his feet well and does look capable of injecting that bit of raw pace into the McLaren weekend. Five points finishes show a sort of consistency, too. 6/10

Force India: Paul di Resta
The Scot was given a wonderfully racy car in the early-mid part of 2013, which was coping wonderfully well with the early 2013-spec Pirellis, unlike almost everyone else. Those halcyon days now look to be over, but the profit – a consecutive run of six points finishes – has had his name being mentioned once more in the same breath as Ferrari. He can look genuinely good, this man, but is he the real deal? 7/10

Adrian Sutil
A comeback that must have been as difficult as it once seemed unlikely. Nevertheless Sutil has made a good fist of it, with a fifth place at Monaco that was the highlight. Whether the early season machinery flattered to deceive or not, the reality is that Sutil is a very good racing driver, capable of podiums and even wins. Opportunity, in this era, is everything though. 6/10

Toro Rosso: Jean Eric Vergne
Vergne might have reason to be slightly irked that it is Ricciardo, rather than he himself, who is the candidate for the senior seat at Red Bull Racing. Vergne has showed decent racecraft this season, and leads his team mate by two points in the championship. He shows little of the impulsiveness of Grosjean, another to whom he is often compared, but so far also less of the spark. A berth at Lotus might be the best he can hope for, along with a continued improvement. 6/10

Daniel Ricciardo
As aforementioned, Ricciardo is now linked consistently with that Red Bull seat, and if the cards fall his way, he’ll get it. Chiefly to thank is his qualifying speed, which has him beating Vergne rather comprehensively as it stands. In races he does shine, but there’s still a vague sense he’d be the more conservative of the choices facing Christian Horner. 7/10

Sauber: Nico Hulkenberg
That Hulkenberg still is highly-rated is a considerable tribute to him this year. Faced with a car a shadow of its former self, forced into quasi-exile while others arguably less talented sit in better seats at the front of the grid, Hulkenberg’s mental fortitude will have been severely tested this season. Four points finishes will mean he can presume his name continues to be on the radar with teams like Ferrari, Lotus, even McLaren. 7/10

Esteban Gutierrez
A very difficult baptism for the latest Mexican wonderkid. The car is not very good, frankly, and this cannot help. But only one decent result (in Spain) surrounded by mediocrity at best and embarrassment at worse (see China) means that the second half of the season requires a big improvement from Gutierrez. Will he be out of a seat otherwise? That is something that depends on his backers and for how long they are prepared to shell out…3/10

Williams – Pastor Maldonado
A reality check for Maldonado this year after the (albeit fleeting) glory in 2012. Williams are a team once again at rock bottom and this is difficult for drivers to cope with. Maldonado has shown flashes of his ability, but is still at risk of becoming a journeyman or mobile chicane. He will sincerely hope that his well-earned tenth place in Hungary is a sign of better things to come. 4/10

Valterri Bottas
At this end of the grid, making one’s debut becomes even more fraught with angst and recriminations. But Bottas has, by any account, done superbly. A nine-race run of finishes is quite probably the best that could possibly be done under the circumstances, and he positively outperformed the field with third on the grid in Canada. A talent that needs some recognising. 6/10

Marussia – Jules Bianchi
Rarely has a rookie driver caught the eye and trounced his team mate as roundly as Jules Bianchi. In an era when cost limitation is key and car performance concomitantly disappointing, Bianchi has shone like the talent Ferrari and others saw in him a long time ago. He must move to a faster seat for next year, must. 7/10

Max Chilton
Despite being British (for a number of the press seem to think that makes you a good driver by default) Chilton has not exactly set motorsport valley on fire. He has been bettered significantly by Bianchi. Two factors run in his favour – a relatively honed ability to get out of the way without annoying people too much, and a knack of finishing races. Must do better. 4/10

Caterham: Charles Pic
An unedifying career continues at Caterham. Pic is not untalented, it’s just the similar old story – he can’t really be expected to show it in this car. With one 14th and two 15th placed finishes, there’s nothing to choose between him and…5/10

Giedo van der Garde
…who nevertheless manages to look a bit better in qualifying sometimes (eg Monaco). He might have a future, thus. 5/10

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