Forget – for just a moment – the likes of Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton and take a minute to remember these two names because a bold claim follows; Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas.
These two will be World Champion one day.
I have confidence that I will be proven correct in that prediction despite being aware that I once claimed the same about Giancarlo Fisichella. But this time I’m right; ‘the Hulk’ will come of age this season and it seems increasingly likely that he will partner Fernando Alonso at Ferrari from 2014. And although 2013 will be Bottas’ first year as a Formula One driver, he’s expected – by myself and Williams – to achieve great things.
Both have the talent and personality befitting of a champion and Hulkenburg – entering his third season – looks more comfortable on the track and off it than almost any other driver out there.
Now that that’s cleared up, here’s a fan’s eye view of everyone else in 2013…
You’d have to assume that with the money and minds at Mercedes coupled with the supreme talent of Lewis Hamilton that it won’t take long for them to win. Yet there’s still doubt. Three years in and just the one win has been a poor return for Mercedes’ investment and now there is the added pressure of supplying one of the world’s top drivers with a car capable of winning consistently. At the same time there’s pressure on Hamilton to prove he can not only win in something other than a McLaren but also convince the German marque that he and Formula One are worthy of their time and money. Mercedes can’t afford to have a bad season, or even an average one because the pressure will only grow until they are winning.
What’s more, Hamilton runs the risk of being left behind; the ‘big three’ are Alonso with two championships, Vettel with three and Hamilton with just the one. If Alonso takes a third or Vettel a fourth in 2013 will Lewis deserve his place on the mantle next to those two? And what if Button or Raikkonen take the title, they’d have two, twice as many as Hamilton. Or even if 2013 springs a surprise and someone like Perez, Massa or Webber claim their maiden title; they’d be as successful as Lewis. From Hamilton’s point of view, that can’t happen. Hamilton and Mercedes have to win and I fear that Nico Rosberg may become disheartened by the attention Mercedes and the media will heap on his new team-mate; if ever there was a time for Nico to perform, it’s this year.
Ferrari vs Red Bull
An intense rivalry blossomed last year between Vettel and Alonso; in years to come we’ll look back on 2012 as when it all started because it appears that this rivalry will rumble on. It appears that Ferrari have produced a car infinitely better than the car they had at the start of 2012. A good base for Fernando then, who proved last year that he can challenge for the title in a car that was “more of a lemon than a peach”. Red Bull seem to have once again produced a decent car so it’s without any doubt that Vettel will be right up there with Fernando. If 2013 turns out to be as close and intense as last year then the Vettel/Alonso rivalry may just boil over into something quite spectacular.
If the Red Bull and Ferrari are as good as they seem then you can’t count out their ‘other’ drivers. Massa’s form towards the end of 2012 was sweet relief to him and his fans and if he can continue in the same vein, then 2013 should be a good year for the Brazilian. To keep the Ferrari seat for 2014 Massa will almost certainly have to do nothing short of winning the title, which is an awfully tough task. Rest assured however, if the title is sewn up before the circus gets to Brazil – or if Fernando is out of it – put you can expect an emotional Massa victory. Likewise, Mark Webber needs a strong year; a couple of wins amongst a scattering of 7th and 8th places won’t be enough for a title challenge or even enough to keep his seat in 2014.
McLaren face an interesting year; while Lewis Hamilton needs to prove he can win without McLaren, McLaren must prove that they can win without Lewis. There are some doubts over Lewis’ replacement Sergio Perez and whether he’s ready to challenge on behalf of a top team such as McLaren. Jenson Button therefore is where the hope lays. McLaren is now effectively his team and the car has no doubt been designed with his driving style in mind, and Jenson – with the car set to his liking – has proved to be unbeatable in the past; just look at the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix. Jenson’s never been short of confidence and if Vettel or Alonso are too much of a conservative bet for the title then Button could be your man.
On to Lotus and another bold prediction; Kimi Raikkonen will be the 2013 champion. Or possibly runner-up. Or third. It’s difficult to say. His talent behind the wheel as well as his raw speed are undeniable but he never gives the impression that he’s happy with the car and that doesn’t inspire much confidence. Lotus seem to ‘get’ Kimi; let Kimi be Kimi and he’ll produce the goods. So if Lotus continue to allow Kimi to be himself and provide him with a competent car then maybe, just maybe, Kimi can “do a Lauda” and take a title in his comeback career. And you never know, that might just put a smile on Kimi’s face.
As for Romain Grosjean, the pace is there for sure, just look at some of his qualifying performances last year. The Frenchman simply needs to keep out of trouble in 2013 and let his talent and speed do the rest. If he can do that then there will be more trophies at hand for him; possibly even a gold one.
According to the technical experts – the ones who understand how DRS and tyre wear works – the mid-field pack have closed the gap to the top teams. This is exciting news and points to 2013 being just as exciting as 2012 was – with some of the teams further down the grid grabbing some superb results. Sauber did very well last season and this year the car looks pretty good. The Swiss team has secured the services of future World Champion Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban ‘the chosen one’ Gutierrez whose little success in lower formulas of racing is due to his focus being fully on preparing himself for F1…supposedly. If Hulkenberg doesn’t get his Sauber on the podium during 2013 I’ll buy a Sauber hat and eat it.
Williams also has a future World Champion in Valtteri Bottas – Formula One’s latest flying Finn – and the attention on him is already immense and will probably only fade if his team-mate Pastor Maldonado wins another race or once again crashes into someone on purpose. Williams seems to be a team on the up following a couple of baron years and not many people will want to see Frank’s team slip back down the order again, so the pressure is on.
Talking of pressure, it doesn’t get more intense than at Torro Rosso. With Formula One’s very own version of a political dictator – Helmut Marko – overseeing Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne’s performance, the pair are going to have to give it there all 100% of the time if they want to step up to Red Bull’s ‘A team’, or even keep their current seats.
Year after year however, Torro Rosso seems to disappoint; ignoring the sensational performances by Sebastian Vettel in 2008, the Italian squad seems to be the uglier and less-loved sister of Red Bull Racing and they do nothing to change that appearance. Ricciardo and Vergne seem to be the real deal but they’ll have to prove it in 2013.
Force India seem to be cemented in the mid-field which is a shame for Paul di Resta. The Scot deserves the chance to mix it with the big boys if only to discover whether he’s capable. But while Force India continues to do a solid yet unspectacular job Paul is going to have to settle for fighting the likes of Sauber and Williams. For Paul to prove something to himself and the rest of the world he must first beat his returning team-mate Adrian Sutil. The German who left Formula One amid a scandal and potential criminal charges returns to the team with pace, talent and probably some cash. Sutil is capable of putting in some stunning performances but can go unnoticed some weekends – to get the better of their fellow mid-field runners Force India need consistancy from both Adrian and Paul.
Caterham and Marussia
‘Pay drivers’ are something of a sore subject when it comes to motorsport; they seem to be a necessary evil and 2013 sees quite a few. It also appears that to be accused of being a pay driver is akin to being accused of practising witchcraft and is fiercely denied by any suspect. Among the witches lining up to be burnt at the stake for 2013 seem to be both Marussia recruits – Britain’s Max Chilton and Frenchman Jules Bianchi – and Caterham’s Charles Pic and Giedo Van De Garde. They may bring money to the table but lest we forget, Fernando Alonso does the same for Ferrari with sponsorship from Santander so lets not write them off just yet. Of the four, only Pic has any F1 experience, nonetheless it seems he’ll be fighting all year with Van de Garde and Chilton to not be last thanks to Caterham and Marussia’s apparent lack of ability to gain ground on the rest of the pack.
Bianchi meanwhile is believed to be a star of the future and like much of the media, I too believe he’ll be the driver – if any – to come closest of the new team’s recruits to scoring that illusive first point.
It’s going to be close in 2013, of that I’m sure, and remember, Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas, you heard it here first.