Felipe Massa

The 6 biggest stories of the F1 off-season

F1 2017 is go in just under six weeks’ time – are you up to speed?  

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Are you getting as impatient as we are for the start of the Formula One season? Well, the good news is that you won’t have to wait too much longer. Pre-season testing gets underway in Barcelona next week, with the ‘phoney war’ that characterises the early days of any new campaign beginning in earnest in the Spanish sun. Who’s fast? Who has got it right? Who’s sandbagging? And who has a lot of work to do?

All won’t be completely revealed until lights out in Australia for the opening Grand Prix in this year’s 20-race season in late March. And while we’re waiting for the on-track action to start, there’s been plenty going on off it – so with less than six weeks to go before Melbourne, here’s a rapid recap of six of the biggest stories this off-season.

1. Bye bye Bernie
Mark Webber’s
description of Formula One was, as most things with the former Red Bull racer, succinct and spot-on. “It’s Bernie’s train set mate, we’re just playing with it,” Webber often said, and he was right – emphasis on the word ‘was’. After the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council unanimously approved Liberty Media’s purchase of F1 in late January, Liberty announced that Chase Carey would add the title of CEO to his role as F1 chairman, and that 86-year-old Bernie Ecclestone would be handed an honorary role as chairman emeritus with no hands-on involvement.

F1 without Bernie is hard to imagine, and after 40 years of his diminutive presence being the biggest in the paddock, it’ll be interesting to see the changes – and how quickly – Liberty institute. Meanwhile, talk of Ecclestone setting up a breakaway series started immediately after the change at the top of the sport, which Ecclestone himself swiftly denied. Don’t expect that chatter to die down, though.

2. And to Manor too
F1 will be back to 10 teams in 2017 after the demise of Manor, the sport’s minnows closing their doors in late January after going into administration and failing to find a new buyer.

Pascal Wehrlein scored a crucial point for Manor when he finished 10th at last year’s Austrian Grand Prix, but the team fell behind Sauber into last place in the constructors’ championship at the penultimate race of the season in Brazil, when Felipe Nasr scored two points for the Swiss squad to finish ninth, a result that cost Manor around £30 million worth of prizemoney.

In a twist of fate, Nasr’s ninth may have cost him a place on this year’s grid, as the Brazilian lost his Sauber seat to Wehrlein for 2017, meaning his one chance at continuing his career into a third season at Manor went begging when the team went under.

3. Speaking of Wehrlein …
F1 drivers will race anything when they get a chance to, but for the Mercedes protégé, a bit of off-season fun could have longer-lasting consequences. A crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January left the German with a neck injury and in some doubt for next week’s first pre-season hit-out in Barcelona. With this year’s cars featuring more downforce and therefore greater cornering speeds, Barcelona isn’t the place to start the pre-season with anything other than a neck that’s 100 per cent ready …

4. We can work it out
If a Formula One driver does a workout that’s not captured by social media for the masses, did it exist? With F1 expected to be more of a physical challenge this year –Turn 3 at Barcelona is expected to be full-throttle and 40km/h faster (at 250km/h) than last year’s cars could manage – the sport’s pilots have been hard at work getting fitter and stronger over the off-season, even if some of them need a little extra incentive to push …

As Daniel Ricciardo put it after last year’s end-of-season test in Abu Dhabi, “if next year is 100 per cent of our physical strength, then this year we’ve been at 75 per cent.” Despite all that preparation, expect some sore necks and busy physios next week in Spain.

5. Driver market settles
It took a while, but the worst-kept secret in F1 was finally confirmed when Mercedes was able to sign Valtteri Bottas to partner Lewis Hamilton at the world champion team this season. Reports had Mercedes waiving its engine bill to Williams – at around $24 million – to acquire the Finn, with Williams turning to recently-retired veteran Felipe Massa to offer some stability at the team as it beds in Canadian teenager Lance Stroll for his rookie season.

Mercedes and Williams both changing their driver line-ups means, remarkably, only Ferrari will take to the 2017 grid in Melbourne with the same two drivers it began last year with, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.

6. McLaren turns the page – and turns back the clock?
Three decades of tradition will be cast aside at McLaren in 2017, with its new car to be designated as the MCL32, breaking with the ‘MP4’ prefix to its chassis names that debuted in 1981, when Ron Dennis first became involved with the team. With Dennis now out at McLaren and commercial guru Zak Brown in as executive director, plenty of F1 insiders are speculating that McLaren will have a new look on track as well, with talk of a predominantly orange livery – which came to prominence with the team’s F1 and Can-Am cars in the late 60s – being revealed when McLaren lifts the lid on its 2017 challenger on February 24.

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The F1 report card

It’s the F1 mid-season break – so let’s assess who has shone (or bombed) in 2016.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

We know, we know. Yes, it’s not technically the F1 half-term report – the halfway point of what will be the longest season in F1 history actually came on lap 26 of the British Grand Prix last month. But with the season in recess, factories shut down for their compulsory break and the drivers ensconced in their various tax havens or swanning around after supermodels (or maybe both), it’s time to press pause and run the rule over the season that has been in 2016.

But first, by way of explanation: we won’t be labelling drivers or teams ‘winners’ or ‘losers’. You can score a lot of points and be the latter, or barely get noticed in the TV coverage and be the former. It’s all about expectations, perception versus reality, and context. So with that in mind, here’s who sits where with school being out until the Belgian Grand Prix in three weeks’ time.

Dux of the class

Nico Rosberg won the first four races of the year (and seven straight dating back to the end of last season), but has coughed up his hefty championship lead rather too quickly and been nowhere when it’s rained this season, so it’s not him. Lewis Hamilton started the season slowly, made some mistakes and had some rotten luck, but has flipped a 43-point championship deficit into a 19-point lead with six wins in the past seven races. But it’s not him either. No, the dux of the 2016 class is the Mercedes W07, the car that threatens to redefine the very meaning of the word ‘dominance’ by the end of 2016. At the halfway stage, Mercedes has won 11 of 12 races, taken 11 poles, recorded 16 of a possible 24 podiums and led 588 of a possible 682 laps (86 per cent) – we’re not counting Barcelona, where the Silver Arrows smashed into one another four corners into the race and had a dreaded double DNF. The scary part for the rest of the field is that as the new-for-2017 rulebook looms ever closer, teams will largely leave their 2016 cars as they are – meaning we could have a repeat of 2013 all over again, when Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull won the final nine races of the year before the rule reset of 2014. Can Mercedes win 20 of 21 races this year? To answer one question with another, who or what stops them?

Teacher’s pet

When you win your first Grand Prix at an age where you could still almost be in school (18 years and 228 days), is there any other candidate for this spot? Max Verstappen’s composure when given a chance to win his maiden Grand Prix in Spain in round five – on his first weekend for Red Bull Racing, no less – was almost as impressive as his speed, and he’s barely looked back since. Multiple podiums, a detached calm over the radio in the heat of battle and scant consideration for the reputations of his opponents when in a fight prove that Red Bull was right to promote him – and that he could be doing this for the next 10-12 years at least. For all of his feistiness in wheel-to-wheel battle, you get the sense that someone might lean on Verstappen before too long to prove a point, as Martin Brundle suggested after Hungary and his fight with Kimi Raikkonen. “Max’s defensive technique is too junior-formula for my liking,” the respected TV pundit said. “When he’s defending, he tends to loiter in the middle of the track and then at the last moment move to the side of the track where his opponent attacks, and cut them off. It’s asking for trouble. It’s clear the other drivers are becoming frustrated with it to the point that one of them will have him off to teach him a lesson. It’s what a (Nigel) Mansell or an (Ayrton) Senna used to do whenever they thought a young driver wasn’t showing due respect.” No matter what you think of his style, Verstappen deserves huge credit for what he’s done so far.

On the teams’ side, Force India do too, the Indian-owned British-based squad on track for the best season in its existence, and with fourth-placed Williams in its crosshairs as it routinely does the best it can with what it has. Speaking of making the most out of the least, Raikkonen’s management deserves a special shout-out for convincing Ferrari to re-sign their driver for another year …

Encouragement award

Let’s split this one in multiple directions. Sergio Perez has led Force India’s rise beautifully, combining his customary tyre-saving genius with bursts of stunning speed, and scoring podiums at Monaco and in Azerbaijan. Carlos Sainz didn’t hang his head after Verstappen was promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull, and has enjoyed a steady stream of points-scoring finishes in a car propelled by last year’s Ferrari engine that is clearly down on grunt. McLaren racing director Eric Boullier’s claim that his team has the third-best chassis in F1 would have been ridiculed a year ago, but the Honda-powered MP4-31 is a dramatic improvement on its predecessor, even if scrapping for points seems wrong for a team with McLaren’s pedigree. Sauber gets a gold star for simply staying on the grid and shoring up its previously tenuous financial future after doing a deal with Swiss investments company Longbow Finance before Hungary. And Pascal Wehrlein’s point for Manor for 10th in Austria was proof that the hype about the 21-year-old is very real, and that bigger things surely loom on the horizon for the talented German.

Could do better

Williams’ 1980 Formula One world champion Alan Jones never pulls any punches at his most diplomatic, and didn’t take long to respond when asked before the season what his old squad needed to improve on its third-place constructors’ finishes the past two seasons. “I think it’s called a budget,” Jones said, and as the season has gone on, the Grove-based outfit has found itself under increasing pressure to retain fourth overall from Force India, with third-placed Ferrari a whopping 146 points in the distance at the mid-point of the season. Valtteri Bottas has finished all 12 races but been a bit-part player in most of them besides Canada when he finished third, while Felipe Massa is on track for his worst season in seven years, and seems unlikely to be retained in 2017. With most eyes now focused on the new rulebook, Williams’ predicament doesn’t look likely to improve unless it can make a splash at circuits like Monza and Mexico, where its prodigious straight-line speed can be unleashed.

Needs a strong second semester

It’s amazing what one win by a teammate – who was, as it turned out, placed on a clearly advantageous strategy in Spain – can do for perception. But the reality for Daniel Ricciardo paints a different picture. He sits third in the championship, has a form line that reads as a good omen (his last four race results: fifth, fourth, third, second), has dominated his teammates in qualifying like no other driver (11-1 in 12 races), and took pole position at Monaco with what might go down as the best single lap of 2016. But with Verstappen the undisputed new darling of the sport, Ricciardo needs to continue to assert himself against his teenage teammate and take the momentum from his podiums in Hungary and Germany into the final nine races. Anything less, and those with short memories will continue to raise their voices. He seems like he’s more than up for the fight, and third in the championship is a must in the race for best of the rest behind the Mercedes duo.

Elsewhere, Massa’s afore-mentioned woes might mean it’s a case of Renault or bust next year, while Esteban Gutierrez’s return to F1 has been underwhelming, Haas teammate Romain Grosjean scoring all 28 of the new team’s points in the opening 12 Grands Prix.

Extra detention

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Ferrari, which came into 2016 confident it could take the fight to Mercedes, and has instead found itself lagging further and further behind. Things looked good when Vettel led for a lot of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix before an overly-conservative strategy call allowed Mercedes to swoop, and while he made the year’s best start in Canada, Ferrari couldn’t hang with Hamilton in Montreal when it mattered most. Technical chief James Allison is gone, chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne’s voice is growing ever-louder, and Vettel’s frustration was evident in his decision to so publicly question Ferrari’s strategy call at Hockenheim, choosing instead to run the race his own way. After three wins for Vettel last year, 2016 has been a massive let-down.

On the drivers’ side – and we hate to kick a man while he’s down – Daniil Kvyat’s freefall after being sent back to Toro Rosso after his error-strewn display in Russia has been painful to watch. That he was on the podium in round three in China seems inconceivable, and his reaction after his Q1 exit in Germany was quite harrowing to watch. Pierre Gasly’s name has been mentioned with increasing volume as Sainz’s teammate next season, and Kvyat’s F1 future may come down to what he’s able to produce in the upcoming quartet of races from Spa to Sepang.

Sand and deliver: the Bahrain Grand Prix

A look back at five duels in the desert that have defined the Bahrain Grand Prix.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

This weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix is the 12th to be held at the Sakhir circuit just outside of Manama, and more than a decade of Formula One racing in the small island country in the Middle East has thrown up every sort of Grand Prix. Hot ones, night ones, ones that made history, even ones that never happened. And races that are rarely short of intrigue.

Ahead of the second round of the 2016 F1 season, here’s a look back at five Bahrain races that stick in the memory.

2005: The heat is on
He may have been two years away from driving for Red Bull Racing, but Mark Webber was as forthright in a Williams as he was to be later at Milton Keynes after the second Bahrain Grand Prix. “It’s bloody hot, mate,” he surmised after 57 laps in temperatures that broke 41 degrees Celsius; for those who don’t speak fluent Australian, Fernando Alonso’s assessment (“it was the hottest race I ever raced”) might make more sense. Not that it bothered the Spaniard too much; Alonso and Renault raced to victory, his second win in succession and Renault’s third straight to start the year, while reigning world champion Michael Schumacher was an early retirement for Ferrari with hydraulics failure. Alonso finished 13 seconds ahead of Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, and added to Ferrari’s misery by lapping Schumacher’s teammate Rubens Barrichello in the latter stages. For the record, Webber – who resorted to pouring a bottle of cold water inside his helmet at one pit stop – finished sixth, while for a start-up team called Red Bull Racing, David Coulthard made it three straight points finishes to start their F1 journey with eighth.

2006: The opening salvo
With Melbourne hosting the Commonwealth Games, Bahrain stepped into the breach to hold the first race of 2006, and it was a portent of things to come. Reigning world champion Alonso muscled past Schumacher after the final pit stops for the pair and held off the Ferrari driver by 1.2 seconds to take the first of seven wins for the year; their battle would last until the final race of the season in Brazil, where the Renault pilot secured his second world title and Schumacher retired from the sport for the first time. McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the podium after a storming drive from last on the grid after a suspension failure caused a qualifying crash, while further back, a new name announced himself as one to watch. Nico Rosberg spun his Williams at the first corner, pitted at the end of lap one and then ripped through the field to finish seventh, scoring points on debut while setting the fastest lap of the race. Away from the headlines, Scuderia Toro Rosso made its F1 debut, Tonio Liuzzi finishing 11th as the final car on the lead lap, and Scott Speed 13th.

2010: Enduring the endurance
The second time Bahrain has hosted the season-opener – and, mercifully, the first and only time the race has been run on Sakhir’s ‘endurance layout’. The extra 900 metres of track extended the number of corners from 15 to 24, added nearly 20 seconds to the overall lap time, and unofficially saw the drivers’ dentists the main beneficiaries of a bumpy layout that bounced cars and teeth around in equal measure. While the longer circuit was never used again, Alonso’s memories of Bahrain 2010 are more positive – the Spaniard won on his Ferrari debut, becoming just the sixth man to win his maiden race for the Prancing Horse, and teammate Felipe Massa made it a magic day at Maranello when he finished second, 16 seconds adrift. The hard luck story belonged to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who took pole and led until exhaust problems cropped up less than 20 laps from home, the German hobbling home to fourth.

2012: Seb’s overdue success
Making amends for 2010 had to wait for Vettel, as the 2011 Bahrain race was cancelled because of political unrest in the region. As the reigning and two-time world champion, there weren’t too many Grands Prix the Red Bull ace hadn’t won by April 2012 when F1 returned to Sakhir, and Vettel’s victory made it four different race winners in as many Grands Prix to start that season – seven different drivers would win the opening seven races of what became a gripping campaign. A win from pole while setting the fastest lap and leading the majority of the race indicates that, on paper at least, Vettel was untroubled; reality painted a different picture, with the Lotus of Raikkonen making life very uncomfortable for Vettel in the latter half of the race before finishing three seconds adrift. Further down the grid, first-year Toro Rosso pilot Daniel Ricciardo showed signs of things to come by qualifying a stunning sixth on Saturday – and then displayed how much he still had to learn by being elbowed all the way down to 16th on lap one on Sunday and finishing a despondent 15th. Team principal Franz Tost summed it up best. “You cannot think for a young driver in that situation for the first time that they will do everything right, because the film is running too fast,” he said.

2014: The best yet
Bahrain switched to a night Grand Prix in 2014, and the race produced a spectacular floodlit battle between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg that set the tone for the two seasons to follow. A late-race safety car turned the Grand Prix into a frantic 10-lap sprint to the flag, and the Mercedes pit wall could barely watch as their drivers raced as close as they dared. Hamilton held off Rosberg, who had the benefit of softer tyres for the final stint, by one second after some mesmerising wheel-to-wheel action. Third-placed Sergio Perez (Force India) was 24 seconds adrift at the end as the Mercedes drivers were on another planet to the rest. Hamilton felt the battle was “on a knife-edge”, and while relations with Rosberg were cordial that night, the tension only rose as the season progressed, Hamilton securing his second world title in the double-points season finale in Abu Dhabi. But it was in Bahrain that the rivalry that has defined the V6 turbo hybrid era took off, and Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe echoed the thoughts of the paddock afterwards. “A more exciting race I cannot remember in the last decade, in terms of wheel-to-wheel racing,” he said.

Bahrain GP review: Lighting up the night

HamiltonRosberg_Bahrain14THIS STORY APPEARS IN THE APRIL 9 ISSUE OF MOTORSPORT ILLUSTRATED NEWS

Take two very closely-matched drivers in equal machinery, free them from the blight of team orders that have so often spoiled Formula One, and let them race as hard as they can. Add diametrically-opposed tyre strategies, throw in a late-race safety car, and then hold on for a thrilling 10-lap ride until the chequered flag. If you think that sounds like a good recipe for an F1 race, you’d be right. And it’s what Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Mercedes produced last Sunday in Bahrain as the new-look Formula One, which spluttered to a start with two processional races in Australia and Malaysia, showed what it could look like. It’s a look that produced one of the more enthralling races in recent years.

After Rosberg won the season-opener in Melbourne and Hamilton evened the score in Kuala Lumpur, all eyes were on Mercedes in Bahrain to see which of its drivers could hold sway under the floodlights in the desert. The pace advantage over the rest Mercedes demonstrated in the first two Grands Prix was only magnified by the 5.4-kilometre Sakhir circuit, its succession of long straights playing perfectly to the strengths of the Mercedes package. While Rosberg took pole after Hamilton made a mistake in qualifying and ran wide at the first corner on Saturday, a fight loomed large on Sunday given Hamilton had topped all three practice sessions leading into qualifying and looked to have the stronger race pace. And after Hamilton made the best of the start and emerged from the first corner in the lead, it was game on. And what a game the teammates and childhood friends played.

Read more: https://www.motorsportin.com/

Malaysian GP review: Back in the fight

HamiltonMAS14podiumTHIS STORY APPEARS IN THE APRIL 2 ISSUE OF MOTORSPORT ILLUSTRATED NEWS

Patience is a trait typically in short supply for any Formula One driver, let alone one as brilliantly improvisational as Lewis Hamilton. But after an engine glitch saw his pole position at the Australian Grand Prix count for little in the opening race of the season, the Mercedes driver had to bide his time to make amends for his Melbourne malaise. On Sunday in Malaysia, that patience was rewarded handsomely.

As he did in Australia, Hamilton started from pole at a typically steamy Sepang circuit, but unlike the season-opener, this Grand Prix had a happy ending. The Briton’s 23rd career win came after a faultless performance, a solid start and a tight line into the tricky first corner preceding a three-stop strategy where he led for 55 of the 56 laps. As recoveries went, it was as impressive as it was emphatic. In winning by 17.3 seconds, Hamilton snapped a run of nine races without a podium dating back to last year, and put himself right back in the title fight.

Read more: https://www.motorsportin.com/

F1 2013 review: The more things change …

THIS STORY APPEARS IN THE DECEMBER 11 ISSUE OF MOTORSPORT ILLUSTRATED NEWS. READ MORE HERE

Maybe there is something to the theory that Formula One only comes up with a season filled with drama, intrigue on and off track and a championship battle that rages until the last possible moment in even-numbered years. Think 2008, and Lewis Hamilton’s late, late pass on the final lap of the final race to steal the title from a crestfallen Felipe Massa. Think 2010, when four drivers went into the season finale in Abu Dhabi with a shot at the crown, which was won by Sebastian Vettel after the German hadn’t led the standings at any other time that year. And cast your mind back to 2012, where the last race in Brazil came down to a straight fight between Vettel and Fernando Alonso that only went Vettel’s way after a remarkable recovery drive from the back of the field.

Season 2013 had all of the ingredients to produce another campaign that would live long in the memory of those who relish gripping sporting contests, but the rubber-shredding chaos of the British Grand Prix saw a change to the construction of Pirelli’s tires in line with what it supplied the sport with in 2012. In the final 11 races that followed, one man won 10 of them.

In doing so, Vettel moved himself up to fourth on the all-time win list with 39 wins, just two victories behind Ayrton Senna, which was almost unthinkable as recently as three years ago, and his fourth straight title established or equalled records for wins in a season (13), points scored (397), the greatest winning margin (Alonso was 155 points behind as runner-up), and plenty more besides.

It was a tame end to the V8 era, and a season eerily reminiscent of Michael Schumacher’s similarly-dominant campaign of 2004, where the Ferrari driver annihilated the field and left many wondering how they could ever catch up. Of course, nothing lasts forever – as proven by ’04 being Schumacher’s seventh and final title – and a raft of rule changes for 2014 will be welcomed by all but one driver and his team.

That much we know, but what else did we learn in 2013? Read on.

1. We’ve seen this before
There was a brilliant German driver who raced for an outfit with a massive budget and the best equipment who used searing speed, laser-like focus and the almost complete attention of his team to rack up one win after another, all against the backdrop of questionable ethical and moral decisions at rare times of duress. And then there was Sebastian Vettel …. Vettel’s record-breaking 2013 showed that the ‘Baby Schumi’ moniker that has followed him throughout his career is still applicable, from capitalising on the best car on the grid to his insatiable hunger for success and his occasional penchant for making regrettable decisions in the heat of battle (filed under ‘Multi-21’ after defying a team instruction to overtake defenceless teammate Mark Webber in Malaysia). The boos that followed him for much of the rest of the season as he lifted one winners’ trophy after another – justified or not – were a distraction from what the 26-year-old achieved in 2013. Like Schumacher through the early part of the 2000s, watching man and machine in harmony in pursuit of perfection may not be compelling viewing, but credit needs to be given where it’s due.

2. An OBE is the MVP
Sports in this country like to anoint a Most Valuable Player; in F1, the Most Valuable Person would undoubtedly be Adrian Newey, Red Bull Racing’s chief technical officer who was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2012 for his services to motorsport. The 54-year-old design guru won his 10th world championship across three decades with three teams when Vettel took the RB9 to the 2013 crown; the notoriously publicity-shy Newey generally makes a better fist of new rules and regulations than most, meaning all eyes will be peeled when the RB10 breaks cover at the first test of 2014 at Jerez in late January. As Webber departed Red Bull at the end of the season, he made it clear where Newey stands in the sport. “He’s a genius,” was the Australian’s assertion, and it’s one that hard to argue against.

3. Webber’s career was a success
Yes, Vettel’s nine straight wins to end 2013 matched the total number of victories his teammate managed in a 215-race career, but Webber’s tenacity, skill and determination to wring a 12-year stint in F1 out of a three-race contract in 2002 is the sort of story you wonder will ever be replicated in this era of ever-younger drivers with increasingly weighty wallets. By his own admission, the 37-year-old’s motivation waned as the season progressed, but he finished strongly with two poles in the final five races and three straight podiums before stepping away. No, he wasn’t Sebastian Vettel, but Webber’s achievements against him will likely look better over time as the German bids to make the F1 record book his own. The sport will miss him.

4. Sometimes staying put is the best option
McLaren ended 2012 with arguably the fastest car on the grid, and as most teams took an evolutionary approach to tweaking their machinery for 2013 ahead of the big rule changes planned for the following season, McLaren went against the grain by producing a revolutionary car that stretched its ample resources in a bid for a first drivers’ title since 2008. It was a gamble that could barely have gone worse, the team going without a podium for the first time since 1980 and needing a late-season push just to see off the likes of Force India and Sauber to finish fifth in the constructors’ championship. Sergio Perez was signed with great fanfare and then dumped within 12 months, and team principal Martin Whitmarsh candidly admitted the annus horribilis was “a symptom of too much ambition”.

5. A three-pointed star can shine
With its motorsport history and a host of a big names in the cockpit and behind the scenes, Mercedes had largely failed to impress in the three years since its comeback to the sport in 2010, but this season was when it finally arrived. Eight poles from nine races from round three in China showed the team was a legitimate front-runner, and while the F1 W04 was harder on its tires than most, three victories and a strong second in the constructors’ championship was a massive gain on 2012, where the team managed just one top-10 finish in the final six Grands Prix. With a strong driver line-up being retained for 2014 and what is thought to be the best engine in F1 as the sport changes to 1.6-liter V6 power plants, there’s much to look forward to for fans of the Silver Arrows.

6. A Prancing Horse casts a large shadow
The internal politics within Ferrari provided one of the more fascinating subplots of 2013. Alonso, increasingly frustrated at seeing his status as the sport’s top driver overwhelmed by the sheer statistical dominance of Vettel, aired his criticisms of the team one time too many for Luca di Montezemolo after saying he wanted “the same car as the others” for his 32nd birthday in July, with a statement soon after saying the Ferrari president had “tweaked Alonso’s ear” while reminding him that “all the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own”. It was a public dressing-down that raised eyebrows, and Ferrari’s decision to replace the subservient Massa with 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen as Alonso’s teammate for next season soon after left few with any doubt as to who calls the shots at the most famous team of all.

7. The French evolution
It was just over a year ago that Webber referred to Romain Grosjean as a “first-lap nutcase” after punting the Australian out of the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix, yet another opening-lap incident for a driver who had only just returned from a ban for causing a massive shunt at the start in Belgium. The Frenchman’s rough edges were still apparent early in 2013 – his Monaco weekend finished with three big accidents and a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Canada for taking out Daniel Ricciardo – but his late-season form was too consistently good to be thought of as a fluke. In the final six races, the 27-year-old had four podiums and a fourth, and his one non-finish came when his Renault engine decided to end the V8 era earlier than the rest of the field by blowing up in Brazil. With Raikkonen off to Ferrari, Grosjean will inherit the responsibility that comes with being a team leader at Lotus in 2014; on the strength of what we saw late this season, he’s up to the challenge.

8. Money talks more than ever
It’s somewhat of an indictment on modern-day F1 when a driver like Pastor Maldonado – who scored one point all season – accused Williams of sabotaging his car in qualifying for the penultimate race in Austin, knowing that his combination of speed and $30 million in funding from the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA would all but guarantee him a place on the 2014 grid, a place he duly found at cash-strapped Lotus. It was Lotus, of course, that Raikkonen left after saying he hadn’t been paid all season, fleeing to Ferrari and scheduling back surgery that ruled him out of the final two races after threatening to go on strike. And it was Lotus who considered Nico Hulkenberg, who continually out-performed his Sauber machinery in the second half of the year to become of the stars of the season, before settling with Maldonado and his millions. Lotus are far from the only team to consider drivers based on the depth of their pockets as much as their talent behind the wheel, but F1’s parlous financial state was brought into starker focus by the team that was Red Bull’s main challenger across the final stages of the season making the decision to go with a lesser, but wealthier, driver over someone like Hulkenberg, who must be wondering what he has to do to get a break.

9. Britney moves up the charts
Nico Rosberg – once derisively known as ‘Britney’ for his long blond locks that could have been those of Britney Spears – finally came of age in 2013, showing the promise that was evident from the moment he set the fastest lap of the race on his F1 debut for Williams in Bahrain in 2006. The 28-year-old had always demonstrated flashes, but it was his performances relative to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton that confirmed his quality. Rosberg was out-scored by Hamilton by just 18 points over the course of the season while enduring three times the number of retirements, mostly through no fault of his own, and won the Monaco and British Grands Prix, two of the sport’s most famous races. Always a technically astute driver, the new-for-2014 formula of fuel efficiency, tire management and driving to a moving target rather than letting rip lap after lap will be right down Rosberg’s alley.

10. Tilke can come up trumps
F1’s circuit designer of choice, German Hermann Tilke, has been the target of plenty of criticism for some of the tracks that have come onto the calendar since his first in Malaysia in 1999; while it could be argued much of that was justified after the emergence of such cookie-cutter venues as the soulless Sakhir International Circuit (Bahrain), the unloved street circuit in Valencia and the beautiful but dull Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, Tilke hit the jackpot with the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, which has become one of the most popular stops on the calendar in just two years. Elevation change, sweeping corners, high-speed stretches, superb facilities close to a city center … COTA, as it has become known, has it all. The fans obviously agree, more than 100,000 of them cramming into the circuit for the first two races at the new home for F1 in the ‘States.