Thursday, 14 March 2013

2013 Teammate Rivalry Preview

With the new season just a day away, it is an ideal time to look at this year's rivalries and the likely winners of the inter-team battles! Beating your teammate is the first objective for every driver, without this crucial success you can never aspire to be champion. For some this is the actual reality, a momentary mistake in the wet causing a spin. Dreams lost. For others winning the teammate war may be the difference between F1 survival and an end of a career. Bearing this in mind let's take a closer look.

Recurring team battles

Vettel v. Webber (Red Bull)

Reigning world champion vs. world champion hopeful. The Red Bull should be a strong car from the get-go so they’ll both have opportunities for race wins. There are certain things in Webber’s favour this year e.g. the removal of unlimited DRS which Vettel mastered so well and the change in engine mappings which often were a solution to Vettel’s style. Bearing these factors in mind, there is reason for optimism for Webber fans.

He’ll look to build on this promise and carry it through better than last year. Webber started off so positively but faltered towards the year-end (see right for 2012 form guide) when the Red Bull improved. What does Webber need to do differently to win? First he needs to build a strong platform in the first eight races (historically his better races) and then he needs to become consistent. Vettel rarely has bad weekends, the same cannot be said for Webber who often goes anonymous e.g. Texas 2012 amongst others.

Ultimately unless the car behaves a certain way it’s hard to envisage Webber coming out on top in this duel. Vettel has been too consistent and is so suited to the optimised Red Bull. Expect Vettel to punish Webber on his off weekends.

Pick: Vettel to be beaten four or five times in the season but to win by a strong margin (70-90 points)

Alonso v. Massa (Ferrari)

Alonso is undisputed number one at Ferrari. In the past he’s stamped his authority where necessary and caused the appropriate noise to be heard, don’t expect anything different at Ferrari. The official line at Ferrari is that both drivers are allowed to race equally and this might be allowed temporarily but for the sake of harmony and the championship this won’t happen for long.

The form guide from last year shows how dominant Alonso was however it should be noted that Massa probably performed better in the last four or five races which raises some interesting questions. Should the Ferrari be in the same place this duel could turn very interesting but ultimately, I think, predictable.

Pick: Alonso to win by only a reasonable margin of 50-70 points

Raikkonen v. Grosjean (Lotus)

Grosjean is one of the most naturally talented drivers on the grid in normal conditions. Blisteringly quick over one lap and furthermore he has a lot to prove. I want to make another Grosjean prediction, like last year, but I admit Raikkonen positively surprised me which brings an element of doubt into my mind.

I’ll be the first to admit that although I’m a big fan of Raikkonen’s persona I’m not the greatest believer in his natural talent (often lauded as equivalent to Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton). In qualifying this year I expect Grosjean to have the slight edge but to not capitalise on these strong qualifying performances enough. Plus I think his dips will be greater than Raikkonen who will consistently collect points due to his maturity.

I see this as the second closest team battle after Di Resta/Sutil but I’m going to have to back Raikkonen by the smallest of margins.

Pick: Raikkonen to edge Grosjean by 5-15 points.

Vergne v. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso)

This is a make-or-break season for both. Toro Rosso are notorious (although not as bad as their reputation) for getting rid of drivers who they don’t see as a long term investment. The ultimate goal for these two is therefore to prove that they are good enough for either a) the Red Bull second seat, Webber’s retirement may be imminent especially with the new v6’s next year or b) they are worth an F1 seat elsewhere.

It’s unlikely that both will be retained next year so as Ricciardo describes he must blow Vergne away to make the impression in F1 that he needs and wants to. Last year showed that Ricciardo has certain advantages over his highly rated teammate. His qualifying pace is exceptional especially a sixth place in Bahrain which defied logic. As you can see from the form guide he continued his strong form towards the end of the season too.

This is going to be a fierce battle but the qualifying differences between the two will in my opinion be critical and will ensure Ricciardo scores the more points of the two.

Pick: Ricciardo by 5-15 points.

Di Resta v. Sutil (Force India)

Last time they were teammates, (back in 2011) before Sutil’s forced break, the two were fairly equal. The two main questions are therefore whether Sutil’s break has affected him and whether Di Resta has progressed as a driver last year. Two complex questions indeed.

Firstly I think Sutil’s break looks to have mentally rejuvenated him and it didn’t take him long to re-acquaint himself during testing. This is a positive sign for him. Di Resta also had to deal with his own adversity, losing a season-long battle with Hulkenberg. This may have affected him negatively however I believe not.

In short both have a point to prove and this battle will be incredibly close. National bias aside I’m still going to go for Di Resta to edge Sutil. I feel the support from the team and the extra year of experience will give him the slight edge needed to beat Sutil.

Pick: Di Resta to marginally win by 2-5 points.

New team battles

Hamilton v. Rosberg (Mercedes)

Hamilton has the star quality but Rosberg has the advantage of being with Mercedes for three years. This is a substantial advantage and it may be one that proves decisive. It takes time to adapt (consistently) to a new team. There are often great results immediately; for example Mansell, Raikkonen and Alonso all winning in their first race for Ferrari but ultimately it takes longer to really master the car, understand the team and to deliver a season like Alonso’s 2012.

The first three races will be absolutely crucial in this team battle. Australia is the initial marker and Malaysia and China are some of Rosberg’s strongest circuits. If Rosberg stays on top through these three races, who knows what will happen next. If he cedes then we’ll have a strong indication of the rest of 2013. Rosberg is often strongest at the beginning of the year and was ultimately pegged back by Schumacher last year (see end of the post).

I expect qualifying to be close between the two throughout the year however I expect the race to be a different matter entirely. Hamilton is a proven race winner/title contender and I expect him to deliver the consistency and outstanding performances when they really matter.  There is still an element of doubt however; the knowledge of Mercedes and the overall beating of, in my opinion, the greatest F1 driver of all-time (albeit outside his peak years) gives Rosberg credibility.

Pick: Hamilton to overcome a strong Rosberg start to win by 20-30 points.

Button v. Perez (McLaren)

Button is a world champion and a lot of his success this year will depend on the consistency in the cars balance. Should be have enough to beat Perez? I believe so. Perez is young, inexperienced and completely new to the McLaren way of doing things. This inexperience was shown last year towards the end of the season during various incidents (think Suzuka where a misjudged pass on Hamilton led to his retirement or Malaysia when he ran wide spurning the chance for victory). Perez needs to look at McLaren as a long-term investment, take the opportunity to learn from Button and take things slowly.

Perez certainly has the talent but there seems to be a common consensus that Button is the ‘team leader’ and this will give him the ability to tailor the car to his style. I think the only way Perez wins this battle is by showing us a consistency and maturity of approach not yet seen. The two drivers have similar styles and weaknesses so the car dynamics will not allow Perez to get a jump on his more experienced teammate (like the opposing styles of Hamilton and Button).

Pick: Button to comfortably beat Perez by 50-60 points.

Hulkenberg v. Gutierrez (Sauber)

This is the easiest teammate battle to predict in my opinion, closely followed by Alonso/Massa. Hulkenberg has two years’ experience in F1 and one of the best junior records of all of the F1 drivers. It would send shockwaves around F1 if Gutierrez was able to dethrone Hulkenberg.

Gutierrez has already showed signs of struggling in pre-season testing. I analysed the data and most of his runs looked significant worse than Hulkenberg, even when trying to compare on a like-for-like basis. Gutierrez plans a ‘cautious’ approach to the year, looking to learn from every experience and that alone is evidence that he won’t be able to challenge Hulkenberg who’s already learnt those lessons.

Pick: Hulkenberg to demolish Gutierrez by 40-60 points.

Maldonado v. Bottas (Williams)

A quick look at the junior records of these two and you would be in little doubt about the eventual winner; Bottas has succeeded in every series he’s been in (top 3 in each full season), Maldonado the opposite. In fact it took Maldonado 4 attempts to finish in the top 3 in GP2.

Is the reality as cut and dry? Maldonado, true to form, struggled in his first season of F1 (finishing 18th by scoring a solitary point). The Williams was a difficult car to drive though. Last year was better and he showed his mettle with a spectacular ‘pole’ and win. The rest of the season showed flashes of brilliance but overall it finished disappointingly. Maldonado, above all else, needs consistency.

Bottas is less of an unknown than the other rookies, his Friday practice results last year indicate that he can challenge Maldonado from the off in terms of pace. Consistency again will be key, he states mistakes will be inevitable but this underlines a mature approach, to his racing, and suggests he’ll bounce back from difficult results. Bottas is highly rated and rightly so, I back him to take it to Maldonado and let his greater talent and consistency from junior formulas shine through. There will ultimately be times when Maldonado is almost untouchable, at street circuits in particular, but Formula 1 is above all else a mental game and Bottas comes to the party well prepared.

Pick: Bottas to beat Maldonado by 5-10 points

Pic v. Van der Garde (Caterham)

In 2011 both of these drivers raced for Barwa Addax in GP2, Van der Garde won twice and finished 4th. Pic didn’t win but still finished 5th. The overall difference was only 3 points. What this shows is that Van der Garde is quick but lacks a consistency Pic has.

Pic was recruited by Marussia after this performance and the extra year in F1 should give him the advantage needed to beat Van der Garde. I wasn’t as impressed with Pic last year as many although he progressed nicely as the season went on but I do expect him to have too much this year for Van der Garde. Expect things to get closer towards the end of the season.

Pick: Pic to beat Van der Garde by 0 points (quite close)

Bianchi v. Chilton (Marussia)

The start of the season will be interesting. Chilton has the greater F1 experience due to greater mileage during testing, made possible by the conflict surrounding Razia’s sponsors. Bianchi has the better junior record and instantly looked good.

I think the 2010 and 2011 GP2 seasons hint towards the discrepancy between the drivers.  Chilton finished 25th and 20th whereas Bianchi finished 3rd both times. Bianchi definitely has the raw speed and the talent to make it big but there are doubts over his reliability/consistency.

All-in-all it’s hard to see past Bianchi winning this one, championship results are often very unreliable in slow cars as one result (for instance a lucky 14th place) could be the deciding results however I’m going to confidently predict Bianchi.

Pick: Jules Bianchi to beat Max Chilton by 0 points (but relatively comfortably)

Do you think you know better? Join our prediction league to find out. Deadline: Tonight before FP1. 


Form guide explained and further 2012 form guides

The method for working out the form guide is as follows: 

Each driver will receive 1 point for beating their teammate in a practice session or scoring a faster lap than them. A driver will also score 3 points for out-qualifying their teammate and 5 points for out-racing them.

The form is spread out on a 5-race basis where possible. Obviously until race 5 this isn't possible, so race 3 will count Australia, Malaysia and China and race 4 will count Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain. The amount seen for each race is the average of the points scored for the included weekends so if Vettel scored 2 pts, 4 pts, 10 pts, 12 pts then his form would be (2+4+10+12)/4= 28/4 = 7.

Here are some more form guides from 2012:

Button v. Hamilton (McLaren)

Schumacher v. Rosberg (Mercedes)

Kobayashi v. Perez (Sauber)

Di Resta v. Hulkenberg (Force India)

Maldonado v. Senna (Williams)

Kovalainen v. Petrov (Caterham)

Glock v. Pic (Marussia)

De La Rosa v. Karthikeyan (HRT)

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