Skip to main content

New F1 season, new thrills?

By Sarah Holt, for CNN
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
HIDE CAPTION
The 2013 Formula One season
Looking to Lewis
To the four?
Red Bull's rear-view mirror
Five first-timers
Burned rubber
Grid shrinks
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lewis Hamilton will race for Mercedes for the first time at Australian Grand Prix
  • Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel aiming for a fourth consecutive drivers' championship
  • Red Bull will face competition at the front of the grid from Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus
  • Five Formula One rookies will race for the first time in Melbourne on Sunday

(CNN) -- The 2012 Formula One championship went down in history -- just over 100 days ago -- as one of the most unpredictable and thrilling seasons in the sport's 64-year history.

Sebastian Vettel muscled his Red Bull to the checkered flag to deny Ferrari toreador Fernando Alonso the title at the very last race in Brazil -- by a mere three points -- to become the youngest triple champion.

Can 2013 deliver an even better spectacle? The signs are looking very positive as teams tackle financial reality ahead of major rule changes in 2014, a key driver makes a fresh start, new names line up on the grid and tires once again promise to provide an unpredictable excitement factor.

CNN World Sport takes you through the need-to-know stories before Sunday's season-opener in Australia.

1. Counting the cost

Engines on, Formula 1 returns!
Pastor Maldonado took the new Williams for a spin at Barcelona on February 19 following the launch at Circuit de Catalunya. Pastor Maldonado took the new Williams for a spin at Barcelona on February 19 following the launch at Circuit de Catalunya.
F1 teams unveil 2013 cars
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
F1 teams unveil 2013 cars F1 teams unveil 2013 cars

F1 has always been an expensive business but economic downturns across many countries -- including Great Britain where eight teams are based -- have pulled finances sharply into focus in 2013.

Top teams are spending as much as $375 million a year while those at the back of the grid spend around $75 million.

Look at it another way and a team like Marussia can spend $2 million a week compared to an estimated $1 million a day splashed out by the wealthiest teams.

F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has proposed an annual budget cap of $250 million for 2014 but that won't help the small teams stay in business.

McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh, who is also chair of the F1 teams' association, has warned that seven marques are already in "survival mode."

There has already been one casualty as Spanish team Hispania dropped out at the end of 2012 because of financial pressures, having not scored a point in three seasons.

2. Pay for a place

The issue of pay-drivers, who bring substantial sponsorship to secure a ride in F1, has also been highlighted in 2013.

Flyover: Australian Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel celebrates after securing his third consecutive Formula One title. The Red Bull racer claimed a sixth place finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix to win the championship by three points from Fernando Alonso. Sebastian Vettel celebrates after securing his third consecutive Formula One title. The Red Bull racer claimed a sixth place finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix to win the championship by three points from Fernando Alonso.
Super Seb
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
2012 F1 season climax in Brazil 2012 F1 season climax in Brazil

Kamui Kobayashi, Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen all lost their seats because they didn't bring enough money to the table.

Even worse, Luiz Razia found the cash to take Glock's Marussia berth only to lose it two weeks before the start of the first race when his sponsorship deal hit trouble.

In a further dent to the balance sheets, the entry fee for a place on the F1 grid was increased by governing body the FIA this season. Teams now have to fork out a basic rate of $500,000.

On top of that it costs an extra $5,000 for each point the team won in 2012. Champions Red Bull were charged $6,000 a point, therefore paid at total of $3.3 million just to get on the grid to defend their titles.

3. All eyes on Hamilton

When it comes to the narrative of the season there is one name filling all the pages -- Lewis Hamilton.

A new era dawns for the 28-year-old, who begins his first season without the support of the McLaren team which guided him for the last 15 years.

Red Bull Show Run
F1's spiritual home in the U.S.

When Hamilton signed for Mercedes last September it was a huge risk and, even worse, it looked like a huge mistake.

But six months on, it is shaping up to be Hamilton's best move since he passed Timo Glock in Brazil to win the 2008 world title.

The Silver Arrow was the fastest car in testing and got significant mileage on the clock too. If that preseason form translates to the racetrack, Mercedes will be a real contender.

The haunted Hamilton of recent times has gone -- and it's not only because he splashed out on a private jet, new tattoo and dog Roscoe during the break.

In an interview before jetting off for Australia he tellingly said: "It's nice to be somewhere you are really wanted."

Hamilton certainly has the chance to stand on his own two feet at Mercedes, but settling into a new environment with different procedures will inevitably lead to some less-than-perfect moments. It will be fascinating to watch.

4. Red Bull target fab four

Vettel has a clear plan for 2013: he wants to join Alain Prost as a four-time world champion and help Red Bull win a fourth straight constructors' crown.

India's F1 story
Formula One strives for green future

Despite these grand plans, the energy drinks team lacked fizz in preseason testing, leaving predictors of form flummoxed and frustrated.

Vettel's fastest lap in Barcelona was two seconds slower than the quickest overall time set by Nico Rosberg for Mercedes.

But Red Bull rarely show their hand in the winter, disguising lap times with higher fuel loads and wheeling out screens in the pit lane to stop rivals taking a peek at designer Adrian Newey's latest machine. The RB9 is an evolution of the car which has dominated the last three seasons and it has looked lithe and strong on track.

Even if Vettel and teammate Mark Webber start the season off the pace, as they did last year, Red Bull have proved they have the resources to fight back and win both titles -- and will still go into 2013 as the team to beat.

5. Red Bull's rivals

Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus and now Mercedes are all expected to go wheel-to-wheel at the front of the 2013 field.

Ferrari say their car is "200 times better" than the much-criticized 2012 model and, with a new aerodynamic upgrade coming for Australia, Alonso will relish taking the challenge to Vettel over all 19 races.

McLaren and the English team's new de facto No. 1 Jenson Button are not yet 100% happy with the new version of the car which won the last race of 2012 at Interlagos.

Caterham's guide to Singapore
Stirling Moss: A history of Silverstone

The MP4-28 looks fast but inconsistent. There have been teething troubles for the team's risky new design philosophy -- which includes a switch to pull-rod front suspension -- but McLaren are gambling on their new concept bringing big performance gains as the year goes on.

After a breakthrough win in 2012, Lotus will also be in the mix and targeting a place in the top-three teams.

Drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean showed flashes of pace in testing but they did not complete many laps, which means reliability could still be an issue.

Mercedes completed 12 days of testing with the quickest car, ticking off the second highest amount of miles among the teams, which is an important part of race preparation.

There is still some skepticism over whether Mercedes -- a second off the frontrunners' pace at the end of 2012 -- have made a big leap forward in performance.

But equally there is optimism Hamilton and his old karting teammate Rosberg have a genuinely fast car capable of fighting for race wins.

6. Rookies to watch

There are five new faces on the grid this season -- Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber), Valtteri Bottas (Williams), Giedo van der Garde (Caterham), Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton (both Marussia).

The most powerful woman in Formula One
Click here to return to the story. Click here to return to the story.
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
Senna vs. Fangio: Who is the greatest? Senna vs. Fangio: Who is the greatest?

All five have something to prove, but Bottas and Bianchi could announce themselves as real talents.

Williams snapped up Bottas three years ago, and the real racing team reckon they've got a real racer to carry them back to the front of the grid. The Finn, 23, is nicely embedded with the team and should score points quickly.

Bianchi has also had good breeding. The Frenchman has been part of Ferrari's driver academy since 2010 and was a tester for the Italian marque and Force India.

His experience with two quality teams should help him settle in quickly, but points-scoring with Marussia -- which ended last season empty-handed and 11th out of 12 on the grid -- will be difficult.

7. Technical rule changes

The rules governing car design are stable this season, which means most cars will be an evolution of what was on track in 2012.

The biggest change is that the drag reduction system (DRS) -- a moveable flap on the rear wing that flips open to increase straight-line speed -- can now only be used in designated zones at each circuit.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton revels in winning the inaugural grand prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on Sunday. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton revels in winning the inaugural grand prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on Sunday.
Number One
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Reborn in the USA Reborn in the USA

Many teams, and in particular Red Bull, had used it freely in practice and qualifying to increase their lap times. They won't be able to do that this year.

Teams can also no longer use DRS to affect other aspects of car performance -- a trick pioneered by Mercedes in 2012.

Flexible front wings had also been used by some teams -- Red Bull were usually under scrutiny -- to increase the aerodynamic flow of the car. However, a new ruling says front wings can now only bend by 10 millimeters, and tougher load tests will make sure teams are sticking to the rules.

What they can do, however, is add a "vanity panel" to the top of their car to hide the unsightly stepped noses.

8. Burning rubber

Tires are once again the biggest unknown for the teams heading into 2013.

The Formula One roadshow rolls into Austin, Texas this weekend for the first race of 10 over the coming decade. The sport is hoping to attract legions of new fans in the USA. The Formula One roadshow rolls into Austin, Texas this weekend for the first race of 10 over the coming decade. The sport is hoping to attract legions of new fans in the USA.
Formula One rodeo
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
Rekindling F1\'s American dream Rekindling F1's American dream
Sergio "Checo" Perez has been the surprise package of the 2012 Formula One season -- just his second year in the elite division of motorsport. Sergio "Checo" Perez has been the surprise package of the 2012 Formula One season -- just his second year in the elite division of motorsport.
Mexican Wunderkind
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
The rise and rise of Sergio Perez The rise and rise of Sergio Perez

Pirelli's new rubber is softer and the tire structure is more flexible with reinforced shoulders. A set of 2013 tires adds an extra 2 kilograms in weight, so the minimum weight for each car has increased to 642 kg.

Lap times on the 2013 tires are expected to increase by around half a second a lap. At the Barcelona circuit, which hosts the Spanish Grand Prix, many cars set lap times in testing this month that were quicker than pole position for the 2012 race.

Pirelli also wants to make sure teams need to pit at least twice during the race.

Tire degradation was mixed during testing but the colder temperatures in Spain mean performance there is not an exact benchmark for the warmer climes coming up in the first two races in Australia and Malaysia.

Pirelli effectively pays to supply tires to the F1 grid in a negotiated deal which also include track-side advertising. The teams also pay it a small contribution, but the bulk of the bill for the season's 36,000 spheres of rubber is picked up by the tire supplier.

The Italian company is now entering the final season of its three-year contract as F1's official tire supplier. Pirelli says it is intends to carry on -- but only if the financial conditions are right. A decision may be made in the first quarter of 2013.

9. One eye on 2014

While uncertainty exists about the tire supplier's future involvement, major rule changes for 2014 present a financial and technical headache for F1's teams.

Mark Webber speaking to reporters in Sao Paulo ahead of his final Formula One race at the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday. Mark Webber speaking to reporters in Sao Paulo ahead of his final Formula One race at the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Mark Webber: From kart to cockpit
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
Mark Webber: From kart to cockpit Mark Webber: From kart to cockpit

Next season they must use six-cylinder turbo engines with a greater share of power gathered from kinetic energy recovery systems.

But with change comes opportunity, and that is why many teams -- especially those who don't expect to be at the sharp end of the championship -- have already shifted a large share of their resources to the development of next year's car.

Until then, the mighty V8 engines look set to power a battle royale when the 2013 season roars into life in Australia this weekend.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:08 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
The big winners of this Formula One season could be road drivers rather than F1 racers, according to one former world champion.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
The Williams team welcomes the biggest rule changes to Formula One cars for a generation.
updated 3:16 PM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton sums up the dawn of a new Formula One era in three juicy words -- weird, mind-blowing and challenging.
updated 8:16 AM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Formula One is taking another step in its techno evolution this season, which could be more unpredictable than it has been for a long time.
updated 5:55 PM EST, Mon February 24, 2014
Susie Wolff
Despite being a sport well into its seventh decade, only two women have ever driven in Formula 1 but Susie Wolff hopes to become the third.
updated 12:36 PM EST, Mon February 24, 2014
Jann Mardenborough on the similarities and differences between driving a race on a video game and driving a real F1 car.
updated 7:26 AM EST, Sat February 22, 2014
Russia's President Vladimir Putin watches the men's cross-country 4 x 10km relay event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 16, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ RIA-NOVOSTI/ POOL/ MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
How Russian president Vladimir Putin helped turn a muddy hole in the ground into a $400 million futuristic grand prix track in Sochi.
updated 7:13 PM EST, Thu February 20, 2014
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and Formula One racing director Bernie Ecclestone talk during a ceremony of signing of an agreement to bring Formula One racing to Sochi for a Grand Prix Russia to be held in 2014, the same year the Black Sea resort hosts the Winter Olympics in Sochi on October 14, 2010. Putin, whose backing was crucial in Sochi winning the right to host the Games, is due in the city on Thursday to sign an agreement for work to begin on the construction of a new 200 million dollar circuit. AFP PHOTO/ ALEXANDER NEMENOV (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Vilified by the the international community for his government's attitude on gay rights, Russian president Vladimir Putin has found an ally.
updated 7:17 AM EST, Wed January 22, 2014
CNN's Rosie Tomkins speaks to Caterham F1 owner Tony Fernandes on the team's driver line-up for 2014.
updated 12:13 PM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel is bidding for a fifth consecutive drivers' championship in 2014.
He is Formula One's undisputed No. 1, and next season Sebastian Vettel will have proof of that fact emblazoned on his Red Bull.
updated 11:33 AM EST, Wed December 4, 2013
A new era of F1 looms large on the horizon in 2014, but what do the new rules mean for how we watch the sport? Get up to speed here.
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Thu October 17, 2013
Explore our interactive of one of F1's most important and complicated pieces of kit.
ADVERTISEMENT