In my last article, I pointed out that going in to the start of the 2013 Formula One season, there were a number of questions that we would be waiting to see the answers to. Now, two races in, it seems that while some of them may have been answered, a whole host of others have popped up.
The hot topic at the moment is, of course, how Red Bull will deal with the inter-team disaster at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are no strangers to fighting with each other in on-track squabbles, but it was the severity of the “falling out” following Vettel’s decision to ignore team orders that sets this one apart. Nobody seemed impressed by Vettel’s actions and even his biggest supporters in the team admitted he made a mistake. On the podium, Vettel seemed unapologetic, while Webber’s fury were all too clear to see. Vettel’s apology later smacked of being constructed for PR purposes. Webber has said it might take him a long time to deal with the issue and has led to people wondering about his future with the team and, indeed, the sport.
At least it’s clear that Lewis Hamilton made the right decision in moving teams. That’s through a combination of Mercedes’ step up, particularly in terms of race pace, but also McLaren’s own failings. But as the Mercedes has improved, so to it seems has Nico Rosberg. The doubters who questioned whether Rosberg could really keep up with a world-class teammate have been silenced; now it’s a case of whether he’s actually better than Hamilton, at this moment in time anyway. While Hamilton was quick in Malaysia, it meant he was a little too quick. Rosberg also held a steady gap to him and by the end of the race was in a much better position, but told to remain behind. Hamilton openly admitted on the podium he wished his friend had taken third instead though, and there was a general sense of harmony – unlike at Red Bull. Whether that remains over the season is yet to be seen.
Nobody at McLaren seems to know quite what to do to fix their problems; they were horribly off the pace in Australia, with Jenson Button doing marginally better in Malaysia until his bungled pit stop threw him out of fifth place. It’s still nowhere near the pace of the team who won the last race of the season in 2012. Disturbingly, it turned out their early good pace in winter testing was due to a part being fitted incorrectly, which was not viable over long distances and therefore could not be replicated once the issue was noticed. The car may very well only be the sixth quickest on the grid, and significant changes will have to be made in the three week gap between races.
The relative pace of the top half of the grid also seems up in the air. Red Bull look to have the quickest car, although they bizarrely lacked race pace in Australia. That meant Lotus and Ferrari both looked stronger in Australia, but then fell back behind the Red Bull cars and the Mercedes come the Malaysian GP. In defence of both; Lotus’ strategy let them down in Malaysia as much as it helped Kimi Räikkönen to win in Melbourne, while Ferrari’s pace in Malaysia was undoubtedly hampered by Fernando Alonso crashing out. Realistically, it seems the top four teams – Red Bull, Lotus, Mercedes and Ferrari – could all conceivably win a race at this point.
What of the midfield? Nico Hülkenberg’s decision to leave Sauber for Force India still is up in the air. No doubt he will have been bitterly jealous of his former team’s success in Australia while his Sauber didn’t even start, but he then scored points in Malaysia whilst both Force India cars retired. Force India may have seemed to have made the right decision in re-hiring Adrian Sutil based on his performance in Australia, but Jules Bianchi has been blisteringly quick in the Marussia and seems in a league of his own – and maybe even a match for the Williams and Toro Rosso drivers. Perhaps the team should have thought about Sutil/Bianchi and shown the door to Paul di Resta as well…
As previously mentioned, there are now three weeks until the Chinese Grand Prix, where all cars will have some upgrades installed. Whether they bring any further answers will be another case of “wait and see”, I’m afraid…