Another year gone and another title for Sebastian Vettel but there was still plenty of entertainment in F1 during 2013.
Recent memory suggests 2013 was a case of utter domination but in fact there were 13 different race leaders during the year and five different winners from four different teams.
Early on Ferrari looked strong and mid season saw Mercedes temporarily sort out their race pace to make the most of their dominant qualifying performances. But by the end, it was all Vettel and with 684 leading laps he had spent more than 60 percent of the season at the front.
So best car and driver is a given – but what other highlights did the season offer up...?
BEST CAR AND DRIVER
Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull Racing RB9 were a phenomenal pairing. They may not have started as the dominant force, with Pirelli’s fragile tyres preventing them from exploiting the true pace of the car, but when those were changed, on safety grounds, they were unstoppable with a record-equalling 13 wins and a record-breaking run of nine victories in a row in a single season.
BEST OVERALL PERFORMANCE
After seeing off seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg had another tough team-mate to overcome with Lewis Hamilton arriving at Mercedes for 2013. It was predicted to be a walkover but the German was ready and determined not to be barged aside and, apart from occasional team orders, he held his own rather well. Even though he scored less than Hamilton, he won more and his performances showed he is more than just a number two. Next season could be interesting.
At Williams, Valtteri Bottas showed he had natural talent as he tried to get the best out of a terrible car but Jules Bianchi, the Ferrari test driver who only knew he would be racing for Marussia a couple of weeks before the start of the season, was the most promising sign for F1 in the future. He easily out-performed team-mate Max Chilton, proved to be a strong team leader with good feedback and, most importantly, netted the team the vital 13th place that secured a lucrative 10th place in the constructors’ championship. Ferrari will be pleased.
BEST VETTEL HELMET
Vettel’s ever-changing headgear has been adorned with all sorts of designs this year, including sparkling glitter flakes, holographic patterns and a photomontage of all 550 Red Bull Racing employees. But of all the designs, perhaps the most innovative one that used special thermal paint in Monaco and had a picture of a pin-up girl wearing a bathing suit that disappeared when it got hot...
BEST RADIO CALL
From Vettel’s “shake and bake” Talladega Nights tribute in the USA to Hamilton’s “I can’t drive any slower” dig in Spain, the pits-to-car radio gave us plenty of entertainment this season. The best conversations, however, have been over the Lotus airwaves, thanks to Kimi Raikkonen’s hilarious deadpan delivery. After the “yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what I’m doing” comment in Abu Dhabi last year, his most notable this year came in India when team-mate Romain Grosjean, on fresher tyres, was trying to pass. After several failed efforts asking the Finn to give way, operations director Alan Permane shouted: “Kimi, get the f*** out the way!” Raikkonen calmly responded: “Don’t shout, f*****. When I have a chance (I will), but not in the middle of the fast corners.” The exchange also gave a serious insight into the failing relationship between Raikkonen and the team.
MOST CONTROVERSIAL MOMENT
It’s a tough call between the Mercedes secret tyre test in Barcelona and the ‘Muliti-21’ Red Bull team order in Malaysia. In both instances, the perpetrators knew what they were doing but did it anyway – Mercedes testing with their 2013 car to gain extra knowledge on tyres (although they claim they thought they were playing by the rules) and Vettel overtaking his team-mate to take a victory when both had been told to hold station. Both were as bad as each other, so let’s call it a tie.
Mark Webber is one of the nicest men in motorsport but even he could not resist using the timing of his retirement announcement to make his team bosses uncomfortable. The ‘Multi-21’ team order incident earlier in the year had destroyed their fragile relationship, so he told the team just minutes before announcing his future plans in the paddock on the Thursday morning at Silverstone.
Raikkonen’s back operation provided him a handy get-out at Lotus but the best excuse still goes to the exploding tyres at Silverstone. Pirelli was under pressure to alter the tyre design right from the start of the season and by July pressure was building. At the British Grand Prix, they suffered six blowouts on different cars – and although a pinch point in the kerbs was a key factor, it was the safety excuse the protesting teams, Red Bull in particular, were looking for to instigate a change.
MOST EMBARASSING MOMENT
It’s an easy mistake to make and Hamilton was not the first, but he was left red faced when he pulled into the pit garage of his former team, McLaren, at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Webber, meanwhile, laughed off his slip up when he fell over on the podium in a pool of champagne at his F1 finale. But the most amusingly embarrassing moment of the year must go to Bernie Ecclestone, who got stuck in a revolving door. There’s never a good time for that to happen, but for Ecclestone it was worst possible moment as it came in front of hoards of media as he entered the high court in November to face accusations of bribery.
Webber was so determined to remain unemotional about the end of his F1 career in Brazil that he asked his closest advisors to stay at home – but his thoughtful and well-executed final cool down lap was the perfect way to say goodbye. It was not easy, but the Australian managed to get his helmet off after crossing the finish line in Brazil and drove to parc ferme with his hair blowing in the wind. “It was a bit noisier than I’d expected,” he admitted afterwards. But it’s a moment he, and we, will never forget.
RACE OF THE YEAR
Malaysia and China were both strong contenders but the exploding tyres ensured the British Grand Prix will go down as the most chaotic and exciting race of the season. Hamilton started from pole but a blowout forced him into the pits eight laps in. Felipe Massa and Jean Eric Vergne also had tyre blowouts and Pirelli went into panic mode. Inside the Caterham garage with a pair of headphones on, I got a fascinating insight into the mid-race radio messages as Pirelli ordered teams to run the cars to different special conditions while they tried to work out exactly what was going on. Vettel found himself in the lead but retired with a gearbox failure. Rosberg then led but in an exciting finish Webber and Hamilton reeled him in, only to run out of laps with Webber just seven tenths behind at the chequered flag.