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2013-03-14 10:11

THE ONE TO BEAT: While Sebastian Vettel (left) has a laugh with former F1 driver David Coulthard, other teams are plotting against him and Red Bull, hoping to break his '"four in a row" streak. IMAGE: AFP

Nick Mulvenney

Sebastian Vettel's rivals, perhaps more in hope than expectation, are looking to the 2013 Australian F1 GP to usher in a season in which the German and his Red Bull team have their three-year monopoly of Formula 1 titles broken.

There was similar talk of the gap to the dominant team narrowing in 2012 but after the chaos of the early season with its seven different winners in the first seven races, Vettel and Red Bull emerged to claim their title hat-tricks.


On Sunday (March 17 2013) in Melbourne, Vettel will begin his quest to match Juan-Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as the only drivers who have won four consecutive Drivers' titles in the first of the season's 19 races.

Pre-season testing is not always a nailed-on guide to early season form but there was enough in Red Bull's under-par display in Spain to offer more than a glimmer of hope to the other teams.

Vettel and team mate Mark Webber admitted that testing was not as good as they would have liked, although there remains the possibility that the Red Bull team did not show its car's full potential - or "sandbagged" in the paddock vernacular.

However none of the other leading teams - Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus - put in the sort of performances in Jerez and Barcelona that would mark them out as potentially dominant.

Twice former champion Fernando Alonso declared Ferrari to be in a "200%" better position than at the same stage last year when it took one of his best battling drives just to get his car into fifth place.

Alonso said: "I don't think we will see one team dominate, but also I don't expect seven winners in the first races, like last year (2012). It will be very close and from our point of view, a good result this weekend would remove some of the stress."

In 2012, Jenson Button won his third race in Melbourne to kick off the chaotic start to the season and the 2009 World champion and his new team mate Sergio Perez will both again be looking to add to McLaren's 11 wins in Australia.

Button said: "I don't think any team really knows or understands the competitive order.

"It's hard to accurately predict who'll arrive in Australia with the best-sorted car. But that's part of the game."

Mexican Perez got his chance at McLaren after Lewis Hamilton's departure for Mercedes, where the 2008 World champion has teamed up with Nico Rosberg.

The fifth former World champion on the grid is Kimi Raikkonen, who eased seamlessly back into F1 to finish third in the championship race with Lotus in 2012 after two years out of the sport.

The often taciturn Finn has been upbeat in pre-season about the Lotus car, which he will again share this year with Romain Grosjean.


Raikkonen said: "We had good speed last year, but not enough to win the championship.

"If we can get just a little more from the car and keep our consistency, with some better results at the beginning of the year, then we should have a much better chance."

Only 11 teams and 22 cars will line up in 2013 after the demise of Spanish outfit HRT but there will be plenty of new blood on the grid with five drivers making their debuts on Sunday March 17, 2013.

In the last year of the V8 engines, the technical changes, which often make the early part of the season more interesting, have been kept to a minimum.

There have been changes to the tyres, which will require some getting used to, and the Albert Park street circuit will be as good an early test of their durability as any track.

Mercedes driver Hamilton said: "I love the circuit. It's a street track with a really bumpy surface so you try and put as much downforce on the car as possible and it really puts the drivers to the test."

If the teams at the front end of the grid are indeed as close as testing suggested, then driver performance could be the difference.

Stay with Wheels24 for the 2013 Formula 1 season – fresh reports every day.

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