Oz: First of last for 'grunters'

2013-03-14 09:45

MELBOURNE, Australia - The 2013 Formula 1 year will go down as the last season of "the grunters", the ‘old iron’ 2.4 V8's which have served the sport well in some form or other since the turn of the millennium.

From 2014 they will be ditched in favour of (allegedly) eco-friendly hybrid power - a 1.6 V6 petrol direct-injection engines combined with two energy-recovery systems. So, the days of the “old iron” engines are limited – to 19 Sundays, that being the number of grands prix listed on the 2013 calendar since F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone failed to retain 20 rounds despite concerted last-ditch efforts to replace the dropped Valencia race (no loss…) and inability of New Jersey to get its act together.

In fact 18 would have been the limit after Nürburgring was placed in liquidation but fancy footwork saved the Germany GP.


Technical regulation changes have been kept to a minimum due to cost and labour-intensive 2014 regulations which demand totally new ‘low-drag’ chassis. Where there are changes, they are mainly under the skin and involve increased driver protection, a ban on extreme drag reduction systems and a crackdown on flexi-wings. The only visible change is the (optional) fitting of so-called “modesty panels” to hide those ugly (safety-related) hooked noses that appeared in 2012.

Some teams, notably Lotus, haven’t bothered…

Pirelli has stiffened the sidewalls of its (six-tyre) range to promote earlier “switch-on’ and compounds have been hardened a grade across the 'dry' spectrum to alllow stops at an average of two per driver per race. The only other change of note is to sidewall markings to eliminate confusion:

GREEN for Intermediate
BLUE for Wet
RED for Supersofts
YELLOW for Softs
White for Medium
ORANGE for hard

Silver markings have been dropped.

Changes to the sporting rules are equally scanty: a change to qualifying due to HRT leaving the grid (six plus six cars will now exit during Q3/Q2 respectively, as opposed to the previous seven, in turn ratcheting up the pressure on the mid-field), while DRS may now only be used in designated zones during qualifying (previously use was free except in the race) and low-fuel qualifying tactics seen in 2012 have been banned.

So, in many respects, it is 2012 2.0, and no bad thing either for that year saw seven different winners in the first seven races, with Kimi Raikkönen making it eight (representing six teams) in a season by winning at Abu Dhabi. Trust the party-loving Finn to choose a "dry" (no alcohol) race for comeback victory…


With no personnel movement in the top two 2012 teams - Red Bull and Ferrari - but sweeping change at McLaren and Mercedes, the former duo is banking on stability as the two silver Mercedes-powered operations re-group. Lotus, too, has retained its status quo, so poses a danger to the equilibrium, but further back it is all-change except for Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s junior team, which is keeping its line-up.

Three-times Constructors’ champions Red Bull Racing continues with serial champion Sebastian Vettel and more than capable journeyman Mark Webber[ Ferrari retains 2005/6 champion Fernando Alonso – still smarting for  losing out to the German in the final race in Brazil – and much-improved Felipe Massa. Such stability pays dividends, particularly during the exhausting opening tour of four flyways packed into seven weekends.

McLaren lost Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes and recruited Sergio Perez - a young Mexican who showed useful turns of speed at Sauber - as team mate to Jenson Button; Hamilton has replaced Michael Schumacher alongside Nico Rosberg at Mercedes, a team apparently in disarray after sweeping management changes that include the baffling appointment of legendary driver Niki Lauda as chairman.

Make no mistake: either team can win multiple races in 2013 but will need to settle down rapidly, particularly as McLaren’s technical honcho Paddy Lowe has resigned to join the other outfit – making a total of four former team principals and five technical directors at Mercedes at a time of swingeing cost-cutting across the sport!


Lotus is the other team patently capable of winning; however, where the Top Four have two drivers with the inherent potential to take the flag, in the back/gold outfit the only likely candidate is Raikkonen; perhaps partner Romain Grosjean can morph reckless into wreckless.

The rest? Sauber cannot be underestimated, particularly now that the Ferrari-powered Swiss outfit has highly-rated Nico Hulkenberg aboard; at Force India a return of the 2011 ding-dong battles between Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil seems likely. Sutil sat out 2012 after an assault conviction so is rarin' to go.

Williams, winner in Spain via Pastor Maldonado, is talking a good season but the most exciting aspect of Sir Frank’s team is new signing Valtteri Bottas, a young Finn said to be straight out of the Hakkinen/Raikkonen mould – and certainly fastest of the rookies.

Making up the grid are Toro Rosso, Caterham and Marussia, the last two running revised (pay) drivers.


All in all, a thoroughly exciting season awaits, what with five World champions and five rookies taking on 12 regulars in 11 different cars powered by four different engines in a series that criss-crosses the globe in search of the world’s most complete driver.

How is the season likely to pan out come the final in Sao Paulo, swansong for the grunters?

Saturday qualifying and Sunday’s 58-lap race will start at 8am Central African Time (that means South Africa and points north).

Read the Wheels24 forecast for the 2013 Drivers' / Teams' championships. (We'll remind you of it at the end of the season!)