My hopes regarding the track action are centered around driver/car combos, for the basic racing package is what it is – and what it was in 2012. Although I'm not keen on DRS, I've grown to enjoy the disparity in tire compounds and tire behavior from track to track, driver to driver, car to car. Bravo to the FIA and Pirelli for giving us a variable almost as great as when there were two tire manufacturers involved.
Now, let's reiterate my consistent desire, stated in part 1, that the reigning champion of any series puts up a strong title defense. I like most of what I know of Sebastian Vettel. His chirpy, beaming, boyish public persona is great for the sport, in my opinion, and he's full of eloquent yet sharp answers. I'm even starting to believe his victory-lap transmissions to his team may be genuine and spontaneous…although I concede that after pole or victory, his index finger-pointing can sometimes provoke a twitch in my middle finger.
But I'm certain that Vettel has become many people's anti-hero not through anything he's done wrong but because there's a perception that he has it too easy – “What would Alonso or Hamilton do in that car?” – or that he actively goes out of his way to subjugate his teammate – “Poor Mark! He's such a good guy.” (This ignores the fact that Mark Webber was once the master of mind games on his teammates.)
And none of this would matter if Vettel wasn't so successful. Remember, we all loved Ferrari when they blew vast amounts of lire per annum during the '80s, when Rene Arnoux, Michele Alboreto or Gerhard Berger would put in a valiant effort, win a couple of races in the prettiest car on the grid and finish second or third in the championship. Then, when Jean Todt arrived, threw Euros in the right direction and helped Michael Schumacher to a million grand prix wins, we were bummed. Well, same deal with Vettel: If he was driving for Lotus, winning just once or twice a year, everyone would love him for being the super-quick young upstart, shaking the establishment. “What would he do in a Ferrari or McLaren?” we'd all wonder.
That all said…I hope Adrian Newey's pencil is a little blunter this year, or that by channeling one of his brains to the new regs of 2014, he loses the ability to build a better car than anyone else in 2013. The RB9 will still be a front-runner, of course. But it would be nice if it doesn't have an advantage at most tracks for most of the season. Nice, too, if its prime rivals don't build a prancing donkey or a fickle flyer. Quite how Ferrari missed the target by such a wide margin at the start of last season is debatable, but what's certain is that they can't afford to do so again, for it would waste Fernando Alonso's talent while he's apparently at the height of his powers. And I hope that McLaren provide Jenson Button with a Jenson Button-type car. With Lewis Hamilton having been replaced by Sergio Perez, there's no one there to make up any shortfall if the car's a couple of tenths off, race in, race out. In a car that suits him and is fast, however, Button can fight toe-to-toe with Vettel and Alonso for the entirety of a season.
Another F1 champ, Kimi Raikkonen, won new fans last year, and I hope he can recapture those last couple of tenths of a second that he had in his McLaren days, so that he can qualify as brilliantly as he races. He's without question the front-runner who best strikes the right balance between hard and fair in wheel-to-wheel combat; last year he never once ran a rival off the track in a heavy-handed overtaking move, nor closed the door as a rival drew alongside, before disingenuously explaining the resultant collision with a “I was taking the racing line; he drove into me.” I love his ethics and his attitude, and I hope he's duly rewarded.
Lewis Hamilton has made the most debatable move of the year by switching to Mercedes. His assertion that the move was made with an eye on the long game is very believable, since there is a belief that manufacturer teams will have an advantage under the 2014 rules (assuming those pesky tech regs ever get finalized, of course). It also surely implies that Mercedes-Benz is committed to the sport, which is a relief. And yeah, I believe Hamilton will mature without the guiding bubble of McLaren surrounding him. Far more importantly from the team's perspective, though, he will also be a clear indicator to Ross Brawn and his tech crew as to where, what and by how much they are missing, a barometer that they've lacked for the past three years. I hope to see Lewis win a race or two, for those will surely be victories against the odds…but not as much as I hope he repeats his superb 2012 form, and doesn't slip back into the wild and troubled ways of 2011. I hate seeing talent wasted.
Daniel Ricciardo, I hope, will spend 2013 proving that he's ready to graduate to Red Bull in '14, similarly Nico Hulkenburg/Ferrari. I hope Paul di Resta can fulfill his promise and keep Force India near the front. And I hope Pastor Maldonado remains fast in the Williams, and hopefully win again, but that he's at least matched by teammate Valtteri Bottas, a rookie of whom I expect great things.
Most of all though, I hope we reach the end of the season saying that Formula 1's on-track action was more entertaining than the between-race soap opera that, 11 months earlier, threatened to overshadow it. But these are hopes, remember, not expectations or predictions.
V8 Supercars, Adelaide, Feb. 28 – March 3
Formula 1, Melbourne, March 17
Pirelli World Challenge, St. Petersburg, March 22-24
MotoGP, Qatar, April 7
DTM, Hockenheim, April 29