11 Nico Hulkenberg Best championship position – 11th, 2012
12 Esteban Gutierrez Rookie
Sauber designer Matt Morris' decision to go for very narrow sidepods – contrary to the designs of any other car on the grid – could be win or bust. The idea is that the reduced frontal area of the car makes up for the reduced acceleration of airflow to the diffuser area of the car. It's refreshing to see the Swiss team taking this step having previously been accused of conservatism. That may mean that, from track to track, the car swings between excellence and mediocrity more than most, but hey, Sauber people got used to that (for different reasons) last year.
In 2013, the team has Nico Hulkenberg to help mask the C32's shortcomings and fully exploit its strengths, and he's surely the best driver Sauber's had since introducing Raikkonen to Formula 1 back in 2001. The Hulk is fast in all track conditions, makes relatively few errors, has a go-for-it instinct and rarely has off days. Don't dismiss Esteban Gutierrez, either; he finished third in the GP2 championship last year, and he's not the sort to crash while trying to match Hulkenberg. He'll build to his limit and should get closer to his teammate's pace throughout the season, though he's unlikely to ever exceed it.
FORCE INDIA-MERCEDES VJM06
14 Paul di Resta Best championship position – 13th, 2011
15 Adrian Sutil Best championship position – 9th, 2011
Having finished in the top seven in the Constructors' Championship for the past three seasons, Force India has proven its ability to punch above its weight. This is a team on a small budget. If Paul di Resta is confident, he's proven he has Hulkenberg-matching pace – damn fast, in other words. If he's not, as in the second half of last year, he may slip behind teammate and F1 returnee Adrian Sutil who himself tends to shine only sporadically but is very consistent in form. It's hard not to think that going for super rookie Jules Bianchi instead would have shown far more ambition.
What can almost be relied upon is that tech director Andrew Green and his team will have produced a potential giant-killing car despite financial restrictions. Let's hope it is fully exploited, every time out.
16 Pastor Maldonado Best championship position – 15th, 2012
17 Valtteri Bottas Rookie
When a driver who scores a win finishes that season only 15th in the championship despite starting every round, you know that either he or his car was unreliable. In Pastor Maldonado's case, it was the former. The man who had the consistency to win the GP2 title in 2010 and who drove with the pace, composure and discipline of a Lauda to win the Spanish Grand Prix last year, also spent too much time bouncing off curbs, walls or other cars in the manner of Andrea de Cesaris.
If Maldonado can tame that ferociousness without losing speed, he could have a long career in F1. If he can't, he's going to start getting overshadowed very rapidly by rookie teammate Valtteri Bottas who many believe is one of those potential supertalents. How far up the grid this intra-team battle will be performed is dependent on the FW35, but it has shown promise, and Williams' tech department under Mike Coughlan's stewardship is getting stronger.
TORO ROSSO-FERRARI STR8
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Best championship position – 17th, 2012
19 Daniel Ricciardo Best championship position – 18th, 2012
James Key (tech director, ex-Sauber), Luca Furbatto (chief designer, ex-McLaren) and Jon Tomlinson (assistant chief of aero, ex-Williams) are three very important new recruits who all had input on the team's STR8 and, in our opinion, could be enough to help the team finish the season as high as sixth in the championship. But what will drive that, too, is the continued competition between the two F1 sophomores driving for them.
Daniel Ricciardo had a consistent edge in qualifying pace last year, but it wasn't until the second half of the season that he regularly outperformed Jean-Eric Vergne in the races, too. Right now, the Aussie looks the most likely candidate to replace his compatriot Webber at Red Bull one day, but JEV is talented enough to regain that “favorite” status if Ricciardo should lose even a little focus. Put simply, both of STR's drivers are excellent.
20 Charles Pic Best championship position – 21st, 2012
21 Giedo van der Garde Rookie
There's nothing in the car's pre-season test form nor in the driver lineup to suggest Caterham will move forward this season. In fact, holding on to its hard-earned 10th place in the 2012 championship may be unrealistic, given that Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov have been replaced by Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde and given that its only true rival, Marussia appears to have taken a step forward.
Pic did a very creditable job for Marussia, but that was as a rookie, learning from teammate Timo Glock. It's hard to imagine van der Garde will bring much worthwhile to the table, other than money. The Dutchman is not hopeless, but nor is he ever going to adequately fill Kovalainen's shoes.
22 Jules Bianchi Rookie
23 Max Chilton Rookie
This team is entering its fourth season (it started as Virgin back in 2010) and for the first time has a car that was shaped in a wind tunnel. As well as producing arguably the most elegant of all the 2013 F1 designs, John Booth's little team has shown itself capable of making great strides over the course of a season, reducing its speed deficit to the front runners. However, this has proven little help in actually moving the team up the grid; such is the difference between the haves and the have-nots.
Two great new arrivals at Marussia for 2013 are 1) Pat Symonds as technical director, following his period in enforced exile from the F1 paddock, and 2) Jules Bianchi, as promising a rookie as Bottas. Bianchi's learning curve would have been far more shallow had he been partnering Glock, but Max Chilton finished fourth in GP2 last year and so has more than just a large amount of money in his favor.