|And they're off! The cars approach the first corner of the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP.|
Photo: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters
|An emotional Sebastian Vettel savours his race and title victory|
after the race. Photo: Reuters
The first of these concerns Vettel. In 2011 Red Bull continued to exploit the aerodynamic gains brought on by the exhaust-blown diffuser; in other words, the great Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey and his technical team delivered another gem. However, the driving style required to master it was quite counter-intuitive (this also has been the case in 2013, despite subsequent rule changes banning exhaust-blown diffusers), and this was on top of a set of new rules – including rapidly degrading Pirelli tyres and DRS – that changed the dynamics of race management. Vettel mastered these diverse challenges commandingly in 2011 and ended up winning the championship quite easily despite some races being very close. Now, Newey credits Vettel as a quick learner and I don’t doubt his analysis; however, as I’ve written before, I don’t think he would have mastered such a diverse range of challenges so consummately had he not been had the surge in confidence, maturity and motivation brought on by winning that 2010 title. In this context, it’s also worth noting that – perhaps emboldened by his position of new world champion – he was the only driver on the grid to visit Pirelli over the 2010/11 winter to discuss the new tyres with their engineers.
This, in turn had spillover effects into 2012. Vettel may well have won the 2011 title anyway. However, he entered 2012 as a double world champion operating at a very high level, rather than a single world champion who’d perhaps won in 2011 with less conviction and subsequently after a much closer title battle. Although he would have been motivated for 2012 regardless, Red Bull’s exhaust-blown diffuser advantage had been nullified by a rule change. Hence, 2012 was much more of a challenge and Vettel (and Red Bull?), in my view, needed all the maturity and resolve he had gained from winning both titles (2010 and 2011) to successfully overcome the challenges of 2012 (something he ultimately did). These included: overcoming poor qualifying and the brief resurgence of Webber early in the season to keep racking up points finishes; a recurrence of reliability issues; needing to nail the wins when the car got good (in the early autumn Asian races); and riding through late-season challenges (not least in Abu Dhabi and Brazil).
As Vettel and Red Bull have grown stronger, the seesaw of F1 fortunes has seen others start to show more chinks in their armour; even within the team, Mark Webber started 2011 on the back foot and, over the three subsequent seasons, has failed to adapt to the Pirelli tyres and Red Bull driving style demands as strongly as Vettel. Meanwhile, in contrast to the 2010 season, while Red Bull & Vettel’s mistakes became a thing of the past, errors started creeping into McLaren’s game. In 2012 this was exacerbated; with Red Bull struggling, McLaren had arguably the fastest car over the season (though they did struggle mid-season) but failed to capitalise. Operational errors plagued their early-season, while reliability issues hamstrung them at a crucial time during the end of the season and Button suffered set-up issues mid-season. A frustrated Hamilton – who was consequentlydenied more than one win in 2012 – sought a fresh challenge and eventuallysigned for Mercedes for 2013. McLaren tried to fight back by embarking on a bold overhaul for their 2013 car, only to find that this was too complex and the car was uncompetitive throughout the season.
Over at Ferrari Alonso has continued to race very strongly. In 2012 he drove fantastically all season in a difficult car (particularly early in the season and in qualifying) but heartbreakingly again missed out to Vettel in a title finale. More generally at Ferrari, the post-2010 period has been marked by technical changes. Most of these have concerned infrastructure after their wind tunnel and simulation tools were found to be deficient. However, it has also encompassed the engineering staff: Chris Dyer was demoted for his role in the Abu Dhabi 2010 strategy error, while technical director Aldo Costa was sacked after the 2011 car was seen as too conservative. Ironically, a more conservative car may not have started 2012 so poorly, although there is obviously no way of proving this. Pat Fry came in from McLaren in 2011 and in 2013 was given a new role when James Allison joined from Lotus (formerly Renault) as technical director. Ideally, these guys would have time to gel but the lack of recent success has put extra pressure on them to deliver in 2014; during 2013, Alonso has rattled the cages and started to publicly criticise the team. Having to witness a Vettel-Red Bull title monopoly since 2010 has been a painful experience for this highly driven Spaniard.
|A sombre Fernando Alonso in Brazil after narrowly missing out|
on the 2012 title despite a brilliant season. Photo: Silvia Izquierdo/AP