The 2013 Formula One season is tantalisingly close now, with the opening race on Sunday 17th March in Melbourne.
So to ease you into the season – after all, it’s been a few months since the last one – here’s our Handy Snapshot Guide to F1 2013.
Who’s driving for who?
You probably spotted that Lewis Hamilton has abandoned McLaren, the team that created and nurtured him, for the rather less successful Mercedes team. That’ll be one to watch, as the guy’s not an idiot - what’s he got up his sleeve? A bedding-in season, to be followed by an all-out Mercedes assault when the new engine regs come in for 2014? Or a hellstorm of Silver Arrow thrust to prove he made a good move?
We’ll see. He’s taken Michael Schumacher’s seat, driving alongside Nico Rosberg, who has championship genes from his dad Keke.
Red Bull continue with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber – both phenomenally capable drivers, who’ll undoubtedly find themselves harried throughout the season again by the McLarens, this year driven by Jenson Button and the sensational Sergio Pérez.
Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa remain at Ferrari – expect the former to be rapid and urgent, the latter to be generally quite disappointing with moments of brilliance.
Lotus have Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean; Kimi is a force of nature and will provide fireworks all year – keep an eye on him, he’s a lunatic (in the best possible sense). Grosjean? Well, he crashed out in the first lap of quite a few races last year, generally taking other drivers with him. Let’s hope he’s been practising a bit over the winter.
The Ferrari-engined Saubers will be driven by Nico Hülkenberg and newbie Esteban Gutiérrez - the latter became the youngest Mexican driver to win an International Championship at 17 years old back in 2008. Can he cut it in F1? Time will tell.
The Force Indias are back in force (ha!) with Paul di Resta and crashy-crashy Adrian Sutil – they’re pretty quick when they can keep it on the tarmac. They’re not going to win, obviously, but they’re not the back-of-grid stalwarts some may assume.
Sitting behind them will be the remaining eight: Pastor Maldonado (who we still haven’t forgiven for sideswiping Lewis at Spa in 2011) and rookie Finn Valtteri Bottas in the Williams-Renaults; Jean-Éric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo clawing for points in the Toro Rossos; Charles Pic and Dutch GP2 star Giedo van der Garde trying to get noticed in the Caterhams; Jules Bianchi and new Brit driver Max Chilton staying out of trouble in the Marussias.
I might not have time to watch all the races. Which are the best ones?
Really? Watch them all. It’s like a soap opera, if you miss one, the next one won’t make as much sense. But OK, if it’s season highlights you’re after, here are the top eight races you *must* watch:
It’s the season opener, everyone’s got something to prove.
Monaco. Nelson Piquet described racing at Monaco as ‘like riding a bicycle around your living room’. Chaos and carnage are always guaranteed on a tight street circuit with very few passing places.
The final corner is known as ‘the Wall of Champions’ – everyone who’s anyone in F1 has hit that wall. Much like at a drifting event, the fun here is to see how close the drivers can get to the wall without smashing into it.
The home of British motorsport. Or one of them, at least. Swell with pride and cheer the Brits home.
Simply because Eau Rouge is the most sublime corner combo in the world. When Webber overtook Alonso through Eau Rouge in 2011, every single viewer soiled themself a little bit. Terrifying, heroic stuff.
The drag race from the start line ends abruptly in a tight chicane – you can’t help but breathe in and clench.
The Abu Dhabi GP is just a beautiful thing to behold – a gorgeously illuminated night race through a marina, it’s like playing Wipeout on your old PlayStation.
Or Autódromo José Carlos Pace, as it’s now called. It usually rains at Interlagos, and the last race of the season is always crammed with drama. F1 aficionados will tell you that last year’s Brazilian GP was one of the greatest Formula One races of all time. This year’s will be a corker too, guaranteed.
But seriously, you should watch all of the races. And you should also be sure to follow all of the drivers, pundits and team bosses on Twitter to keep up with the intra-race machinations.
Fair point, I’ll watch the lot. But do I need to watch all three days of every race weekend?
Ideally, yes. But life does get in the way.
At the very least, we’d suggest watching the three qualifying sessions on the Saturday as well as at least an hour of the build-up before the race on the Sunday. Just watching the race itself in isolation is OK, but will be so much better when contextualised with all that other stuff.
Can I watch them all for free on TV?
Sadly not, no. Ten of the races will be on the BBC, and they’ll show highlights of the rest.
Your other options are to pay for Sky Sports F1 (which shows everything), find a friendly local pub that’s showing the races, or befriend a billionaire who’ll take you to every race in his gold-plated helicopter. (If you go for the last option, can you take us along too? Thanks.)
Any rule changes this year?
Surprisingly few, actually, so it’s going to be a darned close-run season.
The big changes are pencilled in for 2014, when everyone will move to turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engines and 8-speed gearboxes. This year, then, will be the last we’ll see of the howling 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated V8s.
There will be two DRS zones at all circuits in 2013 (where feasible), and during qualifying drivers have to only use the zones, rather than deploying DRS everywhere possible like before.
The stepped ‘platypus noses’ are being phased out, because they’re ugly and weird. Front wings will be more rigorously tested to stop teams exploiting flexible bodywork loopholes to chase extra downforce.
Beyond that, it’s all business as usual.
Alright, so who’s going to win?
Ha! Big question. Easy answer would be Vettel, but that’s by no means a given. It’d be lovely to see Button take the title – he’s got the skills and the car, and goodness knows he deserves it – and the same can be said of Webber.
Alonso will probably take a load of podiums but won’t be a championship contender, as Ferrari will be focusing on their new 2014 engine development to destroy Red Bull next year. (Indeed, a number of teams will be using this year as a bit of a technology run-out.)
A brave soul might bet on Räikkönen – it would be physically possible for him to do it, but somehow it doesn’t seem wholly likely. Hamilton’s performance will be thoroughly interesting to watch, particularly if he excels where Schumacher didn’t… basically, you’ll just have to watch the whole season and find out, won’t you?
Please note that at attempting any feats of sporting derring do on your local ring road is not advisable - it can result in speeding points, injury and worse. You may also have trouble explaining it to your car insurance company should the worst happen...so leave it to the pros, alright?