Monday, April 15, 2013

Grand Prix of China

It was another awesome race! Let's get caught up.

Team Orders

As always I watched Friday practice and pretty much all the commentators could talk about on NBC was Red Bull and team orders. Frankly, I'm kinda over it and was hoping that after three weeks the talk would die down. But there's, "This means Christian Horner has lost control of the team," "The gloves are off between Webber and Vettel now!" "Will Webber leave the team? But WHERE would he go?"

Then there were the two infamous Vettel clips. The first one where he feigns ignorance, he was confused what the team was asking. He didn't understand "Multi 21." He was sorry, he won't do it again. But  then he backpedaled, still claiming he didn't understand. But if he had, he would have thought about, and done it anyway. Because "Mark doesn't deserve that." Damn son, the gloves ARE off. There can't be any amicability between the two of them anymore.

All I want to say about this before moving on is that, 1. I'm glad Vettel owned up and said he would do it again, even if he didn't go so far as to say he already had thought about Multi 21 in Malaysia and made up his mind. 2. This can't really be good for the team. Teammate rivalry is great, but it can go too far. If one feels unfairly treated, that is not good. Even worse, if one expects certain treatment from the team but doesn't get it, that can be even more destructive. See Alonso and Hamilton at McLaren in 2007. I believe their inability to get along is what opened the door for Kimi's championship.


Alright, let's talk about the race. I think it was another fascinating one. Folks are complaining that since the tires go off so quickly and dramatically, there's no more balls-out racing and therefore it's damaging the sport. I don't get this. Why is it essential for them to be going the absolute maximum speed at all times? If you're annoyed with F1 about that, I would imagine you would have stopped watching along time ago when turbos, active suspension, active aero, ground effects, suction fans, or CVTs were banned. I like that Pirelli's tires are mixing things up. We're getting way more passing than ever before, and I don't think it's due to DRS. And I reject the claim that passing is too commonplace now. It's still exciting to see and difficult to pull off. How about Ferrari's double-pass on Hamilton at the beginning of the race? Or Raikkonen's outside move on Perez?

One thing that the tire regs are starting to ruin is qualifying. I mean, wow there was a lot of dead space during qualifying this weekend. Nobody was on track for the first 10 minutes of Q1, and then there was just a quick scramble at the end of Q3 where everyone did one flying lap. It is disappointing to see cars sitting in the garage because they simply don't have enough tires. Six tires isn't enough, especially when one compound lasts FIVE laps. Use them at all in practice and you have tires that will last two or three laps in the race. Useless. Give the teams quali tires.

McLaren & Mercedes (not to be confused with McLaren-Mercedes)

The fascinating story of the year for me is that of McLaren and Mercedes, connected by Lewis Hamilton. I mentioned last time that he looks like a genius now for his move to Mercedes. That seems even more brilliant after another podium finish. But the part about this story I find really interesting is what it all says about these two teams. It was very much on display in China. I'm starting to think that part of Hamilton's move is that he has lost confidence in the team. They had arguably the fastest car last year, but blew their chances because of poor strategy, and even worse, plain old mistakes. Especially in the pits. This is not the McLaren team we all know. Frankly, that team was Ron Dennis' team. Now that he's not part of the team anymore, it's losing what made it great. There's always been talk about how meticulous and fastidious he is. In one promo clip, Button and Hamilton joked about getting a single drop of oil on the pristine McLaren Technology Centre floor, and how Ron would kill them. Well if he is like that, he wouldn't tolerate botched pit stops. He also wouldn't tolerate the lack of discpline and professionalism the pit crew seems to have now. McLaren seem to be content with 3+ second pit stops as the norm, while RBR, Merc, and Ferrari are knocking on the sub 2 second door, and regularly pulling off sub 2.5 second stops.

I think Hamilton saw this from the inside and jumped ship to a team that is being professionally run, by Ross Brawn. I think of Ross Brawn like any other good team leader or coach. He knows that the key to a successful team in any sport is fundamentals. Phil Jackson wouldn't accept Shaquille O'Neal's horrendous free throw average and made him practice it. It was smart, you could no longer foul him and expect him to miss. Brawn won't let his team slack on the fundamentals either. Get those down first, then let's go win races and championships.

That's not to say McLaren isn't entirely McLaren anymore. They're still a savvy team with lots of experience, and they demonstrated that with Button's smart run to fifth. Credit to Button too for making the strategy work.

Red Bull

I'll be blunt, this was a horrendous weekend for them. Not just because of Webber's woes. Let's put that aside for a second (and no, I'm no conspiracy theorist. It's crazy to think Red Bull would sabotage Webber's car for Vettel when all that really matters is winning the constructor's championship). I can't understand why they didn't have Vettel qualify in Q3, opting not to set a time and therefore start on whichever tires they wanted. I knew right away it was a mistake, and I think that played out in the race. It's also highly uncharacteristic of Red Bull and Vettel. The same guy who just last race did whatever it takes to win. Usually, it takes qualifying on pole. Or at least as high up as possible. Races won by back markers due to smart strategy are the exception, not the rule. It's a huge risk, you may get stuck behind someone who ruins your race. Alonso and Ferrari took the traditional strategy, and it paid off. Raikkonen too, although he did pull off that smart strategy win in Australia. But you'll notice they aren't relying on that exclusively.

So if that was the wrong strategy for the win, maybe they could salvage the podium. But again, they screwed it up. We can see that in Button's race. Vettel and Button were on the same strategy and stuck together most of the race, trying to save the option tires for the end. But Button came in on just the right lap to get the most out of the option tires. It worked for him, he pitted and managed to gain one more spot to finish fifth. Had Vettel come in when Button did, he would have had one more lap to catch and pass Hamilton, and judging by his pace (even though his tires were already going off, Hamilton's were LONG gone), he would have handily passed Hamilton for the podium. I was scratching my head when they left him out. Those medium tires were shot, why keep on them? I know you're dreading coming in, but you MUST. Come in now and get on those tires. They're fast, and you'll need some laps to catch and pass Hamilton. It was as if they were thinking maybe something good would happen if they stayed out. Safety Car maybe, or rain. But rain was nowhere near, and SCs rarely come out at the end of the race when everyone's spread out, and not at a open track like China. Nope, it was just the wrong qualifying strategy and wrong race strategy. After the race Will Buxton interviewed Christian Horner, and I wrote this quote down, "The damage for us was really done in the first stint." Well, yes, you got stuck. Which is exactly why you don't skip out on qualifying! They screwed themselves from the start.

Back to Webber briefly. Poor guy, he can't catch a break from his team or Lady Luck. It was quite amusing though to see his wheel pop off and continue on without him (thankfully no one hit it). Next race, they should send Mark out on just that wheel, he may do better.

The Iceman

He's now second in the championship with another podium under his belt. His season is looking like Alonso's last year. We think the car isn't all that fast looking at Grosjean, but if not, how is Raikkonen doing so well? Fascinating stuff, I can't wait for more from Lotus and The Iceman.


Damn, where did that pace come from? He's making Massa look bad again. I also think a performance like that disputes Schumacher's claim about modern F1: That you can't win with speed, you have to win with strategy. First, that's always been true that you need a good strategy. You can't just go out there with no plan. Your plan can't be "go fast," there has to be more to it. Like, "Go fast so that we can pull off a win with this three stopper" (Schumi, Hungary, 1998). Second, it's not true now that you can't win with speed. Alonso just owned everybody this weekend when it came down to fast, consistent pace. He is a marvel to watch.

Season So Far

Well that's all I have to say for China. The season so far is really exciting. I love seeing both the driver's and constructor's championships so close. I love seeing new teams (Merc and Lotus) occupying the podium. I love that The Iceman is back and taking care of business in his usual, "Yeah, it was OK for me," way. And oh yeah, we got another amusing radio transmission from him in China. It's becoming tradition.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

F1 2013 - Australia and Malaysia

It's been a busy couple of weekends for me and for F1. The season has started and we're already two races in. Let's get caught up.


Australia is a great track and a great season opener. I couldn't wait to see the cars back on track again and especially for qualifying, where we would finally find out who had speed. At least for one lap. The race would provide a clearer picture.

Except it didn't. Like last year, the teams started out nearly in the dark with respects to understanding Pirelli's tires. Pirelli has given the team all new compounds for this season, and they promised the tires would degrade faster with a bigger "cliff" when the tires gave up their grip and lost all performance. These new tires are like pencil erasers. Button came in on lap five to swap the super-softs for the mediums and, like everyone else, didn't look back after switching compounds. So it's hard to say after one race (even two) who has real speed, as the teams struggled to figure out the tires. Some did better than others.

As I've noted before I am a big Räikkönen fan, so this was a great season opener for me. Kimi and Lotus' performance on the new tires was outstanding, making them last while still going fast better than any other team by far. The two-stop strategy won him the race, but he showed surprising speed throughout all the same. The Lotus is looking quick this year, and they probably moved their car up the pecking order.

Thanks, in no small part, to McLaren slipping a few rungs down the ladder. Hamilton looks like a genius now, doesn't he? I figured this was going to be a rough season for McLaren but the opening round results were really poor, while Hamilton qualified 3rd and finishes 5th in the Mercedes. If they can develop at the same pace as Red Bull and Ferrari, and there's good reason to think they can, they may actually compete for several wins, possibly even the championship. But it's still really early in the season, I'm making no predictions!

Other notable stories include Sutil also running a two-stopper and nearly pulling it off for 5th place outright. The super-softs gave up on him in the closing laps though, and he couldn't hold off Webber and Hamilton, dropping to 7th in the end, just ahead of his Force India teammate. Had the cards fallen just right for him with a bit of rain at the end of the race, he could have possibly won the race. A win is looking more likely for that team this year.

Finally, I swear Ferrari have a "move" they've practiced and successfully pulled off in Australia. I think they have a plan for when the running order is Ferrari - Competitor - Ferrari, where the trailing Ferrari goes around the outside, the leader holds the inside, staying in front of the sandwiched competitor. This squeezes the competitor giving them no place to go, allowing the trailing Ferrari to slip past the competitor. They did this to Hamilton on the opening lap. I don't know, maybe it's nothing or maybe this is an old trick. But it's the first time I saw something like it, and if they did indeed anticipate and practice such a maneuver, then that is awesome. That's the kind of crazy detail that makes F1 so fascinating.


Malaysia is a really terrific track. One of Hermann Tilke's earliest designs, it has great corners and two long back-to-back straights. And it always rains. Malaysia is a fun race to watch and one of my favorites.

It's still hard to get a really clear picture of the pace of the cars since Australia and Malaysia are very different tracks, and the rain throughout the weekend in Malaysia also muddied the waters. What is still clear is that Red Bull is again quick this year. Ferrari has real pace already (and Massa is back from the dead). McLaren really is in bad shape, and Mercedes really is fast. Lotus' pace is a little more questionable this time around.

Again I feel like a big story is the tires. They were near useless on the Sepang International Circuit, lasting barely ten laps. For either tire! For most teams, the medium compound lasted longer than the hard, while still providing more grip and was therefore the preferred tire for the weekend. Thanks to one extra pit stop for teams to get off the intermediate wets that the wet track dictated they start on, most teams completed four pit stops. This is crazy. I liked how Pirelli's difficult to understand tires mixed up the racing last year, but it's getting dangerously close to, well, dangerous in how fast they lose grip. It also risks becoming a bit of a joke.

Of course Alonso's broken front wing is the subject of much discussion and speculation. After damaging it on the opening lap it was hanging half off, throwing sparks in the air. But Alonso's pace wasn't suffering too much as a result, so he stayed out. After all, if he could stay out a couple laps they could save a whole pit stop by swapping the wing and the inters at once. The team were in the pit lane, ready to receive him, but he went right by pit entry. And, irony being extra efficient this day, he lost the wing on the following straight and ended his race. This is uncharacteristic of Alonso, who won his two championships at Renault in large part to finishing more races than his competitors. But everyone makes mistakes, Ferrari and Alonso sure did on Sunday. The big question is, who decided to keep Alonso out? If the team did indeed order him in and expected him, but he decided to stay out, that's fairly significant. The drivers are bound, often by contract, to obey all team orders. Disobeying would carry serious consequences.

Which brings me to the big topic of the weekend. Team orders. For the record, I don't particularly like team orders, I like to see everyone race. But I understand them. I understand them as McLaren and, it seems, Mercedes do. That is, both drivers are free to race, neither gets special treatment. But as the season wears on and one driver pulls ahead of the other, that driver earns the backing of team and teammate. Mercedes, with Ross Brawn, Hamilton, and Rosberg, exhibited this on Sunday. Both drivers ran their race, and Hamilton ended up ahead of Rosberg. In the closing laps Brawn instructed both drivers to hold position and just bring the cars home. To the teams, the constructors championship is paramount. It is this championship that determines prize winnings for the teams. The driver's championship is only for bragging rights. Red Bull, with Christian Horner, Vettel, and Webber however, did not. Well, two did. Vettel took advantage of this understanding to swap places with his teammate and win the race. Afterwards he was contrite and said he made a mistake. Bullshit, we know that's not true. He wanted to win. Winning is everything. Everything else is nothing. As Will Buxton points out in his blog (do check it out, he is one of my favorite F1 journalists), Senna is famous for this quote, “We are competing to win. And if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver.” Is this also Vettel's philosophy? If so, why apologize for it? I can't imagine Senna ever apologizing for winning. It's all perplexing, and frankly it leaves a foul taste in my mouth. I like Vettel, he's a real phenom and seems a nice guy. But maybe I've been neglecting my cynicism. Many F1 drivers are unsportsmanlike these days, and many of the champions of the past have been too. Rare are folks like Mika Hakkinen who race to win, but not to extremes. That's enough on this topic for me. Seriously, plug #2 for Buxton's blog, he has this topic spot on.

Prediction Update

Not that I had any bombshell predictions, but I think in these early days the true picture is close. The biggest miss is that of McLaren and their major drop off in performance which has left a gap that Mercedes and Lotus seem to have filled. Hamilton is really looking like a savvy player now.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hypercar Hype

With the 83rd Geneva Motor Show underway three cars have made a big splash. The Lamborghini Veneno, LaFerrari (I understand it is not the Ferrari LaFerrari, but simply LaFerrari), and McLaren P1. These three hypercars (as the supercar moniker is just inadequate for these incredible machines), are the latest offering from three of the world's premiere sports car manufacturers. And wow, they have pulled all the stops for these cars. All three are fully carbon-fiber construction, giving them all extremely low weight especially considering two (Lamborghini and Ferrari) have V-12 engines, and two (McLaren and Ferrari) have KERS hybrid systems. For a nice tabular layout of the similarities and differences between the three, check out this Yahoo Auto Blog post.

But aside from the differences in numbers, there are other less tangible differences. Each car's basic aim is the same, to be the flagship car for their respective companies. They are showcases for the latest in automotive engineering and design. They are meant to get people talking about the cars and the manufacturers, to get young boys and girls to dream about driving and maybe owning one someday (and plastering posters of them on their bedroom walls). In short, to generate hype. I'll break down my thoughts on each.

Lamborghini Veneno

I'll start with the Lamborghini because it is most different from the other two. The two most notable differences are its price, a cool $4 million, and its production run, a ludicrously limited run of three. Naturally all three are spoken for. It also has the most outrageous styling of the three, with jagged edges, enormous air intakes, and trademark scissor doors. It's the modern version of the Countach, purposely outrageous to get people to take notice. It certainly worked with the Countach. It was the first car to make me fall in love with cars, and there's still a soft spot in my heart for it. It doesn't make any attempt at greening itself with a hybrid system. It's a pure V-12 producing 700+ HP, and as is becoming standard on Lamborghinis, an all wheel drive system to help with launch. There's no manual gearbox, just an incredibly advanced 7-speed.

So what's the deal with a $4 million car (four times more expensive than the McLaren or Ferrari) with "only" 700 HP? Why would Lamborghini build this car when it's clearly outmatched by the McLaren or Ferrari? It's all about image, and not just for the person driving it. Lamborghini has made another Countach, a car designed to get people to take notice and dream about owning a Lamborghini. That's not to say it is a slouch. It will reach 100 km/h from 0 in 2.8 seconds and has the highest top-speed of the three (although it is the only one not electronically limited).

F1 fans will surely note the Pirelli P-Zero tires with red markings. They must be the super-softs.

LaFerrari F150

Again, I am to understand that Ferrari wants us to call it simply LaFerrari (and the full official name is LaFerrari F150). Of course they do, Ferrari LaFerrari sounds ridiculous. The car it replaces had an odd name too, the full version of which, Ferrari Enzo Ferrari, did not exactly roll off the tongue. On paper it looks to be the fastest of the bunch, weighing over 200 lbs less than either the Lamborghini or McLaren, thanks mainly to a smaller, lighter battery pack for the KERS system. This comes at some expense to efficiency, the Ferrari will likely be less efficient than the McLaren, and I believe it is unable to drive on pure electric only, even for short distances. It is also the most powerful, outstripping the McLaren again, this time by 46 hp. Figures. Ferrari hates losing to McLaren :)

It is a flagship car in every way. Aside from the KERS system, it has other cutting-edge tech including a moveable rear wing. I assume it can be used as an air brake similar to the McLaren MP4-12C. It has a dual-clutch electronically controlled 7-speed transmission. It isn't just for show either. Aside from a 0-100 km/h sprint of under 3 seconds, Ferrari claims it laps their private Fiorano test track in 1:20, 5 seconds faster than the Enzo.

Personally I think it's the best looking of the bunch. The Veneno is a little too sharp and bonkers looking, the McLaren a little too bubbly. It borrows design cues from the 458 Italia, another attractive car, and it appears that every piece of it is fully functional; generating downforce or lowering drag.

McLaren P1

Ah, McLaren. When the McLaren F1 came out in 1992 it grabbed hold of me like the Countach before it. It was the first all carbon-fiber car, it produced over 600 hp (absolutely unheard of for the time), weighed only 2500 lbs (despite a massive BMW V-12 and an engine bay lined with freaking gold to protect the body work from the heat), and coolest of all, positioned the driver in the center of the car, just like an F1 car. I wasn't following F1 at the time, but that's when I started to take notice, even if it took me longer to really get into it (didn't have any way to watch races until a decade later).

It's taken over 20 years for McLaren to build a successor. But when they did, they built a worthy successor, even if it has a more traditional side-by-side driver and passenger layout. The P1 is, like the other two, an incredible piece of work. It is a twin-turbo V8, the same as in the MP4-12C albeit highly tuned, coupled to an F1-style KERS system. The KERS system is heavier than Ferrari's, while producing the same power. With a larger battery pack, the P1 will likely get better efficiency, and can travel up to 20 km at low speeds on electric power only. Like the Ferrari, it will seriously outpace its predecessor. A 0 - 300 km/h sprint in under 17 seconds should beat the F1 by 5 seconds. Aside from the KERS F1 tech, the P1 will also feature a DRS-like system (no, you don't need to be within one second of the car in front to activate it). Um, that sounds like a bad idea. A car with 900+ hp, and you're going to allow amateurs to remove downforce? Mr. Bean is sure to kill himself this time.

Design-wise it is the most understated of the bunch. Understated being a very relative term. This is typical of stoic McLaren and all-business Ron Dennis. As I said above, I feel it's a little "bubbly," but I'm sure that every bit was developed in a wind-tunnel to produce downforce and/or lower drag.


What do I think of these new hypercars? Well, they're all a bit ridiculous. The horsepower wars are getting crazier all the time. Two of these cars are more powerful than F1 race cars. I understand that McLaren and Ferrari can't very well make cars that are slower than the ones they replace. The marketing folks would flip their shit. But where is it all headed?

I should mention that I think the drive towards efficiency in road cars is essential. But I am a pragmatist and fully realize that a handful of supercars with pathetic gas mileage is a drop in the bucket compared to millions driving cars to and from work every single day in vehicles whose gas mileage has hardly improved since the 70s. The number one selling vehicle in America has been the Ford F-150 (not to be confused with the LaFerrari F150 or the Formula 1 car, the Ferrari 150° Italia). But I am pleased that these cars (along with the Porsche 918, which yes, I left out of this hypercar discussion for the sake of brevity) are proving that efficiency and performance can coexist. I hope it trickles down to everyday sports cars.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

F1 2013 - Pre-season


This is my first post to this blog, so welcome! I started this to share my thoughts and musings on motorsport, particularly F1. I'm obsessed with the sport and will talk about it to anyone who'll listen. A friend said I should start a blog (maybe he just wanted me to stop chewing his ear off all the time), so I have.

I'll be writing mostly about F1, giving my thoughts on the latest developments and updates on race weekends as they happen (at least I'm going to try). I'll also be posting about other forms of racing and cars and motorcyles in general from time to time too.

F1 2013 - Pre-season thoughts

All the cars have been revealed, all the drivers confirmed, and pre-season testing is complete. We are fewer than 10 days until the start of the season. Yes, practice 1 counts as the start of the season. I'll be watching it, will you?

US Fans - NBC Sports

If you're a fan in the US you surely know by now that NBC outbid Speed for the rights to air F1 in America and will be airing it for the next four years at least. I've read that they will be airing all three practices, quali, and the race, and all will be live. That's great news. If they're airing all three practices, that's even better coverage than Speed had (although they did stream practices 1 and 3 online). And some were concerned at first they would delay airing so people could watch at a reasonable time. But of course, F1 fans are not reasonable, they are crazy! I think many are like me, they like to follow along with live timing and other sources.

Driver Changes

The most talked about driver change surely has to be Lewis Hamilton's move from McLaren to Mercedes. Rarely do drivers move from a top team to any team that is not challenging for wins and championships. Unless they're winding up their career. But Hamilton is young, arguably at the top of his game, and has many seasons left in him. So there's been a lot of discussion about why. Hamilton himself says its because he wants a challenge. He's been with McLaren in some form or another since he was 13, and therefore has rarely been in a car that wasn't consistently fighting for wins and podiums. He's moving to a team with, in their current incarnation, only one win and a handful of podiums. It's a situation similar to the one Michael Schumacher found himself in when he moved to Ferrari. It was not, at the time, a dominant team, and it wasn't winning championships. Many credit Schumacher (and Ross Brawn, Hamilton's new boss at Mercedes) with turning that around and producing an unprecedented five straight drivers and constructors championships. Hamilton says he wants to do the same: Bring a team on the brink of championship contention over the hump and into a championship team. He says 2013 won't be the year it happens, but 2014 might. I have to agree. I don't think Mercedes will be able to close the gap to McLaren, Ferrari, and Red Bull this year, but with the vast scope of regulation changes in 2014, including a brand new engine formula which as an engine manufacturer Mercedes is well positioned to capitalize on, it may be possible as early as then.

I think there's more to it than that. He has also admitted he was tired of the many sponsorship events required of him at McLaren, of which there will be fewer at Mercedes. Others have pointed to the fact that he is now the top paid driver, but I don't think that matters to him quite so much (although he certainly wouldn't negotiate his pay down). I think the other unspoken reason is that of celebrity. Hamilton may be looking to expand his "brand" beyond F1. He may be well known in the world of F1 and motorsport, but ask someone who doesn't follow F1 who he is, and they probably won't have heard of him. I think he wants to take the same route as David Beckham, who is now a worldwide celebrity well apart from his football career. As part of Hamilton's move to Mercedes he dropped his former personal manager, an F1 manager (ugh, I can't find his name, sorry!), for the XIX management company, more of a celebrity management team. And of course, it all ties together. If he does manage to win a championship (or more) with Mercedes it will go a long way towards adding to his fame.

As part of this move comes the also fairly surprising news that McLaren signed the young Mexican Sergio "Checo" Perez as Hamilton's replacement. Good for Perez. He impressed me at Sauber this year, and he's got great potential. It's a risky move on McLaren's part; he is still really green. Sure, Hamilton nearly won the driver's championship in his rookie year at McLaren, but I don't think Perez is quite on that level. One benefit for McLaren is that Hamilton and Jenson Button had markedly different driving styles adding an unnecessary level of complexity to developing and setting up the car that you just don't want to deal with at the level of F1. Perez and Button are both smooth drivers, so the car can be well-suited to them both. McLaren's been struggling to get consistent results from both drivers, I think this will make it much easier on them. What one learns in setup will benefit the other. It's also good news for Button, whom I think has been driving a "Hamilton-style" car at McLaren since he joined in 2010. He's already said the car is more to his liking this year.

I've rambled on too long (Hamilton's move has caused SO much discussion), so I'll end with one more mention: Kamui Kobayashi. I'm sad to see him gone from Sauber and F1. He was talented, albeit erratic, and really fun to watch. His run to the podium in his home race in Japan was one of my favorite moments of the season.


Ok, the fun part! How do I think the teams and drivers will fair this year? Well not much is going to change from 2012. There aren't any major regulation changes, and aside from Hamilton no major driver changes. The lineups at Ferrari and Red Bull remain unchanged. The team designers and managers are also relatively stable. I think we can expect Red Bull, Ferrari, and McLaren to come away with the lion's share of wins and podiums. It is also looking like the start may be as unpredictable as it was in 2012, with many different winners, possibly again from unexpected drivers and teams such as Maldonado at Williams and Rosberg at Mercedes.

My money, the safe money really, is on Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull to take WDC and WCC both for the fourth time. Everyone's going to improve their car over the season, and you can expect Adrian Newey with the resources at RBR to do an incredible job as usual. Given the speed of their car at the end of last season, other teams will need to make up that gap and then improve even more over the off season. That is a lot to ask, and nearly impossible to do when there are few to no regulation changes. Vettel will have the most wins this season. At least four or five. Mark Webber will have two or three.

Giving Red Bull the hardest time will likely be Ferrari. Ferrari hates losing, and you can bet they've been working full stop to improve their car. Given it was getting better by the end of 2012, and it's looking better in pre-season than it did at this time last year, I think they'll do even better throughout the season. And of course with a talent like Fernando Alonso, they are a formidable opponent. He will win three or four races. With the expected improvement in the car, I think Felipe Massa can manage at least one. He'll certainly need to, if he wants to stay at Ferrari.

McLaren are going through the most changes of the top three, having lost Hamilton. I love Button, and I think he's underrated (mainly because he is not very highly rated by most), but he's not as good as the three drivers commonly regarded as the best in the field (Vettel, Alonso, and Hamilton). Perez is young and not consistent enough yet to be a championship threat. Button will win a couple races, Perez maybe zero or one. It's going to be a tough year for McLaren fans like myself.

Mercedes are looking good in pre-season testing, even though Hamilton is trying hard to temper expectations for this season. With his skill, I suspect he'll manage a couple wins too. Will Nico Rosberg tally another win this year? I have to say, no, I don't think so.

I admit this is where my personal bias will shine through the most, because I really hope Lotus, and my favorite driver Kimi Raikkonen, do even better than last year. I think he'll win one race, possibly two.

If I'm adding up correctly, this doesn't leave much room for other winners. But if there is to be one, my pick for unexpected winner from an unexpected team this year is Nico Hulkenberg at Sauber.

I hope I haven't rambled on too long and you found this post interesting. See you next time race fans!