F1 2013 Mid-Season Review Red Bull
Red Bull have had a stellar start to season 2013, with Sebastian Vettel in a dominant championship position.
TV: Sky F1 (UK), NBC (USA)
Constructors' Championship: 1st (277 points)
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Drivers' Championship: Sebastian Vettel 1st (172 points) and Mark Webber 5th (105 points)
Best Qualifying: P1 x 3
Best Race Finish: 1st x 4
Podiums: 10 (Vettel x 7 and Webber x 3)
If you would have told Christian Horner that after 10 rounds of the 2013 F1 Championship he could have Red Bull in first position with a healthy lead of 69 points, he would have taken it in a flash.
No one truly expected Red Bull's 2013 incarnation, the RB9, to have been so consistently good at every track. It's qualifying has been second to only Mercedes, and its race pace second to only Lotus. It has been by far and away the best all round package this season.
If you would have asked Sebastian Vettel whether he would take an equally healthy 38 point lead over second place Kimi Raikkonen, and perhaps more importantly a 39 point lead over main rival Fernando Alonso, he too would have taken it in a heartbeat.
It’s been a season of true performance from Red Bull who have had to deal with their fair share of setbacks, none larger than what happened in Malaysia.
2013 got off to quite the start with a front row lockout in a rain soaked Melbourne, with Vettel producing when it mattered most, the last lap of Q3 on a Sunday morning. Although the race didn't go quite as planned with Red Bull suffering exaggerated degradation, it was nevertheless a solid start from which to build.
Six days later in another wet episode in Sepang Vettel again produced the goods with a lap just under a second clear of the rest of the field, truly owning the session. What happened the next day will be looked back on as the moment Mark Webber's F1 career died.
Having come out in front of Vettel after the final round of pit stops, Webber had been told that both drivers where to maintain position, conserved tyres and fuel, and bring both cars home safely.
Vettel, of course, had other ideas and proceeded to directly disobey the team orders and battled Webber for the lead, where he was successful. It was a win for Vettel, but a massive loss as well. His lovable boy-like image has been shattered, with persistent boos often heard over a GP weekend. He will forever be associated with the phrase 'multi-21' and only he knows what arrogant thoughts were going through his head when he decided to effectively give the one finger salute to authority at Red Bull.
The drama surrounding the incident didn't quite stop there. Rather than to publicly condemn Vettel for his obvious wrongdoing, Christian Horner tried to defend his number one man by claiming Webber had been the offender in times previous.
This much is true, but never has Webber so publicly embarrassed Horner as Vettel did in Malaysia. It became obvious from that point on that Webber's career at Red Bull was over. As much was confirmed when he announced his decision to leave F1 altogether for Porsche.
His performances have been below par this season and so he poses no direct threat to Vettel in terms of the championship. Fortunately for Red Bull there's been very little opportunity for the two to battle on track, but it's more than apparent that when that time comes, Red Bull will have little to no control of either driver.
For Vettel's sake, he must concentrate fully on the championship which now seems his to lose. His performances in both qualifying and races have been nothing short of exceptional. Perhaps karma has already struck with Vettel having a gearbox failure at Silverstone which cost him a certain victory.
At Hungary too, pure bad luck meant his race was ruined by constantly re-emerging from the pits behind much slower cars, perhaps costing him victory again.
Red Bull can't rest on their laurels, championships are easily lost with such an attitude no matter how great the car or driver. We only need look to last year where at exactly the same point as now, Vettel was 42 points behind Fernando Alonso.
Unlike last year however, Red Bull don't have the horrendous car that Ferrari had, and it's unlikely that any other team can go on a magnificent run of races like Red Bull did. The likelihood is that they quite comfortably remain in strong contention for race wins, and subsequently Vettel keeps the upper hand in the championship.
It would take something quite spectacular for the RB9 to lose its almost innate speed, something that Vettel is able to extract not matter the conditions and no matter the track. Strong performances in the heat of Bahrain and Hungary, to the cool temperatures of China with equally different track characteristics in terms of being either rear or front limited mean that Red Bull have nothing to worry about.
Only a catastrophic error in development can lead the team astray. Just as long as the new parts come at a steady rate to maintain the car’s edge, all should be fine.
Vettel’s been in fine form and unlike the first half of last year, has come out swinging for his championship defence. Now instead of trying to turn things around, he needs to keep up the good work, for we see how a struggling Webber makes the RB9 look relatively mediocre.
Although extremely unlikely, a return to the technical faults experienced at various points over the last two seasons such as the alternator and gearbox could cost the team valuable points. Moreover, getting involved in rash incidents, as Vettel did with Grosjean in Hungary, could also lead to unnecessary contact and potential retirements.
It’s a fine line for Vettel to walk now, not to be too aggressive to risk a mistake, but not too complacent to get caught out. It’s very difficult at the moment at least to see anything other than a fourth championship for Red Bull and Vettel. The lead is too substantial, and the threat from Alonso and Ferrari far to abated.
Yes Raikkonen and Hamilton have the potential to push Vettel as well, but there are serious questions over whether their car’s performances are sustainable. Surely this comparatively smaller teams will have to fall off at some point, especially Mercedes who have systematically targeted 2014 as their year.
Herein lies Red Bull’s advantage of extreme financial power to fuel Vettel to the very last race in Brazil. They have the resources to continually bring parts and develop the current car, making nigh on impossible to see dramatic drop in the RB9’s performance.
Mark Webber is a more interesting case study as to how Red Bull manage him for the rest of the season. Since his announcement of his intentions to leave F1 at season’s end, Webber has conveniently for Red Bull suffered some sort of incident in all the races, keeping him out of Vettel’s way.
First it was the first lap contact in Silverstone, to the infamously unscrewed tyre at the Nurburgring to a KERS failure most recently at Hungary. Unfortunately for Red Bull, at some point Webber will race Vettel on track and Vettel needs to be the one who handles the situation for he has the most to lose.
Webber’s simply a driver in the twilight of his career, with a self-awarded license to do anything without fear of consequence. His reputation can hardly be damaged either, considering he was on the end of one of most sinister moves by a teammate in F1 history. It would simply be seen as returning the favour.
The fact of the matter is that the two simply don’t get on, the main reason why their continued partnership was untenable beyond this season. Everyone knows this, and Vettel’s title rivals are hopeful of yet another incident between the pair.
Webber would also be hopeful of such an incident, and for him to be successful in whatever the battle may be. The onus is one Christian Horner and Vettel to ensure that such a situation doesn’t arise, a difficult task, and should something happen, to manage it in such a way that Vettel’s championship position isn’t at risk.
Who knows what Webber will do with the last nine races of his career? What must be most on his mind, frustratingly, is too get the team to deliver him a car that doesn’t break down. These ‘stupid’ mistakes, as he put them, have undoubtedly cost the Australian two podiums at the bare minimum.
On his day, we know that Webber can well and truly take the fight to Vettel and sometimes beat him too. The plight of Mark Webber’s Red Bull career, and the reason he’s never seriously contented for the championship, bar the latter stages of 2010, is that he is so consistently inconsistent, whether through his fault or someone else’s.
It’s unlikely, too, that we’ll see Webber on the top step of the podium again. On current form, Vettel is just far more likely to extract from the Red Bull twice as much as what Webber could. He’s had to rely far too much on alternative strategies such as at Silverstone and in Hungary, of slicing through the field, something which provided for highly entertaining races, but ultimately doesn’t win one.
Overall, however, Red Bull should quite easily win the Constructors’ Championship a lead of over just under 70 points with only nine races left and a still competitive car is an extremely tough ask for Mercedes to chase down.
It’ll be there fourth title in a row and should cap off a terrific era of dominance for the Milton Keynes based outfit. But of course, with nine races to go who knows what’s really going to happen.
However unlikely it is for anyone to chase down Vettel and Red Bull, stranger things have happened.
Logically, though, there is only one outcome and it’s the same one we’ve seen for the last three years.