So the 2013 Formula One season is now over. Sebastian Vettel equalled the ancient record of nine consecutive grand prix wins set by Alberto Ascari in his Ferrari across the 1952 and 1953 seasons.
The seasons themselves only contained six races back then and the fact it took 60 years for it to be repeated emphasizes just how big of an achievement it is.
Formula One has changed so much in between the ages of Ascari and Vettel. From races where half the grid would fail to reach the chequered flag due to mechanical gremlins and the racetracks were lined with unprotected trees and walls, to almost impeccable reliability and cars and tracks which have to pass strict safety tests before they see any action; yet one thing is constant – the fastest driver and car combination always wins.
The fastest combination by far this season has been Vettel and his Red Bull RB9. Using his superb feel for the delicate Pirelli tyres and the aerodynamic characteristics of 2013 Formula One cars, he has managed to harness phenomenal speed from Adrian Newey’s genius design.
The RB9 was the pick of the field in 2013, especially in the second half of the season post-Hungary. Newey and the Renault engineers managed to smooth the flow of the exhaust gases so that the diffuser was ‘sealed’ more often and more effectively.
This sealing means the disruptive wake caused by the rear wheels does not invade the air flowing through the diffuser, thereby decreasing the air pressure within it. The lower the air pressure, the faster the air can flow through the diffuser and the greater the downforce level produced.
However, harnessing the full benefits of this technology required a certain driving style. As the effect was lost when the driver took his foot of the accelerator, the driver had to cope with oversteer on corner entry. As the car got loose through the middle of the corner, the driver would have to have the confidence and balanced feel of the throttle, to re apply just the right amount of throttle to get the read end working fully again.
If the driver could react to this oversteer and had superb feel, then this combination of an early, sharp turn in and early acceleration led to amazing speed. As the season’s results show, Sebastian Vettel was much more adept at driving in this style than his team mate, Mark Webber.
Yet these characteristics are all gone now. Next year’s cars have a set place for their single exhausts, angled up towards the rear wing. It’s accepted that it will be impossible to redirect the flow towards the diffuser this time.
This all means Vettel’s advantage from the past three years will be wiped out. How he copes with this and how he adapts to the new cars will be his chance to get the last of those pesky critics of his back.
Next week, we’ll take a look at Mark Webber’s illustrious, 215 race long, career.