Tag Archives: Sebastian Vettel

Pit Stop – Webber bows out- By Lewis Brearley

Mark Webber’s gesture of taking off his helmet after the Brazilian grand prix was a perfect summary of his reputation in his sport.

He stated the intention of the gesture was to show to human side to his sport. And of all the Formula One drivers of recent times, Webber has always seemed one of the most human; honest, direct and charming. Always putting the individual over the corporate, while also remaining popular and likeable.

Ever since his debut at his home grand prix in 2002, Webber has stuck to these values and the respect for his talent from his peers has only increased as his career has progressed.

His career began with a three race contract for perennial strugglers Minardi. With minimal backing and without a sparkling junior career, Webber’s prospects for a future in Formula One weren’t strong. So it’s arguable that his extraordinary fifth place finish in his debut race, helped by a heap of good fortune with at least eight faster cars retiring early, was the sole reason Webber lasted more than a season in the sport.

Yet, however fortuitous Webber got in that debut race, for the rest of his career he had to work for every single thing he achieved. From qualifying third at the 2003 Hungarian grand prix for the poor Jaguar team, getting his first win after a drive through penalty at the Nurburgring in 2009; to finishing third in the drivers’ championship three times – 2010, 2011 and 2013.

For his first seven seasons, Webber toiled in the midfield for Minardi, Jaguar, Williams and Red Bull. Occasionally, his unique blend of hard graft and raw talent allowed him to shine. Times such as the 2006 Monaco grand prix where a probable podium finish was snatched away by a mechanical failure. Or the 2007 Japanese grand prix at the sodden Fuji racetrack, when another likely podium slipped away when a young rookie in another midfield car smashed into him.

It was unknown to everyone at the time, but this rookie would end up becoming an integral part of the Webber story, for it was Sebastian Vettel.

From 2009-2013 Webber had five seasons in a car capable of regularly winning races. And for those five seasons he was partnered in the Red Bull team by Vettel.

In 2009 and 2010 Webber and Vettel were quite even over the course of the seasons with Vettel taking eight wins to Webber’s six. Vettel seemed faster but was prone to crashes and rookie mistakes.

The record from 2011 onwards is less kind to Webber, as Vettel began to dominate the whole sport by utilising the unique aerodynamics of the Red Bull much more effectively, with the win ratio for 2011-2013 ending up as 28 for Vettel and only three for Webber.

This makes the first conclusion of Webber’s career as a good but not great driver. Yet, if Vettel really is as good as some claim, then Webber must go down as one of the best “B-level” drivers along with Rubens Barrichello, Gerhard Berger and Riccardo Patrese. And that’s something that a poor kid from the middle of New South Wales should be very, very proud of.

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Pit Stop – Vettel makes it nine in a row – By Lewis Brearley

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.

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Pit Stop -Vettel takes fourth title – By Lewis Brearley

The Buddh circuit pit straight, a Red Bull RB9 and a four time world champion. A series of donuts followed by a bow from driver to car. An exuberant celebration after a flawless and sublime victory in which Sebastian Vettel made the legendary appear easy.

It was an iconic moment on a day when Vettel seemed to finally get the respect he, his team and his fans felt he deserved a long time ago.

Lewis Hamilton, who a few months ago claimed that Vettel was not even in the same class as himself and Fernando Alonso, admitted he might just have got it wrong.

Hamilton was talking after a poor race in which he had been outpaced by his team mate, Nico Rosberg. It’s the frequency of these subdued races that stops Hamilton from putting up any sort of championship challenge against Vettel who himself has worked to make sure every single race is a show of excellence.

Alonso also had a poor race by his own high standards. Outqualified by Felipe Massa, contact on the first lap and a race long struggle to overtake slower cars combined to damage his claim that Vettel is only beating him because he drives a faster car.

This isn’t criticism of Hamilton and Alonso as not even the greatest drivers are perfect. But Vettel is currently the closest of any of the current grid to that perfection. Sure, he does have the fastest car but his team mate – a highly rated race winner and championship challenger – lies fifth in the championship with zero wins in 2013.

Vettel took his sixth consecutive win – becoming only the third man to do so – and his tenth win this season with a perfect performance.

Starting from pole position he pulled out a comfortable gap before he pitted on only the second lap, the extremely short first stint necessitated by the fragility of the Pirelli softs.

This early stop put him right in the centre of the midfield and here was where many expected Mark Webber, on the alternative strategy of starting on the longer lasting hard compound, to gain time.
However, as with so many things this season, Vettel showed his class by pulling off a series of clean and precise overtakes, and also setting fastest laps in the meantime.

Vettel made sure he encountered his victims at the DRS zone and backed off during the fast corners, minimising time spent in a car’s dirty air and therefore minimising tyre wear and lost time.

Towards the final few laps, after Vettel had relentlessly gained a 20 second lead and Webber had retired, the team began to worry that they wouldn’t make the finish with their number one car either.

So paranoid were Red Bull that even Vettel’s KERS and drinks bottle were purposely disabled. Yet Vettel reached the chequered flag and became only the fourth, four time world champion.

A sub plot to all this was Kimi Raikkonen’s spat with his Lotus team. After stupidly getting in the way of team mate Romain Grosjean, Raikkonen was profanely told to move aside. Kimi responded with his own strong words and unsurprisingly is rumoured to have fallen out with the team over the affair to such an extent that on Thursday he hadn’t yet arrived at the Abu Dhabi circuit.
Whether he turns up or not, Vettel will be there. And he’ll probably be leading too.

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Pit Stop – Wrap up in India – By Lewis Brearley

No one else has lead even a single lap of the Indian Grand Prix except for Sebastian Vettel. This year, he heads into the third – and perhaps final – Indian Grand Prix, needing just a fifth place finish to secure his fourth successive world title. But, if you don’t enjoy watching sustained excellence and prefer to call such achievements boring predictability, there’s still plenty of unresolved issues to keep your attention.

Lotus have become the closest rivals to Red Bull’s pace since the introduction in Monza of the long wheelbase E21. This, along with Romain Grosjean’s recent profound upturn in form has led to them being in the big battle for second in the constructors’ championship with Ferrari and Mercedes.

If Kimi Raikkonen can finally get to grips with his tyre issues in qualifying, as he claimed he progressed with at Suzuka, then Lotus could score heavily this weekend. The financial benefits of claiming the second spot in the constructors’ championship would be a huge and timely boost for a team which is running on much smaller resources than its manufacturer backed rivals.

Second in the championship is currently held by Ferrari, but with no podium finishes in the past two races the 10 points they have over Mercedes, and 34 over Lotus is seriously under threat.

As was the case in the past two seasons, Ferrari have struggled with developments to their car as the season has progressed. Their wind tunnel still seems to be suffering from correlation problems and their technical department is in transition from Pat Fry to James Allison’s leadership.

Just with Ferrari, Mercedes have also fallen away from Red Bull’s pace in the second half of the season and are without a podium in four races.

With all the teams now mainly focused on their 2014 cars and bringing only very minor developments, there’s no reason to believe the competitive order will change much for the remainder of the season.

Whatever happens this weekend, whether Formula One will be returning to Delhi is not known. Next year’s event has ostensibly been cancelled due to calendar issues with a return promised for 2015. However, organisers are believed to need government backing if they are to be able to afford to host the event in the future – something the government isn’t very keen on.

Whether or not you like the Buddh circuit isn’t the main point here. If Formula One is to lose its roots in a market of over one billion people after only three races, then that is a profound blow to the sport’s future global audience.

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Pit Stop – Sebastian Vettel – by Lewis Brearley

After a supremely impressive victory at the Singapore Grand Prix, it was disheartening to hear Sebastian Vettel receiving a round of boos from some of the watching fans.

If this had been the first occasion of booing, it would be easy to dismiss the matter as a freak group of local fans making their feelings felt. Mark Webber fans flying from nearby Australia perhaps.

But this wasn’t the first time that Vettel has been jeered while standing on the podium. It started back at the Canadian Grand Prix after Vettel had taken his third win of the season and has continued through the European rounds.

The Monza crowd was especially vociferous in their dislike of Vettel and this is the biggest reason why this issue isn’t as simple as it may first seem.

The popular opinion on the booing is that the majority of fans simply don’t like to see the same winner, week after week. They like competition and they like a close championship and the same person winning repeatedly takes away both.

If this was why the fans at Monza felt this way about Vettel, then they expressed a deep hypocrisy. These are the same fans which cheered Michael Schumacher as he stormed to five consecutive championships, using the best car and a contractual assistant team mate to pick up extra points.

In fact Schumacher, the man who dominated the sport unlike no one else in the modern era was rarely booed. Only when Ferrari’s team orders were so blatant and unsporting, such as the last corner pass by Schumacher at Austria in 2002, did the fans boo; and on those occasions such feelings were actually understandable.

So both Germans had the best car and use it to win often, yet only one is booed. What makes it even more confusing is that Vettel is arguably more likeable than Schumacher, who often came across as arrogant and serious and was actually caught seriously cheating on track several times, something Vettel never has.

Yet every time Schumacher turned up at Hockenheim or the Nurburgring, the audience was a sea of red caps and shirts and the crowd’s support was audible above the roar of his V10 at times. Vettel never gets such support, even from his home fans.

Vettel seems to be seen by many as a guy who got gifted the best car and is given whatever he wants by his management. But this is blatantly wrong. Vettel earned a Red Bull seat by performing well enough in junior racing to get a Toro Rosso seat, showed his worth by starring in his debut season which included a victory from pole at a soaking wet Monza, and hence was deservedly picked to replace David Coulthard for 2009.

From being fast but crash prone in his first two seasons, the following two and a half have been consistent and fast, and he seems to be showing constant improvement. A result of hard work and hours spent in simulators honing the car with his engineering team, not a gift.

He asks what he wants from his technical team, they give him it and he goes out and delivers. That isn’t wrong, that is what a successful driver does.

Vettel can do no more to get the respect he deserves. In time it will surely come as more and more people come to respect that his talent is one of the most brilliant ever.

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Pit Stop – Hamilton Claims First Win – By Lewis Brearley

Lewis Hamilton’s victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix marked the end of the first half of the 2013 Formula One season, one which has seen a cavalcade of drama and surprises.

Indeed the only predictable aspect is that Sebastian Vettel in his trusty Red Bull has a comfortable lead over his rivals.

The question of who is most likely to snatch the championship away from Vettel is an interesting and complex one. Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso are now the remaining leading contenders, the four most take to be the top class of the grid, proving that despite all the accusations of F1 being a very expensive lottery, quality in motor racing always shines through over time.

Despite the huge talent of these three contenders, the success of their respective championship challenges is intertwined with the form of their cars.
Raikkonen’s Lotus is consistently fast but never the outright pacesetter, as zero pole positions and five second place finishes attest.

Hamilton’s Mercedes is a much more complicated beast. Hugely fast – the W04 has seven pole positions from 10 races, four of which are Hamilton’s – the Silver Arrows have a tortured love story with their Pirelli tyres.

A tendency to severely overheat the rear tyres, exacerbated by the metal belt Pirelli introduced for its 2013 constructions retaining much of the heat generated, hampered Mercedes throughout the season and led to nightmare Sundays in Spain and Germany as the heat in the tyres caused profound degradation and the cars slipped backwards.

The events of Silverstone, where Hamilton was one of the victims of exploding tyres as the Pirellis were overloaded by the demands of the high-downforce track, and lost what was looking like a secure and brilliant victory led Pirelli to change their tyre constructions.

Hungary was the debut race for these new 2013 compounds with 2012 construction, which simplistically meant a change from a steel belt to a Kevlar one. As Kevlar is a synthetic fibre rather than a metal, much more of the heat generated by the cars was dissipated from the tyres.

This profoundly affected the dynamics of a few teams, and Mercedes, as the team struggling the most with heat, benefited the most. The W04 no longer dropped back from its customary pole position and remained able to beat the RB9 throughout the race.

A team which this change negatively affected was Ferrari. The scuderia and their star driver Alonso have, at a couple of points this season, had the best race car and after a glorious win in Spain in particularly, looked like the closest rivals to Vettel.

However development has ground to a halt in the past few races, and Ferrari, in a testament to how rapidly the top teams develop their cars, have been left behind. Alonso’s last four race results are second, third, fourth and then fifth, an ominous slide which has surprised a few and disappointed even more, including its star driver.

Management admitted that Ferrari were still having trouble with its windtunnel and a series of under-performing upgrades brought since Alonso’s victory at the Spanish grand prix have put their championship bid drastically back.

Alonso now seems to be as fed up as any other Ferrari supporter. While as in 2012 he optimistically encouraged Ferrari to keep trying as they saw Vettel slowly beat them to the championship, this year the Spaniard appears much more pessimistic in his interviews.

In Hungary Alonso, after three and a half years of seeing Vettel in front of him on a grid, finally had enough. His agent talked to Red Bull principal, Christian Horner in an attempt at one of two things. Either he knew this meeting would be spotted and could be used as a last ditch bluff to get Ferrari to realise that they could lose their prime asset if they don’t improve, or Alonso really is interested in the seat at Red Bull. After all, who isn’t?

Raikkonen looks the favourite to replace Mark Webber to team up with what might then be four time world champion Vettel. Whether or not Red Bull are actually considering Alonso is unknown, they might also be using the meeting as a bluff to disgruntle their Italian rivals, but if they know that he is indeed available then it would be an oversight to not at least consider him for the seat.

As for the remainder of this season, the four person battle looks set to continue, with all four teams confidently claiming their challenges are strong.

The question however remains, are any of them stronger than Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull RB9. In four weeks in Belgium, we’ll be a step closer to finding the answer.

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Pit Stop – Kimi in Demand – By Lewis Brearley

This week Kimi Raikkonen’s management are having a series of meeting with the Lotus team owners, ostensibly to discuss Kimi’s contract extension, but in reality in order to hear persuasions for Kimi to stay.

The timing of the meeting is fine for Lotus, having just powered Kimi to second place in the German grand prix, finishing less than a second behind Sebastian Vettel driving for Kimi’s other prospective employers, Red Bull.

Kimi, as is the case for probably all the drivers on the grid, is enamoured by the promise of driving a Newey-machine; the title-winning Red Bull team having openly sounded out the Finn as a replacement for Mark Webber.

That combined with the challenge of going head to head with a triple world champion is sure to entice one of the best competitors in the history of modern F1.

However, the plusses of being a Lotus driver mean the decision isn’t so straightforward. Less media and corporate days than not just Red Bull, but all of the big teams, give the laconic Finn plenty of space and it’s a relationship he highly enjoys.

Add in the obvious pace of the Lotus E21, as demonstrated on Sunday, and it means plenty of sleepless nights for Kimi.

Kimi’s main doubt about staying with Lotus is that he isn’t convinced that the team can remain as title contenders on a consistent basis.

Indeed it is true that Lotus have a smaller budget than other title contending teams Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes and that they have rarely shown Red Bull rivalling pace this season, with one win to Red Bull’s four.

Lotus though will be eager to point out that they have performed well enough for Kimi to take one win and that he currently lies third in the championship, above Mark Webber – a Red Bull driver – and both Mercedes drivers. This, in addition to the fact that they developed well enough last season that they were the same delta behind Red Bull at the final race in Brazil as they were at the start of the season.

But this is why Kimi’s pure racing instinct leaves him still a distance away from putting pen to paper. “Behind Red Bull.” Not level. Not at the very front where he wants to be.

Events on Sunday perhaps made Kimi’s decision even more difficult. For the first time since Australia Lotus showed pace which was probably just a tad quicker than Red Bull, but still a Red Bull won. Sebastian Vettel’s classy victory, in which he defended impeccably from both Lotus cars and aced the fast laps when needed, takes him to 30 wins, one behind Nigel Mansell who took ten years to achieve such a number.

And perhaps more ominously for his championship rivals, 157 points, 47 more than he had at the same point last year; and 41 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

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Pit Stop – Webber Is Off – By Lewis Brearley

Despite firmly denying rumours that he could join Porsche’s new Le Mans effort for 2014, Mark Webber has announced that he will indeed do so.

He will leave Red Bull at the end of the season to return to the sportscar series where his top level racing career began.

Anyone who has ever frequented YouTube racing videos will surely have seen the astonishing incident where Peter Dumbreck’s Mercedes CLR takes off, flips and lands in the surrounding forest from the 1999 Le Mans race. At the practice session before the race Webber himself suffered the same incident as Mercedes encountered bizarre stability issues at high-speed, causing them to pull out of the event.

These dangerous events, in which fortunately no lives were lost, caused Webber to state that he would never return to the dangers of Le Mans. But fifteen years later Webber will return to the new, full factory funded, works Porsche team who themselves are returning to the endurance circuit after a long absence.

Porsche are the most successful team in Le Mans history, with 16 victories, most of them coming from the manufacturer’s dominance of the Group C period in the 1980s, when their 956 took four successive victories.

The battle between them, Audi and Toyota in the LMP1 class looks set to be enthralling. The sportscar racing scene is at one of the highest levels of quality ever seen, with six former F1 drivers currently driving for Audi and Toyota alongside great drivers such as Tom Kristensen, Benoit Treluyer and Stephane Sarrazin.

Webber has always loved pushing himself to his very limit and challenging himself against the very best drivers in the world. Sportscar racing has much less focus on the tyre management which has been the bane of Webber’s life recently. He believes racing should be flat out and that everybody should be pushing as fast as possible and in Le Mans this is certainly the case.

It is this aspect, rather than the unease within the Red Bull team between himself, management and his team-mate and built up by the media, that is likely to have led to this decision to switch disciplines.

Webber’s decision precedes one of his favourite events, the British grand prix. British fans, more than 100000 of whom will be travelling to the Silverstone circuit over the weekend, haven’t had much home success to cheer for in recent years. Lewis Hamilton’s supreme wet-weather victory in 2008 was the last British win.

With Jenson Button aiming for a points finish, the chances of home success this year depend mainly on whether Hamilton’s Mercedes team have sorted the tyre degradation issues which have plagued their season. At the last track resembling Silverstone, Barcelona, Mercedes struggled with horrific wear and this weekend will be a clear indicator of how far the team have progressed.

The team are confident, as are the fans; but whether or not Hamilton can challenge Vettel, Webber and Alonso will be a mystery until a hopefully sunny Sunday.

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Pit Stop – Team Orders – By Lewis Brearley

It’s the paradox of Formula One. Each car is driven by one person, all aiming for the big prize – the driver’s world champion. Yet they are employed and are responsible for the success of a team spending millions of pounds a year to compete.

Finding the right balance between these two aims has caused problems all the way through the history of F1. In fact, with the extreme determination and hunger for success inherent within an F1 driver, it’s surprising that so few teams currently have issues.

A quick analysis of the current intra-team relationships shows how many teams are managing the situation successfully, while at the same time a couple are having to deal with slight tensions.

The highest profile relationship is the one between the world champion himself and his team mate. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber fell out when they clashed while battling for the lead at the 2010 Turkish grand prix. There’s been a number of other incidents since such as Silverstone 2011 when Webber attacked Vettel for the lead despite being told not to, and most recently the furore at the Malaysian grand prix this year, but despite all this somehow the relationship has managed to remain professional.

Vettel may not have turned up for Webber’s 200th grand prix celebration but the team-mates reportedly still share data and work together behind the scenes.

McLaren may have a brand new driver pairing but already there have been tensions between the two. The events of the Bahrain grand prix, where Sergio Perez hit Jenson Button during an aggressive battle, strained relations between the two.

Button, as the veteran with 12 seasons of experience surely expected to have the upper hand over his young team mate. I’m sure he will be worried about being outperformed by Perez despite his and the team’s claim that everything is harmonious.

Ferrari is famous for having a very different team structure which often leads to fallouts but at the moment is working quite effectively. Having a clearly defined number one, Fernando Alonso, supported by Felipe Massa in 2012 almost converted a mediocre car into a world championship. It surely takes a weaker character alongside a very strong leader to make this work in any form, indeed it’s hard to imagine this style of management working at any other team.

Mercedes is the second team with a brand new line up for 2013. Lewis Hamilton, widely acknowledged as one of the top four drivers on the grid, hasn’t yet got a complete upper hand over Nico Rosberg. While the qualifying record is 3-1 to Hamilton, the gap has been closer than Hamilton’s fans claimed it would be.

The pair have been friends since karting in their childhood and this strength of friendship looks like it might just support the competitive rivalry between the two.

There’s nothing the media and fans love more than a big team mate fallout, however unfortunately for everyone, the likelihood of more happening isn’t as large as some predict.

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Pit Stop – Back in Bahrain – By Lewis Brearley

If the Chinese grand prix whetted your appetite for motor racing action then there’s not long to wait for another dose.

This weekend sees the Formula One season moving onto Bahrain, for the last Asian race before the European season.

The form of the Chinese grid looks set to shift again as the layout of the Sakhir circuit offers a different set of challenges for the cars than the Shanghai track.

As opposed to the long corners of Shanghai, Sakhir contains mostly shorter corners. This diverts the majority of the stress away from the front of the cars towards the rear, and therefore a strong, stable rear end is vital to success in Bahrain.

If you take a look at last year’s result, it’s hard to predict a very different result. Red Bull, Lotus and Force India all shone in conditions where the car’s control of tyre degradation was of prime importance.

These three cars look to have carried that trait forward into the current season, with Force India especially moving their game up. A Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen podium looks to be confident bet then, but the odds of Force India reaching a podium are much higher. To do so they would have to beat both Ferraris, Mercedes and McLarens; a near impossible task, although Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil are both strong enough drivers to pull it off should the chance arise.

The third podium spot could be filled by anyone. The ever-improving McLaren of Jenson Button, either of the two quick Mercedes, Fernando Alonso or Mark Webber.

A result for Webber is much in need already, due to the torrid month he has just endured. A podium would silence the critics and re-assert his role as the man who gives the champion a close race.

The rookie class of 2013 will also be looking to Bahrain as a place to raise opinions of themselves, particularly Esteban Gutierrez. The Sauber driver has looked completely out of his depth, just as most F1 pundits had predicted, the Mexican having appeared nowhere near as reliable for F1 in last year’s GP2 series. The Sauber management too were uncertain, but due to Mexican sponsorship they were required to grit their teeth and take him on.

Gutierrez has the raw speed to make it in F1 but, as shown in the case of Romain Grosjean, it takes a much more complete driver to cut it when racing the very best in the world’s fastest cars.
As the Bahrain grand prix unfolds we might just gain a few more answers to all these questions.

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