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Formula 1 mid-season review

15th July 2013

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With the end of the German grand prix last Sunday, the 2013 Formula 1 season has reached its mid-point - a good oppurtunity to draw conclusions and make predictions for the rest of the season.

The season overall can be summarised by two subjects: Sebastien Vettel and Pirelli Tyres. While the former refers to the current triple champion rumbling towards his fourth successive title, the latter has been the source of most of the controversy for the whole season. 

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Vettel has been astonishingly consistent this season. While some may argue that his performances this season have not been as impressive as in his dominant 2011 campaign, in reality the context of the 2013 season as a whole has arguably made his driving this year even more impressive. For example, in 2011 Vettel's title challenge was largely confined to being against his team-mate Mark Webber and the Mclaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. However in 2013 Vettel has had to contend not only with his team-mate but also Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus, Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari and the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Hamilton. Furthermore, his Red Bull has been limited somewhat by the more fragile Pirelli tyres. Thus Vettel has been in a weaker position then 2011 and yet has been almost as proficient, showing how impressive he has been. 

In contrast Pirelli are having a torrid season. As the sport's sole tyre supplier they do not have to worry about results as such. However, they have been subject to unprecedented intense criticism this year not only from the fans and the media - who are always hard to please - but also from the drivers and their teams. This can largely be sourced to the fragility of the tyres which have resulted in a large number of pit stops and preventing drivers from driving to the limit. This has greatly reduced the spectacle of the races. Until the British Grand Prix the criticism was largely confined to the general performance of the tyres. However after Silverstone, the state of the tyres became a serious safety issue, resulting in the changes we saw in Germany and the planned changes for Hungary. As for the effect it will have on the races, only time will tell but I predict it will play into the hands of Red Bull and allow them to dominate the remaining races.

As for the season's last most talked-about topic, the infamous Testgate, it can now be seen in a more sympathetic light. It is unclear how much Mercedes have benefitted from the test. Furthermore the transformation of the Young Drivers Test to a full blown tyre test, which involves testing the new Hungary-spec tyres, has meant that being banned from the test is actually more of a punishment then it was at first glance. The safety issues that have arisen from the numerous tyre failures throughout the season provide evidence to the view that the test might have been necessary.

Hamilton's decision to move to Mercedes from Mclaren was one of the most discussed and controversial points of the pre-season. Fans and pundits alike critcised the decision as too risky and for what they saw as Hamilton selling out for the money. However, the improvement in the performances of Mercedes and the relative decline of Mclaren has vindicated Hamilton's decision. While he may not necessarily be a championship contender, the results as they stand provide enough evidence to validate Hamilton's move.

The performances of Raikkonen and Alonso have been surprising, albeit for completely different reasons. While Raikkonen and his Lotus team have been pleasingly competitive, Alonso's Ferrari team have been sloppy - making mistakes that have cost Alonso's championship challenge dearly. Unfortunately for both teams the tyre changes look likely to result in a reduction in competitiveness and a greater advantage being given to Red Bull.

The controversy over team orders, which arose in Malaysia, has been somewhat nullified by Webber's decision to leave the sport at the end of the season and the relative equality in perfomances of Rosberg and Hamilton. While team orders will no doubt arise again, the controversy they created with 'multi-21gate' will likely not be repeated.

As for the races themselves, in my opinion they have been largely very exciting although the tyre situation has dampened their entertainment value to a great degree. Monaco in my opinion was very tense and exciting, in contrast to the overall media reaction to the race. Races such as Canada, Bahrain, China, Malaysia and Britain were exciting both for the racing and the incidents that happened in the races, whilst races like Spain went too far in terms of tyre wear - while still providing plenty of talking points. 

I feel the rest of the season will be very exciting; albeit not necessarily from a championship perspective as I predict Vettel will dominate the rest of the season. However with the more durable tyres the racing will be closer. Combined with the fact that the sport moves to classic traditional racetracks such as Spa in Belgium, Monza in Italy, Suzuka in Japan and Interlagos in Brazil the result should be close, tense and dramatic races. 

I finish with a prediction that Vettel and Red Bull will be champions, with the 2013 season being remembered more for its controversies than anything else.

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