Adrian Newey described the RB9 as ‘evolutionary’ as he showed off his latest design for the first time; what that means is that this car is pretty similar to last year’s. Push-rod suspension has been retained – as opposed to Ferrari’s pull-rod design – as has a slim, stepped nose, now devoid of its cooling vent, and a small cross-section. Once again, Mark Webber will partner world champion Sebastian Vettel, and both drivers feel they’re in with a shot of winning the championship. "I do believe I can have a crack at the championship again," says Webber. "That is my goal. It’s what I get up each day thinking about." Vettel, meanwhile, spoke of a "long year again, with tough challenges waiting for all of us."
Ferrari feel as though they’re on the back foot this year, with Stefano Domenicali admitting that their key objective is to deliver a competitive car from the off. However, development of the new car has been hampered by an underperforming wind tunnel at Maranello that’s resulted in all of the F138’s aerodynamic development taking place at Toyota’s wind tunnel in Cologne. The new car does, however, look to have a cleaner, lower rear end, which should help airflow over the back of the car, and the same pull-rod suspension as last year’s F2012.
A minimum target of third in the constructors’ championship – one better than last year’s result – gives us an idea of Lotus’s ambition this year. Technical director James Allison says that detail changes to the team’s 2013 car should add up to a ‘significant’ amount of extra performance, which the team hopes will see them achieving that aim. Among the changes to the car will be more bodywork at the rear end, which will direct exhaust gases down to the gap between the car’s floor and the rear wheels, a technique that should increase downforce. Kimi’s verdict? "It won’t be easy to improve what we did already last year but that is the aim. Hopefully we can do it."
After launch plagued with PR niggles (see below), it wasn’t surprising to see Lewis Hamilton damning the new W04 with faint praise. "It doesn’t feel too bad at all," was his verdict. Meanwhile, there was plenty of talk of improving and moving forward from team principal Ross Brawn, who clearly feels that the team isn’t where it could – and should – be. He expressed confidence in the car, though, describing it as "a clear step forward in design and detail sophistication over its predecessor." That said, the new car looks extremely similar to last year’s, with the notable exception of a ‘vanity panel’, a new bodywork addition allowed by this year’s regulations which helps to disguise the step between the low nose and the higher driver’s compartment.
Sauber unveiled not only a new car, but also two new drivers: rookie Esteban Gutierrez will partner Nico Hulkenberg in the team’s 2013 lineup, meaning it’s all change now that Perez has headed for pastures new and Kobayashi’s lost his seat. The car looks rather different, too, with narrower sidepods and a slightly more conventional nose that ‘fences in’ the step, channelling air up over the car and away from the more turbulent wheel area. There’s also been a change to the exhaust area, with the exits now situated in the bodywork as per McLaren and Ferrari, as opposed to last year’s car which guided exhaust gases down to the gap between the floor and the rear wheels a la Red Bull. Unlike McLaren, though, the team has stuck with push-rod suspension.
"From the ground up, everything’s new." That’s how Force India’s technical director Andrew Green describes the VJM06. What’ll also be new is Paul Di Resta’s partner for 2013 – though as yet, we don’t know how that’ll be. The team’s in the somewhat unusual situation of heading into the first period of testing with just one driver on the books, which is something of a gamble. But team boss Bob Fearnley says that what matters to him is getting the car right. However, what the team’s second driver can achieve coming into the process so late will be crucial to Force India’s success in 2013.
2012 was a tough year for Red Bull’s ‘youth’ team, which finished in ninth place, making it last among the established constructors and a whopping 54 points behind eighth-placed Williams. However, team boss Franz Tost has put his faith in drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne to achieve his target of a sixth-place finish in 2013. Also key to achieving that aim will be the arrival of new technical director Jamie Key, who comes in from Sauber having designed the car that took Sergio Perez to three podium finishes last year.
Caterham’s new driver Giedo van der Garde, who tested for the team in 2012 while also driving for Caterham’s GP2 outfit, will join Charles Pic to compete in the new CT03 in 2013. This’ll be the first season that Caterham races without a Grand Prix winner in its midst, then, which could hamper the team’s development. Tony Fernandes doesn’t seem to think so, though, stating his continuing aim to break away from the "bottom three" – or, now that we’ve lost HRT, the bottom two.
This will be the first year that Marussia’s car features KERS, and the team is describing the car as a massive technical leap forward. Like Caterham, Marussia will be pushing to bridge the gap between the faster teams this year, and now there’s no HRT, they’ll be looking to avoid the bottom spot by the time the season closes. They’ll be hoping young Brit Max Chilton has what it takes to help them do that; he’ll partner Brazilian Luiz Razia to complete an all-rookie lineup. Things haven’t started perfectly for the team, though, with a car failure landing Chilton in the gravel trap just over an hour into the first session.
...had to come in the form of Lotus’s superb ‘Kimi wheel’ – described, tongue firmly in cheek, as the steering wheel that’ll be fitted to Kimi’s new car. Note the buttons marked, ‘Ice Cream’, ‘Tweet’, ‘Jenson’, ‘Jump’ and ‘Smile’, as well as dials to adjust ‘Finishing Position’ and ‘Translate (Anti-Mumble)’. Lotus’s PR bods, however, might be more keen on the ‘Mute’ button that’s cheekily been thrown in at top-left. Nice.
...and PR Fail...
It’s not been a rosy start to Mercedes’s F1 campaign. First up, Nico Rosberg’s W04 went up in flames while testing at Jerez after just 14 laps, with an electrical fault seemingly to blame. The next day, Lewis Hamilton’s car lost rear brake pressure, causing him to plough straight on at Turn 6 – weirdly, also on his 14th lap. So, crucial to the team’s season will be whether either Merc can make it onto lap 15 in the first race.