Okay Sunday Afternoon Clubbers, it’s time to crawl out from the snug little nest you’ve made of memories, Sky re-runs and the odd 2012 F1 annual; Formula One is coming out of its winter cave and, later today, barks back into life.
Yes, hot on the heels of the return of Top Gear, Lotus will become the first team to show us its 2013 race car, the E21, just after 7.00pm tonight. Kimi Raikonnen has already given Matt Le Blanc (the current fastest man round our track, don’t forget), a preview here.
Though we don’t expect much in the way of detail, we’ll be there (it’s an on-line launch, so you can be too), and we’ll also have our our 2013 job list for Kimi, RoGros and the folks over in Enstone, as we will for all of the new cars launched over the next week, leading up to the first test of 2013 on 5 February.
By then it will be just over a month until 15 March, when first practice opens for the Australian GP….
An awful lot has happened since the teams lovingly re-organised their tool boxes for the last time in 2012 in Brazil. There are new drivers — Esteban Gutiérrez from Monterrey, Mexico in the Sauber, Max Chilton from Reigate, Surrey in the Marussia — and with seats still empty alongside Chilton (and also at Force India and Caterham) we could see more yet.
Chilton’s lack of a team-mate is recent news, Timo Glock joining Kamui Kobayshi and Heikki Kovalainen in looking for employment elsewhere (and he’s already been snapped up by BMW for DTM). Glock’s ‘mutually-agreed departure’ from Marussia, and those empty seats, actually points to a bigger story; F1 is finding it hard to make ends meet. Marussia, Caterham and Force India are all looking for drivers handcuffed to an attaché case of hard currency and are making no secrets about it. Money, not speed, is what talks. Gutiérrez and Chilton are quick, but other drivers finished above them in GP2 last year. Go figure.
And, such is the way of the world, while the small teams gasp for air, the big teams are spending big. None more so than Mercedes, who clearly believe that Lewis Hamilton alone will not turn the team’s fortunes around. In what we can only think of as ‘all a bit Jaguar’, Mercedes F1 has joined forces with gentleman driver and Austrian ‘dragon’ Christian ‘Toto’ Wolff, who effectively becomes the team’s new boss. And he’s brought along his mate Niki Lauda. Lauda, Sunday Afternooners will recall, failed to make any impression whatsoever on the similarly ambitious Jaguar F1 effort. And with a bluntness typical of Lauda’s approach to management, he and Wolff have already made clear they don’t believe Ross Brawn has the chops to run the engineering team and have make a public approach to McLaren’s Paddy Lowe. Brawn of course has won championships more recently than Lowe, but it looks like Ross, the SAC’s favourite F1 teddy bear, will be joining Heikki and Kamui. The mind boggles.
Among those we can expect to see competing at the front this year it’s business as usual; Ferrari talking its game up, McLaren trying very hard to pretend it’s in no way anxious about new-boy Sergio Perez’s form and Red Bull generally keeping quiet, doing its thing. We’ll see their 2013 contender on 3 February.
F1 2013. We can’t pretend we are not excited, hell, it’s what we live for here at Sunday Afternoon Club, but we can’t pretend we are not anxious too. There is a real shortage of cash at the back of the grid; a grid, lest we forget, that is already two cars nearer to the front than last year with the demise of HRT. And next year the 2.4-litre V8s are to be replaced with 1.6-litre turbo V6’s with infinitely more complex and a costly hybrid systems.
Bernie Ecclestone, who has managed to hold the show together all these years, has already made it clear he’s running out of gas, yet has spent the winter hosting all kinds of emergency summits as he tries to persuade the teams they do want to race in places like Sochi, Russia in the November of 2014 because that’s where the money is. Meanwhile, great services like Fan Vision (the little tellies/monitors race fans could hire at circuits) have been priced out of the market as has a huge amount of driving talent. Nigel Mansell called in a logjam in the junior formulae.
F1 is back and that’s good. But it’s not survived the winter in the best of health.