When the red lights are extinguished at the Albert Park street circuit for the start of Sunday’s Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix, there will be five F1 world champions and five rookie drivers on the 2013 starting grid. Of the 22 race seats available this season, 10 seats changed hands during the off-season with just four teams returning to the starting grid with their 2012 driver teams intact.
Seat Changes and New Faces
The biggest seat change of the off-season was announced before the 2012 season concluded. F1’s 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton said farewell to his career-long affiliation with McLaren to jump into a vacant race seat with Mercedes previously occupied by seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. Hamilton will drive alongside teammate Nico Rosberg, who is in his fourth year with the team.
Replacing Hamilton at McLaren and teaming with 12-year F1 veteran and 2009 world champion Jenson Button is promising Mexican driver Sergio Perez, who impressed in his sophomore F1 season in 2012 with the mid-pack Sauber team.
Nico Hulkenberg departed Force India after one impressive season in a race seat to drive for Sauber in 2013. Mexican rookie Esteban Gutierrez will join him in driving duties after working his way up the F1 developmental ladder, most recently placing third in 2012 in the GP2 Series. He had also served as Sauber’s test and reserve driver since the 2011 season. Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi, who had been driving for Sauber since 2010, found himself the odd man out and will be focusing on an F1 return for 2014.
Adrian Sutil, who makes his return to Silverstone-based Force India to replace Hulkenberg, will again team with Paul di Resta after a one-year absence from F1. After his F1 bow in 2007 with Spyker Racing (now Force India), Sutil lost his seat in 2012 after being plagued by legal problems stemming from a 2011 off-track altercation.
Rookie Valtteri Bottas of Finland will drive for Williams Racing after spending 2012 as Williams’ reserve and test driver. The 23-year old joined the team after winning the GP3 Series title in 2011. Bruno Senna, the nephew of F1 legend Ayrton Senna, was not re-signed after his first full season in an F1 race seat. Bottas will drive alongside Williams’ teammate Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela, whose sponsorship is potentially in jeopardy after the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Two teams, Caterham and Marussia, changed their driver lineups entirely and may be in for a long season.
Charles Pic, who drove for Marussia as a rookie in 2012, will now drive for Caterham along with rookie Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands. Van der Garde comes to F1 after four seasons in GP2 and serving as the team’s reserve driver last season. Both 2012 drivers, Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov, found themselves out of F1 race seats for 2013.
Marussia will field rookies Max Chilton of Britain and former Force India reserve driver Jules Bianchi. Chilton served as a Marussia reserve driver in 2012 and had been competing in the GP2 Series since late 2009. Marussia had previously signed Luis Razia to an available race seat but, in a world where sponsorship money can be more important than talent, his contract was terminated when his primary sponsor defaulted on a payment to the Russian team. Razia misfortune gave Bianchi, who was in competition for Force India’s vacant seat, a last minute F1 race opportunity after Adrian Sutil was signed to the Force India opening. Marussia’s 2012 driver Timo Glock will be racing for BMW in the 2013 DTM touring car series.
Also no longer in F1 race seats are Narian Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa of defunct HRT, although the latter is now Scuderia Ferrari’s test driver.
Four Teams Unchanged
Defending F1 constructors’ champion for three years running, Red Bull Racing, returns with three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and 36-year-old F1 veteran Mark Webber. Vettel, according to Red Bull, is committed to the team until the end of 2014 despite rumors of his departure next year to Ferrari. Webber's contract is in its final year.
There were also no changes to 2012 constructors’ championship runner-up Scuderia Ferrari’s driving duo. Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and 2008 runner-up Felipe Massa will again be behind the wheel for Ferrari, although Massa’s future with the Maranello-based team was not finally decided until late 2012 when he showed flashes of his previous form.
Both Lotus drivers, 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen and sophomore French driver Romain Grosjean, will return to the Lotus garage for 2013. The team took a big step forward in reliability and pace in 2012 with Raikkonen winning the Singapore Grand Prix. Although fast, driving missteps plagued teammate Grosjean in 2012.
Red Bull Racing’s “junior team,” Toro Rosso, also returns with no changes to its driver lineup. Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne return to drive for STR after both drivers’ inaugural season with the Italian team in 2012.
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