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2012 a missed opportunity for Red Bull's rivals
Thursday 29th November 2012, 21:14 by Daniel Chalmers
Lagging behind - Red Bull's main competitors couldn't keep up (© Ferrari)
McLaren and Ferrari will look back on this season as an opportunity missed to put an end to Red Bull’s recent domination of F1.
For two thirds of the season Red Bull was nothing like the dominant force they were last year. When you are up against a combination as strong as Adrian Newey and Sebastian Vettel, you have to make the most of any dip in form they have.
However McLaren and Ferrari have had their own issues too and haven’t made the most of Red Bull’s less dominant season.
The danger is that next season the Milton Keynes squad start 2013 the way they ended 2012, and their rivals will look back on the huge chance they missed in this campaign.
At the season opener in Melbourne Red Bull were 0.729 seconds away from Lewis Hamilton’s pole time. That's a world of difference to the 2011 opener when Sebastian Vettel was on pole by 0.778 seconds.
They very clearly suffered from the ban on blown diffusers, which lost them a significant chunk of their performance. It was one of the gems of the RB7 which made it so competitive in 2011.
In the first 13 races of 2012 they only won three races. However crucially they nearly always took the maximum possible from every race thanks to good strategy, not making mistakes, good pit stops and plucky drives by both Vettel and Mark Webber.
This is what has kept Red Bull on top of the constructors' championship since the Bahrain GP, despite a car (and Pirelli tyres) that at times have had the team flummoxed.
Once Red Bull turned the corner with game changing upgrades at the Singapore GP there was no looking back. They had already managed to put themselves in a good position in both championships despite mixed pace up until that point.
None of their rivals made the most of that fact that they weren’t as formidable as they were in 2011.
McLaren started and ended the season with the quickest car. However they haven’t utilised their car fully, have made mistakes, had some dodgy pit stops early on in the year and have had reliability issues too.
McLaren started the season ahead of Red Bull (© Red Bull Racing / Getty Images).
Hamilton was dominant in qualifying in the Spanish GP, but was sent to the back after a fuel infringement (which was the team's fault). Without that he surely would have gone on to win that race.
Lewis was also leading in Singapore and Abu Dhabi before he retired with mechanical failures. He also had anti-roll bar issues in both Japan and Korea. Button also had problems causing him to retire in Bahrain and Italy.
There have also been occasions when McLaren failed to switch the tyres on, particularly in cool conditions like we saw at Silverstone.
Martin Whitmarsh says: "We have to get better, we have to get stronger, and we have to make fewer mistakes."
He added: "We had a lot potential this year and we haven't really got what we should have got from the potential we had in the team."
Ferrari on the other hand didn’t make the most of Red Bull’s dip in form because they started the year with a very bad car. They then lost out in the development race later on in the season.
In Australia they were around 1.5 seconds off the pace. However a great drive from Fernando Alonso in that race earned a miraculous fifth place. Alonso then made full use of the wet conditions to win in Malaysia.
However in the next two races in China and Bahrain, Fernando only finished ninth and seventh respectively.
Ferrari’s Spanish GP upgrade made the team more of a factor. At that point it actually became a decent car. Not only that, but it had quite a wide operating window with the tyres.
However as we headed into the final third of the season Ferrari’s rate of development dropped away. Upgrades which the team brought to the car simply weren’t making it any faster.
Ferrari started the season well down on the pace (© Octane Photographic).
Part of the reason for that was poor correlation between the wind tunnel and the track.
Some may say Alonso lost the title because of the turn one incidents in Spa and Suzuka. Some will say it was the poor rate of development in the final third of the season.
Ultimately Ferrari has to look at those first four races of the year where the car was at its worse. If Ferrari had had a car capable of competing for podiums right from the start of the season, Alonso would be a triple world champion.
With stable regulations going into 2013 we can expect Red Bull to carry their strong pace into the new season.
The problem for Red Bull’s rivals is that they all have potential stumbling blocks going into 2013.
McLaren ended the year with a very quick car. Like Red Bull you expect them to be able to carry that pace into 2013 too.
However losing Hamilton is a huge blow for McLaren. He has arguably had his strongest season in F1. His incredible victory in Austin against an in-form Red Bull and Vettel, was just one exhibit of what McLaren will be missing next year.
We have seen a few great performances from Jenson Button in 2012 including his dominant victory in Spa, and another great performance in mixed conditions at Interlagos. However for McLaren to have a chance next year, he has to perform at his peak in every single race. That is where the issue lies.
When Jenson is happy with the balance of the car and the tyres, there is no doubt he can do just as good a job as Lewis.
Team-mates in 2013. Will the loss of Hamilton affect McLaren? (© Mercedes AMG).
However, when that’s not the case his performance can drop off dramatically. After finishing second in China (round three) he only scored seven points in the following six races.
New signing Sergio Perez is unproven in a front running team. That could go either way. McLaren really need that to be a gamble that pays dividends.
The fact that McLaren have lost Hamilton, and that he has gone to Mercedes could go strongly in Red Bull’s favour in 2013. Potentially it could make two of their key rivals less threatening.
Ferrari now hasn’t delivered a really quick car since the new aero regulations were introduced back in 2009. With the old dream team (Jean Todt et al) long gone, you wonder whether the capability to deliver a formidably fast car still exists in Maranello.
Furthermore Ferrari’s wind tunnel will be closed over part of the winter to try and improve its effectiveness. As work on 2013's car probably begun before 2012 started, correlation issues could potentially affect it too.
Having the wind tunnel closed will surely cause problems in the development of next year’s challenger. Ferrari are currently using Toyota’s old wind tunnel in Germany, which logistically must be a challenge. Better than using no wind tunnel at all of course.
Mercedes have all the ingredients in place to build a race winning car, but they will have to make a huge step up to be achieving that next season. The regulation changes in 2014 may be their most realistic chance of challenging for the title.
Speaking to the Daily Mail Hamilton said: "It's long term. It’s 2014 and 2015 when I anticipate we will have most success. I am not going into next year thinking let’s have a crap year. I am just well aware we don’t have the best car and it will take a lot of work to improve it."
Can Lotus mount another challenge next season? (© Lotus F1/LAT Photographic).
Lotus could be an interesting team to watch in 2013 after having very strong race pace at times. However they will also need to make a big step to sustain a championship challenge in 2013. Have they got the resources to be able to achieve that?
Red Bull’s 2012 championship triumph could be compared to Ferrari’s 2003 double championship victory.
After utterly dominant seasons in 2001 and 2002 Ferrari had to work much harder for their titles in 2003. One of the reasons for that was that the Bridgestone tyres were poor that year, and Michelin developed a very good tyre.
Both titles were won at the final race of the season in Japan. The fact that Ferrari weren’t so dominant in 2003 gave their rivals hope for 2004.
However in 2004 Ferrari had a season to match their utter domination of 2002. Normal service resumed.
Unless Red Bull’s rivals can get their act together history could repeat itself in 2013.
They had their chance to dethrone Red Bull this year but they didn’t take it. If Adrian Newey waves his magic wand again next year, they might be waiting a little while, before they get another opportunity to dethrone F1’s current dream team.
At the moment you wouldn’t bet against the Red Bull/Vettel era continuing.