As Formula One begins its scheduled month off, there's no better time to take a look back at the first half of 2013 and also try to take a stab at how things might play out over the rest of the year.
Like 2012, the storyline for the first 10 of 19 races this season continued to be the Pirelli rubber, which again gave teams fits on most grand prix weekends. And like last year, a few teams seemed to have them figured out, while others find themselves floundering.
That was again true in Hungary on Sunday, where the teams raced on the 2013 compounds but with 2012 construction, a move that is supposed to put an end to the issues that caused four tires to blow in the British Grand Prix in June. New tires or old, the story was the same for Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, who put in a solid third place finish after going almost the entire race with a damaged front wing due to contact with McLaren's Jenson Button early in the action.
Despite the rubber roulette played by some teams on many weekends, that's the one story line which has remained constant over the past four years: Vettel is the driver to beat. The reigning three-time world champion leads the points and doesn't seem fazed by anything.
"I think we have to keep our feet on the ground," he said after his aggressive attack on Button probably cost him a chance to fight for the win at the Hungaroring.
"I’ve always said that there will be days when there will be people ahead of us and there will be days when we will be ahead of them, so it’s just life."
While nothing seems to be able to slow Vettel's progress, the tire switch may help some teams as the season progresses and hurt others who had found ways to design their car to make the old combination work well. It looks like Ferrari has gone a bit backward as has Force India, while Mercedes and McLaren seem to have gotten a bit of a boost.
Along with Red Bull, Lotus hasn't really changed much, with the two teams staying near the front on most weekends no matter what kind of Pirelli tires get mounted on their rims.
Vettel continues to look like a four-time champion in waiting after snatching four wins in the first 10 races — it would have been five without a gearbox failure in the late June British Grand Prix — and hasn't finished worse than fourth in a race this year excluding his retirement in Silverstone. Although his all-conquering Red Bull looked beatable on some weekends this year, the young German is always a threat to win.
With Lewis Hamilton taking the chequered flag on Sunday in the last race before the summer break to score his first victory for his new Mercedes team, many feel he is back in the title hunt. The 2008 world champion is now fourth in the driver's standings with 124 points, 48 behind leader Vettel. Lotus' Kimi Räikkönen is second with 134 while Ferrari's Fernando Alonso has 133. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
Although the Hamilton victory at the tight and twisty Hungaroring impressed, especially with the track temperatures hitting about 50 Celsius, it must also be remembered that the slow character of the circuit favours the Mercedes. Nevertheless, with Nico Rosberg's win tally included in the mix, the team now has three victories in the past five grands prix, so Hamilton's chances can't be downplayed.
"If we can be quick here in a race with these track temperatures then I’m very hopeful that we can be competitive everywhere else, so this could be a really good — could be a good turning point for us," Hamilton said.
"Of course, when you have a win like this, you get excited and you think anything is possible and obviously today shows that anything is possible, but I think it’s still too early for us to say whether or not we can challenge these guys. I just hope that that’s not the last time my tires work for me."
While Hamilton was enjoying his maiden win for the team he joined this season, Ferrari's Alonso had another tough weekend in a car that just didn't have enough to stay with the leaders.
The two-time world champion said at the Canadian Grand Prix in June that he thought being 80 points behind would be when things started to get critical, and he is now 39 behind Vettel. The Ferrari driver insisted that drivers have recovered from deficits of more than three full race wins in the past, so he felt that gap was the cut off point.
If Ferrari can't find something to help get Alonso back into the mix for wins, he may find himself reaching the critical point sooner than later as the season's second half begins with the Belgian Grand Prix on Aug. 25.
"Our aim is to work hard to arrive at Spa (Belgium) and Monza (home of the Sept. 8 Italian Grand Prix) with a more competitive car," Alonso said after Hungary.
"There are still nine races to go and the points available are more than enough. The team can do it and the potential is there, so I don’t see any reason why we can’t fight right to the end of the championship, as we have always done."
Things got a bit more urgent in Hungary, where Alonso was pushed to third overall in the points by Räikkönen, who took his fifth second-place finish of the year.
Although his one and only victory of the season came four months ago in the March season opener at Melbourne, Australia, Räikkönen always seems on the verge of something special. Although the 2007 world champion can be enigmatic at times, his speed is never in doubt.
He also knows exactly what he needs to do in the second half to mount a serious title challenge.
"We’re here to try to win races and if we keep finishing second and third like we’ve done many times this year, it’s probably not enough for the championship," he said.
"The best thing today when we finished second, we gained a few points on Sebastian, so it’s better than nothing but with a win it would have been a much bigger difference."
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