Formula 1’s leading drivers may only be thinking of victory and title hopes in Italy this weekend, but it is the looming preparations for 2014’s rules that is becoming the biggest issue for their bosses.
While the championship battle approaches what could be a crucial phase for Sebastian Vettel and his rivals, back at the top teams’ factories, it has become a tough juggling act matching this year’s ambitions against the huge challenge of next season’s new regulations.
Creating all-new cars around the new V6 turbo engines and their hybrid powerplants is a massive task and means teams have had to focus efforts on next year much earlier than they would do if the regulations had stayed the same. Switching resources completely over to 2014 has been easy for teams like McLaren, whose title hopes expired long ago, but the decision gets harder the closer to the front you are.
As Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn explains: “To be in a position to abandon a season is normally because you don’t have a very good car. Fortunately we have a good car this year and want to keep it going.
“In 2008, when I was with Honda, we had a pretty poor car that year and it was an easy decision to say halfway through the campaign, ‘Let’s forget it, let’s leave a crew of people to run it for the rest of the year and let’s focus 100 percent on next year.’ If you are in good shape you never have that opportunity you have to manage your resources all the time.”
Here’s how the top three teams are dealing with the headaches of 2013 vs 2014.
RED BULL STRETCHED BUT STILL PUSHING
Red Bull is well aware that a run of victories at this stage of the campaign would be enough to all but kill off the world championship battle. Doing that would then not force it into extending the development push of this year’s car any more than is necessary, which will give it more time to devote to its 2014 challenger.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said that at the moment though, it was not a straightforward process to work out how best to divide its efforts.
“It is still a fine balance,” he said. “That is part of the challenge at the moment of splitting resources. The guys back at the factory are working tremendously hard and all credit to them that we managed to achieve the result in Belgium and continued to develop this car, while facing the challenge that all teams up and down the pitlane are facing of designing and developing a completely new concept of car for next year.
“It is going to absolutely stretch us to the maximum, but that is what we enjoy.”
FERRARI SETS SINGAPORE DEADLINE
Red Bull’s rivals are determined not to let the reigning champion have everything its own way, however, and will keep pushing for the time being to see what damage can be inflicted on Vettel’s lead.
Fernando Alonso knows that at Monza he needs to capitalize on the step forward in form displayed in Belgium to deliver a victory that will properly reignite his title campaign. As the head of the team’s technical department, Pat Fry says that for now the focus is on doing all it can for Ferrari’s home race and the Singapore Grand Prix by which stage it will be able to take stock of whether it is worth investing more in the F138.
“It is always a difficult balancing act, but we are still pushing as hard as we can,” explained Fry. “We have updates of improvements in the tunnel. A few more for Monza, and another step for Singapore. So we will keep pushing for Singapore, see where we are and then revise things.”
MERCEDES NOT GOING TO COMPROMISE 2014
One team eager not to spend any more effort on 2013 than it needs to is Mercedes, with team principal Ross Brawn adamant that its longer-term ambitions will be better served doing the perfect job for next year.
Although Lewis Hamilton’s remains in contention for the title albeit in need of a string of wins to start cutting into Vettel’s lead Brawn sees little benefit from devoting everything to a late season update charge.
“We are not thinking about winning the championship,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t want that to sound like we don’t want to win the championship, but we are not compromising our 2014 program. Our 2014 programme is well defined; it is in a good shape, and progressing well. But there are big challenges remaining and we are not going to compromise that.”