The third part of our 2013 driver profiles brings us to three men with much on their minds as they head into the new season. In all three cases it seems there are more questions than answers...
Lewis Hamilton: The Right Move?
Should Lewis have stayed in his comfort zone at McLaren, or should we applaud him for being brave enough to seek fresh pastures? To continue that metaphor, he’s been in a pretty good paddock ever since he came into Formula 1 in 2007 so after six seasons maybe it is time to find out just how good he is.
Another question: was 2012 a step forward for Hamilton’s new team, Mercedes, or a step back? They broke through with a maiden victory in their own right in Shanghai, but for various reasons, a lot of them to do with tyre use, they failed to build on that success.
Eventually they fell back to fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, their lowest placing in their three seasons back. In the aftermath, Mercedes-Benz motorsport director Norbert Haug has already fallen on his sword so there will be change in the wings, so to speak, before Lewis arrives.
Still, Hamilton had another typically combative year in 2012. His speed was undiminished, as underlined by seven poles; he won four times, a tally bettered only by Vettel; and he was on the podium eight times.
When the news finally broke of his move in late September 2012, Hamilton said: “Together, we can grow and rise to this new challenge. I believe that I can help steer the Silver Arrows to the top and achieve our joint ambitions of winning the world championships.”
All well and good, but how long will it take? Did the grass just seem greener on the other side?
Nico Rosberg: Time To Move On?
The question isn’t meant to imply the 27-year-old German should leave his ‘national’ team: it’s more a matter of lifting himself into the elite group of drivers whom we expect to win races, rather than resting on those Shanghai laurels.
It must be a worry to the 1982 World Champion’s son that he failed to score a single point in the final six races of 2012 and slipped to ninth overall, two places lower than in each of the last three years.
After his Shanghai pole and victory, he made only one more trip to the podium, finishing second to a masterful Mark Webber in Monaco. He failed to set a single fastest race lap.
How much of that was down to the car Mercedes placed at his disposal, and how much to the driver? It’s the old F1 conundrum, but Nico needs to ensure that any question-marks in 2013 do not hover over his head rather than the machinery.
Arriving in F1 in 2006, Rosberg now has 128 races under his belt but just that one win to show for all that competitive experience. He has all the Grand Prix driver’s attributes: speed, urbane self-confidence, style.
He also has a blindingly quick teammate, one at the height of his powers rather than a Schumacher on the wane: comparisons could be odious.
Romain Grosjean: How Many Chances?
Lotus left it late, but one week before Christmas came the news that they had decided to retain Romain Grosjean’s services for 2012 – despite what might be called an erratic first full season in Formula 1.
Let’s look at the positive side of the ledger first: three podiums in Bahrain, Montreal and Budapest, a fastest race lap in Barcelona, and 96 points en route to eighth place in the Drivers’ Championship.
On the other hand… how many of us will remember those figures and forget the spectacular impact the 26-year-old Swiss-born driver with French nationality made in other ways?
He was at the centre of the first-corner fracas in Monaco; later in the year he earned the wrath of Monaco winner Webber when he took the Aussie out at the second corner in Suzuka.
Most dramatic of all was his first-corner lunge at Spa-Francorchamps that sidelined Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari and could have been far worse. It earned Grosjean a one-race ban, but his Japanese misdemeanour suggested he might be a slow learner.
After his brief encounter with F1 in 2009, 2012 was already a second chance for Romain. Can he grasp a third one in 2013 with a forgiving Lotus outfit? “I’m really looking forward to rewarding their faith when we take to the track in Australia,” he said in December. “I learnt a lot in my first full season in Formula 1 and my aim is to put these lessons into practice with stronger and more consistent performance on track next year.”