Red Bull‘s pursuers find themselves in a bind this season. The past three years of Red Bull domination have given the likes of Mclaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus two options when trying to catch up.
In 2010 and 2012, Red Bull didn’t dominate entirely, and the races and championships, were very close. If you were Mclaren or Ferrari, it was a no brainer to ramp up development and try and close the gap to the Red Bulls. In 2011, Red Bull completely crushed the competition, leaving the might of Ferrari and Mclaren quaking in their shoes.
There was no point in trying to ramp up development to close up the points gap. Realistically by mid-season, there was no hope for an upset over Red Bull.
This season, Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus find themselves with a hard decision to make. At different points of the season, each of Red Bull’s three pursuers have been fast enough to beat Red Bull, but not over a consistent period of time. As a result, they find themselves neither miles behind Red Bull as in 2011, nor in a real position to attack.
What do Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes do?
With 2014 posing the biggest financial and technical challenge for some time, resources must be directed that way. There is no way around it. Do they make one last big push to catch Red Bull and risk starting 2014 on the back foot, or do they play it safe for the rest of the season and risk losing a spot or two to each other in the standings?
There is a fine line the three teams have to tread for the rest of the season, and any time spent straying off that line could spell trouble for 2014.
Mercedes could make the best case for sticking with an aggressive development program. They have been the most consistent Red Bull challenger this season, and despite their tire problems during the beginning of the year and two lackluster performances in Belgium and Italy, are confident there is still more to come in 2013.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are the most recent non-Red Bull drivers to have won a race this season, and their pole tallies make up a vast majority of this season’s. For whatever reason, though, this has added up to a championship challenge just shy of equal to Red Bull’s. If the Silver Arrows make one last push for the championship this season, there is a great chance that at least one of the championships could go down to the wire.
As for Ferrari and Lotus, it would probably be best for them to take things easy for the rest of the season and prepare for 2014. Despite being Red Bull’s closest challenger in the past two races, Ferrari is not exactly about to embark on a stretch of races that should suit their car. Poor performances in Monaco and Hungary, two similarly high-downforce circuits to Singapore, don’t give the team a lot of hope for the race this weekend.
Compound this to the already strained relationship between Fernando Alonso and the leaders of Ferrari, and you get some very tense times indeed.
As for Lotus, even their race-winning pace in Italy couldn’t make up for the fact that the team once again underperformed in qualifying. A brilliant observation from Lotus revealed that when Kimi Raikkonen emerged from the pits on lap two of the Italian Grand Prix after suffering wing damage, he was 38 seconds behind leader Sebastian Vettel. When the race was over, Raikkonen was 37 seconds down.
This doesn’t even take into the consideration all of the traffic Raikkonen had to negotiate throughout the race — something Vettel didn’t have to worry about.
It would be best if Ferrari and Lotus set their sights on a strong 2014 season. With Lotus now without Kimi Raikkonen for next season, ironically losing him to Ferrari, it will be an even more trying season for them. Perhaps they can even capitalize on the fact that Red Bull will keep developing their car late into the 2013 season and potentially lose ground next year.
Taking advantage of others’ misfortunes next year could be just as important as being fast.