Formula One is sometimes derided by critics as predictable, yet even the biggest skeptics may concede that the 2013 season is cloaked in uncertainty.
At the completion of the last preseason tests, reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel said: “We have never had a winter that was less conclusive than this one.”
And that only describes what happened on the track, where nine different drivers topped the time sheets in the first nine sessions. It does not take into account the off-track intrigue, with every team facing the dilemma about what resources to put into developing the 2013 cars and what to put into getting a head start on designing the radically-different 2014 cars with their V6 turbo engines.
As usual in F1, the answer will be determined by money; some teams will be able to wage war on those two fronts, others will be forced to sacrifice one for the other.
The first impact can already be seen in the 2013 designs. Red Bull, for instance, has made only minor tweaks to the 2012 model car. And who can blame them, given Vettel and the team have won the past three world titles?
“There are no huge changes,” master designer Adrian Newey said. “It’s very much an evolutionary car. All the principles the same as last year. The devil has very much been in the detail with this car. We’ve tidied up some bits that we felt could be improved on. Development is now the key through the year.”
McLaren, by contrast, has overhauled its design from last year and Jenson Button acknowledged that could cost the team in the early races.
“If we started this year with last year’s car with a few changes to it, and we’d developed that car into 2013, we could have started with a very good car at the first race,” Button said. “But after three or four races you would realize that you’re at the end of the development curve with it.”