New BBC Sport
F1 pit lane reporter Tom Clarkson believes Williams could again spring a few surprises this season.
Williams of course claimed its first win since Brazil 2004 last year, when Pastor Maldonado took a brilliant victory at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.
Furthermore while the Grove-based outfit may not have claimed any other podiums it was still a massively more positive year than the season before. Indeed in 2012, Maldonado and Bruno Senna combined to notch up 76 points, whereas in 2011, Williams managed just 5 – more than a 15 fold increase.
Speaking to Crash.net
at the recent London press launch for the BBC
's 2013 F1 coverage, Clarkson added that the decision to go with Valtteri Bottas and drop Senna should also pay dividends.
“The team that I reckon will make a big step forward this year is Williams. They have got a good driver line-up - stronger than last year. I think Bottas is Finland's next [F1] world champion. There were also signs at the end of 2012 that Maldonado is calming down a bit and is less impetuous,” said Clarkson, who will work in the pit lane for the BBC
alongside the popular Lee McKenzie.
“The car also looks quick. They have got limited resources but they seem to have invested it in the right places. The Coanda exhaust is a big area of gain for them when other teams made that gain last year.
“So, watch out for Williams!”
As for who will win the 2013 F1 drivers' title, Clarkson is confident that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari will finally get it right, after just missing out in 2012 and 2010: “They are putting a lot into this season. It is significant that Rory Byrne is taking over the 2014 project because that frees up technical director, Pat Fry, to focus on 2013. It means he can develop the car right the way through to the end of the season,” Clarkson explained.
“That is important for their championship chances because we could get to the start of the European season and I think the teams from mid-grid downwards, if they are not in the mix, they will probably cut short development on this year's car and focus on 2014 [when there is a major regulation change]. Alonso has the luxury of having a car that should be developed all year.”
“Alonso is my tip for the top, if you like,” he added. “He got that shed of a Ferrari within three points of Vettel last year and the signs are that this year's Ferrari is much more competitive. He is mega consistent and will bang in a few wins and should take the title at the end of the day.”
Does he have to do it this season though?
“I don't see it as 'do or die' or if it doesn't happen now Alonso will start throwing his toys around,” Clarkson continued. “He loves being a Ferrari driver - maybe it is the latin temperament coming through. He is much better suited to the Ferrari environment than any British team.”
Clarkson also believes Felipe Massa will start 2013 as he finished 2012: “Let's not forget Felipe out-qualified Alonso for the last two races, if we disregard the gearbox seal being broken in Austin. But he did actually out-qualify Fernando there. It is great to see Massa back on track [after an awful start to last season] and he does have a good record against these top drivers.
“If he has carried that momentum through the winter, which I think he has, he will be up there. If you look at testing, he seems much happier in himself and much more relaxed around the team. It is going to be a strong team,” added the respected F1 scribe.
Despite that though, Clarkson doesn't reckon the Alonso-Massa combination will be enough to stop Red Bull from taking the Constructors'.
“I don't think it [the Ferrari line-up] is as strong as Vettel and [Mark] Webber,” confirmed the long-time F1 Racing
writer. “I think Red Bull will win the Constructors' Championship because the cars will be close together in terms of performance and then, you have just got to work out which is the strongest driver pairing on the grid and for me that is still Vettel and Webber.
“Webber's experience and ability to sort a car is vital to that team and Vettel is blindingly quick - we have seen that over and over again.”
But could we have another title showdown in Brazil in November?
“Absolutely, I think with rule stability the cars are pushed closer together and then it becomes much more of a drivers' championship. I think we will see the best drivers getting the best results and that is not always the case in F1 obviously.
“We will see the [Lewis] Hamilton's and the Alonso's and the Vettel's all hammering it out at the front. Personally I believe it will be one of the best season's ever. Bring it on!” Clarkson summed-up.STOP PRESS: To read more the full interview with Tom Clarkon's ahead of the coming F1 2013 season, CLICK HERE.