After winning a championship, it's not uncommon to see a professional sports team struggle to recapture that same success the next season. But Sebastian Vettel and Team Red Bull have completely squashed the notion of a championship hangover in recent F1 seasons, winning three straight driver and constructor championships.
Instead, if recent history is any indication, runner-up Fernando Alonso might have the most to lose when 2013 testing begins in February.
The runner-up hangover most recently struck Jenson Button this season, one year removed from finishing second to Sebastian Vettel. Sure, Button matched his win total from 2011 – but those three victories were spread out between Rounds 1, 12 and 20 – establishing no momentum whatsoever.
The other races contained stretches of bad luck and general inconsistency, including a dreadful five-race stretch from Bahrain to Valencia that saw the Englishman finish no better than eighth. He finished the final season classification in fifth, 102 points behind Vettel.
After starting the season with a victory at Albert Park, it had to be considered a disappointing season for McLaren's elder statesman.
Alonso himself is familiar with the runner-up slump, going from a five-win, second-place campaign in 2010 to fifth place with just a single victory in 2011. So can he avoid the same type of dropoff in 2013?
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali has publicly stated that this offseason will provide a challenge for the Italian outfit. The team is hoping to provide Alonso with a championship-winning car while also preparing for 2014 when new technical regulations will allow for a radically different race car.
"Next year will maybe be the most difficult year – we are in parallel projects," Domenicali said during a press conference in Madrid on Nov. 30. "We need to make sure the 2013 car and team is successful and, on other hand, we have a group of people that need to make sure that with massive change, the car of 2014 will be successful."
Alonso appeared to have pushed the F2012 way beyond its limits by winning three times and scoring 13 podiums – more than anyone else in the game. This came as a surprise following a preseason testing session where the car was criticized for its unattractive build and difficult maneuverability. And yet the Spaniard came within three points of securing a championship with it.
Alonso may have to repeat that feat in 2013 before aid comes in the form of the new rules package in 2014.
Ferrari has done its part to ensure consistency heading into next season, re-signing Felipe Massa to a one-year extension. The Maranello duo have a good relationship and Massa, who came on strong at the end of the season, should provide invaluable data to help Alonso improve by just one spot in next season's final standings.
Ferrari's inadequacies under the current package have been well-documented over the last three years, but it has also shown just how talented of a driver that Alonso really is.
If Ferrari gives him the car, Alonso will most certainly be in the hunt. It might even allow him to snap that dreaded runner-up hangover.