Friday, 12 August 2011

The Teams' Half-Term Report

We're over halfway through the season now and deep into the summer break, which allows us to look back upon the races we've seen already and what the teams have achieved since testing in February. I've written a little report on how the teams have done. It's written in the order of teams I feel have done the best (not necessarily in championship order). In ascending order, then, here we go...

12. Virgin-Cosworth
When Virgin’s new car was unveiled at the start of this year, many people on F1Fanatic noticed that it looked at lot like Midland, who competed in F1 in 2006, and they have unfortunately taken the same form with the livery - the team that started 2011 ahead of Hispania have now been overtaken by them. With only two retirements out of a possible twenty-one, though, (Timo Glock did not start in China) it would be harsh to say they are completely useless. They do manage to get themselves ahead of Hispania in Qualifying more often than not, yet seem to lose these places in the race.

11. Williams-Cosworth
The rest of 2011 seems to be little more than preparation for next season. Their nine constructors’ titles and seven drivers’ championships are now a distant memory, although their decision to take Renault engines next year should be a step in the right direction. Firing Sam Michael, on the other hand, might turn out to be a mistake - many paddock insiders see him ending up at Force India, and this is most likely. Whilst the easily likeable Rubens Barrichello has taken all four of Williams’ points this year, the most exciting half of their driver line-up is Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan was written off by many, myself included, as just another pay driver who would bring finances to a cash-strapped team. In Qualifying, though, he has shown a real turn of speed and is punching above what the car should be capable of. If he can hold is ground in the races, like fellow rookie Paul di Resta can, then he should be able to score some points before the year is out.

10. Hispania-Cosworth
2011 didn’t get off to a fantastic start for HRT. For one reason and another they missed all of pre-season testing yet again, and it was touch-and-go as to whether they would make it to the first round. Falling outside of the 107% at the first race must have dented their confidence, but from then on they have grown faster and faster and are starting to consistently beat Virgin. With the introduction of Daniel Ricciardo, not only will they get a quick driver, but some Red Bull money. It is unclear, however, whether their finances will be enough to build a completely new car next year. If they have to use this year’s chassis once more, then they will appear to go backwards. I can only hope that this does not happen, and that the lovable Spanish minnows are able to get their act together in the second half of this year in readiness for next season.

9.   Toro-Rosso Ferrari
In recent times the ex-Minardi squad has been known as giant killers, particularly after their fantastic win in 2008 at Monza with a certain Sebastian Vettel. 2010 wasn’t a bad year at all, and on that basis the team looked to 2011 with the hope of challenging for bigger points at every round. However, if anything the team has gone backwards and they have more often than not been the ‘fourth team’ who has a driver knocked out in Q1. In the race they have fared a little better, but both drivers need to calm down a little if they are to score more points and eventually win a seat at Red Bull. The introduction of Daniel Ricciardo to Hispania must have focused their minds somewhat. If they can’t deliver after the summer break, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ricciardo moving from HRT to the Italian squad next season.

8.   Force India-Mercedes
Whilst Force India may have been a slight disappointment in the first few races (although they consistently took points), it was Paul di Resta’s performance in Hungary that has summed up their first half to the season - the perfect mix of speed, skill and strategy with a sprinkling of luck allowed him to take his best ever result with seventh. Those four factors weren’t necessarily all apparent at certain points in the early season, and the team will be hoping to charge forward through the midfield for their first ever home race later in the season. Whether they keep both of their drivers for 2012 is a question that will need to be answered soon. The few available places for 2012 all rest on who Adrian Sutil, and to a lesser extent Paul di Resta, decide to drive for next season.

7.   Renault
And now to the biggest conundrum of 2011 - what has happened to Renault’s early season pace? After finishing on the podium in the first two races, the team running a ‘retro’ livery has not been able to manage anything close to their early-season form since. The team’s development pace was unheard of last year, as they famously brought a new front wing upgrade to every race of 2010. That must be one privilege both Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld must be hoping for in the second half of the season. In other news, it is unknown if Robert Kubica will be able to return to the car before the end of the season. If he can, however, it will be interesting to see if he still has the blistering pace that he had before his horrific rally crash earlier this year.

6.   Sauber
Martin Brundle summed up the German team’s 2011 strategy perfectly in commentary at Hungary: “I don’t know whether to be impressed with Sauber or not. ‘Right, let’s run a strategy that might sneak us into ninth or tenth.’ Why don’t they turn up with, ‘Let’s run a strategy that might win us this race’?” That ideology has returned some favourable results for Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, and the Sauber’s ease on its tyres has proved their party piece. Whether they will be able to deliver any top results with that strategy in the run-in to the year will surely be on their mind. A shout-out to Sergio Perez - he has shown both steely determination and maturity in the first nine races of his career. After his mighty Qualifying crash at Monaco, he has won over many of his critics by standing down in Canada for Pedro de la Rosa.

5.   Mercedes GP
If nothing else, Mercedes can surely win the unofficial award for best-looking car this season. The W02, whilst crippled by chronic overheating issues early in the season, looks like a missile out on track. In the hands of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, however, the best result it has been able to salvage has been a lowly fourth from Schumacher in Canada - and even that was with a stroke of luck. Beating up the Brackley-based team, however, will surely do them no favours. Their development team has recently been working on a raft of updates for the car and will surely be going in to overdrive once the enforced two-week break has been completed. Whether they can finish on the podium in the last few races is surely the best they can achieve.

4.   Ferrari
Reading the Maranello squad this year has been notoriously difficult. The team that usually wears its heart on its sleeve has kept its cards very close to its chest this year. After taking only one win in the first eleven races, Fernando Alonso will be looking for more race wins in the second half of the season. He would love to replicate his achievements last year, when he won several races in the final run-in to the title. Felipe Massa, on the other hand is not necessarily hoping for race wins - after beating Alonso in Qualifying in Hungary for the first time in a very long time, Massa will hope that he can continue that form for the rest of the year.

3.   Lotus-Renault
I promised myself when writing this piece that I wouldn’t get bogged down in the court battle between the two Lotus teams that is supposed to now be settled. But Team Lotus have given plenty more to talk about in terms of their speed. They have made it through to Q2 twice in the form of Heikki Kovalainen this year on pure pace alone, and with Jarno Trulli’s power steering issues supposedly fixed now, the green and yellow cars should be going even faster from now on. With small developments coming to the car, it is a question of when, rather than if, the team can get both cars into Q2 and their first points of the year. They are definitely an exciting team and will be one to watch in the second half of 2011 and beyond.

2.   Red Bull-Renault

Despite a recent lack of top-of-the-pile results, the team from Milton Keynes have absolutely blown away the opposition this year. Sebastian Vettel in particular has stormed the first half of the year - he’s finished in either first or second bar one anomaly at his home event when he only just missed out on the podium in fourth. His team-mate on the other hand, hasn’t had quite the season to remember so far. Whilst it was the best start to a season he’s ever had, he’s only finished ahead of Vettel three times out of eleven in Qualifying. Looking at race results it gets even worse - only once has he finished ahead of the reigning World Champion when the chequered flag has fallen. The second half of the season will be critical for Webber, as he appears to have finally got to grips with the Pirelli tyres. We go next to Spa, where he qualified on pole last year and finished second in the race. A repeat of that performance would surely boost his confidence.

1.   McLaren-Mercedes
And the great love-in at McLaren continues. Despite some close racing and a race-ending incident for Hamilton in Canada, McLaren continue to micro-manage their drivers fantastically well. One problem, however, has been their unreliability issues, with Button retiring from two races in succession after two mistakes by the team. Button has admitted himself that those two races without points have probably put an end to his championship challenge. However, Hamilton still feels he could win. If he is to do this, he will need to finish all of the remaining races on, or near, the podium. Not only this, but he will be wishing that Vettel has run out of luck for this season - he needs the German to retire, crash or otherwise retire in order to overhaul his championship lead.

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