Our mid-season F1 teams report card
21 July, 2010
Jul.20 (Michael Johnsson) The first half of this Formula 1 season has yielded a plethora of memorable moments, from Fernando Alonso’s triumphant debut for Ferrari at one end of the spectrum to the horrendous accidents that befell Sebastien Buemi and Mark Webber at the other.
In between, there were the struggles of drivers and teams of whom more was anticipated than delivered, such as Michael Schumacher and Mercedes GP, as well as those, such as the three new squads, from whom little if anything was expected.
While it’s hard to tell what will happen going forward as the season enters its inward half, it seems an appropriate time to look back at what has transpired in the first 10 races for clues to the rest of this year’s results. The following is a team-by-team review of this F1 season to date by current constructor ranking, with highlights and lowlights of the contenders, the pretenders and the remainder. Grading is on an A, B, C, D, F basis, including minus and plus scores.
The contenders to the F1 throne
Highlights: Two wins each for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, 11 podium finishes, leading in both driver and constructor standings.
Lowlights: Poor performances in Monaco and Spain, Button’s seeming inability to consistently match Hamilton’s pace, Hamilton’s embarrassing weekend in Australia.
McLaren lie first in constructors standings with 278 points.
Though it has not shown the raw speed of chief rival Red Bull, McLaren have been solid this year and have the results to prove it. It has three 1-2 finishes and Hamilton has been very much on song of late, winning in Turkey and Canada and finishing a strong second at Silverstone. Only his escapades in Melbourne and the odd fit of temper have blotted his copy book.
Button is another story despite lying second in the driving table. His qualifying results have not been equal to the car’s potential and he’s been struggling to find both grip and pace. He lined up an abysmal 17th at wet Sepang and was 14th in Britain, results inconsistent with title-winning form.
McLaren is where it is because of Red Bull’s inability to match pace with results. Its new blown diffuser proved a bust at Silverstone and it will need either more successful technical input or a continuation of Red Bull’s inconsistency to stay there.
Red Bull Racing – Renault
Highlights: Blinding qualifying speed, five wins, eight podiums, Mark Webber’s stunning drive at Silverstone.
Lowlights: Puzzling lack of reliability/consistency, intramural on-track incident in Turkey, Webber’s appalling accident at Valencia, public discord over driver status.
Red Bull Racing lie second in constructors standings with 249 points
Only Red Bull seems able to keep Red Bull from winning both titles this year and it’s doing a fine job of it so far. Its cars have lined up on pole in every race save one but it keeps getting in its own way through either reliability issues or driver error.
Webber is third in the driving table ahead of Sebastian Vettel and has three wins to Vettel’s two.
Vettel has taken five poles to Webber’s four. Vettel has two retirements and some bad racing luck behind him, such as his being told to manage a gearbox issue in Canada and his brake problems in Bahrain. Webber, whose only DNF came through his airborne exit in Valencia, has also had some poor results, with a ninth at his home race in Australia his worst.
The above would seem to indicate two equally matched drivers, which made Red Bull’s decision to give Webber’s new front wing to Vettel at Silverstone all the more questionable. This team should win both championships. It probably won’t.
The pretenders to the F1 throne
Highlights: Five podiums, 1-2 finish in Bahrain, Felipe Massa’s early form.
Lowlights: Pit-lane pass in China and attendant furore, Massa’s recent disappearance, dreadful qualifying results in Malaysia and sub-par performances in general.
Ferrari lie third in constructors standings with 165 points
The Scuderia entered the season on an optimistic note with a two-time world champion coming on board to join a proven driver. It enters the second half with its chances of winning either title quickly falling to an extremely low order of probability.
Alonso, from whom much was expected, has failed to deliver, with his Sakir victory offset by two finishes outside the points and several bursts of petulance. His seemingly bold pass of Massa entering the Shanghai pits was a virtual declaration of war and ruined any goodwill that might have been building in the team. It certainly soured Massa, who was vociferous in his unhappiness about the incident and has been 15th, 11th and 15th in his last three races after consecutive podiums to start the season.
This team is in danger of becoming irrelevant when it comes to contending for wins. Alonso has failed to escape Q1 twice this year and Massa once, an almost unheard-of state of affairs. The car is not quick enough or consistent enough. None of this bodes well.
Highlights: Three podiums by Nico Rosberg, excellent reliability.
Lowlights: No podiums by Michael Schumacher, contretemps over introduction of and inspiration behind technical updates.
Mercedes GP lie fourth in constructors standings with 126 points.
Mercedes GP, which evolved from the double 2009 title-winning Brawn team, pulled what seemed a major off-season coup by signing what it thought was a team leader and a decent second seat. It didn’t figure on their identities being reversed.
Rosberg, initially cast as a bit player, has been the unquestioned star at Mercedes, scoring almost three-quarters of its points. He has consistently out-driven and out-qualified the much more decorated Schumacher and seems to have a better handle on setup than his teammate, who is understandably rusty after not turning a wheel in anger in years. The team have only one DNF from 20 starts.
Still, much more was expected of Schumacher if only on his reputation, which has taken as much of a beating as he has from Rosberg as he lurches from one disappointment on race weekend to another. Mercedes GP, which focussed its technical updates on Schumacher’s suggestions and its promotional efforts on his return, must be wondering how to undo both to give Rosberg a bigger piece of the pie. His results show he deserves it.
Highlights: Second-place finish in Australia, determined driving and solid results from Robert Kubica.
Lowlights: Lack of production from apparently overmatched second seat Vitaly Petrov.
Renault lie fifth in constructor standings with 89 points
It has been a tale of two halves for Renault, pertaining to the top and bottom portions of its driving stable.
The upper section is the undisputed realm of Kubica, who has delivered consistent scoring drives and has finished outside the points just twice. He has been consistent in qualifying, making it into Q3 in every race this season, and shown pace equal to Ferrari’s on occasion.
The lower belongs to the unfortunate Petrov, whose GP2 feeder series successes must seem a distant memory. He has yet to outqualify his teammate, the only F1 driver in that sorry club, and looks to be in over his head. His seat may be in danger amid a reported sponsorship funding problem and his lack of results on the track; he has six points to Kubica’s 83 and has reached Q3 just once.
It could be ‘dasvidania’ for Russia’s first F1 driver soon. Renault is rumoured to be courting Kimi Raikkonen, a former world champion, as Petrov’s replacement for the second half. It could do worse. It already is.
Force India – Mercedes
Highlights: Eleven scoring drives, consistent points contributions from Adrian Sutil.
Lowlights: Recent lack of qualifying results, Vitantonio Liuzzi’s inconsistency relative to Sutil.
Force India sixth in constructors standings with 47 points
This team is this year’s enigma after taking a big step forward in 2009. It has shown occasional flashes of quality in practice and qualifying but can’t quite seem to make it pay off on race day.
Sutil has shown the car’s potential, finishing fifth in Malaysia from fourth on the grid; still, it seemed he should have gone forward rather than backward. He has reached Q3 five times but only once in the last six races.
Liuzzi began well, scoring in Bahrain and Australia, but has points from just two of eight races since. His two points in Canada after playing first-corner dodgems with Massa may have revived him. However, he has failed to get out of Q1 three times and was a brutal 20th at Silverstone after a five-place penalty.
It would be easy to dismiss Force India but for the sneaking suspicion there might be a win in its future this year. The Mercedes power plant it carries is strong and the chassis is reasonably competitive. Stranger things have happened. See the circumstances of BMW’s maiden victory in 2008 for confirmation.
So near yet so far the rest of the chasing pack
Williams – Cosworth
Highlights: Strong showings at last two races, particularly by Rubens Barrichello.
Lowlights: Reliability issues, lack of consistent pace, Barrichello’s failure to get out of Q1 in Spain, Nico Hulkenberg’s uncertain beginning.
Williams lie seventh in constructors standings with 31 points
Williams is taking on the aspect of the former Tyrrell team before its eventual disappearance, with team principal Frank Williams and technical supremo Patrick Head playing the parts of Ken Tyrrell and Dr Harvey Postlethwaite as former giants aging in full public view as the sun sinks slowly in the west.
The once-mighty squad has fallen upon hard times, with no wins since 2004 and no prospects of securing one. As in 1998 and 1999 it’s making do with a second-line engine programme until better happens along. That’s not helping its current drivers, who are doing their best with what they have for the most part.
Hulkenberg, who looks either potentially great or totally lost, has three retirements including an exhaust failure that robbed him of points in Valencia. Barrichello, an old hand when it comes to shepherding uncompetitive equipment, has used his experience to clock up 29 points to Hulkenberg’s two.
Barrichello will celebrate his 300th F1 start shortly. It may be the only opportunity for celebration Williams has for the rest of the season unless Head can work some of his legendary wizardry.
Sauber – Ferrari
Highlights: Bracing recent form, improved reliability of late, four Q3 appearances.
Lowlights: Utterly embarrassing start to season, atrocious reliability in first six races, two failures to escape Q1.
Sauber lie eighth in constructors standings with 15 points
Perhaps it’s the name that’s messing with this team as the former BMW Racing, saved from extinction just after the last possible moment, struggles to re-emerge. Having two manufacturers in your moniker is confusing and Sauber has been as well.
Peter Sauber’s cars began this year with no sponsors, no points and retirements galore. Perhaps that was to be expected after the very late decision to allow the team a place on the grid when the USF1 team fell apart. Pedro de la Rosa helped set the tone by retiring from the Malaysian round with a blown engine, a recurrent theme early on, as he exited the pit lane to join the grid. He has yet to score.
Things started looking up when James Key joined as technical guru, which began Kamui Kobayashi’s ascendency as the team’s best driver. His outstanding performance at Valencia, astonishingly matching McLaren’s pace in spots on very old tires, signalled that things may be falling into place at last. He suffered five DNFs in his first six starts, as did de la Rosa.
Sauber cut its initial F1 teeth by scoring points through reliability runs. That seems the way back this time around as Sauber mark II slowly rebuilds its fortunes.
Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari
Highlights: Sebastien Buemi’s fighting eight-place finish in Montreal and ninth in the following round in Valencia, two scoring drives from Jaime Alguersuari.
Lowlights: Ugly qualifying results, Buemi’s horrifying accident in Shanghai practice session.
Scuderia Toro Rosso lie ninth in constructors standings with 10 points
The junior partner in the Red Bull stable continues to plod along, vainly striving to equal the illustrious achievements of its better half. The best that can be said of STR at present is that it’s better than the Minardi team from which it originated. Its 2010 successes have been minor and its failures very major indeed.
Buemi has been competitive on occasion with back-to-back scoring drives. He’s also been woeful, with three retirements in four races in the early going. His shocking shunt in China, which saw both front uprights apparently disintegrate in the same moment, was enough to chill the blood of anyone with a pulse.
The good news for Alguersuari is that he’s only got one DNF. The bad news is that he’s lined up better than 16th just three times, failed to escape Q1 in Bahrain and was 17th on the grid on four additional occasions. Buemi has yet to break into Q3 and qualified a season-worst 16th at Silverstone.
The so-called developmental squad will continue to dream of the glories the first-line team produces on a weekly basis. Distantly.
And the new teams on the block struggling at the back
Lotus, Hispania Racing, Virgin Racing
Highlights: Too early to tell.
Lowlights: See ‘Highlights.’
Grade: Incomplete (10th, 11th and 12th respectively in constructors standings, 0 combined points)
Rome was not built in a day, particularly in a league affectionately known as the Pirahna Club. As such, it seems best to wait until the end of the season to pass judgment on the three B-spec teams.
Lotus is generally the quickest of the new boys, with Heikki Kovalainen usually outpacing Jarno Trulli.
Virgin, where Timo Glock has been consistently thumping Lucas di Grassi, blotted its copybook and reputation by being forced to resubmit its design after its original fuel cell was too small to allow its cars to finish races.
Hispania Racing has been playing driver merry-go-round of late, using Sakon Yamamoto as a carrot to get Bruno Senna to chase the stick represented by Karun Chandhok with more vigour.
The new teams have been noticeable so far only through getting in the way (ask Webber), generating a myriad of blue move-over flags while running at a snail’s pace compared to the top teams. The earthshaking development would be one of the new teams either escaping Q1 or – wait for it – actually scoring points. Don’t hold your breath. Blue isn’t your colour. It’s theirs.