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Mid-season Reflections

Posted by Carrot on July 6, 2010 | No Comments

We’re halfway through the 2010 season (well the actual halfway point of the season will be lap 26 of the British Grand Prix, we have an odd number of races this year, but I’ll be a bit busy drinking beer then) so we should assess where we are and look at what’s to come.

It’s obvious that the season hasn’t gone the same way as last year’s. Halfway through last season we’d had only two drivers win a Grand Prix, Jenson Button’s six victories that would ultimately assure him of the championship and two in response from Sebastian Vettel. That meant that two teams and two drivers had won every race in the first half of the season. Already this season we’ve had five different drivers and three different teams on the top step of the podium, with half the season left to run we’re currently one behind last year’s totals in both number of drivers and teams to win a race.

There’s been criticism this year, particularly after the season opener in Bahrain, that the racing this year is/could be boring. We haven’t sufficiently shaken that off yet and given the rule changes next year, there’s unlikely to be a fix pushed through this season. While I could be wrong and the racing could get closer, I don’t want to be relying on rain in the race or qualifying to mix things up to give us interesting television. What we need is closer racing, unfortunately changing the rules every year only stretches the gap on the grid as teams are forced to start from scratch on each design, which is a massive challenge for the midfield and the back markers.

I think the best way to deal with the season so far is to go team by team, therefore in championship order:

McLaren

Last year McLaren had a hideous car to start the season that languished at the back before the development juggernaut kicked in halfway through the season and turned it into a race winner. McLaren have a head start this year, they’re already challenging for wins. If their upgrades are similar this year in terms of overall pace then the McLaren is going to leave the rest of the field fighting for third. Button seems to have fitted in well and so far he and Hamilton have remained professional. Should it turn into an in-house battle for the crown I have to favour Button to win as he can cope with pressure better than Hamilton, both drivers were under extreme pressure in their championship years, but Button was able to overcome the development of Red Bull and wrap up the whole thing with a race to spare, Hamilton lucked into his championship because Glock was on the wrong tyres. At the moment Hamilton has the on-track edge over Button, Jense’s comparatively poor performances in qualifying are causing him to get stuck behind slower cars for long stints, should he get on terms with Lewis in quali I think we’ll see a clear advantage for Jenson in overall race pace.

Red Bull

It’s Brawn 2.0. They have a car that’s phenomenally fast, a concept that everyone’s trying to replicate to get on terms and a raw pace advantage of nearly a second on some tracks. Unfortunately they’re not as good as Brawn. Brawn won six of the first seven races last year, maximised their advantage and went on to take both championships. Of the first seven races this year Red Bull won three, less than 50%. While that’s a good result, it’s simply poor for a team with such a massive advantage over the rest of the field. Inexperience in fighting for championships is showing and it’s hurting their results badly. If they continue in the way they have been acting so far this season they’ll gift the championships to McLaren. Not only do they have have these problems to deal with, they also have the most volatile driver partnership on the grid. Alonso diving down the inside of Massa looks positively tame compared to Vettel turning into Webber. Red Bull’s best chance of a championship this year lies with Mark Webber, when the Aussie is on form Vettel can’t get confident and get close. Webber can also race better than Vettel. The young German seems to be developing a petulant streak where he won’t have anyone get ahead of him when they’re side by side on the race track. Webber was on the receiving end in Turkey and Hamilton was in Spain. Someone needs to have words with Vettel before his opponents get inside his head and finish him off for good this season.

Ferrari

A solo win that was lucked into due to mechanical problems for the Red Bull is certainly not what the Scuderia wanted for their 2010 season by the halfway point. While they were said to have the fastest car at the opening race, the design of the Red Bull and the stability of the McLaren soon relegated them to a lonely third, far ahead of Mercedes and Renault and only able to challenge the top two when Alonso is really on form. It’s only a matter of time before this season gets written off and all the design is shunted into the 2011 challenger. Alonso’s asserted his dominance at the team, he’s clearly number one and will use it to drive the team forward. While this is good for Ferrari, it’s bad news for Massa. I’m still not sure Massa’s recovered fully from his crash, the Massa that challenged Hamilton in 2008 would not be floundering in the lower points positions while his team mate was challenging for wins.

Mercedes

A repeat of last year’s glory is almost certainly not going to happen for the Ross Brawn helmed outfit. Transitions are always hard on racing teams, Mercedes will be hoping they only have to endure a single season of the upper mid-field pace they’re running at the moment before returning to challenge for victories. The great experiment of bringing back Michael Schumacher has failed. His mid-life crisis is damaging the team, as the updates have made the car more to his liking, the Mercedes are dropping in pace to the point that they’re being eliminated in the second qualifying session. Let Nico Rosberg pick himself a team mate to his liking and let him get on with building the team and taking it forward. He led the team at Williams and outperformed his team mates, he just needs the chance to drag Mercedes forward.

Renault

The major surprise of the season. They’ve won the battle of the midfield to the point that they’re starting to drag Mercedes towards them. Kubica seemingly has the chance to have things how he wants and is thriving for it. With all the top seats already booked he’ll almost inevitably remain for a second season before moving (depending to which rumour you believe) to Red Bull or Ferrari. It’ll be interesting to see how he drives forward the development on next year’s car. Kubica’s success could spell the end for Petrov though, if the prize money brought in by the Pole exceeds the sponsorship portfolio that backs up the Russian, 2010 culd be his only season in Formula 1. Petrov has failed to deliver on the pace of the car, although he’s had flashes of brilliance. I don’t expect him to be in that cockpit in 2011.

Force India

Mallya’s outfit continues to make steady progress towards the front. Their car is fast enough to get through to the final session of qualifying on occasion, if they can hold their head up in the midfield then it’ll be a marked improvement over where the team was a couple of seasons ago. Both drivers have shown the pace of the car, but Liuzzi has seemed to make more errors. Those errors could prove costly for his career with Paul di Resta waiting in the wings. Spa will be interesting, given they almost won the race on all-out pace last year, perhaps they can go one better this year?

Williams

Didn’t they say that this was the year they were going to move forward? Haven’t we heard that every year since they lost BMW? Something needs to change at Williams, they’ve had enough seasons and enough good drivers to make some actual progress and they’re consistently failing to do so. It’s embarrassing. The only people behind them in the championship are Toro Rosso, who are building their car for the first time, and the new teams. It’s not really something of distinction given that Williams used to win championships with ease. Hulkenberg has been swallowed up in the running at the back and has been unable to demonstrate the pace he had in GP2. Barrichello doesn’t seem to be positively impacting their development, he might retain his seat and extend his career if the contract is cheap, otherwise I can see this as being the final tear for the Brazilian.

Toro Rosso

Their first year not buying their design off of Adrian Newey’s shelf and they’ve done better than the new teams at least. They’ll take a few more season to come good I think, but they’re already doing better than when Minardi were building their own chassis. Buemi has been very impressive this year, outperforming the car on multiple occasions. He must be eyeing up a free cockpit at the main Red Bull team in 2012. Alguersuari’s results have been solid but he’s being overshadowed by his team mate. The young Spaniard should keep his drive for next year though, if only to make commentator’s trip up over how to pronounce his name correctly.

Sauber

Crippled in development by BMW halting work after announcing their withdrawal late last year, it’s been a difficult first half of the season for the returning Sauber team. A new technical director and an impressive run in the European race seem to announce an end to their problems. If they do start to go towards the front it’ll be bad news for Williams and Toro Rosso, even with no sponsorship, Peter Sauber is a master at running a car built on a pittance hat punches well above its weight. I still don’t understand how de la Rosa got the drive, he’s (obviously) not bringing sponsorship to the team in a meaningful way and you’ve got imagine that Heidfeld would be just as competent at developing the car, especially given he’ll have been involved in the initial design at BMW. Interviews from Pedro make it seem that he already knows that he’s not going to get a second year. Kobayashi, on the other hand, just needs a good day with a car that’s set-up right. We all remember what the Japanese driver did at the end of last year and we saw his pace again in Valencia. If Sauber can give him a car he can race, I expect many more excellent performances from him.

Lotus

The youngest of the new teams and the most successful. Yes, it’s only by virtue of a single thirteenth place, but if they maintain the place above the other two new teams until the end of the season then the extra money will do wonders to next year’s development budget. Mike Gascoyne’s done wonders with this outfit, especially since they had half the time of the the other new teams as they were the last to get their slot on the grid. Kovalainen’s really found his feet with the team, he looked adrift when he was with McLaren, but here he’s starting to come good and is a real asset to the team. Trulli on the other hand just seems to be complaining in an even more annoying voice than he did at Toyota and Renault. Throwing him out will be the best thing they ever do, I hear Anthony Davidson is free next year.

HRT

The first half season has been an absolute disaster for Hispania. They needed buying out before the car even turned a wheel, they’ve got two rookies, a chronic lack of spares and have split up with Dallara which means they’re having to now build a design department as well. In spite of all of this, they haven’t done all that bad. They’re still far too many seconds off the pace, but if they can improve it’ll be deserved after the amount of obstacles they’ve already overcome to put a car onto the the grid. Their major battle will be off the track in the accountant’s office. Should they remain financially viable I can see next year being easier for them, particularly with the raft of sponsorship they should be able to get with 2011 having the first Indian Grand Prix and having Chandhok in their cockpit.

Virgin

It don’t know whether to pity them or laugh at them. In the standings they are last even though they should be the leader of the new teams as they’ve had a lot more time than Lotus and a lot less problems than HRT. While everyone was questioning the ability of Nick Wirth to deliver a competitive car just using CFD, no-one thought to check how big the fuel tank was. Given that their car was designed to the new regulations, it’s not like they left the tank of the 2009 car in by accident, because there wasn’t one. It’s a glaring error that I wouldn’t expect from a garage team entering an amateur touring car championship let alone a supposed professional team at the pinnacle of motor sport. Glock must surely be looking for an out in his contract and be eyeing Petrov’s Renault jealously.
We do have an exciting second half of the season to come, we can all speculate, cheer for whoever we choose, but we all want close, fair and safe racing. Hopefully that’s what we’ll get. Finally, everyone going to Silverstone this weekend, enjoy it! The weather is likely to remain as hot as it’s been for the last couple of weeks, but with a high chance of showers over the weekend. That could certainly spice up the race on the new layout. Have a beer for me, I’m not going, unless someone from hospitality calls up and offers me the chance to watch the race in the paddock in a hot tub with Lee McKenzie and Holly Samos. Predictions on Friday¬†;)

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