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With half the season gone…

Posted by Carrot on August 26, 2011 | No Comments

…there’s still half to go, to paraphrase the great Murray Walker. We’re actually over halfway through, eleven races done and only eight left, but the summer break seems like half time for everyone involved in and watching F1. So the question is, how is the season going for the teams? Therefore in current championship order, let’s take a look at the teams’ 2011 fortunes.

1. Red Bull Racing – 383 pts

Over a 50% win ratio and at least one car on the podium at every race so far, it’s been a very good 2011 for Red Bull. They’ve had times where they’ve been over a second ahead of the field and you could still be measuring Sebastian Vettel on the points he’s dropped rather than the points he’s gained. Would you really want to bet against them? Certainly not after Monaco. However in the last five races they’ve only won once, with McLaren taking three wins and Ferrari one. As with Brawn in 2009, Red Bull are now in a development war and as 2009 proved, having the best car at the start of the season can lead to a very tense end of the season. It will be Ferrari that will determine Red Bull’s championship hopes. McLaren will continue to advance but if Vettel can take third for the rest of the year he’ll win the laurels, if Ferrari take points from Red Bull there’s a chance for McLaren to challenge. Rumour suggests that Ferrari are now concentrating on 2012, which will be welcome news for Red Bull. The best car and the best start to the season, if they can handle the pressure in the second half they’ll take both titles.

2. McLaren – 280 pts

Perennial bridesmaids, McLaren haven’t taken a constructors’ crown in over a decade and only one drivers’ crown in that time, 2011 seems to be more of the same. They’ve got, at least in my eyes, the best driver line-up on the entire grid. Two World Champions with very different styles, so they should be capitalising on any situation regardless of weather, tyre wear and all the other common excuse that we hear. This is verified by what we’ve seen, all of Red Bull’s six victories have been won by Vettel, Ferrari’s was taken by Fernando Alonso. Both of the McLaren drivers have a pair of victories each. Ultimately this could be the thing that lands them in second in the championship again with their rivals both having a definitive number one driver. They are in a development war, and seemed to be winning it before the summer break. If Ferrari take points from Red Bull they have a chance, but it’s only a slim chance. They’ve got the most equally matched driver line-up and are chasing Red Bull’s results, but they might have left their charge a little late.

3. Ferrari – 215 pts

2011 was a difficult start for Ferrari, by Spain they’d only managed a single podium. After Spain their early season aero troubles have looked to be solved, Alonso only being off the podium once in the last six races, and that was because he was spun off by Jenson Button. It’s an excellent turnaround for the Scuderia, but the Italian institution doesn’t race for third in the standings. Their weak link is Felipe Massa. He’s a lonely sixth in the table, 64 points away from Button who is only 15 points away from Mark Webber in second. Whether it was the life threatening crash or being moved over for Alonso at the German Grand Prix in 2010, he’s not got the same confidence or speed as the man who took Lewis Hamilton beyond the limit in 2008. With Ferrari already confirming him for next year it seems clear that they’re running a one driver team around Alonso as they did with Michael Schumacher rather than the parity they had between Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. The current word from Maranello is that the team are concentrating on 2012. That denies us excitement in 2011, but is better for Ferrari considering they’re unlikely to win the crown. Unfortunately McLaren need them to keep pushing to take points from Red Bull. The early season problems have been overcome, but apparently too late for their 2011 prospects.

4. Mercedes GP – 80 pts

Now with a lead over fifth placed Renault, Mercedes GP seem to established themselves as the best of the rest again. Surely a good result? Actually, no. This is a former championship winning team led by Schumacher and Ross Brawn, we expect better and so do they. Nico Rosberg is the team leader in all but name due to scoring 50% more points than Schumacher. On his best days Schumacher reminds us why he won so many titles, on his normal days he’s filling up a cockpit as an expensive PR exercise. Rosberg’s no rookie, he knows how to develop a car and lead a team as he did at Williams. Mercedes GP’s best hope for the future is to drop Schumacher and let Rosberg build the team to a charge, Schumacher’s two years have seen the team drop to the top of the ‘also ran brigade’. The results have improved after a shaky start, allowing them to overhaul Renault after the French team’s fast start to the year. They’ve managed to spend all that money to stand still, which is stagnation and utter failure in F1 terms. A better second half of the season may follow, but they aren’t going to break into the top three this year.

5. Renault – 66 pts

They had a mega start to this year, podiums from both of their drivers. This makes them the only team to be on the podium this year that hasn’t also won a race. They have tailed away from that good start, but they’re still in a position to challenge Mercedes GP if the development goes their way. However news in the last couple of days signals a potential bigger problem at the team. They’re replacing Nick Heidfeld with Bruno Senna. That could be an indicator of big financial troubles with the team. You don’t get rid of someone like Heidfeld, especially considering his results compared to Vitaly Petrov, unless there’s a reason. If it was for performance you’d drop Petrov, which leads us all to believe they need Petrov’s sponsorship and added money from Senna to keep going. The team’s recent resurgence since sold from the manufacturer could now be over. We could be looking at a similar situation to Jordan, where they dropped fast and hard to the back of the grid when money didn’t work out. Time will tell on that, but if they’re drafting in another driver with lots of sponsorship and risking a legal fight with Heidfeld, the signs that are there aren’t good.

6. Sauber – 35 pts

Sauber are hard to read this year. At times they’ve been threatening the pace of Renault and even Mercedes GP, at other times they’ve been clearly entrenched with the Force India/Toro Rosso/Williams fight in the true midfield. It’s certainly an improvement on the form they were showing at their ‘rebirth’ in early 2010. I don’t think it’ll take a great deal for them to overhaul Renault next year, Peter Sauber’s very experienced at making the best racing car on the money available and the new personnel he’s brought in seem to have focussed the team and driven them forward. Kamui Kobayashi is undoubtedly the star of the team, but that’s not to say that Sergio Perez is dead weight. For a rookie his performances are respectable, whether it’s enough for next year will depend on Sauber’s accountants as much as his on-track skill.

7. Force India – 26 pts

Things have changed for a team that scored a pole position in 2009. The expected rise to the front hasn’t materialised, instead they’ve dropped back to consistent pace for Q2. This is now their fourth year as Force India, and I’d be expecting to see some progress right now. Instead they’re fighting with Williams and Toro Rosso for non-points positions most of the time. There’s only so much the drivers can do, the machinery has to give them a break at some point. Speaking of the drivers, Adrian Sutil is seriously disappointing me this year. While he has scored more than double the points of his rookie team mate, I expect more from him after his previous form, and I don’t think I’m the only one. It seems like he’s sulking this year, and that’s not the right attitude for someone who is supposed to be leading a team out of a close fight and further up the standings. Ultimately Force India has the same story as everyone else not in the top five teams, fighting for the leftovers on the days that luck and reliability goes their way.

8. Toro Rosso – 22 pts

The ‘b’ team seem to have come good. They’ve firmly been getting stuck into Force India this year, on terms of points even if they’re lacking at times in qualifying. At the end of last year I questioned whether or not the team was worth the money Red Bull put into it, this year I’m questioning whether it’s doing its job. The purpose of the team is supposed to be to give rookies from the Red Bull development program racing experience in the top flight before promoting them to the senior team. That worked with Vettel, but then why are they grooming Daniel Ricciardo by placing him at HRT? Toro Rosso seems to be second prize for those in the development program who they don’t think have it for racing at the front. With Vettel reserving one of Red Bull’s cockpits for the foreseeable future, the great experiment seems to have been torpedoed by their own success. I could write about the team continuing to improve and them eventually breaking into the front running teams in a few years, but does anyone think Red Bull will actually let them challenge the ‘a’ team? Vettel’s Monza win in a Toro Rosso was a one off fluke, and it seems that Toro Rosso is a racing gulag where graduate drivers are sent to stop them signing with other teams.

9. Williams – 4 pts

I can’t be the only one who remembers the glory days of Williams. In the mid-nineties it seemed like you could just plug any driver into the car and they’d win. Then there was a slight downturn with the withdrawal of Renault and then a lifeline with a partnership with BMW. Then… and steady decline to the back. If the three new teams hadn’t show up, Williams would be last in the standings with less than a fifth of the points of the next team. This is an example of the dangerous spiral that exists in F1, you need money to get performance, but you need performance to get the really juicy sponsors. Williams can’t get either at the moment. They recently floated on the stock market, and their stock dropped on the first day. The team needs something, a break from anywhere. Otherwise we’re looking at another slow death of a former great, just like we did with Jordan and Tyrell. This season? The less said the better.

10. Team Lotus – 0 pts

I’ll leave the messy court case surrounding naming rights alone, as you’re probably all tired of that. Best of the new teams again this year, Heikki Kovalainen out-qualifying Jarno Trulli, but Trulli brought home the all important thirteenth positions that mean they’re the best of the new teams. The best of the new teams is an accolade, but not a very good one. This year was the first year of their hook-up with Renault and Red Bull, with that kind of backing I expect them to be better, a lot better. Anything less than the midfield next year and I think there’ll need to be a big shake-up or a sale to new owners. 2010 was excellent for them, in 2011 they’ve extended their advantage to the other new teams, but still haven’t managed to consistently take on the rest of the field.

11. HRT – 0 pts

HRT, as we must now call them due to team mandate, are a bit of an enigma for armchair pundits like myself. Team Lotus want to regain glory and perform well, Virgin want to continue the work on Manor Racing in a higher category and Williams want to go back to winning ways. The motivation is clear, HRT’s isn’t. What are they wanting to do in F1? They’ve got new owners since they entered with no racing background whatsoever. They’ve got no sponsors worth a damn on their car. Are they hoping for a Brawn GP style buy-out? Mercedes bought Brawn because it won, not because it was taking up a slot at the back. I’m convinced this team are just marking time until they can sell to a returning manufacturer or some billionaire who wants another sport toy to go with his Premier League football team. They’re effectively hiring out a cockpit to Red Bull for Ricciardo, they’ve become an in-season test team with cockpits available to the highest bidder. And even with all of this they still manage to sneak the important result, being ahead of Virgin for the second year running. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to their fortunes the year Virgin beats them.

12. Virgin Racing – 0 pts

It must have seemed easy to Richard Branson, put some stickers on a car and it wins. There’s a huge difference between Brawn GP and Manor Racing, and he’s now finding it out the hard way. Stocks in the team have already been sold to Russian investors to try and recoup expenses. It’s a shame really, with no budget cap the team is stranded in nowhere territory. They also seem to be a year behind everyone else. How many of you shouted at the TV last year that a car built using only CFD wouldn’t work? Virgin finally cottoned on to that fact this year. It means next year’s car should take them ahead of HRT, but it also means that this year they have no new upgrades to come. It’s another year of running costs and lower price money while they worked out the very basic fact that everyone else in the world knew. We don’t let pilots who have only learnt on simulators fly people on holiday, we don’t let 11 year olds with perfect scores on Gran Turismo drive cars, how can intelligent people believe you could design a real racing car in this way. I could write about everything that needs to be changed for them to move up the grid, but you all know it already, and Virgin will work it out in 2012 so they can implement it for 2013.

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  • Drivers Championship 2013

    1 Kimi Raikkonen 25
    2 Fernando Alonso 18
    3 Sebastian Vettel 15
    4 Felipe Massa 12
    5 Lewis Hamilton 10
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    9 Jenson Button 2
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    2 Lotus 26
    3 Red Bull 23
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    5 Force India 10
    6 McLaren 2
    7 Toro Rosso 0
    8 Sauber 0
    9 Williams 0
    10 Marussia 0
    11 Caterham 0