F1 2011: Team-By-Team Mid-Season Review


The long F1 summer holiday continues to drag on – it is over two and a half weeks since the checkered flag fell in Hungary yet still over a week before the cars will be out on track at Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix

However, as team personnel begin to head back for the factory after their enforced two week shut-downs, now seems like as good a time as any to look at each team in turn, assess their performance over the eleven races that have taken place so far, and look at how they will fare in the final eight events.

 

Austria Red Bull – Renault
Car #1 Germany Sebastian Vettel 234pts (1st)
Best Result: 1st (Australia, Malaysia, Turkey, Spain, Monaco, Europe)
Car #2 Australia Mark Webber 149pts (2nd)
Best Result:  2nd (Turkey)

Red Bull are the only team to have got both cars to the end of every race. Not only that, but the lowest finishes the team have recorded are the two fifth places picked up by Mark Webber in Australia and Malaysia. They have been on pole position at every race so far this season (Sebastian Vettel has eight, Webber has the other three), Vettel has taken six race wins, and at least one driver has been on the podium at each race.

Sebastian Vettel demonstrates his trade-mark victory signal at the Spanish Grand Prix - a sight Mark Webber must be sick of witnessing

Six wins from first eight races allowed Vettel to into an an early lead in the championship standings and he currently stands 85 points clear. Of the four races he failed win, he finished three of them in second place and the only blip of the season – if you can call it that – was fourth place in his home race. He has only dropped 41 points this season! With this kind of consistency, Vettel will undoubtedly wrap up his second title sooner rather than later. He may have failed to win any of the last three races, but all his potential rivals are busy taking points off one another and Vettel is likely to become world champion with three or four races to spare.

Webber, on the other hand, is having a pretty woeful season by his standards. Whilst Vettel demonstrates how dominant the car is (or at least was, at the beginning of the season) the Australian has an average finishing position of 3.5, and this is despite five front row starts. His aim for the remainder of the season will be to pick up wins but, with McLaren and Ferrari seeming to have reigned in Red Bull in the development race, Webber may struggle to get on the top step of the podium.

 

 

United Kingdom McLaren – Mercedes
Car #3 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton 146pts (3rd)
Best Result: 1st (China, Germany)
Car #4 United Kingdom Jenson Button 134pts (5th)
Best Result: 1st (Canada, Hungary)

McLaren went to the first race of 2011 with low expectations after disappointing winter testing, but found themselves as the main rivals to Red BullLewis Hamilton took second place in Australia and went one better three weeks later to win in China. However, as Ferrari began to get their act together, the fortunes of McLaren dipped and at the British Grand Prix there was speculation that team principal Martin Whitmarsh would soon find himself out of a job. However, with wins in the last two races, McLaren seem to have got their 2011 campaign back on track, but will still struggle to overhaul the deficit to Red Bull with just eight races remaining.

Hamilton has had a frustrating season: he has not has the car to challenge consistently enough and this has led to mistakes and avoidable accidents. He has been a regular visitor to the stewards office, prompting a colourful post-race outburst in Monaco, which left the 2008 champion open to widespread condemnation. With just one retirement this season though – the result of that collision with team-mate Jenson Button in Canada – Hamilton is one of three drivers who can just about make a case for being able to challenge Vettel for the 2011 title.

Button, on the other hand, is exactly one hundred points behind Vettel after eleven races, and can almost certainly be ruled out. Qualifying has been his main problem – he trails Hamilton 8-3 when it comes the performance on a Saturday afternoon. Button can boast two hard-fought and well-deserved victories this season but retirements in Britain and Germany have scuppered his challenge to Vettel. However, if there are anymore wet races this season, the Brit would be a good bet for victory.

Button celebrates victory in Canada: The Brit was running last at one point but battled through the field in difficult conditions and overtook Vettel for the lead on the final lap

 

 

Italy Ferrari
Car #5 Spain Fernando Alonso 145pts (4th)
Best Result: 1st (Britain)
Car #6 Brazil Felipe Massa 70pts (6th)
Best Result: 5th (Malaysia, Europe, Britain, Germany)

At Ferrari, the start of the 2011 season brought little to shout about. The famous Italian team were way of the pace of Red Bull and looked unable to challenge for race victories. However, the team have been steadily improving as the season progresses, and now have one of the fastest cars on the grid.

Fernando Alonso only has one victory to his name so far this season but he has collected more points from the last four races than any other driver. Six podium finishes in the last eight races and just one retirement – a collision with Button in Canada – has helped the Spaniard accumulate a decent points tally. He has clear number one status in his team, which could prove useful if he is to mount a charge for the title.

However, if Alonso is to have any hope of overhauling Vettel, he will need Felipe Massa to up his game. The Brazilian did show signs of having regained his old form in the early part of the season – he finished ahead of Alonso in both Malaysia and China – but other results have been less than impressive. Whilst Alonso has been taking podium finishes, Massa has been languishing down in fifth or sixth place for most of the season. He will need to up his game if he is going to start taking points of Alonso’s title rivals.

Massa leads Button and Alonso during the Australian Grand Prix - he would eventually finish behind both drivers

 

 

Germany Mercedes
Car #7 Germany Michael Schumacher 32pts (10th)
Best Result: 4th (Canada)
Car #8 Germany Nico Rosberg 48pts (7th)
Best Result: 5th (China, Turkey)

Mercedes have established themselves firmly as the fourth best team in the sport, but are still some way off challenging for race victories. They have appeared to make steady progress throughout the season, but it is still hard to imagine either Michael Schumacher or Nico Rosberg standing on the top step of the podium anytime in 2011.

That said, Schumacher has shown some signs of his former greatness this season, but these demonstrations have been interspersed by unnecessary collisions with other midfield runners. The seven-time world champion has had some great drives through the field, but this has usually been after a poor qualifying performance or an accident that put the German in such a bad position to begin with. His performance of the season was in Canada, when he was on course for second place before Jenson Button and Mark Webber flew past him easily using DRS. Hopefully the final eight races will see Schumacher get that first top-three finish since he came out of retirement.

An interesting statistic from Rosberg’s season so far: only once in 2011 has he finished a race in a higher position than the one in which he started (this was at the British Grand Prix). This is probably down to the fact that he has been out-performing his car in qualifying rather than any criticism of his race craft. He has certainly had the measure of Schumacher on a Saturday afternoon, and is beating him 10-1 in the qualifying stakes. He has been pretty anonymous on race day, but is steadily collecting points. He is likely to finish the season seventh in the championship, ‘best of the rest’ behind the Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari drivers.

Schumacher was running second in Montreal before Button and Webber overtook him with the help of DRS. He eventually finished fourth to collect his (and Mercedes) best result so far in 2011

 

United Kingdom Renault
Car #9 Germany Nick Heidfeld 34pts (8th)
Best Result: 3rd (Malaysia)
Car #10 Russian Federation Vitaly Petrov 32pts (9th)
Best Result: 3rd (Australia)

Those who thought that Renault would miss Robert Kubica this season would have been thinking again after the team picked up two podium finishes in the first two races, but the team are undoubtedly missing the talismanic Pole now. The season that started so well has rapidly gone down hill, and the Group Lotus-backed team have been fighting for the lower points places for much of the season. The last race in the Hungary, however, is the only race in which they have failed to score at least one point.

Nick Heidfeld's car catches fire on exiting the pits in Hungary, a low point in a season that started so well for Renault

Nick Heidfeld was thought to be a wise replacement for Kubica. The German has a wealth of experience and can (usually) be relied on to bring the car home without making too many mistakes. However, he has not been much faster than rookie team-mate Vitaly Petrov so far this season and his reputation for reliability was slightly damaged after he crashed into the back of Kamui Kobayashi at the Canadian Grand Prix. With Romain Grosjean dominating in GP2 and catching the eye of Renault team principal Eric Boullier, Heidfeld may be replaced by the Frenchman before the end of the season.

Petrov, on the other hand, seems to have ironed out the mistakes that haunted him last season, and has picked up some decent results, including his first ever F1 podium at the opening race. He also leads Heidfeld 8-3 in the head-to-head qualifying comparison. Petrov’s only retirement so far this season was at Monaco where he was one of the victims in the multi-car accident on Lap 72. He is unlikely to be able to do anything particularly special in the closing races of this season, given the lack of pace of the R31, but the Russian is showing signs of becoming a very handy F1 driver.

 

United Kingdom Williams – Cosworth
Car #11 Brazil Rubens Barrichello 4pts (17th)
Best Result: 9th (Monaco, Canada)
Car #12 Venezuela Pastor Maldonado 0pts (21st)
Best Result: 14th (Britain, Germany)
Barrichello picked up Williams' first points of the season at Round 6 in Monaco

Williams, once giants of Formula 1, have been in the doldrums this season. It took until the third race, China, for the Grove-based team to get a car to the checkered flag, and until Monaco, the sixth race of the season, to pick up the first points. They still only have four points to their name, and are struggling to look like a team that can consistently challenge for those top ten positions. However, the team are continuing to develop the FW33 and will hopefully improve on their measly points tally in the coming races. The long-term future is looking brighter after the announcement of an engine partnership with Renault for 2012 onwards.

Rubens Barrichello, who less than two years ago was winning races with Brawn GP, is understandably sounding pretty frustrated with where Williams are at the moment. He is determined to continue in the sport next season though, whether at Williams or somewhere else. Barrichello has been ahead of team-mate Pastor Maldonado at all but one of the races that both drivers have finished, demonstrating that he can still take on these youngsters.

Maldonado has had a very difficult start to his F1 career, and is still yet to score a point. However, if it was not for a coming together with Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps of the Monaco Grand Prix – a move for which Hamilton was punished – then the Venezuelan would have collected sixth place and a well-deserved eight points. Eyebrows were raised when Maldonado  was brought in to replace Nico Hulkenberg at Williams over the winter, and many would speculate that the 2009 GP2 champion would be doing better job this season than Maldonado, the 2010 GP2 champion. Scoring points must surely be the top priority for Maldonado in the final races of the 2011.

 

India Force India – Mercedes
Car #14 Germany Adrian Sutil 18pts (12th)
Best Result: 6th (Germany)
Car #15 United Kingdom Paul di Resta 8pts (16th)
Best Result: 7th (Hungary)

Force India go into every race weekend aiming to get both cars through to Q3 on the Saturday and have them both score points on the Sunday. They have not realised the first target yet in 2011, and have only finished one race, the Australian Grand Prix, with both cars in the points – and that was after both Sauber drivers were disqualified for a technical infringement. The team have left five tracks this season without any points to show for their efforts, but with 14 points from the last two races things are looking up for the Silverstone-based squad. They currently sit seventh in constructors’ championship, trailing Sauber by nine points and are only four points clear of Toro Rosso. The team will be looking to finish in at least sixth place, so they need good run of results from the final eight races.

Adrian Sutil has been pushed hard by new arrival Paul di Resta, and trails 7-4 in the qualifying head-to-head. He does have ten more points than his Scottish team-mate though, but must still be wary of the fact that the highly rated Nico Hulkenberg is waiting in the wings for either he or Di Resta fail to impress.

Di Resta scored a point in each of his first two races in the sport, and earned plaudits from all sides for his performances in the early part of the season. Over the eight races between China and Germany though, he failed to add to his points tally, and had a couple of run-ins with the stewards for some over-optimistic overtaking manoeuvres that ended in collisions. He was back to his best in Hungary though, and is likely to be snapped up by Mercedes should Michael Schumacher call it a day at the end of this season.

Di Resta follows team-mate Sutil home in Australia to pick up a point at his first grand prix

 

Switzerland Sauber – Ferrari
Car #16 Japan Kamui Kobayashi 27pts (11th)
Best Result: 5th (Monaco)
Car #17 Mexico Sergio Perez (Missed Monaco, Canada) 8pts (15th)
Best Result: 7th (Britain)
Spain Pedro de la Rosa (Canada only) 0pts (18th)
Best Result: 12th (Canada)
Sergio Perez drives past the new Silverstone 'Wing' on his way to seventh place at the British Grand Prix

Sauber have probably been one of the most impressive midfield teams so far in 2011. They failed to pick up points in Australia (due to disqualification), Valencia and Hungary but have otherwise been steadily collecting a decent haul of points throughout the season. The Hinwil-based team have not really troubled the top ten much during qualifying – it is thought that the C30 struggles to get its tyres warmed up for that single flying lap. However, the car has generally been able to conserve the Pirelli rubber to good effect on race day, and both Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez have been frequent finishers in the top ten.

Kobayashi has continued to demonstrate his overtaking prowess and has taken to his new role as team leader well this season. As well as his career best finish of fifth place in Monaco, the Japanese driver also took seventh place in both Malaysia and the epic race in Canada. His stock is rising and he will no doubt continue to add to his points tally as the season goes on. Watch out for Kobayashi at the Japanese Grand Prix where he was star of the show last season.

Perez is, on paper at least, the best performing rookie driver of the season, and this is despite missing two races after his heavy crash during qualifying in Monaco. The Mexican has out-qualified Kobayashi five time in the nine races that they have both completed and has rightly been retained by Sauber, along with Kobayashi, for 2012.

 

 

Italy Toro Rosso – Ferrari
Car #18 Switzerland Sebastien Buemi 12pts (13th)
Best Result: 8th (Australia, Hungary)
Car #19 Spain Jaime Alguersuari 10pts (14th)
Best Result: 8th (Canada, Europe)

In recent races, Toro Rosso have been giving a clear demonstration of how qualifying is no longer that important in Formula 1, and that success in races is down to having new sets of tyres available and knowing when to use them. In four of the last five races, either Sebastien Buemi or Jaime Alguersuari have failed to get their car into Q2 on a Saturday, but then finished in the points on a Sunday. In fact, Alguersuari has picked up all but one of his points this season after starting from P18. The team, which celebrated its 100th race last time out in Hungary, are punching above their weight in 2011. They could realistically finish the season with more points than Force India if they continue their recent run.

Buemi has been in and around the points for much of the season, but has not really yet shown signs that he is ready to step up to the Red Bull team and partner Sebastian Vettel if Mark Webber were to move on at the end of the year. He leads his less-experienced team-mate 9-2 on qualifying performances and, in the eight races that both drivers have finished, Buemi has led Alguersuari home in five of them. Is this enough to stop him being replaced by Daniel Ricciardo or another promising protege of Helmut Marko at the end of the season? Only time will tell.

Alguersuari was looking in serious danger of being replaced by Ricciardo after he failed to score any points in the first six races of the season. From Canada onwards though, the Spaniard has been on much better form, and has scored points in four of the last five races. Now that Ricciardo has gone to HRT, Alguersuari knows that he has until the end of the season to impress those at Red Bull who make all the decisions. He will need to continue to pick up points if he is to feature in F1 next season.

The Toro Rosso team celebrate their 100th birthday on the grid in Hungary. They had more to celebrate after Buemi finished eighth and Alguersuari came home tenth

 

United Kingdom Team Lotus – Renault
Car #20 Finland Heikki Kovalainen 0pts (23rd)
Best Result: 14th (Monaco)
Car #21 Italy Jarno Trulli (Missed Germany) 0pts (19th)
Best Result: 13th (Australia, Monaco)
India Karun Chandhok (Germany only) 0pts (27th)
Best Result 20th (Germany)

Trulli advances towards a thirteenth place finish at the Monaco Grand Prix

Team Lotus had hoped to be able to challenge the more established teams this season but, despite getting close to the likes of Williams and Toro Rosso at a few tracks, the Anglo-Asian outfit have failed so far to make much of an impression on the rest of the field. They are still clearly the best of the new teams though, consistently out-qualifying and out-racing both HRT and Virgin Racing. However, the team have failed to get both cars to the end of the races twice in the last three races, and reliability has looked a bit patchy throughout the season. There is no doubt that Mike Gascoyne is already focusing on 2012 and the aim for Team Lotus for the rest of 2011 will be to maintain their 10th place in the constructors’ standings.

Heikki Kovalainen has again looked the most competitive driver from the new teams. He has had a few forays into Q2 this season and has generally moved forward from his starting position to collect some decent results on a Sunday afternoon. Team Lotus will be keen to hold onto the Finn as they move closer to the rest of the field.

However, it is Jarno Trulli who sits higher in the championship tables thanks to two thirteenth place finishes at races with high levels of attrition. He was replaced by Karun Chandhok for the German Grand Prix, and may suffer the same fate at the inaugural Indian Grand Prix as well. Talks are apparently underway between Trulli and the team with regards to a 2012 contract.

 

Spain HRT – Cosworth
Car #22 India Narain Karthikeyan (Australia to Europe – 8 races) 0pts (25th)
Best Result: 17th (Monaco, Canada)
Australia Daniel Ricciardo (Europe to Hungary – 3 races) 0pts (26th)
Best Result: 18th (Hungary)
Car #23 Italy Vitantonio Liuzzi 0pts (20th)
Best Result: 13th (Canada)
Liuzzi leads Glock, Karthikeyan and D'Ambrosio in Canada. He eventually finished thirteenth ahead of his team-mate and both Team Lotus and Virgin Racing drivers

Despite having an extra two weeks to prepare for the season after the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix, HRT were the laughing stock of Albert Park as the team assembled their new car for the first time during the practice sessions in Melbourne. They managed to get Narain Karthikeyan and Vitantonio Liuzzi out for qualifying, but both failed to get within the 107% time during Q1, and that was the team’s weekend over. However, things have been improving since that first race, and HRT are now at the stage where they can give Virgin Racing a run for their money at certain tracks.

Narain Karthikeyan came back to F1 after six years away from the sport but found himself last of the classified finishers in four of the six races he completed. He only managed to out-qualify Liuzzi once, in Monaco, and was often someway off the pace of his Italian team-mate. The Indian driver was dropped for the British Grand Prix and replaced by Daniel Ricciardo after HRT did a deal with Red Bull. Karthikeyan may make a re-appearance for the Indian Grand Prix, but only so that HRT and the sponsors can reap some commercial benefits.

Ricciardo is hailed as one of the stars of the future. A race seat at Toro Rosso (or possibly even Red Bull) is virtually guaranteed for the Australian next season, and he will just continue to test himself against Liuzzi for the remainder of the season.

Liuzzi secured the HRT‘s best ever result in Canada and has helped to haul the team to within striking distance of Virgin Racing. The Italian, who was dropped from Force India over the winter, has been a good driver selection by HRT. If the Spanish team are serious about becoming a respectable F1 outfit, they need to hang on to the 30-year-old.

 

United Kingdom Virgin Racing – Cosworth
Car #24 Germany Timo Glock 0pts (24th)
Best Result: 15th (Canada)
Car #25 Belgium Jerome D'Ambrosio 0pts (22nd)
Best Result: 14th (Canada)

Virgin Racing have been making changes this season. They have parted company with Nick Wirth‘s company and have entered into a technical partnership with McLaren, which will see them, amongst other things, use a wind tunnel for the first time. Timo Glock has also committed to the team until 2014 and the long-term future for Virgin Racing is looking brighter. This season, however, may again end with the team at the the bottom of the constructors’ standings.

Glock has been performing consistently all season, albeit in a car that does not allow him to demonstrate his true driving talents. He has only been out-qualified by rookie team-mate Jerome D’Ambrosio once, in Malaysia, and has generally had the better race results. He will continue plugging away for the remainder of the season, hoping for a better car in 2012.

It is difficult to say how D’Ambrosio has been doing, given the uncompetitive car that he must contend with at every race. Is he better than Lucas di Grassi, the man he replaced at Virgin? Again, it is difficult to say. He has generally kept ahead of the two HRT drivers, but has been unable to challenge his team-mate on a regular basis. What he did manage though, was to make the most of the bizarre race in Canada. The fourteenth-place finish he gained in Montreal means that he is sitting pretty 22nd in the drivers’ championship, ahead of Heikki Kovalainen and ahead of his team-mate.

Jerome D'Ambrosio performed well in the wet conditions in Montreal
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