F1 Summer Review Part 2: The Midfield


In Part 1 of this season review, the poor form of Toro Rosso, the lack of any points for Caterham and the dismal performance of HRT were among the topics discussed. There was not a lot of room for optimism, and one gets the impression that those back-of-the-grid teams would be toiling without much reward for the remaining nine races of this season.

This part of the review, the second of three, is much more positive. It contains success stories, some of race winners, and some other notable moments from the first eleven races of 2011. There are teams in the section that are out-performing pre-season expectations and have reasons to look forward to the second-half of this exciting season.

So here is the story of those middle-ranking teams, who sit fifth to eighth in the current drivers’ championship standings. It is definitely not all a story of exceededing expectations and undounded cheerfulness, but it is a definitely a happier place than Part 1…

 

Schumacher (right) and Rosberg finished first and second in qualifying at Monaco, but such dominance has been rare for Mercedes so far this season – Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas
Germany Mercedes 106pts (5th)
Car No:7 Germany Michael Schumacher
29pts (12th)
Best Result: 3rd (Europe)
8 Germany Nico Rosberg
77pts (6th)
Best Result: 1st (China)

 

Mercedes came out for qualifying in Australia looking strong, looking like a proper front-running team for the first time since their Brawn GP days. They couldn’t stay with the McLaren duo in the contest for that first pole position of the season though, and Romain Grosjean also snuck above Michael Schumacher on that Melbourne grid. But things were looking positive.

The team did score zero points in that race though, but by the third race in China, they had taken a one-two in qualifying. Nico Rosberg got his first F1 pole position and, the following day, his and Mercedes‘ first win.

Unfortunately, the team were not able to build on that victory, and have slipped back into the midfield since. There have been good results: Rosberg got second place in Europe, and Schumacher got his first podium finish since returning to the sport with his third place in Valencia as well as the pole-that-wasn’t in Monaco.

However, Schumacher has suffered six DNFs this season – and most of those were mechanical. Rosberg has been a more consistent finisher, but there have been a few races where he has failed to trouble the front-runners. The last race in Hungary was a low-point for the team, with both cars failing to make it out of Q2 in qualifying, and only one point gleaned from the tenth-place finish of Rosberg.

If the team are to consider 2012 a successful season, they will need to find some of that early season form from Belgium onwards, and pick up another win.

 

Sergio Perez (left) celebrates second place in Malaysia with race winner (and possible future Ferrari team-mate?) Fernando Alonso – Photo Credit: Sauber Motorsport AG
Switzerland Sauber 80pts (6th)
16 Japan Kamui Kobayashi
33pts (10th)
Best Result: 4th (Germany)
17 Mexico Sergio Perez
47pts (9th)
Best Result: 2nd (Malaysia)

 

Sauber have been one of the surprise packages of the season. The C31 is arguably the best car on the grid for managing tyre wear, and it is also fast, particularly in the hands of Sergio Perez.

The young Mexican has picked up a remarkable two podium finishes already, including that amazing second-place in Malaysia, where he was just one mistake away from potentially taking victory from Fernando Alonso.

Perez also seems to have the measure of his more experienced team-mate Kamui Kobayashi this season. It is not that the Japanese driver is having a bad season – his 33 points scored so far is three more than he got in all of 2011, and the fourth place he scored in Hockenheim is the best result of his career. He will need to make sure he doesn’t continue to get outshone by Perez though.

And Sauber, as a team, must keep the momentum. They had their worst result of the season in Hungary, with 14th for Perez and eighteenth for Kobayashi, and neither driver into Q3 on the Saturday. This could just be the nature of the track at the Hungaroring, or maybe the warm weather of Budapest – they will just hope that it was a blip, rather than a prediction of what is to come for the remainder of 2012.

 

Pastor Maldonado: Formula 1 Race Winner. Who would have predicted that back in March? – Photo Credit: Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic
United Kingdom Williams 53pts (7th)
18 Venezuela Pastor Maldonado 29pts (11th)
Best Result: 1st (Spain)
19 Brazil Bruno Senna 24pts (15th)
Best Result: 6th (Malaysia)

 

The most unexpected result of the first eleventh races this season was, undoubtedly, Pastor Maldonado‘s victory at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona back in May. There was some luck involved – McLaren‘s incompetence ensured that Lewis Hamilton was chucked out of qualifying, which meant that Maldonado was promoted to pole position and only had Fernando Alonso to challenge him for victory – but that was a fantastic result for the Venezuelan and Williams.

Unfortunately, that was an massive high-point in a season that has delivered little else for Maldonado. He has only had one other points finish – an eighth place in China – and has been on the receiving end of several penalties, crashed into plenty of his fellow drivers, and generally thrown away handfuls of points at various races.

Contrast that to Bruno Senna, who has not had that headline result, but has picked up points in six of the 11 races. He currently sits only five points behind his team-mate. One still feels he has questions to answer though, like whether or not he can get the same amount of speed from the car that Maldonado can…

 

Nico Hulkenberg has collected Force India’s best result of the season so far, with fifth place at the European Grand Prix in Valencia – Photo Credit: Sahara Force India F1 Team
India Force India 46pts (8th)
16 United Kingdom Paul di Resta 27pts (13th)
Best Result: 6th (Bahrain)
17 Germany Nico Hulkenberg 19pts (16th)
Best Result: 5th (Europe)

 

While Sauber and Williams have clearly shown huge signs of improvement this season compared to their 2011 campaigns, one might argue that Force India are not looking quite as good.

However, the 46 points the team have at the moment is a massive 20 better than they had at the same stage last season, although they were sitting one place higher in the championship table after Hungary 2011.

The team eventually finished last season in sixth place, and are targetting fifth place for this year. Needless to say, they have their work cut out to beat Mercedes to fifth place – the German team already have 106 points.

However, the drivers have impressed this season with their consistenty, lack of mistakes, and ability to get what seems like the best out of the car. Paul di Resta has the most points of the pair – and over three times more than he had at the same stage of last season – but Nico Hulkenberg has also shown good speed. In fact, the German, who put an underperforming Williams on pole position back in Brazil 2010, qualified an impressive fourth at his home race last month.