F1 Summer Review Part 3: The Front-Runners


In Part 1 of this season review we looked at the back-markers, in Part 2 it was the mid-field runners, and now, here in Part 3, we assess how the first eleven races went for the top four teams in the constructors’ championship as Formula 1’s summer holiday continues.

Unlike this time last season, where Red Bull had an almost unassailable lead already, the top teams have been closely matched this year. Red Bull lead again, but are only 53 points ahead of McLaren, who sit second.  Lotus sit only one point behind them, and Ferrari are a further three points back.

With margins so narrow, it will be all to play for when Formula 1 cars return to the track at Spa-Francorchamps on Friday 31st August. Meanwhile, let us see how each of the to outfits have faired so far in 2012…

 

Red Bull lead the constructors’ championship after 11 races, and it is Mark Webber (here celebrating victory at Monaco) who leads the intra-team driver battle – Photo Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Austria Red Bull
246pts (1st)
Car No:1 Germany Sebastian Vettel
122pts (3rd)
Best Result: 1st (Bahrain)
2 Australia Mark Webber
124pts (2nd)
Best Result: 1st (Monaco, Britain)

 

Consistency with both drivers has been the strength of Red Bull this season. Vettel has failed to score in only two races (he finished eleventh in Malaysia and then had that alternator failure in Valencia) and Webber in only one (thanks to an eleventh place in Barcelona).

We predicted Red Bull to be strong this season – it would have been extremely foolish to write them off – but few would have expected Webber to be outscoring Vettel at half distance. Admittedly, the difference is now only two points, but it is a far cry from this time last season when Vettel had won six races to Webber’s zero. In fact, after 11 races of 2012, the Australian leads Vettel 2-1 in the win stakes.

Despite leading the constructors’ chamionship, not all is rosy at Red Bull this season. The RB8 is not as dominant as its predecessor, yet it has come under plenty of scrutiny from rivals, and the FIA scrutineers. Even so, the Red Bull duo of drivers are the best placed take the title fight to current leader Fernando Alonso over the remaining nine races of the season, and in Adrian Newey the team have a design genius who could well come up with the innovation(s) to power one of his drivers to the 2012 championship. There will be other teams with the same idea though…

 

 

Lewis Hamilton took victory at the last race in Hungary to get his championship hopes back on track. Jenson Button’s challenge seems to have stalled though – Photo Credit: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
United Kingdom McLaren 193pts (2nd)
3 United Kingdom Jenson Button
76pts (7th)
Best Result: 1st (Australia)
4 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton
117pts (4th)
Best Result: 1st (Canada, Hungary)

 

Much has been made of McLaren‘s cock-ups this season, including those disastrous early-season pit stops, and the occasions on which they have made the wrong strategy calls and lost their drivers points. It could be worse though – the team have won three of the opening eleven races, and Lewis Hamilton is still in just as good a position to challenge Fernando Alonso for the championship as anybody else.

It is Jenson Button who is having trouble. Coming of the high of beating his team-mate last season, Button came out of the blocks quickly in 2012, winning the opening race. The tricky weather denied him points at the second race in Malaysia, but he was back on the podium with second place at the third race in China. After that came a fallow period, where he scored just seven points in six races. He may be back on track now, with his second place in Germany and sixth place in Hungary, but a second championship looks to be out of his reach this year.

Hamilton, on the other hand, returned from the winter break a new driver. He can now manage his Pirelli tyres with sensible driving, stay out of trouble (most of the time), and consistency seems to be his new philosophy. True, he has had two DNFs this season – the first was thanks to Pastor Maldonado (who else) in Valencia and the second was in Germany after picking up an unfortunate puncture early on in the race – but he has also had five podium finishes. Only Alonso has more (six), and only Kimi Raikkonen also has five. Hamilton also has three pole positions to his name this season (it would have been four if it was not for his team’s mistake in Barcelona), the same number as qualifying specialist Sebastian Vettel.

All in all then, things haven’t been too bad for Hamilton, Button definitely needs to do better, yet McLaren are, after a slight blip, now looking like a solid front-running team again. Can they come out of this summer break as the top team?

 

The first podium finishes of the season for Lotus came in Bahrain, where Raikkonen was second and Grosjean (front) was third – Photo Credit: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic
United Kingdom Lotus 192pts (3rd)
Car No:7 Finland Kimi Raikkonen
116pts (5th)
Best Result: 2nd (Bahrain, Europe, Hungary)
8 France Romain Grosjean
76pts (8th)
Best Result: 2nd (Canada)

 

Lotus are the surprise package of this season. They have scored eight podium finishes (the same number as McLaren, nobody has more) and have impressed with their speed at virtually every race track. The only thing missing from their season is a victory, but that has surely got to come at one of the remaining nine races?

A few raised their eyes when the team got rid of both drivers (Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov) at the end of last season, and then brought in two drivers returning to Formula 1 after a couple of years out, but the pairing of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjeanis one of the most exciting (and best performing) on the grid.

Raikkonen has lost none of his race craft. He has been consistent too – the only race in which he failed to score so far this season was China, and even then he was running near the front when his tyres fell off the proverbial cliff and he dropped like a stone to eventually finish fourteenth.

Grosjean has been particularly quick in qualifying. He was third on the grid in the opening race in Australia, and was there again in Spain. He bettered that with a front-row start at the last race in Hungary, qualifying alongside pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton. Consistency hasn’t been up there with his team-mate’s though – he completed less than five laps of the first two races of the seasons, and has a total of four DNFs to his name. However, the speed is definitely there and, like Raikkonen, Grosjean is deserving of a victory in 2012.

 

Alonso’s third victory of the season came at the German Grand Prix in July – Photo Credit: Ferrari
Italy Ferrari 189pts (4th)
5 Spain Fernando Alonso
164pts (1st)
Best Result: 1st (Malaysia, Europe, Germany)
6 Brazil Felipe Massa
25pts (14th)
Best Result: 4th (Britain)

 

Fernando Alonso is the only driver to have won three races this season, and leads the drivers’ championship by a healthy 40 points. Nobody would have predicted this state of affairs from watching the opening qualifying session in Melbourne though, when Alonso was nearly a second slower than pole-sitter Jenson Button and failed to get out of Q2. He managed to somehow scrape fifth place in that race though and, by taking victory in the rain of Malaysia a week later, showed that he could not be discounted.

Ferrari still do not look to have the fastest car on the grid, despite the F2012 improving significantly since that embarrassing first race. Alonso has been in the points at every race though, fighting for podiums and victories when he can, picking up the scraps when he cannot. The Spaniard is driving like a champion and, unless somebody from a rival team can put a run of good results together, 2012 will be his year.

Any challenge is not going to come from within his team, that is for sure. Felipe Massa scored just two points in the opening five races of the season and, despite a noticeable improvement from Monaco onwards, has never troubled the podium positions. It will be big act of mercy on Ferrari’s part if they do decide to keep the Brazilian beyond the end of the season, and so Massa will be driving for his career in the remaining nine races.