Mid-season review: Mixed midfield fortunes

By on Monday, August 5, 2013
The first part of our season review focused on the back of the grid; part two takes a look at those teams battling for the final points positions...

Sauber: Regression following successful 2012

Constructors' Championship: 8th, 7 points | Nico Hulkenberg: 15th, 7 points | Esteban Gutierrez: 18th, 0 points

Sauber AUS MAL CHN BAH ESP MON CAN GBR GER HUN
HUL 11/DNS 12/8 10/10 14/12 15/15 11/11 9/R 14/10 10/10 12/11
GUT 18/13 14/12 17/R 22/18 19/11 19/13 15/20 17/14 14/14 17/R
Sauber F1 Team

Sauber F1 Team

What a difference a year makes. In 2012 Sauber was mightily close to a first independent win but this season Nico Hulkenberg is scrapping to even make the top 10. Like Williams, Sauber has struggled to understand their revolutionary car; they believe the C32 has untapped potential, but are unable to exploit the lap time. The car is lacking downforce, stability and is therefore leaving the drivers with a confidence drought. Hulkenberg has done his best with a poor car, but the lack of success in the Hulkenberg-Sauber partnership has been one of the season’s massive disappointments. Hulkenberg will hope that Sauber can find improvements across the second half of the season, but he’ll be just as interested in making sure he’s in a good position for 2014 when the driver merry-go-round stops. Hulkenberg’s demolition of team-mate Esteban Gutierrez shows the talents of the German; in some quarters Gutierrez has been made out to be a hopelessly lost cause and simply at the team for his money. Such aspersions remain short-sighted but Gutierrez has had an extremely challenging rookie season. It’s clear that Gutierrez is overdriving a poor car and because of this he’s perhaps losing even more time to Hulkenberg. Sauber’s deal with Russian investors is positive news for the team, although that could cloud the future of both Gutierrez and reserve driver Robin Frijns. To dispense with either talent would be a naïve approach, but Gutierrez is one driver who needs to up his game across the remainder of the season.

Toro Rosso: Improvements but inconsistency remains

Constructors' Championship: 7th, 24 points | Jean-Eric Vergne: 13th, 13 points | Daniel Ricciardo: 14th, 11 points

STR AUS MAL CHN BAH ESP MON CAN GBR GER HUN
VER 13/12 17/10 15/12 16/R 12/R 10/8 7/6 12/R 16/R 14/12
RIC 14/R 13/18 7/7 13/16 11/10 12/R 11/5 5/8 6/12 8/13
Scuderia Toro Rosso

Scuderia Toro Rosso

With Sauber and Williams slipping back, Toro Rosso has taken full advantage to head to Belgium in seventh place in the championship. The STR8 is an improvement on last year’s STR7 although the car tends to struggle in hot weather, a factor that will need rectifying before a couple of races later this season. Strategy has also been questionable on a number of occasions, costing the team a few points. Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo are fairly evenly matched in the championship, but it’s Ricciardo’s superior qualifying form (7-3) that leaves him nearer to a Red Bull seat. His recent pace has also been impressive, but that’s not to write off Vergne as a future prospect. Vergne is behind Ricciardo in terms of driver development and Red Bull is keen to keep the Frenchman on their books. Vergne has been typically strong when grip is at a premium; his aggressive style is at odds with Ricciardo’s smoother approach, hence Vergne’s superb results in tricky conditions in Monaco and Montreal. In this respect, when one driver is strong, the other appears to be a little at sea. What Vergne needs to do now is to refine that aggression, particularly in qualifying, in order to avoid playing catch-up in the race. The pressurised situation of qualifying is something that needs work, but it is a factor that Red Bull can improve. Even so, Vergne has been woefully unlucky in terms of reliability and has been limited by factors out of his control, retiring from four of the 10 races. Both drivers have shown vast improvements on 2012 to cement their place in the field as credible Formula 1 drivers, rather than just Red Bull test dummies.

McLaren: Revolution, not evolution, sends team backwards

Constructors' Championship: 6th, 57 points | Jenson Button: 9th, 39 points | Sergio Perez: 12th: 18 points

McLaren AUS MAL CHN BAH ESP MON CAN GBR GER HUN
BUT 10/9 7/17 8/5 10/10 14/8 9/6 14/12 10/13 9/6 13/7
PER 15/11 9/9 12/11 12/6 8/9 7/16 12/11 13/20 13/8 9/9
Mclaren-F1-2013

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

It’s fair to say that barring a massive turnaround 2013 will go down as one of McLaren’s worst seasons in Formula 1. The team hasn’t won a race and hasn’t even troubled the podium places. McLaren chose to go down a revolutionary development path – one which team Principal Martin Whitmarsh conceded at Silverstone was erroneous – and has struggled to unlock the potential of the MP4-28. Recent improvements have lifted them to within two points of Force India, but the top four teams are in another postcode in the championship battle. Fifth place would represent a bad season for McLaren, but such a distant fifth place is simply embarrassing. McLaren should bounce back, but the biggest hope now is for a successful revival of the Honda partnership from 2015. On the driver front, both Jenson Button and Sergio Perez have made the most of a difficult situation. Button has done a competent job, but it’s Perez who has caught the eye. His tame approach through the opening few races was abandoned in Bahrain, with Button famously urging his team to ‘calm him down’. It was a sign from Perez that Button wasn’t going to have it all his own way; Perez showed fight in Monaco with a couple of beautifully executed moves but took it a little too far with Kimi Raikkonen. The team undeniably misses the raw pace of Lewis Hamilton, but Perez has been a fair match for Button, especially considering his relative lack of experience. Perez’s relationship with McLaren is also developing well and in recent races he’s cut out some of the early season mistakes. Button suggests that McLaren can compete at the front in Belgium; such lofty targets may seem unrealistic but McLaren is one team who can transform a poor car. Results are improving and only then will it crank the dynamic between Button and Perez up a notch. For McLaren, honing the car’s weaknesses and focusing on parts for 2014 efficiency will be vital; McLaren cannot afford their slip into the midfield to become the norm.

Force India: Leap forwards restricted by team errors

Constructors' Championship: 5th, 59 points | Paul di Resta: 10th, 36 points | Adrian Sutil: 11th, 23 points

FI AUS MAL CHN BAH ESP MON CAN GBR GER HUN
DIR 9/8 15/R 11/8 5/4 10/7 17/9 17/7 21/9 12/11 18/8
SUT 12/7 8/R 13/R 6/13 13/13 8/5 8/10 6/7 15/13 11/R
Sahara Force India

Sahara Force India

For Force India to sit in the top five of the championship is an impressive feat at the mid-point of the season. Holding off the advances of McLaren will be challenging, but even sixth in the championship would represent a step forwards. The team found a strong balance between pace and tyre wear, enabling the drivers to achieve strong results; Paul di Resta starred in Bahrain while Adrian Sutil was sensational in Monaco. Alongside those standout drivers have also been a few more points scoring positions, including six in a row for di Resta. But while the VJM06 is a good car, there have been a number of missed opportunities for a myriad of reasons.  A wheel nut issue forced both drivers out in Malaysia, while Sutil lost a minute during a calamitous stop in Spain. For di Resta, team errors left him out in Q1 in Monaco and Canada, before being thrown out in Britain for being underweight. On all three occasions he bounced back to score points, leading to a case of ‘what might have been’. Along with a hydraulics issue in Hungary, Sutil found himself involved in incidents in Bahrain (a clash with Massa) and China (torpedoed by Gutierrez). Add up the missed opportunities and it’s easy to envisage Force India with another 40 points and a very comfortable buffer to McLaren. Force India struggled with the updated tyres in Hungary, suggesting they could be one of the teams to be negatively affected by Pirelli’s changes. The sport visits a few Force India favourable circuits immediately after the summer break, potentially allowing di Resta and Sutil to push on in the fight for fifth. Di Resta currently holds the edge over Sutil, but cutting out errors from the team is crucial.

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