Mid-season review: Part Two

By on Thursday, August 7, 2014
Sahara Force India

Sahara Force India

With Formula 1 currently enjoying a summer break, we take a look back at the first half of the season. Here, we reflect on the fortunes of those teams occupying the midfield positions in 2014.

Sahara Force India (5th, 98 points, best: 1 x 3rd)

Force India began the year with one of the best packages – a decent chassis, the best Power Unit and a car which was able to preserve its tyres better than its closest rivals. The car has worked best on slightly softer tyres, although it remains in the ballpark on a variety of tracks, which is an encouraging sign. The question is now, with Williams and McLaren improving, whether Force India can develop their car and remain in the hunt. If they can’t, it may well be sixth place again. Nonetheless, in an era when some midfield teams chase the money, credit must go to Force India for hiring two talented drivers.

#27 Nico Hülkenberg (7th, 69 points, best: 4 x 5th)

Nico Hülkenberg has been one of the stars of the season for his speed and consistency, having racked up 69 points across the opening 11 rounds of the year. He made Force India’s strategies work early on as he blended aggression with defence, before continuing to stay out of trouble as several others around him lost their heads. Hungarian error was a rare and embarrassing mistake, but it’s been a very good showing from the German. The only complaints could be whether he can take it to the next level on occasion – he’s the quicker of the Force India pairing over one lap, but Sergio Pérez has had the edge in some races.

Sahara Force India

Sahara Force India

High point: Excellent race craft in Malaysia on his way to fifth

Low point: Uncharacteristic error in Hungary led to only retirement

#11 Sergio Pérez (11th, 29 points, best: 1 x 3rd)

As ever with Pérez, his season has been a fruitful mix of occasionally impressive speed, tyre preservation skills and a sequence of silly errors. He struggled at the start of the year but his Bahrain podium was the perfect Pérez race – the need to maximise tyre life but do so with speed. It was a similar scenario in Austria, in which he netted sixth position. Errors, such as in Montreal (another race in which he extended tyre life) and Hungary cost him points and he undoubtedly lacks that final tenths in qualifying, which often puts him out of position for the race. Inconsistency, too, is a problem, with half of his points having come in one race (Bahrain). He’s established himself as a strong and feisty midfield racer, but with several other youngsters starring in 2014, will another top team come calling, or is this his level?

High point: Precise and intelligent drive to claim a podium in Bahrain

Low point: Large accident in Canada ended what had been a strong race

McLaren Mercedes (6th, 97 points, best: 1 x 2nd)

McLaren Mercedes

McLaren Mercedes

McLaren began the season strongly, with both drivers collecting a top three result in Australia. However, that proved to be a false dawn. Despite the return of Ron Dennis and the introduction of the erudite Eric Boullier in place of Martin Whitmarsh, this has been a near-repeat of 2013, with the feeling that it is a case of waiting for Honda and 2015. A sequence of technical glitches, misfortune, front tyre issues and a lack of downforce led to three point-less races, before matters started to improve. Strategy has been questionable at times, especially in Hungary, but overall the team is doing what it can with the machinery at its disposal. Not using Petronas fuel, either, hasn’t helped. 2015, and the return of Honda, can’t come soon enough. McLaren needs to re-establish itself as a title contender.

#22 Jenson Button (8th, 60 points, best: 1 x 3rd)

Is this the twilight of Jenson Button’s career? The Brit has endured a difficult season, although on-track achievements pale into insignificance following the sudden death of his father, John, in January. Nonetheless Button’s season started brightly, with a third place – although he was unable to climb onto the podium to celebrate it – before matters deteriorated as McLaren struggled with its MP4-29. A brilliant third place on the grid at Silverstone was emotional and he followed it up with fourth, agonisingly close to making the rostrum. Button had fared OK against Kevin Magnussen, although with his contact expiring at the end of the year and McLaren not making noises about a renewal, could this be the end of the road? Many hope not. Button still has a lot to give.



High point: Excellent third place on the grid at Silverstone

Low point: Entire weekend in China was woeful

#20 Kevin Magnussen (10th, 37 points, best: 1 x 2nd)

The man they call ‘KMag’ arrived in Formula 1 riding the crest of a wave and eased to second place on his debut – after an unbelievable save off the line – to record the best result for a rookie in 18 years. But then it turned a bit sour. A couple of minor collisions were typical signs of inexperience, while frequently Magnussen was held back by the limitations of the car. However, he is improving – which, as ever, is a good sign for a debutant. Austria drive was perhaps one of his finest, considering the pace of the car, while misfortune meant he didn’t collect the results his pace throughout practice and qualifying merited in Germany and Hungary. He could give Button a few problems across the remainder of the year.

High point: Mature drive to second on his debut

Low point: Anonymous performance in China

Scuderia Toro Rosso (7th, 17 points, best: 2 x 8th)

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Toro Rosso has made a step forwards this season in terms of their chassis but sadly their progress has been masked by the Renault engine and poor reliability, which has cost the team a good haul of points. With nine retirements from 22 starts, it’s clear which area Toro Rosso needs to focus on for the remainder of the season. When its drivers have finished, they have done so in the points more often than not. It is clearly a car on the pace and capable of fighting for regular points – fortunately Toro Rosso is currently operating in a no man’s land in championship terms, way behind McLaren but comfortably ahead of Lotus. Seventh would represent a good season.

#25 Jean-Éric Vergne (13th, 11 points, best: 2 x 8th)

Jean-Éric Vergne’s end to 2013 was terrible as he embarked on a sequence of awful races after losing out on the Red Bull seat to Daniel Ricciardo. Vergne has stepped up a notch this season, and in the races, he has frequently fought with gusto. 11 points is a creditable return, although frequently he’s been plagued by misfortune. Potentially strong results in Malaysia, Spain and Monaco slipped through his fingers due to matters outside of his control. Another issue for Vergne is that in terms of the Red Bull hierarchy, where does he fit in? There’s no space for a promotion to the senior team, while the next batch of youngsters are waiting in the wings. Red Bull don’t give drivers a fourth season at Toro Rosso, but will Ricciardo’s form place Vergne’s years alongside him in a different light?

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

High point: Mature performance in Monaco until team error and exhaust failure interfered

Low point: Off the pace of Kvyat all weekend in Austria

#26 Daniil Kvyat (15th, 6 points, best: 2 x 9th)

Daniil Kvyat has perhaps been the most impressive rookie this season. It’s not just his on-track performances, but off-track he isn’t overwhelmed by his surroundings and speaks with a maturity which defies his youth. However, this is a sport not a personality competition, so his results do the talking. He immediately made an impression by scoring points from a top 10 grid slot on his debut, and he’s followed it up with another three points finishes. Perhaps more impressively, he’s made very few mistakes and has utterly incredible car control. Some of his saves this year have been outstanding – he’s dealt with the transition from GP3 to Formula 1 with consummate ease, when you consider the problems Toro Rosso and Renault endured pre-season. A star of the future.

High point: Strong performance in Austria – until problems intervened

Low point: Mistake when trying to pass Pérez in Germany was poor

Lotus F1 Team (8th, 8 points, best: 2 x 8th)

Lotus F1 Team

Lotus F1 Team

Some teams have thrived in 2014, others have been left behind. Lotus sits firmly in the latter camp. After a 2013 season in which they were a regular contender for victories and claimed multiple podiums, this has been a terrible year. Financial problems eventually caught up with them, exacerbated by the loss of their team principal, star driver and technical director. Even so, few expected Lotus to struggle so badly. Reliability remains a key weakness, but the car is unpredictable and doesn’t give the drivers any confidence. Matters briefly improved on high downforce circuits, but Lotus is now rooted outside of the top 10 and looking to 2015.

#8 Romain Grosjean (14th, 8 points, best: 2 x 8th)

Romain Grosjean has led Lotus forwards the best he can and at times he has been outstanding. His drive in Spain was a highlight, as he put the E22 in fifth on the grid before following it up with eighth, despite managing a Power Unit issue for much of the race. More points came through simply surviving in Monaco, but since then matters have deteriorated and the E22 cannot get anywhere near the points. Reliability issues have particularly hurt Grosjean and his frustration with the situation has been clear. After such a promising 2013 season, his career has stalled through no fault of his own – only in Hungary was he culpable. Could he look elsewhere for 2015?

Lotus F1 Team

Lotus F1 Team

High point: Fifth on the grid in Barcelona was an outstanding lap

Low point: Much of the rest of the year, but Hungary error was amateurish

#13 Pastor Maldonado (19th, 0 points, best: 2 x 12th)

Pastor Maldonado, meanwhile, has turned into a comedy figure of the sport, with his assertion that moving from Williams to Lotus was the ‘best decision ever’ regularly coming back to haunt him. The car has been miles off the pace, but Maldonado has hardly endeared himself through some of his actions. He clipped Jules Bianchi in Malaysia, tipped Esteban Gutiérrez into a roll in Bahrain, crashed out of qualifying in Spain, hit Marcus Ericsson in the race and then hit Bianchi once gain in Hungary. When you look at the drivers he’s made contact with, it shows the level he and Lotus is currently operating at. He’s had some bad luck as well, but sadly Maldonado – who is a genial person off-track – has some way to go before fans view him as credible.

High point: For him, the confirmation of a 2015 renewal.

Low point: Contact with Gutiérrez drew high-profile criticism.

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