Mid-season review: Points mean prizes

By on Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Part 3 of our mid-season review takes a look at the contrasting fortunes of Sauber, who have had a fine season, Renault, whose season has been indifferent and Mercedes, who are desperate to return the Silver Arrows to the sharp end of the grid.

Sauber (6th, 35 points)

Kamui Kobayashi (11th, 27 points); Sergio Perez (14th, 8 points)

Kobayashi: Fast, fearless and fans love him

Everyone’s second favourite team has had a thoroughly good first half of the season. They sit an admirable 6th in the table with a healthier budget and James Key has now fully settled in at the team. The car is genuinely quick and combined with Kobayashi’s pace; it’s often in the top 10. Not only that, but the C30 treats the Pirelli tyres delicately, to the extent that the Sauber duo can sometimes make one or two fewer stops than their main rivals. This has helped both drivers on several occasions, notably in Australia where they were later disqualified after a technical infringement was discovered on the car. Australia aside, the team has steadily been collecting the points, which will be a bonus for a team that finances are still a pressing issue. With the Pirelli tyres lasting longer, might Sauber’s main benefit be lost? Force India will be hunting them down soon, but even if they get overtaken by their rivals, this season is still a big improvement on 8th place last season.

Between Malaysia and Canada, Kobayashi went on an astonishing run of six consecutive points finishes, arguably one of the understated performances of the season so far. His 5th place finish in Monaco was one of the classic underdog, working his way through almost unnoticed, which included a couple of forceful passes. Despite a couple of poor races recently – 16th in Valencia followed by a disastrous weekend, including a heavy practice crash – in Britain, Kobayashi has scored points in 7 of the 10 races. His personality also attracts swathes of fans, with his most recent story being of how he paid almost a hundred Euros to take his girlfriend on four laps of the Nordschleife circuit, but she started crying after one corner. Many people would pay him for such a wild ride.

Sergio Perez missed two races after this huge crash

The phrase ‘rollercoaster journey’ is often overused by people whose short stint on a useless reality show has come to a thankfully abrupt end, but it can also be applied to the season of the best racing driver Mexico has produced in years.  A starring debut saw him take 7th but was later disqualified when the car failed checks. Then in Malaysia he got walloped by a piece of Toro Rosso that was lucky not to injure him, followed by drives in China and Turkey that saw the loss of a few front wings. Everything came together in Spain with 9th, but a huge crash in Monaco – having made Q3 – saw him withdraw from two events. Luckily for him, life has settled down slightly, with a brilliant 7th at Silverstone. The rest of the season should be about consolidating his speed, matching Kobayashi and helping Sauber to finish 6th in the table.

Renault (5th, 66 points)

Nick Heidfeld (8th, 34 points); Vitaly Petrov (9th, 32 points)

Renault is missing Kubica's leadership

5th in the championship marks stability continued from 2010, although the true facts are far from the case. The team desperately miss Robert Kubica as the car’s development has stuttered and the team’s form has slipped. They took 30 points from the first two events, but have managed just 36 in the eight races since, despite the fact there have been just three retirements and all of them driver error. Therefore there can be no excuse as to the lack of pace from the car. The next nine races will be critical, because the finances are reportedly stretched and the pressure is mounting.

Heidfeld has disappointed

Nick Heidfeld is a man whose time is surely up. Having been given numerous second chances at Jordan, Williams, Sauber and now Renault, his season so far has failed to live up to what was expected of him. His podium at Malaysia was the signal of a man determined to repay Renault’s faith, but since then there have been issues. Granted, he sits ahead of Vitaly Petrov in the championship, but only by two points. As well as that, his performances have been sub-standard as

to what has been expected of him. He’s slowly but surely collecting the points, but with development of the car lacking, Renault’s use of Senna in practice later this week is a huge hurry up call to the German. Not only that, but Eric Bouiller has said that he has been underwhelmed by Nick Heidfeld and has indicated that Romain Grosjean is in line for a seat soon.

Petrov has flown on occasion this season

Vitaly Petrov has scored more points by this stage of the season than the whole of last season, but the points table doesn’t tell the full story. His podium in Australia was achieved on merit, but the breakthrough down under hasn’t been carried through to other races. He’s made fewer mistakes, although the ones he has made have been pretty major, with flying through the air in Malaysia and getting the race red flagged in Monaco. Sure, the team has to keep on his good side because of the financial boost; hence they haven’t bad mouthed his mistakes in public. His English is improving – you only have to watch him being interviewed – and this language development helps in communicating with his team, a positive step.

Mercedes (4th, 78 points)

Michael Schumacher (10th, 32 points); Nico Rosberg (7th, 46 points)

Schumacher has shown pace when he isn't hitting people

The W02 was meant to be a significant step forward, but they have yet to break into the Top Three. Rosberg has occasionally challenged Button and Massa in qualifying, but their race pace is lacking, often coming home a lap time. They have also struggled with the tyres, particularly in hot weather, most notably at Monaco when both drivers suffered with high wear. The W02 appears to be a better package than last year, but strangely the results don’t reflect that. Mercedes will have to be careful, because if the W03 isn’t good, the drivers may not hang around for long. You get the feeling that with this season not being a step forward, next season is make or break. Renault stole a march on them earlier in the season and Mercedes has yet to take a podium this year. For Team (Brackley) Germany, the second half of this year is crucial.

Rosberg starts his 100th race this weekend

After the hype 18 months ago, it’s plainly obvious that unless Mercedes deliver an RB7 type car, Michael Schumacher is unlikely to take to the top step of the podium again. He was slated often in 2010, but 2011 has been more of a mixed bag. For example, his performance in Canada was stellar, robbed of a podium at the end whilst in Turkey his drive was abject. But, crucially, the pace is there. Rosberg often has the upper hand in qualifying, but Schumacher is often close – or ahead – in the races. The problem is that he has a tendency to hit someone (usually Petrov), lose a front wing and lose twenty seconds with an unscheduled pit stop. In Silverstone and in Germany, he drove back from errors to finish in the top 10. Maybe, just maybe, he could finish on the podium. If not, trying to get as close to Rosberg in the championship will be progress. But the big question is whether he’ll stick around for another year.

Nico Rosberg is at a crossroads in his career. The upcoming Hungarian Grand Prix marks his 100th race, yet he has stood on the podium just five times, the last of those occasions now over a year ago. In 2010, he put in some eye catching drivers and was cruelly overlooked whilst everyone was praising Robert Kubica. Rosberg’s 46 points this season is only just half of what he achieved at this stage in 2010, with his results being unspectacular. In the right car, there’s no doubt Rosberg can win a race, but is it the car, or is it Nico? Because every driver can have the ability to develop a team and push them in the right direction, so is Nico doing that? It must be difficult for him, because he has never driven a top car, so knowing what to do is tough. Nevertheless, to get to 100 races without a win is an unwelcome statistic. If he can get on the podium soon, that would be progress. Yet the current pace of the top 3 teams means that he needs a stunning drive and some luck on his side. Nothing yet this season from Rosberg has been attention-grabbing.

Pictures courtesy of Sutton Images

Tomorrow: The top three analysed - Ferrari, McLaren and the supreme Red Bulls

Missed the first parts? Don't worry, read them here:



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