Mid-season review: Scrapping for points

By on Tuesday, July 26, 2011

They make Q2 - usually - but Q3 and points is the real target. Williams, Toro Rosso and Force India have encountered varying fortunes this season as they aim to move higher up the grid.

Williams (9th, 4 points)

Rubens Barrichello (16th, 4 points); Pastor Maldonado (21st, 0 points)

It’s fair to say that Williams’ season has not gone well so far. Whilst the car has relatively strong pace in qualifying, during the race any pace seems to disappear and this has seen them finish behind Team Lotus on one occasion. Sam Michaels has paid the price with his job, but there is more than just Michaels causing the issues. Anyway, Sir Frank has commented on how Michaels is a huge asset to Williams and that he’s undervalued. Granted, his cars since 2004 have hardly been spectacular, yet he’s said to be doing the job of four or five men and he cannot focus properly on the development of the car. The team are rooted in 9th place in the championship, 13 points behind Toro Rosso so will need a huge result to gain 8th. Last year, they finished 6th and that seemed to be evidence of progress. However, such progress has not been continued. Furthermore, finishing 9th comes with reduced prize money in comparison with 6th and for a team whose finances are stretched; it’s another hurdle to overcome.

Maldonado: Fast but yet to score

Rubens Barrichello has had a largely unspectacular season. He’s scored just four points courtesy of 9th place finishes in high attrition races and, from the outside, appears to be struggling. He’s made a couple of uncharacteristic errors and has seemed to make unwelcoming comments regarding the team on more than one occasion, appearing unwilling to commit to 2012 unless the car is good. Pastor Maldonado has, on the other hand, been a pleasant surprise. The season didn’t start well, with car problems and various practice incidents (including embarrassingly crashing in the pit entry in Malaysia) prompting many to think ‘Oh, it’s that useless GP2 bloke with a stack of cash, no surprise’. However, languishing in 21st in the championship doesn’t paint the full picture of what has been a promising rookie campaign so far. Those who knew about his junior formulae career were expecting great things in Monaco and he duly delivered, until Lewis Hamilton intervened. Eight points would have been very well received. The pace is there but the car is really holding him back. The silly errors appear to be ebbing away, with the team praising his work but the fact is that next to his name is a whopping great ‘0’. In order to show the outside world he’s worthy of a place, the points need to start flowing. That will be difficult, but not impossible. Irrespective of the financial boost he brings to his team, he deserves a seat next year

Toro Rosso (8th, 17 points)

Sebastien Buemi (15th, 8 points); Jaime Alguersuari (13th, 9 points)

Alguersuari had a poor start to the season

Pre-season, talk was about the STR6 challenging for podiums! However, with such talk proving to be typically rubbish, the STR6 has nevertheless been Toro Rosso’s strongest package since Vettel romped to a series of strong results at the end of 2008. The team has 17 points at the moment and only got overtaken by Force India at the Nurburgring. The team has a strong knack of climbing into the lower bounds of the top 10, usually after a poor qualifying, and this is helping them collecting the points. Finishing 8th was the target before Australia and such ambitions should be achievable.

The fortune of their drivers has switched dramatically over the course of the season. Sebastien Buemi started strongly, having collected 7 points after Canada in comparison to his team mate. Alguersuari meanwhile seemed to be all at sea, being knocked out in Q1 a few times, making mistakes and finishing way down the order. Deliberately giving Kobayashi a tap in Qualifying in Monaco seemed to be the crass actions of a man under pressure. It was only a small tap, but it was not the actions expected of an F1 driver.

Buemi has slipped back recently

However, the tables have since turned. Alguersuari now sits on 9 points, one ahead of Buemi. In a team famous for its ruthlessness with drivers, Alguersuari’s form in recent races has saved his bacon, as Ricciardo was destined for his seat. The good results of both drivers necessitated another seat for the Australian, but surely he won’t be at HRT next year. Webber is almost signed up at Red Bull, so Ricciardo will be at Toro Rosso. Buemi will have had three seasons at Toro Rosso and Alguersuari two and a half by the time the flag falls in Brazil. On current form, the Swiss man is the driver under the greater pressure. Alguersuari’s performances of late have been those of a man finally assured of his own skills and his race in Valencia was strikingly assertive.

Force India (7th, 20 points)

Adrian Sutil (12th, 18 points); Paul di Resta (17th, 2 points)

di Resta has shown promise but Sutil has the points

It hasn’t been the greatest season for Force India in comparison to 2010, but it’s been far from hopeless.  Vijay Mallya has been optimistic about their chances, "We showed great promise actually from Monaco onwards, we were competitive in Canada, where at one stage Paul was running fifth or sixth. Then both the drivers had moments and did not finish. In Valencia Adrian scored points, and at Silverstone once again there was no reason why both cars should not have finished in the points, but we just messed it up on the pit wall. Everything came together in Germany." If everything comes together more often, they can set about hunting Sauber down for 6th.

The drivers, on the whole, have had a rather unlucky season. Paul di Resta has been much faster than his predecessor and leads Adrian Sutil 7-3 in qualifying. Sutil has taken more of the race points, a rather convincing 18-2, but that doesn’t paint the picture of either driver’s season. In Canada, di Resta was running 4th before running into Heidfeld. He was then given an overly harsh penalty which dropped him down the order. In Britain he qualified a brilliant 6th but turned up in the pits to find the mechanics waiting with Sutil’s tyres, whilst hopes of more points in Germany ended when Nick Heidfeld hit him out of the way. It’s been the typical rookie campaign, but a few more points finishes will be welcome in the second half of the season. Sutil has been under pressure for much of the season as he failed to assert himself against Di Resta, whilst a nightclub incident in China caused unnecessary negative attention. Recent results have been promising – including a strong 6th place at home – and he has started to answer his critics.

Pictures from Sutton Images.

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