Mid-season review: Tough at the back

By on Monday, July 25, 2011

For the 2011 season, the three newer teams – Lotus, Virgin and HRT – all had aspirations at either joining the midfield or finishing 10th in the championship. So far, they’ve largely disappointed and failed to meet their expectations as Team Lotus looks a long way off of convincing the world they are a midfield team, whilst Virgin and HRT remain rooted at the back, wary of the 107% rule, which isn’t even really 107% when the top teams run on the slower hard tyre in Q1.

Virgin Racing (12th)

Timo Glock (24th in championship); Jerome d'Ambrosio (22nd)

They expected to challenge Lotus, but they’ve been too busy fending off HRT. It has not been the greatest start to the season for Virgin, with Timo Glock being an unhappy camper on more than one occasion. However, don’t write them off. The parting with Wirth Research was a positive step, because it was obvious after two bad cars that Wirth was not up to the job of designing a 2011 F1 car, having also failed in the mid-90s. A technical tie-up with McLaren helped Force India take strides forward and that is what Virgin will hope happens to them. Reliability has been a strong point of the season so far, as whilst 2010 saw numerous failures and embarrassments; they’ve got a finishing rate of 80% this season, better than Lotus, HRT and Williams. Yet despite this reliability they sit behind HRT in the championship, something they will not want to achieve in successive seasons.

Glock has signed a contract until 2014

Timo Glock and Jerome d’Ambrosio have formed a strong driver pairing and that is a plus for Virgin. Having someone of Glock’s ability and attitude is a huge benefit for Virgin as he can drive the team forward and exploit the maximum in difficult circumstances. The fact that he’s signed up to 2014 – clauses included – shows his commitment to the team and that will give the mechanics something to be pleased about. D’Ambrosio has perhaps exceeded expectations of him. His GP2 record was nothing spectacular, yet he has retired from just the single race. Furthermore, his qualifying times have – generally – being closer to Glock than di Grassi managed. However, he does need to show further improvements having slipped behind Liuzzi too often for comfort recently.

Hispania Racing (11th)

Vitantonio Liuzzi (20th); Narain Karthikeyan (25th); Daniel Ricciardo (26th)

HRT has challenged Virgin occasionally this year

For Hispania, simply being on the grid is a minor miracle in itself. Their rushed approach to the season opener in Australia saw the car around ten seconds off the pace, ruling them out of the race on safety grounds. They later admitted that the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix had saved them as they would not have made the race. The cars till woefully lacks any downforce, but 2011 has been going slightly better than 2010, for changes are planned that should move HRT slightly further forwards. These changes are to do with the running of the team and until the finances are secured, rather than pinning hopes on sponsors, progressing the team will be difficult. They hold 11th in the championship currently and although it doesn’t bring a financial gain, the team will be desperate not to be the worst team.

Liuzzi has led the team

On the driver front, it’s been a case of who has the money and the contacts. Vitantonio Liuzzi got yet another chance in Formula One and as expected he extracted the maximum out of the car. He used his experience to use in Canada, taking a strong 13th place that could, by the end of the season, see HRT finish 11th and ahead of Virgin again. Narain Karthikeyan has performed admirably as he’s hardly shamed himself with his drives. He should be back in India for his home race. Ricciardo’s task will be to beat Liuzzi and his race in Germany was strong – battling with D’Ambrosio, just shy of Liuzzi – indicating that he will repay the trust that Red Bull has given him.

Team Lotus (10th)

Heikki Kovalainen (23rd); Jarno Trulli (19th)

Kovalainen explores the limits in practice

By the standards that they set themselves prior to the season, Team Lotus has underachieved, but by no means have they failed. Their target was Q2 regularly and challenging for points. So far, they’ve reached Q2 twice courtesy of Heikki Kovalainen, although that was more through the misfortune of others than sheer pace, and 13th is their best finish, thanks to Jarno Trulli. Rarely have they challenged the midfield teams, except in a couple of races – notably China – where they have been capable of beating Williams. However, if their target is 10th in the championship, then they still have to look over their shoulders, as a race such as Canada could (and so nearly did) see Virgin or HRT claim a 12th place finish. That would be disastrous. Chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne told AUTOSPORT recently that “It’s a fair comment that we haven’t yet hit those targets” and Jarno Trulli backed up his comments by saying that “we missed our mission for this year”. The car has been a step forward, but next year’s model needs to be a significantly better car to challenge the midfield. The rest of the year will focus on consolidating 10th place and taking the fight to Williams and Toro Rosso on a more regular basis. Getting to learn the blown diffuser also helps, having not run one in 2010, whilst the team will be desperate to get their hands on KERS ahead of 2012.

Chandhok struggled in Germany

Kovalainen has led the team, but has not quite shown the brilliant pace that won him plaudits in 2010. He’s made a few errors that have cost the team, such as crashing out in Spain, but overall the season has been satisfactory. On the other side of the garage however, are problems. These problems are Jarno Trulli’s and it is down to the power steering. It’s been making his life miserable and Team Lotus hope to have it fixed for Hungary. If not, his season will continue to be plagued by misery. Karun Chandhok stepped in for Germany and he far from impressed. He spun a few times in practice and was often caught locking brakes and running wide. Qualifying was slightly better, although in the race he had problems at the start, before spinning at Turn 9.

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