Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s rivalry at Mercedes has dominated the headlines during the first half of the season, but there have been a number of other fascinating inter-team battles – with some surprises about which driver is coming out on top.
The two biggest surprises are at Ferrari and Red Bull. Much was expected of the pairing at Ferrari, with double world champion Fernando Alonso lining up alongside the returning Kimi Raikkonen, the last man to win the world title for Ferrari.
However, the battle has failed to materialize with Alonso comfortably holding the upper hand. The Spaniard has scored 88 more points than Raikkonen and outqualifed the Finn nine times in 11 races.
“It’s been a difficult year, but that is life,” said Raikkonen. “It is a case of putting things in the right order for me and unfortunately we have not managed to do it here and there.”
Alonso has the benefit of having spent four seasons with Ferrari and bedding himself into the team while Raikkonen returns having left the team in 2009 and enjoyed two successful years at Lotus.
While Alonso had two podiums to his name, Raikkonen’s best result is sixth, which he managed in the last race in Hungary, although he was on course for a podium in Monaco after a collision with Max Chilton.
This season, the cars are more of a handful to drive with more torque from the engine, less aerodynamic grip and the tyres are less aggressive and it seems that Alonso has simply adapted better to the changes than Raikkonen.
Any keen observer of F1 asked to predict the points tally of the two Red Bull drivers after 11 races would have been hard pressed to offer a ratio of two wins and 131 points for Daniel Ricciardo, compared to no wins and 88 points for four time world champion Sebastian Vettel. And it could have been worse; Ricciardo opened his season with second place in Australia but was disqualified for Red Bull infringing fuel flow regulations.
True, the German has had three retirements and the lion’s share of problems with reliability, especially on the Renault power unit, which has been one of the disappointments of the season so far, both in performance and reliability.
But Ricciardo has had two non-scoring weekends and of the seven races they have both finished, Ricciardo has been ahead on six occasions; only in Germany did Vettel get a stronger result.
Red Bull’s director Helmut Marko told this website candidly during the Austrian GP weekend that Ricciardo is beating Vettel because by trying always to make the car do what he wants, rather than adapt himself to the car and its foibles, he has not matched the young Australian. Marko described Vettel as a “perfectionist”.
Recently there have been signs of the old Vettel coming back strongly, but Ricciardo has a lot of confidence now.
The battle between them in the second half of the season, on many Hermann Tilke designed tracks where Vettel has excelled in the past, will be fascinating.
Over at Toro Rosso, the Italian team have had a mixed year. While they have often managed to get a car into Q3, the team have been unable to follow that through in the races thanks to poor reliability.
Both Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat have scored points in four races, but Vergne edges it by 11 points to six.
However, it’s still an impressive performance from Russian Kvyat, who entered his debut season with very little mileage and went on to score points in his debut race, becoming the youngest ever Formula 1 driver to finish in the points and taking the record from Sebastian Vettel.
The Russian does not have the pressure of Vergne, who must perform to save his seat after two unspectacular seasons with the team, and his mature approach to racing and ability to give good feedback to the team seems to be paying dividends.
He will also be buoyed by the fact Daniel Ricciardo was promoted to the Red Bull seat for this season – something that he will be keen to prove he is worthy of.
Vergne, meanwhile, knows he needs to deliver, having been overlooked for Ricciardo as Mark Webber’s replacement.
The Frenchman has had five retirements in 11 races this year, and while he has shown glimpses of form, such as when he ran as high as second in Hungary and was able to keep up pace with those around him, he cannot string a good run of results together.
Sauber are enduring a difficult 2014 and are on course for their worst-ever season having yet to score a point. The car started the season well off the pace, but has improved of late and is now challenging just outside the points.
While Adrian Sutil started the season the stronger of the two, it is Esteban Gutierrez who seems to be gaining the upper hand in the inter-team battle.
Gutierrez was comfortably overshadowed by Nico Hulkenberg in his debut season last year, with many questioning how long he would last in the sport, even with his significant sponsorship backing.
But while erratic at times this season, such as when he collided with Pastor Maldonado at Silverstone or when he hit the barriers at Monaco, throwing away a vital points finish, he has got his act together in the last few races and is outperforming Sutil, who himself has six years of F1 experience.
In the four races which both cars have finished, Sutil has finished ahead three times, but with his experience, the team will have expected more from him in terms of results, and more crucially points.
In qualifying, Gutierrez heads Sutil 6-5 and is still only young at 22. He perhaps lacks the confidence in his ability but appears to be cutting out the mistakes.
And he will also be keen to contest his home race in Mexico when it returns to the calendar next year – something which could have inspired his improved recent form.
At Force India, Nico Hulkenberg is once again proving that he is one of the most consistent drivers on the F1 grid. The German scored points in the first 10 races and only saw that run come to an end when he and his team-mate Sergio Perez collided in Hungary.
Hulkenberg obviously knows the team well, having spent a year in the race seat in 2012, but his talent is showing through, particularly in Malaysia, Bahrain, Monaco and Canada where he finished an impressive fifth punching above his weight.
Perez, on the other hand, is in his first season with the team. While he scored the team’s only podium of the season with an impressive drive to third in Bahrain, his other results have been far more erratic.
Hulkenberg’s consistency means he’s seventh in the drivers’ standings, one place and just 19 points behind defending champion Sebastian Vettel. He has 69 points to Perez’s 29. Has Hulkenberg done enough to prove he deserves a seat at a top team next year?