Yesterday we looked at the teams who have matched or exceeded expectations so far this year. Part 2 of our mid season review focusses on the teams that have enjoyed some success, but who are left feeling that there should have been a lot more.
This group contains Williams, Sauber and McLaren.
Williams is still one of the most popular teams in F1, thanks to its place in the sport’s history, but it has made precious little history of its own in the last seven years and is in transition with Patrick Head retired and Frank Williams handing over more responsibility to Toto Wolff.
After BMW’s departure the squeeze on funding and the hiring of many of their best staff by manufacturer teams meant that Williams suffered a slump. Many feared a repeat of Tyrrell, but this year has seen a return to form with a new technical department led by Mike Coughlan and Prof. Mark Gillan, one of the savviest race operations men around.
The result is Williams’ first win since 2004, when Pastor Maldonado took victory from pole in Barcelona. It was just one of those days when everything came together. But it was no flash in the pan; Maldonado and Williams started stongly by battling for fifth place with Alonso in Melbourne. Unfortunately the Venezuelan threw it into the fence on the final lap, leaving a guaranteed 8 points on the table.
And that has rather characterised their season; Valencia was another race where the forceful Maldonado went home empty handed after colliding with Hamilton in a fight at the end of the race for a podium. In all Maldonado has qualified in the top ten six times, but only had two points scoring finishes.
Bruno Senna has had quite a few off days, but has also been more reliable with six points scoring finishes, showing what is possible if Maldonado could keep it on the island.
The Williams is fast in qualifying and easy on its tyres in the race; the recipe for success is all there. If Alonso had been driving a Williams this year he would have 80+ points on the board.
Gillan and his track ops team have found a way to get the Pirellis to work most of the time. Williams traditionally keep developing to the end of the season, so there will be more opportunities. But the top five teams are throwing some serious resources at development and one fears that the best opportunities this year may lie behind for Williams.
WILLIAMS DRIVER STATS:
Maldonado: 29 points (P11), 1 wins; 1 pole; 9 no-scores; 37 laps led; Average grid slot: P11
Head to head qualifying vs team mate: Maldonado 9-2 Senna
Senna: 24 points (P15); 5 no-scores; Average grid slot: P13
Two podiums for a team like Sauber would normally be considered a fantastic return from a first half of a season. But they have had one of the fastest race cars in the field on several occasions and could have had so much more, including a breakthrough win in Malaysia, where Sergio Perez was faster that Alonso but a combination of cautious strategy and a mistake by the Mexican led to a second place finish instead.
The Sauber was a car others were copying right from the start of the season; its exhaust design has found its way onto several cars. Like the Lotus, it is really good on the Pirelli tyres in the race; able to run longer stints on softer tyres than its rivals, able to make one less pit stop sometimes, which has given the team some great results.
But like Williams they have also seen many points go begging and the inability to qualify in the top 10 consistently is making the task of scoring points much harder. The drivers have not been outstanding, notwithstanding Perez two fine podium drives. Kobayashi has shown some glimpses of the mercurial magic we came to love last season, but now he has a competitive car he should have double the points he has on the board.
If a team like Sauber can fight for podiums then F1 is as it should be; it should not always be just the top four teams dominating everything. However as the big teams hit the spend button in the development arms race, one fears for Sauber that the opportunities for the second half of the season may be fewer.
To hear Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn’s assessment of the season so far, on the latest JA on F1 Podcast, click HERE
SAUBER DRIVER STATS:
Perez: 47 points (P9), 2 podiums; 6 no-scores; 7 laps led; Average grid slot: P13
Head to head qualifying vs team mate: Perez 6-5 Kobayashi
Kobayashi: 33 points (P10); 6 no-scores; 0 laps led; Average grid slot: P11
Three wins, five podiums, two poles, second in the constructor’s points table and fourth and seventh in the drivers’ table. Success or failure?
McLaren can divide their year so far into three parts; they had the fastest car at the start of the season with front row lock outs at the first two races. But they didn’t press home the competitive advantage. Then they lost their way a bit as others got a better handle on the tyres. McLaren found mismatched temperatures front to rear and this threw Button completely, while Hamilton soldiered on.
More recently they look like they’ve got their act together again and as we head into the second half of the season they look like winning races and coming back at Red Bull in the Constructors’ race, especially with Button’s return to form in Germany.
But how many points have been left on the table in the first 11 races; in contrast to Alonso who has maxxed everything out, except the occasional strategy error, which might conceivably have led to a better outcome?
Pit stop howlers at the start of the season, losing pole due to under fuelling in Barcelona, many points lost in Valencia, bad luck with a puncture in Germany; Hamilton’s season is littered with what might have beens.
But he’s on form, driving very well and two strong victories at his beloved Montreal and Budapest point to a second half of the season where he could rack up a number of wins. Whether it’s enough to claw back the 47 point defect to Alonso in the title race, time will tell.
MCLAREN DRIVER STATS:
Hamilton: 117 points (4th), 2 wins; 3 podiums; 3 poles; 2 no-scores; 115 laps led; Average grid slot: P5
Head to head qualifying vs team mate: Hamilton 10-1 Button
Button: 76 points (P8); 1 win; 2 podiums; 0 poles; 4 no-scores; 61 laps led; Average grid slot: P7
What’s your view? Do you agree with these assessments or do you have a different opinion? Leave your comments below.