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Midfield Monitor
Christine Blachford

Christine became an avid follower of Formula One after getting a taste of the action way back in 2003. Today, you'll find Christine putting her experience to good use as writer and producer of the news show F1Minute, and editor of community F1 site Sidepodcast.

Cast adrift // Significant spaces open up in the 2013 constructor's championship


With the dust settling after the Hungarian Grand Prix, and a lengthy summer break stretching out before us – the halfway point of the 2013 F1 World Championship has been reached and passed. As the saying goes, it is all downhill from here.

For the midfield teams, however, it’s an uphill battle as they try to pull whatever they can get from the second half of this season. It’s an unusual year in which the desire to develop and stay in the race for a decent championship result is tempered by the knowledge that the regulations are being turned upside down next season. Although all data is good data, teams are focusing attention on their 2014 challengers, leaving the current machinery floundering in their wake.

It goes some way to explaining why the championship standings table shows the first four teams moving ever further away from their midfield rivals. The below chart shows the gap between the fourth placed team and the fifth placed team after each race.

Gap to the midfield

There are any number of reasons why the gap ebbs and flows, but there’s a clear trend that after an initial rush, there’s a period where the gap closes. After Canada, it even shrinks a little. However, the recent races have seen strong performances up front, with little to celebrate in the midfield, and the title contenders are pulling further and further away.

Pay my automo' bills

Even with a young driver test allowing some time for evaluating new updates to the car, there hasn’t been too much forward progress for our teams.

Sauber have had their own problems to deal with. It felt as though the speculation about their ability to complete the season came out of nowhere and was solved just as quickly. Finances are an ongoing concern in the F1 paddock, and Sauber are the latest team to be accused of not paying their drivers and/or bills. They’ve since said that bankruptcy was never on the cards, but for a couple of days, Sauber were the talk of the town. A plethora of Russian investors have now stepped in to save the day which should hopefully allow the team to focus on the business of racing rather than concentrating on simple survival.

Force India through the foliage

With a brand new young driver specified for the 2014 season, however, it would probably be in Sauber’s favour to concentrate on next year’s car – making it the best it can be to please the bosses, and the boss’s son.

Force India continue their temperamental streak, with a couple of races that show great potential but end up in frustration. A strong run of points finishes ended abruptly in Germany, where both drivers saw the end of the race but were outside the top ten.

At the Hungarian Grand Prix, Paul di Resta found himself far down the grid on Saturday – for once by his own doing rather than a bad call from the pit wall – and that hampered his chances of progress on the Sunday.

Adrian Sutil was celebrating a milestone of 100 Grand Prix starts, but was forced to retire from the race after just 20 laps. It’s not clear exactly what happened, but a very lengthy pit stop turned into a retirement. That’s something we’ve seen many times from the Force India crew, and something I thought they had figured out by now.

Drift away

Meanwhile, Toro Rosso have their own issues to deal with, namely the potential departure of one of their drivers, and perhaps the fallout if Daniel Ricciardo doesn’t get the call. At this stage, we know that Jean-Éric Vergne isn’t going to be moving up to the big team, after Christian Horner said he wasn’t ready. Luckily for his current squad, Vergne has been quite sporting about the whole thing, talking up Ricciardo’s chances of the seat, admitting he understands why he wouldn’t be chosen, and naturally saying he hopes Daniel gets the role over someone else, like Kimi Räikkönen. The potential for friction between teammates was high but it has been avoided thanks to the gentlemanly attitude from Vergne.

Toro Rosso at work

Out on track, though, the race pace still continues to favour Vergne. Ricciardo has been making a name for himself in qualifying, making it into the top ten for the last four Grand Prix weekends, but in the race that has only translated to one eighth place. Vergne, meanwhile, may struggle for speed over one lap, but he’s making up for it on Sundays. In Hungary, the Frenchman finished ahead of his teammate despite the vast difference in their qualifying positions.

Toro Rosso as a whole are having a similar season to Force India in which there are flashes of brilliance but a lack of consistent running hampers their chances of big points. The occasional top ten result here or there is helping keep them seventh in the team standings, but they are drifting away from those ahead of them too.

Left of the middle

The only midfield team that is bucking the trend is McLaren, and this is a team that were quite vocal about moving attention on to the 2014 chassis. As soon as this admission was out in the open, their performance turned a corner. They’ve had two double points finishes in a row now, to bring the team within two points of fifth place Force India. It’s too late in the season to turn things around, but to finish the season well would be no bad thing. The drivers seem slightly happier with the car, and although there is still work that can be done (if they choose), they’re not quite so downhearted about the task ahead.

The fact that the frontrunners are racing ahead of the pack should mean that the championship battle is still relevant… for longer than it was last year, anyway. That is scant consolation for the teams left behind, they have to scrabble amongst themselves for the few points leftover when you have eight drivers in with a chance at the top ten. As always, the finishing position in any constructor’s championship is crucially important, but at this stage it seems unlikely any of our four teams will make it higher than fifth place. However, the order they finish in, once the dust settles in Brazil, is still a battle worth fighting for.

  • Force India are 5th not 6th..

    Even so, I still can't believe McLaren are only just catching 5th in the WCC in August. Even now it seems faintly ridiculous they'd be that low! But their trend for the last few years has always been to finish every season stronger than they start it and this year should be no exception, I expect a podium or two out of them by the time we get to the final race... but probably no more than that. There's no way they'll get higher than 5th and they can expect the gap to Lotus to keep increasing.

    The graph is quite notable, and looking at the standings graph ( it reminds me of the way they were in the early 2000s when things were a little less tight (I used to draw up graphs like this).

  • One thing that should be taken into account when comparing Ricciardo's and Vergne's races is that Daniel is having to start on the tyres he qualified on (which are probably shot seeing as he is obviously driving out of his skin to qualify so far up), when he makes it into Q3, and JEV has plenty of fresh ones. One of the reasons the drivers almost prefer to qualify 11th rather than get into Q3 and come 10th!

  • One thing that should be taken into account when comparing Ricciardo's and Vergne's races is that Daniel is having to start on the tyres he qualified on (which are probably shot seeing as he is obviously driving out of his skin to qualify so far up), when he makes it into Q3, and JEV has plenty of fresh ones. One of the reasons the drivers almost prefer to qualify 11th rather than get into Q3 and come 10th!

    if that was the case, toro rosso could sit out q3 all together, settling for tenth. i actually think there might be question marks over ricciardo's driving style on the current pirelli's. he regularly seems to cane the life out of every set within a handful of laps. a strategy works well in qualifying of course, but less so in the race.

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