Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

107 Per Cent
Ryan Gault

Ryan is one of those people who follow every sport going, from football to speedway and golf to ice hockey. He has followed Formula 1 for as long as he can remember, which just so happens to be the 2001 US Grand Prix, Mika Häkkinen's last ever win. Since then he has followed the tribulations of the greatest Swiss team since he heard about Grasshoppers Zürich, Sauber. Currently studying Journalism at the University of Huddersfield, while also attempting to write about TV and Eurovision.

Celebrating mediocrity // Introducing the slow-paced world of life at the back of the grid

Published

Jamie Rooney ruined the hopes of an entire region a few Sunday’s ago. Granted, this entire region consisted of only a few thousand who actually cared, but Rooney’s try for the South Wales Scorpions denied Gateshead Thunder’s first win in over a year.

One whole year without a win, it doesn’t sound pretty, and realistically, it isn’t. Various financial troubles have led the team to where they are right now, and they are slowly struggling to even win a game. It’s getting there, but it’s required a lot of patience, along with admiration. The players aren’t the best, most of them are just kids, but they put in the effort. On the odd occasion it clicks and something magical nearly happens, on other occasions it doesn’t and another heavy thumping is on the cards.

I love it in a strange way; I like the pain, the agony. And when the team puts in effort you can’t blame them at all, and you know one day, one win will lead on to two wins. And eventually, Gateshead Thunder will be a respectable rugby league team again. Progress is showing, it is a long hard road they have been on. We’re going somewhere.

Unlike, say, three certain Formula 1 teams who seem to have a magnet stuck on them attracting them to the back of the grid.

Caterham's positive thinking

It’s coming to something ridiculous, and I really don’t know how Caterham, Marussia and HRT have lasted two and a bit years of being positive about being really poor. I must have lost count how many times Caterham have said ‘it was a disappointment, but a good performance to build on’ inside the last three years (or are they a new team again? Or are they still counting from the 491 races by the proper Team Lotus? They really need to stop changing their mind).

Heikki waits for better things in Melbourne
Credit: Charles Coates/LAT Photographic

The fact of the matter is this, yes, well done for matching Paul di Resta on a couple of occasions (Petrov managed it on lap 27 and he and Kovalainen did it on lap 28), but here are the facts.

During the Australian Grand Prix, Vitaly Petrov was consistent in the mid 1:33’s in the 10 laps prior to his retirement, Heikki Kovalainen was slightly slower in the low 1:34’s, dipping once or twice into the high 1:33’s. Di Resta was consistent in the low 1:33’s dipping down into the 1:32’s aside from the two laps previously mentioned which were a bit of an anomaly.

In comparison to the other midfield teams it is the same situation, Sergio Pérez and Pastor Maldonado were in the 1:31’s, Kamui Kobayashi and Daniel Ricciardo in the 1:32’s, in fact, it was around this time Jean-Éric Vergne even set the fastest lap. True, yes, Kovalainen didn’t have KERS, but ultimately that would have only put him on the same times as Petrov, which still isn’t quick enough.

A look at qualifying is a similar story, they claim to be closer to the midfield teams. Kovalainen was 0.8 seconds behind Kimi Räikkönen in Q1. Fair enough, this time in 2011 they were a whole two seconds behind Heidfeld in 17th place. However, a look at the last five races of last season shows they (I say they, I really just mean Kovalainen) were getting closer to 17th, coming 0.7, 1.0, 0.7, 0.7 and 0.4 seconds behind. They’ve really not improved at all on a promising end to the season, and when the race comes along, they can’t catch up to the midfield.

They’ve really not improved at all on a promising end to the season

The bigger picture is simple, Caterham aren’t as quick as the midfield cars. Everyone thought, and rightly so, they should be trying to catch up to the Toro Rosso and Williams cars (although Williams look like they’ve built a decent car for once). They are meant to be the most respectable team from the trio, yet they are going nowhere. And it really does not help when nothing on the car seems to be reliable, from what I can work out, the cars failed with KERS, DRS, steering, suspension and hydraulics all at one point or another over the weekend. An unreliable car gets you nowhere, and I’m just putting it out there, but no team should be having that many problems with their car inside a few short hours of driving. Caterham find themselves in the Formula 1 equivalent of no-man’s land. Ahead of them lies the midfield, and behind them Marussia and HRT, and they just sit in the middle failing to deliver on the huge expectations laid upon them.

Starting afresh

As much as I criticise the lack of progress made by Caterham, questions similarly need to be raised for Marussia and HRT. Granted, Marussia are starting from new after ditching the disastrous CFD technology which failed them badly, and in fairness, they did actually get a car to the chequered flag. For the first time in two years the Virgin/Marussia outfit have managed to get their number one driver of Timo Glock to the finish line in Melbourne, but once again, finishing simply isn’t good enough now. Glock made a fantastic start, getting himself ahead of both Caterham drivers. But all he managed to do for the next seven laps was hold them up, and as soon as they got through, he had a lonely drive to the finish.

Although I’m reluctant to criticise Charles Pic after only one race, his performance does suggest that they should have continued with Jérôme D’Ambrosio. The Belgian, practically from the off, put the pressure in on Glock, and on occasion really did put in some impressive performances against a top quality driver. But Formula 1 is cruel and inevitably, Pic had more money than D’Ambrosio did, and in fairness, had put in a half decent performance in his 2011 GP2 campaign (it still should have been D’Ambrosio though). Pic on the other hand struggled up against Glock , never really being near him and just slower up until his retirement with oil pressure issues.

They only look better because of HRT’s ineptness

Like Caterham, Virgin/Marussia have stood still. No real progress has been made, and they only look better because of HRT’s ineptness. Towards the end of the last season, when HRT were beating them on real terms with some rather impressive qualifying and race performances being put in, Virgin Racing were looking rather sheepish. In truth, the elimination of Nick Wirth and CFD meant the team didn’t continue to update their car for the remainder of the season, allowing HRT to build on their outfit, and once again, finish above them in the Constructors Championship. Now Pat Symonds has been brought in with an “unofficial” role, the team should be able to rely on proper developments through the season, and maybe, maybe have some stability.

HRT's struggle

HRT spend a lot of their time in the pit lane
Credit: HRT F1 Team

And alas we find ourselves right at the back, so far back that Per Mertesacker could probably catch up to them. I have no complaints with the driver line up, even though their aggregate age of 144 is slightly concerning. Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan are both, average, unspectacular drivers. If it wasn’t for HRT they wouldn’t have a drive anywhere near Formula 1, but here they are, struggling. It’s not them, I’m sure Sebastian Vettel would struggle to make the 107% cut in that car. They are an absolute mess. By now, it’s inexcusable to not make the grid, totally inexcusable.

Everything has already been said about them that needs to be said. It’s painful to watch, improvements aren’t being made, it looks very bad.

And that leads to my final point, I noticed this comment by Thierry Silva, the Renault F1 Support Leader for Caterham: ‘We have a lot of reasons to be happy today’. Double retirement, technical issues, realistically not close to the midfield teams, but you know what, be happy. For me, I’m only going to be celebrating when Gateshead Thunder achieve a win, so the three teams should only celebrate when they achieve their aims as well. And in the mean time, I suggest a lot of head banging against walls and shouting at television screens.