Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Midterm Report - Life at the sharp end // A roundup of the top three teams and their driver performances so far

Published

It’s the finale of my midsummer section on the 2012 season so far and that can mean only one thing - Formula One is back with a vengeance in less than a week. To get you in the mood for undoubtedly the best circuit on the calendar, Spa, here are my thoughts on the boys at the top, who will head to Belgium with the clear ambition to close the gap to Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. So, as these things are always done, in reverse championship order, let’s get to it.

Lotus

No one could have predicted the rise of Lotus. Apparently, though, Kimi Räikkönen did, and he leads the team into the last nine races of the season with a realistic chance of his second world title. Lotus have been quick all year and despite the lack of a race win, they have showed clear pace throughout, leaving them third in the championship, a single point behind McLaren.

To put it into context, Romain Grosjean has already scored more points (76) than Lotus did in the whole of last year (73). They’ll have to work very hard to avoid what happened at the end of last year, from Spa onwards; they scored a grand total of six points from three 9th places. A similar finish would be a catastrophic shame and would trim the championship challengers down further.

Kimi has momentum on his side
Kimi has momentum on his sideCredit: LAT Photographic

The team have been fast throughout but both drivers have had their struggles, Räikkönen had a period where he lacked the extreme pace that Grosjean had, while the Frenchman has struggled to capitalise on his evident pace, having completed just 70% of laps this year, with five retirements. It’s this statistic more than anything that means that team resources are likely to be supporting Kimi when the racing gets going again.

Big result: Lotus have failed to win a race this year, but have had eight podiums. The biggest of these was arguably in Bahrain when they really put themselves on the map in terms of race pace with a second place for Kimi Räikkönen. A strategic error, where they allowed Grosjean to hold up Räikkönen early in the second stint, along with Kimi's lack of bravery on the brakes into turn one potentially cost them their first win since Fuji 2008.

Missed opportunities: Like Sauber, the Lotus’ brilliance in tyre conservation has cost them in qualifying. On many occasions, their clear race pace has been thwarted by the necessity to fight through the field. They may rue their inability to turn podiums into race wins. Perhaps the most frustrating occasion was in Hungary where the Lotus was the fastest car on race pace but neither car was able to overtake Lewis Hamilton when they had the opportunity. Surely a win is just around the corner as their first major update package debuts in Spa, including Double-DRS.

Top dog: I was very vocal of how Romain Grosjean had the better of Kimi earlier in the season but the Finn has kept plugging away and has been in the top 5 for the last 5 races. Grosjean has a clear 7-4 lead in qualifying but Räikkönen edges it in the races (4-2 when they have both finished). As the race is what counts, shown by Kimi’s 40 point advantage, he has the edge with the team. If you are to back Kimi for the championship, it’s important to point out he’s only been out of the points once, in China where his tyres fell off while he was running second.

  • Kimi Räikkönen A
  • Romain Grosjean B+

McLaren

McLaren have failed to deliver on their big opportunity. They had the fastest car by a mile at the start of the year and couldn’t capitalise. Lewis Hamilton had all the bad luck at the start of the year but kept the points coming in, while Jenson Button went the wrong way on setup, causing a six race slump that has all but put his championship hopes on hold for another year. And of course, who can forget the 10+ second stops that blighted the start of the year for the team.

The car, and Jenson, is back on track but as always, they are playing catchup and may have left themselves too much to do. Time will tell whether the upgrades from the German GP will be enough to force Lewis back into the fight. Jenson’s Bahrain to Britain slump may be a blessing in disguise as it means that the team can focus on Lewis’ far better chances. But McLaren won’t be saying anything of the kind until Austin at the earliest.

Big result: Well, opening the season with a double podium is always a good start, and it stamped their authority on both championships, but they couldn’t make the most of it. Jenson’s second place in Germany may prove crucial because it got the team back on the horse and showed them that their updates could be the difference and determine whether they are celebrating yet another championship or two at Woking at the end of the year.

The unexpected result in Canada could be huge too. With Jenson struggling at the back of the midfield with his tyre management, Lewis took a car that was clearly undeserving to the win in a drive that owed a lot to his love of the Montreal circuit that allows him to get that little bit more out of the car. The fact that his main rivals dropped points due to late race slides just made the result even better.

Missed opportunities: Jenson’s “blind alley” on setup in general has almost certainly cost him a shot at a second championship and has hurt McLaren’s chances of a first Constructors’ Championship since 1998. For Hamilton, being taken out by Pastor Maldonado with a lap and a half to go cost him at least 12 points, points that could easily cost him the championship.

Top dog: Aided by Jenson’s struggles, Lewis has this locked up at the moment. He has been dominant in qualifying with a 10-1 lead, as well as outracing Jenson more often than not. Lewis will love having a real shot at the title with the majority of team support for the first time since 2008.

  • Lewis Hamilton A
  • Jenson Button B-

Red Bull

Webber edges it at Red Bull
Webber edges it at Red BullCredit: Thompson/Getty

With a 53 point lead in the constructors’ championship, it would appear as if it is business as usual for the reigning, back-to-back, double world champions. But that hardly begins to tell the story. Mark Webber has fought back against his teammate this year and has an extra win as well as a marginal two point lead in the championship.

Red Bull have struggled without a car that isn’t clearly faster than the others and have struggled to find legal ways to improve the car. But they aren’t out of the hunt and could well come back at the others after the break. For a start, Adrian Newey has had five weeks with no distractions to dream of barely-legal ways to speed the car up. They had fallen away since their British win but they will fight till the end to retain their titles.

Big result: After a comparably bad start to the year, winning in Bahrain clearly meant a lot to the team to get their first win of the year. Red Bull have been fast all year but there always seem to be someone faster than them. ‘Stealing’ a win from Ferrari at Silverstone may also prove crucial, particularly with the 14 point swing it caused. It’s easy to imagine that Red Bull and Lotus could have had each other’s seasons had things been a little different.

Missed opportunities: Red Bull have done well with damage limitation but an alternator overheating in Valencia cost Sebastian Vettel 25 points and he may well rue them if he isn’t celebrating a third title in three years in Brazil, a feat only done by the greats Schumacher and Fangio.

Top dog: Vettel has outraced and outqualified Mark Webber and yet the Aussie leads in the championship, thanks largely to his extra win. The fact that Webber has fought back after such a demoralising season last year is impressive but I think it’s fair to say that the 2012 Vettel isn’t on nearly the same form as the 2011 Vettel. As always, the championship is what matters and so Webber edges it.

  • Mark Webber A-
  • Sebastian Vettel B+

So there you have it from Narain Karthikeyan to Sebastian Vettel in four weeks. I think that we’ll all feel more at home and ok with the rain when we get to Spa, Belgium when the F1 circus is back on. Although Ted Kravitz was laughed off stage when he backed Kimi Räikkönen to win the title, what he was saying is not out of the question, particularly with Lotus having the double-DRS for the first time and Kimi being an undoubted Spa specialist. I’ll be back next week in my usual role to highlight the best drives in Belgium. It should be a great race!