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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 - The (naughty) boys at the back // Caterham's highs and HRT's lows, plus everything in between

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Heikki rolls into position in Hungary
Heikki rolls into position in HungaryCredit: Caterham F1

To get us all through the F1 summer hiatus, I thought that I would look through each team’s and driver’s season to see who has performed and who must try harder next term.

To start I have looked at those at the back of the field who are struggling to bridge the gap to the main pack.

Caterham

Caterham have been on their own in the gap between Toro Rosso and Marussia all year. They have been improving gradually all year and were, up until the British GP, constantly challenging to get out of Q1, Heikki Kovalainen even beat Mark Webber into Q2 in Valencia. In reality, they are still dependent on tyre strategy and errors to seriously challenge anyone other than Jean-Éric Vergne’s Toro Rosso. In the race, they have no competition but each other.

Big result: It has to be Heikki Kovalainen finishing 13th in the Monaco GP. He benefitted massively from picking the inside line at turn one as others, notably including Jenson Button, were held up in the melee on the outside. He used the narrow track to his advantage as he held position in twelfth for much of the race. Even when Button pitted eight laps later, he managed to beat him out of the pits and held off all his challenges until his retirement. Although Sergio Pérez and Jean-Éric Vergne demoted him to thirteenth when he had to pit, the result may prove absolutely pivotal in the long run because it is unlikely that either Marussia or HRT will be able to surpass it.

Missed opportunities: Caterham promised a huge upgrade for the British GP but appear to have gone backwards since then. It may have been because of the lack of dry running in both Britain and Germany which stopped them getting the best out of their upgrade, but Caterham were further back in Hungary than they were in Valencia. They need to get on top of this upgrade, as Tony Fernandes expects the team to be in points by the end of the season (and has the previous two seasons as well).

Top dog: Although Kovalainen is the established number one, he has only beaten Petrov three times when they have both finished, even though he has a 9-2 qualifying record. Petrov threatened their first ever points in Valencia but fell short. In the end I have to give it to Heikki because of his qualifying dominance and giant killing.

  • Heikki Kovalainen: B
  • Vitaly Petrov: B-

Marussia

Marussia have improved steadily through the year. The integration of windtunnel development has helped them pull away from the two HRTs at the back. Unreliability has stopped them pushing on but the team appears to have solved the issues with three consecutive double finishes. Timo Glock is the undoubted number one of the team but he is being pushed hard by Charles Pic. The competition is close between the two of them and the pair may be able to close to the back of the Caterham’s by the end of the season.

Two by two at the tail of the pack in Hungary
Two by two at the tail of the pack in HungaryCredit: Marussia F1 Team

Big result: For a team that has finished last in the past two seasons, gaining a top 15 result is crucial to ensure 11th in the championship and the critical extra money that it brings with it. Timo Glock has twice benefitted from others’ unreliability to finish 14th; in Australia and Monaco, both known high-attrition races. Another important result was an impressive 18th and 19th at the British GP in the aftermath of María de Villota’s horrendous crash. That result is surely the best as it gave the team the boost they desperately needed given the circumstances.

Missed opportunities: Timo Glock was millimetres away from beating Heikki Kovalainen in Monaco after he had to stop for a new front wing. That result would have catapulted Marussia up to 10th in the constructors championship and provided the team with their best ever result. As well as that, it would have been the first time that Marussia beat anyone other than HRT all year. Nonetheless, it was a result not to be sniffed at and could be important come season’s end.

Top dog: Timo Glock has the better results on both qualifying and the race, but it’s close. Glock has used his experience to get the results while Charles Pic has suffered the majority of the bad luck with unreliability but has recovered well. Pic took a few races to learn the ropes but has outqualified Glock three out of the last four races and outraced him in the last two races. While Glock holds the title now, he’ll struggle to retain it at the end of the year.

  • Timo Glock: B-
  • Charles Pic: C+

HRT

What is there to say about HRT? Team principal Luis Pérez-Sala summed it up well. When asked about the relationship between him and his bosses he said, “For me, it’s pretty simple. I ask [for more funding] and they say no.” They are perennially the slowest car by a margin. Their tradition of being too slow to race in the season opener continued but they have improved from there. In the past the Spanish squad's biggest liability is usually the car but, while the car is still slow, this year it has to be Narain Karthikeyan. He is the slowest man in Formula One and the epitome of a pay-driver. He makes Pedro de la Rosa, who is a world-class test driver but lacks race skill, look like a rather faster Spaniard.

Big result: The best qualifying performance has to be De la Rosa's lap in Monaco. He said it was his best lap ever around the Monaco circuit and placed him 21st on the grid, ahead of Charles Pic. Pedro de la Rosa also put up a good fight in Hungary, keeping Timo Glock behind him for the first half of the race after an early spin. He couldn't maintain it though and HRT are yet to beat anyone over the course of a race.

Missed opportunities: Frankly I would say not finding a faster pay driver than Narain Karthikeyan to sign for the season. But race wise, it is probably in Canada where they were unable to maximise the opportunity of a low downforce track with a lot of braking. The track played very much to their strengths but they couldn't capitalise and neither driver made it to the end with overheating brakes.

Top dog: It has to be De la Rosa. He has an 11-0 record in qualifying and has not been beaten by Karthikeyan when he has finished. He is the second most dominant man in the paddock and yet many other men would beat him. Somehow Karthikeyan leads in the driver's championship as a result of his last placed 15th (excluding Jenson Button) in Monaco's high attrition race. De la Rosa also puts in considerably more to car development as this is his niche. Keeping him on in some form should help HRT move closer to Marussia.

  • Pedro de la Rosa D+
  • Narain Karthikeyan F

So there you have it. A review of the slow boys at the back. While two appear to be making progress, they are all yet to truly challenge any of the established teams. Next week I'll be taking a look at the trials and tribulations of the bottom end of the midfield and where exactly they stand.