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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 - Progress is the name of the game // From Williams' race-winning highs to Toro Rosso's qualifying woes

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Onto round two of the midseason report, where we have the midfield teams who have been unable to move forward into the head pack after the loss of blown diffusers. This week, Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso get thrust under the microscope to see whether they are marching forward or falling backwards.

Williams

Judging Williams' season is a minefield. It appears that they have one driver that’s ultra fast but hits everything that moves and another that lacks the pace required. Going into this season you wouldn’t have guessed that Pastor Maldonado was the quick hothead and Bruno Senna the consistent race driver. Given the fact that Maldonado hardly made an impression in an admittedly slow car last season, I can only assume that he has found a setup in the 2012 car that he really likes, particularly in qualifying. He has qualified at the sharp end more often than expected, but has gone backwards on several occasions in the races.

Bruno keeps his distance in Valencia
Bruno keeps his distance in ValenciaCredit: LAT Photographic

I get the feeling that Senna is more close to the true pace of the Williams as he has been consistent in the midfield for much of the year, with a couple of standout results in China and Hungary (as well as a career best sixth in the rain of Malaysia). The general consensus in Hungary was that Bruno had suddenly clicked with a strategy on the Friday, which may lead to an improvement in results. Senna has done well to keep his nose clean throughout the season and I would even say that he would be the preferred Williams driver as he is not costing them valuable points and money with careless mistakes, not to mention the price of the parts he has broken. For a privateer team, Maldonado’s errors could really come back to bite them. One thing is for sure, the car is much faster than last year.

Big result: It has to be Maldonado’s master class in Barcelona where he inherited pole and never looked back. Having seen his racing since, it’s hard to believe that he didn’t panic when Alonso got past him at the start or even when he was being chased by the Championship leader. It was a great drive that removed the pay driver tag from his name once and for all as he drove flat out with an aggressive strategy, whilst also managing to conserve his tyres. But where has that Pastor gone?

Missed opportunities: Any of Maldonado’s drives since Barcelona could fall into this category. Particularly blighting his apparent Monaco speed with a number of silly errors. Another costly moment was his error on the last lap in Australia with fifth place nearly his, Maldonado binned it and lost Williams a result that would have bettered 2011’s total points tally. The worst error has to be his impatience behind Lewis Hamilton in Valencia. With far better tyres, he simply had to be sensible, or even settle for a good fourth place but decided a silly manoeuvre that cost both of them dear. I could name more and the omission of Senna’s name in this section shows the difference in their two seasons.

Top dog: Maldonado has been far quicker but now only has a five point lead over Senna. He hasn’t scored since his Spain win but still maintains a 9-2 qualifying lead. I feel that he still has the edge because of the raw pace he has shown but his run of at least one major error or penalty at each race since Barcelona must stop now.

  • Pastor Maldonado B+
  • Bruno Senna B-

Force India

The team cashed in on their regular Valencia pace, scoring fifth and seventh places as podium contenders fell by the wayside.

Force India have been the archetypal midfield runners this term, scoring low end points consistently, ensuring they exercise a risk averse strategy in order to benefit from others' mistakes and bad luck. They always seem the prime candidates to run one less stop than everyone else, relying on tyre preservation to get them results rather than true pace. Their biggest issue has been the competition as other teams they will be targeting to beat have had big results, strengthening their championship position. Williams scored a shock win which has belittled any other midfield success and Sergio Pérez’s two trips to the podium have shone the limelight on Sauber.

Force India have bridged the gap to Williams after their early race form and now lie just seven points behind. Indeed, the team are probably the biggest beneficiaries of Maldonado’s inability to turn pace into points. They have nearly doubled their points tally over the same stage last year so they are moving forward, even if it is under the radar.

Big result: The Silverstone-based team cashed in on their regular Valencia pace, scoring fifth and seventh places as podium contenders fell by the wayside. The result dragged them back to within reach of Sauber and Williams.

Missed opportunities: Oddly enough it's Valencia again. They were left to rue a safety car that destroyed Paul di Resta's one stop strategy. Had their tyres lasted a few more laps, they'd have collected third and fourth if it weren't for the late charges of the Mercedes and Mark Webber.

Top dog: Nico Hülkenburg is yet to show the turn of speed he did at Williams, while Paul di Resta has built solidly on his rookie performances. Hülkenberg is not far away, as shown by his drive to eighth in Barcelona, holding Webber off late on. The pair are neck and neck in qualifying (Hülkenberg edges it by 1), points finishes and their best result, but Di Resta has been the more consistent customer.

  • Paul di Resta B+
  • Nico Hülkenberg B-

Toro Rosso

There’s a big gap to the teams at the back and then there’s a big gap from Toro Rosso to the midfield. The Red Bull junior team have struggled this season and have never really recovered from the loss of Red Bull technology as they gradually slide back down the grid. The move to a new factory may have slowed development and may yet reap rewards but it is not giving Red Bull protégés a good shot at eventually replacing Mark Webber.

Ricciardo leads the way
Ricciardo leads the wayCredit: Vladimir Rys/Getty

The question is, are the lack of results due to the slow qualifier, Jean-Éric Vergne, or the slow racer, Daniel Ricciardo? They will need to solve who is to blame before there is a wiping of the slate and two new drivers are promoted to replace them.

Big result: The season started promisingly as the Toro Rosso’s were on the edge of the top ten for the first two races. Each driver got one points finish in the two races, Ricciardo with ninth in Australia (passing his teammate on the line) and Vergne eighth in Malaysia. As Malaysia was wet, I have to say that Ricciardo’s home points have to be the best result of the season. Other than that, it is slim pickings. The highlight of the season has to be Ricciardo’s sixth on the grid in Malaysia but he got into an incident on lap one and was unable to convert the opportunity.

Missed opportunity: As I’ve just said, there was a great chance of points in Bahrain but contact cost the Australian dearly and ruined Toro Rosso’s best chance of points since Malaysia. They haven’t managed to convert in high attrition races either, finished just outside the points in Monaco and Valencia, both having major contact with Caterhams in Valencia when a couple of points may have been on the cards.

Top dog: Both drivers lack key skills and need to improve fast before they are dumped by Red Bull. Vergne needs to learn how to get the most out of one lap; he has been the one big team driver out in Q1 and has even been beaten by the Caterhams on occasion. It’s no surprise then that Daniel Ricciardo leads qualifying 9-2. Ricciardo lacks the race pace, although he has improved that in the past few races, beating Vergne in each race since Britain. In truth, I still don’t think this is good enough, even if they are battling a very weak car. They need points fast.

  • Jean-Éric Vergne D+
  • Daniel Ricciardo C-

So now that we are half way through the grid, you can see how mistakes can cost you as much as a slow car. Next week, we take a big leap towards the sharp end with Sauber, Mercedes and Ferrari. The good news is we’re nearly halfway into this month without F1 and withdrawal symptoms are starting to subside. So, with only three weeks until our next F1 fix, the anticipation can start to build for one of the most interesting seasons in years as they all step up their chase for one man: Fernando Alonso.