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.

The battle for the championship, or is it? // A clear leader could still be challenged as rivals up their game

Published

There’s nothing quite like a nail biting championship fight is there? And while I still hold out hope that there are enough competitive teams that could mix up the drivers’ championship, one of the titles is already as good as wrapped up halfway through the season. Despite this, two of the chasing teams have had seasons to be proud of, while Ferrari must have a severe case of déjà vu, as they appear to have ruined another chance to get Fernando Alonso his dream: a championship with the Scuderia. Surely they can’t recover from here?

Lotus

Lotus grade A
Team grades
Lotus F1 TeamA
Kimi RäikkönenA-
Romain GrosjeanC

Lotus have had another stellar season. But forgetting the opening race of the season, where it’s clear there was a divine intervention, (prior to the Australian GP, the original Lotus team won two of the races after a new pope is introduced, the other was won by Renault, which is now the reincarnated Lotus team), this season has been similar to last, as they have often shocked the sport by being the fastest car, but have somehow contrived not to win a race. The best example of this was the German GP as first Romain Grosjean, and then Kimi Räikkönen, couldn’t overhaul Sebastian Vettel, despite having a faster car. In order to mount a true championship fight, they need to start winning races on a regular basis. The truth is, Lotus would be ecstatic with second or third in the championship, but to try and keep hold of Räikkönen, they must allow him to make a serious fight towards Vettel.

Kimi Räikkönen: Kimi's consistency has been incredible. He’s finished six podiums out of ten races, only Vettel has more with seven. But he just hasn’t had the killer pace to make those podiums into wins, a crucial part of F1 today with a seven point difference between first and second.

If Räikkönen is out-performing the car, he’ll be happy with his performance so far, but I get the feeling that the Finn will be desperate to stop Vettel winning a fourth title. If Lotus don't make a serious fight over the last nine races, then Räikkönen will likely want to fight the most successful man of this generation in equal machinery. The problem is, Red Bull will want to make a decision soon, rather than being hung out to dry until the end of the season. But just imagine if the driver market was completely undecided going into the end of the season.

Romain Grosjean: Grosjean will be praying that Räikkönen leaves Lotus at the end of the year, changing both drivers at the same time never works (see Toro Rosso, 2011). Like last year, Grosjean has been inconsistent with dramatic highs and catastrophic lows. He started the season with four straight points finishes before four races in the doldrums. But he has come back with two stunning drives, forgetting clouting Jenson Button in Hungary, and if he continues to rack up points, Lotus will struggle to say no to him, whoever comes knocking.

Ferrari

Ferrari grade C
Team grades
Scuderia FerrariC
Fernando AlonsoB-
Felipe MassaC

How does Ferrari do it? Every year, they manage to screw up a good start to the season or show great speed at the end of the season to recover from a horrific start. The way that they are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if Señor Alonso was truly tapping up Red Bull. And speaking of the Spaniard, where has his hustle gone? He appears to have lost the ability to make a bad Ferrari look good. So either this year’s car is that bad, or he is drained from the frustration of last year.

Fernando Alonso: The Spaniard has won just two races in twelve months, (that’s two out of 20) and Felipe Massa is getting worryingly close to his level, despite crashing out with increasing regularity. I think that Alonso has lost his edge and that is a crying shame. Ferrari may be in with a chance of the title, but their car is so far off the pace right now, they may want to start focussing on 2014, where they are expected to have an advantage as they, along with Mercedes are the only teams in control of both engine and chassis.

Felipe Massa: This has to be Massa’s last season with the Scuderia. Every year his form improves just enough, but now there is a driver who looks capable of replacing him in Jules Bianchi. Massa just seems like the guy who hangs around for a season too long and the truth is, I think he lost the vital tenth or two in his horrific Hungary crash back in 2009. I think he may find a drive back at Sauber, but his days at Ferrari are numbered. That said, can you believe he’s got the best qualifying for the team with their only front row start of the season in Malaysia?

Mercedes

Mercedes grade A
Team grades
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 TeamA
Nico RosbergA+
Lewis HamiltonA

Mercedes have finally turned the corner and changed their great qualifying car into a strong overall package, having won three of the last five races. But their best is yet to come if you believe what you hear about 2014. It seems this team does well every five years, with a championship in 2009 and BAR’s coming out party in 2004.

No one could have expected the team to have been so fast this year, and after such a frustrating opening to the year where they got through tyres embarrassingly quickly, a turnaround like this is unfathomable. But surely they don’t have the resources to mount a serious title fight?

Nico Rosberg: The championship doesn’t show it, but I think that Nico Rosberg has been the class of the team so far this year. Hamilton may now have more poles but Rosberg has one more win. And, up until two races ago, he was just seven points behind the Brit. But two races of misfortune, including tyre calamities and a spectacular engine blowup as Lewis has really found his form has ballooned the gap up to 40 points. His chance has gone this year because of three key retirements but he will be a real contender next year if the Mercedes is as good as expected.

Lewis Hamilton: Anything that happens for Lewis Hamilton this year is now a bonus having had four poles and the gigantic monkey that was his first win. It’s certainly conceivable that he becomes Vettel’s main threat because Mercedes can afford to back him before 2014, despite what Toto Wolff has said. He has been stellar so far, with the best qualy record of anyone but the target will be to surpass Rosberg’s two wins this year.

Red Bull

Red Bull grade B
Team grades
Infiniti Red Bull RacingB
Sebastian VettelA-
Mark WebberB

It’s amazing that this threeway marriage has survived so long given the characters involved and events such as Turkey 2010. But, they are still a shoe-in for a fourth straight championship, and they need everyone on board to do that. They get marked down in my book for the way that ‘multi-21 gate’ was handled, but really how can you fault a team who is dominating both championships, despite a clear tyre disadvantage so far this year?

All that said, Adrian Newey needs to be managed better by the rules, as Ferrari were in the mid-2000s. I’m getting bored of the German (and more so Austrian) national anthem playing during the podium ceremony.

Sebastian Vettel: His worst finish this year is fourth, achieved in China and Spain. OK, he is closer to the field due to a gearbox issue in Britain, another race that he would have won. Forget Kimi Räikkönen, he is Mr Consistent this year. Now, I’m not a huge fan of team orders, but you have to mark him down, despite fantastic form, for disobeying the team in Malaysia. Unless the Red Bull starts breaking, he will have a job on his hands to avoid winning a fourth straight title. Although, can Red Bull really afford to match Mercedes and Ferrari pound for pound late in the season?

Mark Webber: I really hope that Mark Webber gets his last win in F1 this year. He is a character that F1 will desperately miss. And, more to the point, he had a victory sewn up in Malaysia, and you have to hope that wasn’t his final chance of an F1 victory. Webber has been consistent this year, with a wheel nut failure causing his only retirement of the year. The problem is that his consistent finishes have been in the fourth to seventh range rather than podiums (he has just three this year). He appears to be fulfilling the role of perfect number two driver excellently, Seb spats aside, which is ideal for Red Bull's constructors’ championship push but can he make one last effort and step up his performance? I’m not so sure.