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Midfield Monitor

Christine became an avid follower of Formula One after getting a taste of the action way back in 2003. Today, you'll find Christine putting her experience to good use as writer and producer of the news show F1Minute, and editor of community F1 site Sidepodcast.

Moving the goalposts - A look back at midfield gains over the course of the 2012 season


The season is officially over and we now know who our midfield teams are at year’s end. I hadn’t expected much movement from the start of the year to the finish, but it turns out to have been a mixed up season for, well, everyone, but crucially the teams in the midfield.

When the pre-season testing kicks in, it doesn’t tend to give much away in terms of who really has pace compared to the other teams. The only basis we have for placing our teams in any kind of order is the previous year’s championship. Thus, when Midfield Monitor began in March 2012, it was focusing on Renault-now-Lotus, Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso.

A small step but a giant leap

The Williams team finished 2011 with five points to their name. They were last in the standings for those teams that moved off zero, picking up just five points from two ninth places and one tenth. It was really one of those seasons that couldn’t get much worse for them, and 2012 had to be better.

Senna gets his final Williams outing in Brazil
Credit: Dunbar/LAT

With a driver shakeup seeing Pastor Maldonado partnered with Bruno Senna, there was an air of inexperience about the lineup that showed during the following months. Senna was never allowed to get settled in the car, as his seat was often taken by the incoming Valtteri Bottas whenever possible. That left the pressure on Maldonado's shoulders to deliver.

The Venezuelan driver has had more than his fair share of column inches devoted to both his pace and his erratic driving - I’ve lost count of the number of points paying positions he has dropped out of. Yet, he delivered an unexpected victory for the team, early enough in the season to provide a morale booster that would last all year. Senna finished in the points ten times through the season, whilst Pastor managed just five occasions - one of them was a victory, though, and with a healthy bank balance behind him, it’s 2013 and beyond for him at Williams.

76 points was the score for the team at the end of 2012, and although they only moved up one place in the standings, it was a world away from their position at the end of the previous year. A race winning car, capable of (in the right hands) finishing in the points at any given weekend, and a team on the upswing once more, Williams moved firmly into my Midfield Monitor sights.

Half a world away

Along with Williams, both Mercedes and Lotus had a solitary win in 2012. Nico Rosberg’s victory in China was another surprise result, whilst Kimi Räikkönen’s win in Abu Dhabi felt much more like a long-awaited return to the top step. Where Lotus had finished the previous season in fourth place, it wasn’t long before they moved up to fight with the top teams, leaving Mercedes behind them in the wake.

The extra pace in the Lotus car meant they finished the year 161 points ahead of the German outfit

The difference between the two teams isn’t immediately obvious. Both have returning champions trying to make the best of a comeback, and both teams have pushed the regulations in one way or another, being frowned upon by their fellow racers. You would imagine Lotus to be at a disadvantage with a second car in the hands of a slightly rogue Romain Grosjean, rather than the more steady Nico Rosberg, but the extra pace in the Lotus car meant they finished the year 161 points ahead of the German outfit.

The other similarity between the two teams is their development of the super-secret double DRS designs. Both teams started the year looking into this, hoping to gain extra pace when the DRS was deployed. Lotus never ran their system on a Sunday, and gave up on the design to focus their attention elsewhere. Mercedes remained adamant they could squeeze pace out of the design.

It meant their car was vastly different on a Saturday compared to a Sunday, balancing the car from front to rear was a problem, and getting a smooth transition from rear wing open to closed, getting the downforce back under control, it never really quite worked. When Mercedes did decide to ditch their efforts on the DRS, they turned their attention to the exhausts, but that didn’t go well either, and they rolled back to a previous effort.

With an aerodynamics department that have gone down several blind alleys over the past twelve months, Mercedes have a lot of work to do to both correct themselves, and then start chasing after the leading back. The top four were miles ahead of everyone else in the standings, and Mercedes are next in line to try and close the gap.

For every rise there is a fall

The big loser in all of these shufflings is Toro Rosso. Where they ended last year in eighth position, capitalising on the misfortunes of the Williams team, this year they have fallen behind. Fifty points separate them from the Grove outfit in front, and although some of that may be because of Maldonado’s victory, the rest is due to the poor pace from Toro Rosso.

Onwards and upwards to 2013
Onwards and upwards to 2013Credit: Clive Mason

We know that STR are never going to amount to a race-winning, title-hunting team. As much as they try to distance themselves from Red Bull, it is still the energy drink brand above the door and they are still a training ground for potential new talent to move onwards and upwards.

Their defined secondary status doesn’t mean they can’t have fun racing in the middle of the pack, but 2012 has not seen many opportunities for that to happen. Much of it comes down to a lack of speed on a Saturday. Jean-Éric Vergne was that fabled 18th place driver more often than he should have been, and he came under criticism for it. When he did manage to scrape his way through to the second session of qualifying, though, you could put money on it being at the expense of his teammate.

Without the pace or skill to extract the best out of the car over a short stint on a Saturday, Ricciardo and Vergne were left scrabbling for leftovers each and every week. Ricciardo managed to squeeze into the points positions on five occasions, no higher than ninth, whilst Vergne secured eighth place on each of his four top ten finishes. It’s a low score for the team, but not the lowest, and reflective of the amount they are allowed to spread their wings.

The winter of our discontent

With the off-season now upon us, teams will be heading back to the drawing board to see what they can come up with. The regulations are remaining remarkably stable from this season to the next, so that all the developments, distractions, designs and disappointments we’ve seen this year will be useful and count towards 2013 as well.

That would indicate that the current state of affairs, with our four midfield teams of Mercedes, Sauber, Force India and Williams will continue once they hit the track in the new year. I can’t see any of these four generating massive improvements in the off-season, but it will be good to see who will learn from the last twelve months and put the knowledge to good use as the 2013 season finally gets underway.