Heading into F1’s midseason break it seemed an appropriate time to take a look at some of the struggles and triumphs of the sports midfield teams. They have smaller budgets and are most dependent on upgrades to keep their season going. For the teams in this category it isn’t always plain sailing – there are so many factors to contend with from the car and drivers to luck and results. Some of the teams are former front runners whilst others are teams on their way to the top but one thing is for sure life is not easy in the midfield.
In 2013 Sauber finished as F1s leading midfield team with 126 points. The team took podiums in Malaysia, Canada, and Italy with Sergio Perez and one in Japan with Kamui Kobayashi. Yet they started the season with neither of these drivers. Replacing them were Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez. Having seen the performance of last years car they may have been expecting more but a risky car design did not yield benefits. From 11 races they have scored seven points all of which came from Hulkenberg.
The highlight of the season would have to be Hulkenberg’s four points in Malaysia in what has proved to be a less than impressive car. They may be scoring some points but Sauber was a team in financial difficulty. There were reports of Hulkenberg not being paid and suggestions the team would not last the season. Last month they signed a major cash deal with a trio of Russian companies. Whilst the announcement at least brought some stability to the team it is now thought Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin will make his debut for the team in 2014. He would be aged just 18 and is yet to get a super licence. The team’s chances of seeing a further improvement in the second half of the season look quite unlikely and both drivers will be wondering who will be replaced by Sirotkin.
Force India have had a mixed season. Leading the midfield teams they have been able to challenge McLaren for fifth in the constructors. Their two drivers also sit in tenth and 11th in the drivers championship. Whilst last season the team was hit by financial issue rumours this year the team has been out of luck on numerous occasions. Adrian Sutil returned to drive alongside former teammate Paul di Resta and the season started where Force India had left off in 2012 with Sutil leading a number of laps at the Australian Grand Prix – this was the second race in a row a driver from the team had done so. Both Sutil and Di Resta finished in the points with seventh and eighth place. Yet bad luck was to strike the team in Malaysia where they had a double retirement.
Highlights for the team have seen Di Resta take a strong fourth place in Bahrain and Sutil a strong fifth in Monaco. Whilst races have been good for the team qualifying has often not gone to plan. Di Resta had failed to make the top ten seven times and has not made Q2 on three occasions. Whilst luck has played a big part the team has also been hurt by the change in tyre structure after the blowouts in Britain. They may lead McLaren in the constructors championship for now but it is only by two points. If they want to have any chance of beating McLaren they will need to be back on the pace in Spa.
Much of Toro Rosso’s season has been overshadowed by the talk over the second Red Bull seat. Both of Toro Rosso’s drivers were thought to be in contention but it is now expected to be a battle between Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen (and Alonso depending on what rumours you read). Yet Ricciardo is being beaten by teammate Jean-Eric Vergne in the standings.
So why is the Australian getting the nod over his teammate? Ricciardo has excelled in qualifying getting into the top ten four times yet Vergne has made the top ten on one occasion.In the races Vergne has found himself having to retire on four occasions yet has beaten Ricciardo to the flag five times and holds Toro Rosso’s best finish of sixth place at the Canadian Grand Prix. If only the team could mix Ricciardo’s qualifying and Vergne’s race performance then they may have a few more points. At the last race before the summer break they failed to score any points but will be hopeful of a resurgence in Spa.
Williams went into the summer break ending a points drought of 11 races. They had not scored a single point since the US Grand Prix back in 2012. Pastor Maldonado scored the treasured point after finishing tenth place. He was undoubtedly helped by a few late retirements and penalties for other drivers. However Williams will savour the point. For a team who had showed so much promise after the Venezulen’s win in Spain last year 2013 will be a season to forget. They have finished 11th three times so had been close to a points finish on a few occasions.
Whilst Maldonado’s point is clearly one of the teams triumphs Valtteri Bottas’ third place on the grid for the Canadian Grand Prix may just pip it. The Finn had been touted as the next big thing but hasn’t been given a car to really show his potential. Canada may not have finished as he expected but it shouldn’t be to long before Bottas scores his first points in F1. Maldonado expects Williams to move forward after the performance in Hungary but whether this is possible is unknown.
As the season has gone on the midfield has got closer and closer. The changes made to the tyres after Britain have helped and hindered a number of teams and this is seen most in the midfield. There is still time for plenty of shuffling among the teams aiming for sixth in the constructors. How much progress each team will make in the second half of the season will be an interesting battle to watch.