After dropping Jamie Alguersuari and Sebastian Buemi Toro Rosso signaled their intentions for 2012. This was a year when occasional points scoring would not be enough, the team demanded sustained and consistent success…
Unfortunately what has transpired is that the team has struggled. Last year Williams were hopeless and with Sauber suffering with severe financial restrictions the path was cleared for Toro Rosso to show steady improvement and score 44 points en route to seventh in the Constructors’ Championship. This year however the team has struggled and has had just two points scoring finishes.
Their all new driver lineup of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne has failed to impress with both drivers struggling. Vergne has looked out of his depth for much of the year with the French rookie generally the fall guy in the opening qualifying session. Even so Vergne has shown a lot of potential at times, in Monaco I was particularly impressed by his commitment and car handling around the streets.
Those moments though have been few and far between and he has been comprehensively outclassed by his Australian teammate. Vergne finds himself, ironically, in the same position as Alguersuari did as a rookie. He lacks experience in single seater racing because of his ago and Toro Rosso will need to see the peaks that he has achieved this year rather than the troughs. He has speed and ability but his inexperience is masking this, just like it did for Jamie until last year.
For Ricciardo this year was always going to be a challenge. Even though he was Red Bull’s tester and raced for HRT last year he has little F1 experience. He has done a solid job yet only been rewarded with two points in Malaysia. His speed is impressive and he has been consistent in races but with a poor car and an struggling teammate it is hard to definitively judge the Australian.
All the Red Bull backed driver can do is race to the best of his ability and hope it is enough for his backer to take notice but with Mark Webber signing a contract extension it is clear that Helmet Marko has not been as impressed as he expected with his young charger.
Red Bull seem to expect that another Vettel will fall into their lap and outperform the constraints of the Toro Rosso and become a bone fide star. It is highly unlikely to happen like that again so instead the team should be trying to nurture their young drivers and give them the chance to perform at a high level otherwise Ricciardo and Vergne will be cast onto the scrap heap of talent that has seemed to litter the workshop of Fazena in recent years.
From the team’s perspective it is paramount that they gain understanding of their standing on the grid and have more realistic goals in the future. At the announcement of Vergne and Ricciardo Toro Rosso said that they wanted to challenge for podiums on a consistent basis. This was an unrealistic ambition for a team that lacks the funding of the majority of the grid and is almost completely reliant on Red Bull for their budget. Scoring points on a regular basis is a much more attainable goal but one that will require everyone pulling together.
With development stopped on the current car and James Key set to start working in September the team should be more competitive next year. For the remainder of this season however the focus of attention should be on allowing their drivers to take the time to get as much of an understanding of how Formula 1 works as possible and try and use this knowledge to prepare for next year when the team can look to progress from what has been a very disappointing season.
It has been a season of highs and lows for Williams and their season can be perfectly encapsulated by two hours in May.
After Pastor Maldonado won the team’s first Grand Prix in almost eight years Williams shot back to relevance after a stunningly complete race weekend from their driver. However within hours of the chequered flag dropping the team’s pit garage was engulfed in flames after a fire broke out. Luckily the majority of the team avoided injury but numerous mechanics were taken to hospital with one suffering quite severe burning.
Their fortunes on the track have seen Williams ebb from joy to despair in an instant. Apart from his Barcelona victory Maldonado has shown a stunning turn of speed for much of the year but the former GP2 champion has also been at the centre of numerous accidents that have led to questions about his race-craft, and from some quarters his intelligence.
Maldonado has comfortably been the faster Williams driver with the Venezuelan holding a 9-2 qualifying advantage over his teammate, Bruno Senna. However from the opening race of the season we have seen the two sides of Maldonado. In Melbourne with the race in its closing laps Maldonado was running in a comfortable fifth place but crashed heavily and retired while battling with Alonso.
This has been seen in numerous other races and it has limited Maldonado to just one other points finish apart from his Spanish heroics. If he could iron out these mistakes, such as clashing with Hamilton in Valencia on the final lap while battling for a step on the rostrum, he would be a force to be reckoned with.
I have been critical of Maldonado in the past but I am the first to admit that he has made tremendous strides in the recent years and he has shown this year just how deserving of a place on the grid he is. Now it is crucial that he can eradicate the errors and start scoring points on a consistent basis.
Ironically that is what Senna has been able to do this year. The Brazilian has scored points on six occasions and while he has not had the headline grabbing performances of Maldonado he has blossomed into a consistent racer who has made the most of his opportunities in the majority of races. It is worth remembering that after a rookie campaign with HRT and a handful of races with Lotus last year that this is the first season that Senna has had some stability in Formula 1.
Moving forward Williams will have more opportunities to score points. They have a fast car in qualifying and one that is easy on its tyres in races. In modern day Formula 1 that is one of the most important combinations to have.
After their dismal struggle last year, the worst season in the team’s history, Williams have now shot back to the limelight and look capable of sustaining this success.
Armed with Renault engines and KERS and a Red Bull gearbox Caterham have once again failed to make the jump to competitiveness. The likeable team are the most ambitious of the “newcomers” to the grid but the difficulty that Caterham are having with just gaining respectability shows just how competitive Formula 1 is at present.
Throughout their time in the sport Caterham have done a tremendous job of interacting with fans through the likes of Twitter and the likeable team have built a considerable fan base but it is imperative that the squad starts to close the gap to the likes of Toro Rosso and start challenging for points occasionally.
With Heikki Kovalainen racing at an exceptionally high level the former Hungarian Grand Prix winner has been one of the most consistent performers in Formula 1 over the last couple of years and is being linked with seats at more competitive teams. Speaking to me earlier in the year, in Monaco, however it was clear that Heikki is looking to get results with Caterham and believes in how the team is growing.
His patience however in not eternal and Caterham will need to show some positive signs if they are keep hold of their prized driver. The early season hiring of John Iley hints to improvements in the future and a will increased performance with next year’s car but this season has clearly been one of disappointment for Caterham.
Vitaly Petrov has been somewhat disappointing for most of the year and been outperformed by Kovalainen for most of the season. The Russian brings a considerable budget to the table and he has done enough in the past to show that he is a solid driver and if he can find a little more performance he is probably the perfect driver to partner with Heikki at this time.
At the end of last year it seemed that Caterham was making inroads on the competitive midfield pack in Formula 1 but ultimately they have failed to maintain that momentum and with the resources and technical partnerships at their disposal their inability to be more competitive has to mark the team as one of the bigger disappointments of the year so far.
Even so they can salvage their season if they develop the car for another few races and start closing the gap to their rivals. In two and a half years they have clearly separated themselves from Marussia and HRT but that is not sufficient for their ambitions. Making the next step is crucial and Formula 1 is eagerly awaiting seeing Caterham make that step.
As with previous years HRT was unable to test their car before the first race of the season. Going to the opening race of the year without turning a wheel in anger makes it impossible to aim for anything other than getting mileage under their belts.
Failing to qualify in Australia was not unexpected but since then HRT has made progress. They are the slowest car on the grid at each race but they have been comfortably in side 107% of the pole position and therefore, even for all their problems, they are deserving of their place on the grid.
Moving the team to Madrid and finally getting the ownership issues resolved was a major step forward and they are now, for the first time ever, in a position of stability. Whether they can progress remains to be seen but they seem to have greater financial resources available to them now than at any other time in their brief history.
The current car clearly lacks downforce but Pedro de la Rosa has done a solid job and easily outperformed Narain Karthikeyan. The Indian has been consistently the slowest driver on the grid but the budget that he brings to the table is clearly needed by HRT.
As was the case in the past even though HRT have been over one second adrift of Marussia and Caterham but for the first time they have made moves towards relevancy and their future actually looks brighter than anyone would have believed in Australia.
Marussia find themselves languishing in no mans land. They are a second faster than HRT but a similar margin slower than Caterham.
The team has changed names from Virgin to Marussia at the start of the season and this year is their first season not using Nick Wirth to develop the car using CFD. Pat Symonds, formally of Benetton and Renault, developed the car on a shoestring and in a short time so the year was always likely to be a struggle for Marussia as they tried to establish a solid base to move forward from in the future.
After the various disasters in their first two years using CFD to develop the cars, including issues such as not having a large enough fuel tank, this year has to be looked upon as a fresh start by the team. I was impressed by their decision to blow up the team and restart again by terminating their agreement with Wirth.
Timo Glock gives them a solid driver, in a similar mould to Kovallainen at Caterham, and they are lucky to have such a talented and dependable driver with which they can clearly track their progress. The German, a former podium finisher with Toyota, has driven well this year but his teammate, Charles Pic, has been a surprise package.
The Frenchman has outqualified Glock on four occasions and had an impressive season where he has consistently improved. He has shown impressive speed but now just needs to be more consistent in races.
It is impossible to write about Marussia’s fortunes without mentioning Maria de Villota. The Spaniard’s testing crash in June stole the headlines and put a lot of negative attention on Marussia. The team clearly hired de Villota so that they could use having a female driver as a way to increase their profile but the accident, and Maria’s lack of racing pedigree, will clearly cost them in the medium term.
Having failed to get the car through the crash tests in time for the initial pre-season tests it has been a year of hardship for Marussia but the upheaval of their technical department was long overdue and they are at least now in a position to progress going forward and become a more consistent team.