So we have now seen the first three races of the new Formula One season. Sure, it’s still really not much, and many things can and will change in the next races when F1 comes back to Europe. Still, there is enough material for a first analysis of the teams and drivers.
Starting from the back of the standings, the first team is HRT. The only positive thing that can be said about them is they are steadily improving. From a non-qualification, through a double retirement, to a double finish is a feat in a way. Seeing them not too far from Virgin is a surprise, too, but doesn’t tell as much about HRT as about Virgin. No surprise as to the drivers, Liuzzi is much faster than Karthikeyan. It remains to be seen if the Spanish team can bring improvements to Turkey, as will all other teams, and how long sponsors will be willing to pay to make up the rear of the field, a few laps down.
Virgin, then, is seeing HRT just behind them. As Team Lotus on the other hand has increased their advance, we can say that the Russian-backed team has not been advancing as they should have and wanted to. With someone as used to success as Richard Branson, it is doubtful this situation will be tolerated for long. Nick Wirth will have to abandon his CFD-only approach or take it to another team. Young Belgian Jerôme d’Ambrosio has been holding his head up against Glock, even beating him in the Chinese qualifying as well as the race. It will not be enough to secure a spot on the grid for many years, but it is a good start.
It comes as a bit of a surprise to see Williams as the next team on the way up the standings. Double retirements in the first two races of the year has not help their classification, and it seems the reliability is a major issue with the team that recently went through an IPO. As a result of poor performance, the share has already lost a third of its value. There seems to be more value in the long-term performance of F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello, who is clear ahead of the second GP2 winner in a row. Maldonado will have to step up his game if the Petro-Bolivars are to keep flowing, instead of going to help the careers of young Venezualian drivers in North American racing. Losing out to Team Lotus simply won’t do.
Speaking of Team Lotus, the Malasian team has made true on their ambition to catch up with the back of the mid-field. After some tyre warming difficulties in Australia, their performance in the last 2 races has meant that established teams can not any more expect to make mistakes and still be ahead of them. While some would have expected them to be more competitive now that they race with Red Bull parts and a Renault engine, they are still only 18 months old, as Tony Fernandes keeps repeating on Twitter. Meanwhile, Kovalainen clearly has the lead over Trulli, who makes it appear like he is slowly letting F1 his career come to an end. Maybe this lack of future ambition will make it easier for him to give over his car to Karun Chandhok for the Indian Grand Prix.
After the first race, Toro Rosso looked like they would be able to take the fight to the likes of Mercedes, perhaps even Renault and Ferrari. This hope has been crushed by disastrous performances in Malaysia and China. The pressure put on the drivers seems to only make them nervous, crashing into each other and hoping the team mate trips, instead of getting them to help each other keep their seats until the end of the season. This bad atmosphere seems to hold on the entire team, with badly set-up cars and lost wheel nuts. Buemi currently has a slight advantage over Alguersuari, but it could change within one race.
Force India is the home of the rookie I have the most hope for, as elaborated upon in a previous post. And up to now, Paul Di Resta has delivered. With a 3:0 in qualifying battles and even a top 10 qualifying in China, the Scot is shaking Sutil out of the complacency that was enough to beat Liuzzi last year. And the rookie has confirmed his performance in the race by making points on two occasions, finishing 11th the third time. While the car Force India has given his drivers seems no more (but also no less) than adequate, the German has to show an improvement soon, as Vijay Mallya is not known for his patience and Nico Hülkenberg is waiting in the wings for a chance racing again.
That’s it for the second half of the standings, next post will detail performances and driver comparisons for the (current) top 6 teams. As always, comments are very welcome.