In my last post I started an assessment of the performances of the teams so far in the 2011 season. Having gone from the bottom up, we now go to the top 6 teams, starting with current number 6 Sauber.
First, it has to be noted that Sauber would be even further up the standings had not a rather stupid mistake robbed them of their points for the Australian GP. On that occasion, Sergio Perez showed not only that the Sauber car is very good to the tyres by going the whole distance with only 1 pit stop. He also proved to his detractors that he is not (only) in Formula One thanks to the Telmex money. Some bad luck in Malaysia and mistakes due to inexperience in China have cost him other opportunities for points. Still, he has shown some very mature driving and should continue developing, while not threatening Kamui Kobayashi‘s position as team leader. The popular Japanese goes on with his spectacular driving style, not afraid to battle the sports greatest names. If Sauber can keep the pace of technical advances during the season, they are set to battle for 5th place in the constructors championship.
Their competitor for that place will be disappointed to have to fight that battle. Mercedes was envisioning race victories and hoping for a shot at the championship this season, but those hopes have not materialized. The German team seems to have taken a few wrong turns while developing the new car. The fact they had both drivers in the points in China shows they are not giving up, though. Rosberg has qualified in the top 10 in all races, demonstrating he is not willing to let Schumacher take predominance in the team. This could be the final nail in the coffin for the record champion’s career. I don’t see him continuing to drive in the shadow of his team mate past the end of the season.
Renault is another team that could be further up the standings were it not for stupid mistakes. One of those can be attributed to a driver, when Petrov tried to honour his surname of ‘Vyborg Rocket’ as well as the Soviet space program. Mistakes in qualifying strategy, when Nick Heidfeld was released for his fast lap behind a Virgin and a HRT, or he missed a lap because of a red flag caused by his team mate, can only be attributed to the team strategist. Petrov and Heidfeld both showed what Renault can do from a place in the front of the grid. Heidfeld now needs to align several good races to hush the last skeptics as to his competence as a team leader. Unfortunately, we will never know where Renault would be if Robert Kubica had not had his accident.
Ferrari has established themselves as the third force in the field. Sadly it is not what they aspired to, and neither is it what could be expected after the pre-season testing. Ferrari seems to have produced a reliable, reasonably fast car, but can not take the fight to the very top teams. Already the situation is alarming for the Maranello bosses who can’t again count on other teams to make mistakes, so they can have a go at the championship. Felipe Massa seems to have recovered from his lack of performance of last year and is willing to take the fight to Alonso for number one driver. He needs to get his qualifying performance on par with the Spaniard’s, though, the race pace seems to be there. If he gets that done, we could see some additional spectacle due to a frustrated Fernando Alonso who doesn’t like competition from inside the team.
McLaren on the opposite have made a stunning return after their disappointing pre-season performance. The two British former World Champions are still on pretty equal footing and competition inside the team doesn’t seem to bother them. The car is very fast, certainly supported by the Mercedes engine and a working KERS. There may be a problem with tyre wear, but that is one reason they have drivers with different styles. If Hamilton can’t make his tyres last to the end of the race, Jenson Button will be there to collect the points.
Finally, Red Bull and especially Sebastian Vettel have shocked the competition in the qualifying for the Australian GP. Such a dominance could have us worried and fearful of a boring season, with the next champion known by the August break. But it seems Adrian Newey, being a genius in aerodynamics, doesn’t give quite the same importance to other aspects of the car, such as the implementation of KERS. The Austrian team could get away without the system in the first race, and just snatch the victory with it functioning part-time in the second, but the results in China have shown that they can’t stay ahead durably if they can’t fix it. From difficult qualifying to disadvantages at the start, in addition to being sitting ducks when their competitors can use KERS and DRS simultaneously, it is too much of a handicap. Let us hope for them that they can fix it without taking losses in aerodynamics. Sebastian Vettel has shown a race can be won with malfunctioning KERS, as he has matured a lot since his many mistakes at the beginning of last year. This made Mark Webber look badly beaten in the first races, but his great performance getting through the field after the disastrous Chinese qualifying has made up for much, and those who saw him replaced during the season have had to revise their copy. The real question is whether the Aussie is capable of challenging Vettel for the team leader position. It will be more difficult than last season.
That’s it for now, as the season will see a new start with the arrival of F1 in Europe. Hopefully the races will all be as exciting as in Shanghai. As usual, please feel free to comment.