F1 Tops and Flops of 2012, Part 2 – The midfielders

After one of my friends published Part 1 of my Tops and Flops on Reddit, I received some nice feedback.

In particular, I was called “an ass” because I compared Mercedes’s expectations in F1 to those of a panzer division in Poland. Or, people simply told me I did not know anything about Formula One at all.

For these reasons, I felt even more motivated to write Part 2 of my Tops and Flops. After focusing on the first-liners, let’s move to the midfield, which means, that no-man’s land which includes teams like Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso, and which often sees some of the greatest battles on the track.

Sauber is a Top without any doubt. I mean, have you seen it? The C31 is a hell of a car, surely the best Sauber since 2001 (and excluding the BMW era). They are now fighting for the fifth position in the championship with Mercedes (yup, the panzers) and, with one race to go, drivers Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi will have to do their best to recover 13 points.

Which means, for example, a podium, which Perez has already achieved three times this year. No wonder why McLaren offered him a contract for next season, after Lewis Hamilton signed for Mercedes (seriously, what is wrong with him?).
On the other hand, Kobayashi really impressed me since his debut at the end of 2009, and he was even considered a serious candidate for a seat in a top-team. Especially because he was backed by Toyota, which unfortunately retired before the 2010 season. Even though I would not consider him a Flop at all, I was surely expecting more from him. He is now just eight points behind Perez, but he struggled in the first half of the championship. He is without a seat for next year, who is ready to give this young guy a chance to finally emerge?

Maybe Force India, which lost Nico Hulkenberg who decided to sign for Sauber, indeed. However, a swap of drivers is unlikely to happen, given the fact that Kobayashi might lose his sponsor and the difficult financial situation of patron Vijay Mallya.

Force India is definitely another one of my Flops. Not because of this year only, but because of all the past years’ results altogether. They arrived in Formula One in 2008, on the ashes of the former Spyker F1, which was Midland before that, and which was called Jordan until 2005. Which used to have the best pit babes of the lot. But that is not the point now.

In five years, they have been able to score one single podium, in 2009, with Giancarlo Fisichella at Spa. And what a podium for the Italian driver, finishing second following his pole position on Saturday. After that, however, the team has stuck where it still is now, in the midfield, navigating between P6, P7 or P8 in the constructor’s championship. Their technical director, until 2010, was James Key, the man behind this year’s Sauber, and this year’s line-up is not bad at all, with Hulkenberg and Paul Di Resta, the latter being a good bet for a top team, in the future.

Talking about James Key, he will not be working on next year’s Sauber because he was hired by Toro Rosso, my second Flop team today. They are the last of the best. The last that can be considered a Formula 1 team before the world of unknown. They are like Neptune: the solar system is not over yet, but you have to travel a long way before you can find Pluto.

This is what Toro Rosso is, sadly. Powered by Ferrari engines, as well as Sauber, they used to be Red Bull’s junior team. After the teams have been forced to build their cars fully (until 2010, TR used the RB car from the previous year), the team has fallen into disgrace. Last year’s line-up, Buemi and Alguersuari, were replaced by two almost-debutant drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.

They scored 22 points this year, which means ninth place. The team fired technical director Giorgio Ascanelli, who joined them in 2007, and he is surely not the most inexperienced men in F1. Sebastian Vettel won his first career race with Toro Rosso in an extremely wet Italian GP at Monza, in 2008. This remains the first and only victory for the team, which replaced the even-more unsuccessful Minardi.

Not much to say about this team, just that I would like to see them battling for something more than an occasional ninth or tenth position. But that is like wishing that Caterham, Marussia or HRT were proper F1 cars, rather than fast GP2 cars.

Stay tuned for the last part!

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