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!

F1 Tops and Flops of 2012, Part 1 – The A-listers

The 2012 F1 world championship is almost over, the battle for the title is tight between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, and Red Bull are going to win their third constructors’ championship in a row.

As every year, the focus is not only on the winners, but on the losers, too. Teams could invest hundreds of millions of dollars in research, development and drivers’ wages and end up empty-handed.

Therefore, I was ready to write my tops-and-flops list of this year, being almost sure that nothing would change. However, last Sunday’s victory for Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen in Abu Dhabi forced me to change my plans… sort of.

In fact, at the top of my Flop list you would have found two of the most-acclaimed-but-still-little-achieving teams: Lotus and Mercedes. The former, which has nothing to do with the legendary team founded by Colin Chapman, had been indicated as a possible winner since the pre-season tests. Moreover, given the fact that the first five races saw five different teams winning, there were high expectations on them.

Their line-up is interesting as well. Kimi Raikkonen coming back after two years spent rallying with little luck and 26-year-old Romain Grosjean, who debuted in F1, with Renault, in 2009, but showed little attitude at the time.

Everybody was expecting a great result from them, but they were only able to score several podiums from Raikkonen and several million dollars of damage from Grosjean. Until last Sunday. When, to be fair, the victory was in Lewis Hamilton’s hands before his engine died.

But still, a victory is a victory, they are safe fourth in the constructor’s championship and Raikkonen is even third. We will see them next year, hopefully stronger and more consistent.

On the other hand, the case of Mercedes is even worse. They made their comeback in Formula 1 in 2010, after retiring in 1955. Like Lotus, they had been said to be possible title contestants since the 2010 pre-season tests.
No need to say that this team dominated the 2009 season under the name “Brawn GP”, which was formerly nothing less than the Honda F1 team.

What about the line-up? Ladies and gentlemen the Germans went the whole hog, hiring Nico Rosberg and Mr Michael Schumacher, coming back (it must be a sort of a trend now) after four years of abscence.

They were the actual fourth team on the track. However, they have never been as fast as the first three teams (Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren), but they were a lot faster than the rest of the field.

They are just mediocre; there are no other words to describe such a failure. One victory and six podiums in three years is not acceptable for a team that was aiming to conquer F1 like a panzer division in Poland. No wonder why they were thinking of giving up the Mercedes name in favour of a more diplomatic AMG F1.

The first -and last, for now- victory arrived at the Chinese GP from Rosberg. After that, he has fallen in a deep nothing. Schumacher was looking forward to winning his eighth title within three years, when he accepted to come back at the end of 2009,  but he has just scored a pole position in Monaco and a podium, up to now.

What else can be said about Lotus and Mercedes? They are an almost complete failure, the proof that money alone cannot guarantee success. Which is something that other teams know best. Like HRT for example, which not only is lacking of success, but it is lacking of funds, too. But I am going to talk about them later on… stay tuned!

By Tommaso Cervini