As Formula One takes its annual summer break, it’s time to assess the season so far. 2014 is shaping up to be a year you can’t miss as we have one of the closest title fights in years with the Mercedes pair battling it out at the front. However, sitting behind the super powers are the teams who are waiting to join them.
McLaren, Force India, Toro Rosso and Lotus scrap it out for the lower end of the points. For two, it’s been a great season while for the others there is still a lot of head scratching going on. Here is how each team and driver has fared so far…
Force India will reflect positively on the first half of the season as they sit 5th in the constructors standings. Their car possesses the dominant Mercedes engine, which has played a large part in their success so far and saw them perform well in the first few races. Since then, they have been overtaken by the richer Ferrari, and McLaren are just one point behind. But there is a lot to admire about Force India, who proudly employs the best drivers they can instead of ‘pay drivers’ that are seen elsewhere.
Their driver line-up couldn’t be more contrasting. Nico Hulkenberg is super consistent and has achieved points in 10 of the 11 races, while Sergio Perez blows hot and cold. The pair has combined to good effect and Force India will be happy so far. However, the team will be keen to avoid repeating an unwelcome pattern of faltering in the second half of the season. Their restricted budget means they can’t improve their car as much as their wealthier rivals. A less fruitful final eight races can be expected.
Over the past couple of years Nico Hulkenberg has been the ‘next big thing’, but his failure to make a move to a big team looks like it may have cost him with the emergence of younger drivers. Has his time been? Maybe, but the big teams loss is Force India’s gain. The German has continued to be consistent and fast, a trait seen in many German drivers recently. Before his retirement in Hungary, Hulkenberg had managed to score points in each race this season. He sits seventh in the standings, nine points ahead of Jenson Button, and 40 points clear of his team-mate, Sergio Perez. Once again, he is proving how good he is. Surely, he’ll be rewarded soon.
After a miserable season with McLaren in 2013, it looks like Sergio Perez has found his level in the midfield. His performances so far this season are unlikely to turn many heads in the richer garages and he will need to improve in the final eight races. A podium finish in Bahrain is his stand out result, amongst a series of disappointing displays. His knack for tangling with other drivers also has to stop, as an unwanted reputation is starting to grow down the grid. A stronger, simpler and incident free second half to the season is required to salvage a disappointing year so far.
After two podiums in the first race in Australia, optimism returned for McLaren fans who thought they may have a competitive car again. Also, their new young driver, Kevin Magnussen, finished second in his first race, generating hope and excitement that a new Lewis Hamilton had been found. Since then, things have returned to the disappointing form of 2013 where low points and much frustration took over.
The car hasn’t improved since last year. McLaren are in a ruthless mood as they remain desperate to return to competing for race victories and they will hope that their reformed partnership with Honda will have the required effect from next year. So far they have endured 2014 and you can expect them to focus on 2015 from now on.
The 2009 World Champion remains extremely reliable for McLaren and sits eighth in the drivers’ standings. The fact he sits ahead of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, who have faster cars, shows how well he has performed, but, again, he lacks the natural speed to outperform the car. Button’s future is uncertain after Ron Dennis told him to “try harder” a couple of months ago, but McLaren would be foolish to abandon Button after five seasons of fine service.
In qualifying, Button has showed decent pace, while his race performances remain as wily as ever. It’s been a hard year following the death of his father, but the Englishman is driving well. Give him a race winning car and he will still win races. It’s up to McLaren to do that.
It’s been a slightly underwhelming year for Kevin Magnussen, after much was expected of the Dane when he entered the sport, and especially after his podium on debut in Australia. He has done better than his predecessor, Sergio Perez, did last year but, frankly, McLaren will be a little disappointed.
Being a young driver, mistakes are to be expected but it’s his lack of outright pace which will be a concern to the McLaren hierarchy. His performances have picked up, but his regular beatings by Jenson Button, who isn’t renowned for outright pace himself, is not going to endear him to boss Ron Dennis.
McLaren are expected to make a decision on their drivers for next year fairly soon, and Magnussen needs to continue his improvement if he is to be retained. Certainly there is talent there and he deserves another crack if he can maintain his improvement, but he doesn’t seem to be the star many hoped and expected when he arrived.
There is a feeling that Toro Rosso has now reached the required level, after building a car that is fast and a contender for regular points. Red Bull’s junior team have impressed so far as they blood the future stars of the sport, but the amount of mechanical retirements is a concern. Jean-Eric Vergne has seen four of his races cut short so far, more than most drivers.
The Toro Ross is an excellent qualifier, but it does lack race pace on Sunday’s in comparison to their midfield rivals, McLaren and Force India. But, after a disastrous pre-season, the mood will be positive in the camp. More of the same will be the target.
Jean-Eric Vergne has a fair reason to be annoyed. He rarely receives the praise and support that his current team-mate Daniil Kvyat, and his ex-team-mate, Daniel Ricciardo, enjoy, despite beating Kvyat this season and almost beating Ricciardo last year. Vergne is seen as a raw, unpolished talent who doesn’t produce his best when it matters. But in qualifying, races and points, he is beating his team-mate.
In Hungary, Vergne showed he can mix it with the top drivers after being caught in a superb scrap with Mercedes and Red Bull. He held his own, drove well and proved a point. But his inconsistency is still his Achilles heel. This season has been his best, but Toro Rosso doesn’t keep hold of their drivers for long and unless he has an outstanding eight races, Vergne could be struggling to find a drive next year.
Despite trailing his more experienced team-mate in the standings, it has been a positive start in F1 for Daniil Kvyat. Despite being just 20, he has handled the jump from GP3 to F1 admirably and there is nothing to suggest he won’t be in a Red Bull one day, maybe replacing Sebastian Vettel.
Kvyat scored points in his first race and can be regularly found on the outskirts of the lower point’s positions. His four points so far doesn’t do him justice and he should be able to improve on that in the second half of the season. He’ll certainly be at Toro Rosso again next year, where he’ll need to convert his excellent potential into regular head turning displays. Excitement is bubbling around Kvyat and, so far, you can see why.
Things could not have gone more wrong for Lotus in the first half of the season, and things don’t look like improving any time soon. The car is slow, unreliable and looks very unstable to drive which has given the drivers, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, all kinds of headaches. Last season, they were competing for wins and championships, this year they won’t improve on ninth place. Grosjean’s two eight place finishes and his remarkable fifth in qualifying in Spain are as good as it has got, and good as it is likely to get, for the team this season. The next eight races are to be endured, rather than enjoyed.
Just when it seemed his career was taking off, Grosjean has been handed a disastrous car. But, admirably, he has made the most of it and his reputation remains intact. His fifth place in qualifying in Spain is one of the best pieces of driving seen this year, and he has only been beaten once by his team-mate on Saturday afternoons. On Sunday’s he has continued to dominate Maldonado, and delivered the teams only points with back-to-back eight place finishes in Spain and Monaco.
If he continues to drive at such a high level in the second half of the season, Grosjean can expect to be given a drive elsewhere for 2015 in a car that his 2014 efforts deserve.
Luck just isn’t on Pastor Maldonado’s side. After becoming disillusioned with life at Williams, as they continued to produce poor cars, he thought he was off to challenge for race wins when Lotus signed him. While, he continues to languish at the back and retire regularly, Williams are now fighting at the front.
It’s hard to judge the Venezuelan in such a poor car but he has been completely destroyed by Grosjean in every aspect this season. Signs of an improvement in form have materialised and he has been rewarded with a new contract, but that is more for his financial backing than his performances on track. Hunger and drive are hard to find when your team is in such a position, but Maldonado doesn’t have long to find it if he wants to prove the doubters wrong.
Tomorrow, we will look at the front of the gird and assess the top four teams.
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