2006 season - Formula One's first term report 22 May 2006
With a third of the season behind us, 2006 has already had its fair share of winners and losers - plus some outright surprises - among the 11 Formula One teams. We take a look at which teams fit into which camp, in constructors' championship order...
1st Renault - 78 points:
The 2005 championship-winning constructor began the season with high expectations, although many reckoned that Fernando Alonsos defection to McLaren in 2007 might have a detrimental effect on the team's performance. So far there's been no sign of that, and at the moment any other team hoping to put in a serious challenge for either drivers' or constructors' championships is going to have to work harder. Ferrari looked to be getting there, but Renault responded with an ultra-dominant win in Spain. Technical highlights have included brilliant aerodynamics and arguably the best exploitation of Michelin's 2006 tyre compounds. Problems? Only Giancarlo Fisichella's somewhat erratic pace and speed-trap evidence suggesting that Renault's engine may not quite have the power of its Ferrari and McLaren rivals.
2nd Ferrari - 59 points:
Ferrari entered 2006 knowing many expected them to fail, their doubters predicting another year of running-up to mark the end of the superteam that had dominated Formula One racing for the five years prior to Renaults 2005 triumph. Yet, after a wobbly start to the season, a resurgence seems underway, with Ferrari's clearly improved form dramatically illustrated by Michael Schumacher's victories at Imola and the Nurburgring. Tyre supplier Bridgestone seem to have got on terms with rivals Michelin, certainly on medium downforce circuits, and occasional mid-stint graining suggest there's scope for further improvement. Now that Schumacher has proved his appetite for winning is undiminished, the next part of the season should be fascinating - although Alonsos dominant pace in Barcelona means Ferrari know they still have plenty of work to do.
3rd McLaren - 42 points:
If you'd believed the pre-season gossip, this was going to be McLaren's year. Not only have the team finally settled into their new, multi-million pound headquarters, but pre-season testing suggested the MP4-21 was going to be running at the front of the pack. Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya claimed third and fifth respectively in the first race at Bahrain, but since then the team has struggled to get close to the speed of Renault and Ferrari, languishing 36 points adrift in the constructors' championship. The most obvious problem has been qualifying pace, with Raikkonen's P4 grid spot in Australia the best result of the season so far. By the last round in Spain, the Finn was down in ninth and Montoya 12th, the result being that McLaren came away from Barcelona with just four points for Raikkonens fifth place - a stark contrast to the same race in 2005 when they led from pole to the chequered flag. Must try harder is surely the teachers comment that springs to mind.
4th Honda - 24 points:
The first part of Honda's season has not been without its highlights. Some very strong qualifying performances have proved that, on one-lap pace at least, the team can sometimes mix it with Renault and Ferrari. In the first four qualifying sessions of the year, Jenson Button managed a pole, two seconds and a third. But race pace has been lacking, with Buttons third in Malaysia the best result so far. The biggest technical problem has been related to set-up and tyres, with the team struggling to get heat into their Michelin rubber - hence theyve suffered more than most in terms of performance drop-off when the tyres are cold. There have also been some worrying engine failures, most notably the spectacular failure that cost Button fifth place at the European Grand Prix when he was within sight of the finishing line. Looking to the rest of the year the good news is that a happier Rubens Barrichello seems to have found his feet, though finishing nearly a minute down on Alonso in Spain shows just how much the team have to do to improve their pace.
5th BMW Sauber - 12 points
Few people were expecting anything spectacular from the fledgling BMW outfit this season, but several strong performances have helped to establish them at the top of the midfield. Australia has been the highlight to date - with Nick Heidfeld coming home in fourth place and Jacques Villeneuve bagging sixth to net the team eight well-deserved points. Since then things have got tougher, with single points in Europe and Spain showing how stiff the competition has become. The aerodynamics expertise inherited from Sauber will become critical in some of the approaching high-downforce races, and the F1.06 and its Michelin tyres seem to work very well together. Looking forward, holding onto fifth in the constructors' championship looks a realistic and achievable aim.
6th Williams - 10 points;
After a promising start to the season, Williams' championship challenge has faded somewhat, with the team scoring just two points in the last two races. Despite the technical divorce from BMW at the end of last year, Williams were quick to prove they could still be on the pace with Cosworth engines. Mark Webber and new boy Nico Rosberg managed sixth and seventh in the season opener at Bahrain, while Rosbergs P3 grid spot in Malaysia (with Webber right behind) seemed to boost the team's prospects of a top-four championship finish. On the evidence since, however, that looks unlikely as a combination of poor pace and disappointing reliability has dropped the team down the order. Even renowned qualifier Mark Webber was unable to get the FW28 into the top-ten qualifying shootout in Spain and if Williams are to hold off Toyota in the standings they know they need to quickly find improvements.
7th Toyota - 7 points:
A largely miserable start to the season for Toyota, although occasional flashes of brilliance have hinted at much greater potential perhaps still lurking under the surface. 2006 was widely accepted as the Japanese team's make-or-break season, the point at which results commensurate with the vast investment had to be delivered. Things could hardly have got off to a worse start, with Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli managing a dismal 14th and 16th respectively in Bahrain, and shortly afterwards technical director Mike Gascoyne split from the team. Yet things have since improved, with Schumacher's third place in the high-attrition Australian Grand Prix proof of the fundamental strength of Toyotas package. Looking forward, reliability is arguably the biggest issue - not since Malaysia have both cars made it to the finish - and the team will be hoping for better things from the revised TF106B, which makes its race debut in Monaco this weekend.
8th Red Bull - 2 points:
After surprising many with a strong performance last year, Red Bull looked likely to emerge as one of 2006's breakthrough teams. On the evidence so far, that seems increasingly unlikely, as the team have struggled with poor pace and hence find themselves languishing at the back of the midfield with just two points to their name. With five retirements in Australia, San Marino and Europe, simply finishing has been the team's biggest challenge - although 13th and 14th at the flag in Spain suggests that speed remains an issue too. However, don't be surprised if the team's vast commitment to aero development starts to pay dividends as the season progresses.
9th Toro Rosso - 0 points:
The first of the three teams yet to bother the scorers this year, Toro Rosso have at least offered occasional glimpses of potential. Indeed, despite the team's supposed junior status to Red Bull, they have often been very close to their sister team's pace. Respectable qualifying performances have included a couple of forays into the mid-range with two P12s, but race pace has been more elusive, with Scott Speed's ninth in the high-retirement Australian Grand Prix the closest the fledgling team have come to scoring a point. That said, of the bottom three teams, Toro Rosso do seem closest to breaking their championship duck - and that must be the ambition for the next stage of the season.
10th Midland - 0 points:
Midland have been trying hard, but up to now in 2006 their blushes have been spared only by the presence of the Super Aguri team. Qualifying performance remains frustrating - they can get to within a few tenths of rivals Red Bull and Toro Rosso, but are rarely able to better them. And if Midland consider those two teams their benchmark, then the races have been arguably more disappointing, with the Russian-backed squad consistently finishing last or second-to-last among those classified. The team hope that a forthcoming set of revisions to the car will improve competitiveness, but realistically anything more than a tenth-placed finish in the championship will be seen as a good result.
11th Super Aguri - 0 points:
Super Aguri never looked likely to have a particularly successful debut season in Formula One racing, and so it has transpired. A late championship entry, an outdated car and the team's subsequent lack of engineering development have all translated into a distinct lack of on-track performance even compared to the other back markers, with Aguri typically anything between two and three seconds off the pace. Bright spots have been few and far between, with Takuma Sato's occasional strong starts saying more about his skill as a driver than the any real virtue in the car. For original team mate, Yuji Ide, it all proved a little too much. His replacement, Franck Montagny, brings with him extensive Renault testing experience, which could prove invaluable should he end up staying with the team. Other than that, hopes of improved pace rest with an all-new car, due within the next third of the season, though even then finishing anything other than last in the constructors' championship would be viewed as a miracle. Then again, thats what many cynics suggested it would take to get Super Aguri onto the grid in the first place