The story so far - the winners and losers of 2007 17 Aug 2007
Eleven races into the 2007 season and already it's been a year of surprises for the teams on the lower half of the grid. Super Aguri are beating engine suppliers Honda; Scott Speed has made an unexpectedly swift exit from Toro Rosso; and Spyker have not only topped a practice session, but also led a Grand Prix!
In the first instalment of a two-part feature, we examine the 2007 fortunes of all the teams to date and consider what they can expect in the final third of the season
If ever there were proof that a team requires more than brains and bucks to thrive, this season Red Bull would appear to be it. Despite the generous backing of the Austrian drinks company and the presence of uber-designer Adrian Newey, the RB3 has struggled. With nine retirements between them - many related to a troublesome seamless-shift gearbox - team mates David Coulthard and Mark Webber have found the going tough.
On the positive side, a revamp in May seemed to solve most of the cars mechanical glitches and its pace has, at times, been impressive - particularly in Webbers hands during qualifying. That pace has allowed the team to capitalise on unexpected events and secure a reasonable points haul. Webbers third place at the rain-swept Nurburgring was perhaps the best example, bringing a much-needed end to what had seemed a rather long podium dry spell for team and driver alike.
In summary: with another upgrade expected for Turkey, surely the only way is up for Red Bull?
Every year since their 2002 arrival, big budgets and experienced drivers have made Toyotas prospects look good - on paper at least. 2007 has proved yet again that looks can be deceiving. Both TF107s finished a lap down at the season opener in Melbourne and getting a handle on the car has been a slow process. Ralf Schumacher in particular struggled to get to grips with it early on - to the point where many were predicting a premature exit for the German. The fact that customer team Williams have scored eight points more shows just how tough its been. Only the dwindling form of Japanese rivals Honda has spared Toyotas blushes.
Things, however, are looking up. Jarno Trulli has been a Q3 regular all season and in recent races Ralf has joined him. Indeed, after trailing his team mate badly in the early rounds, Schumacher now seems to have the edge. However, both remain frustrated by their cars hit and miss reliability and an inability to regularly translate qualifying speed into point-scoring performance come Sunday afternoon. They are getting closer all the time, but the consistency is not quite there yet.
In summary: if the recovery can last, Toyota could yet gain ground on the midfield.
In only their second year Super Aguri were never expected to shine - just improve. They have exceeded expectations. A four-point tally may not seem like much to some, but for the close-knit Japanese team it means the world - especially as its three more than engine supplier Hondas works team. No doubt, Super Aguri are one of the success stories of the season.
Their decision to run a modified version of Hondas 2006 car led many to dismiss their chances, and others - notably rivals Spyker - to cry foul. Regardless of the legalities, it has proved an inspired move and as the season has progressed the squad have become genuine mid-field contenders. Principal points-scorer Takuma Sato has largely overshadowed team mate Anthony Davidson, but both have put in several noteworthy performances, including numerous Q2 appearances (Sato even made Q1 in Australia). Boss Aguri Suzuki freely admits the team have surpassed their own expectations. They have also silenced their critics and given their ever-growing army of fans something to cheer about.
In summary: assuming they emerge unscathed from the customer car row, the future looks even brighter for the grids youngest team.
Hondas fall from grace this season has been well-documented. Having finished best of the rest behind the big three in 2006, the Japanese team were hoping to take another step forward in 07. They have, however, been sorely disappointed and currently languish near the foot of the table with one, solitary point. Warning signs concerning the RA107s lacklustre pace surfaced in pre-season testing, and while the teams innovative eco-friendly livery distracted the media for a while, once the racing began, the cars inadequacies became clear for all to see.
Intensive and ongoing development has boosted the drivers confidence in their steed - the RA107 was notoriously unstable under braking in the early rounds - but the programme seems to have had little impact on its pace. Last year Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were competing for points and podiums - in 2007 the duo has struggled to even make it into the top ten. To their credit, Honda have taken considerable steps to halt the decline, and with new technical signings joining all the time, there could yet be a silver lining to the teams season - especially if suspicions of a badly-calibrated (but soon to be corrected) wind tunnel prove true.
In summary: Hondas 2007 campaign may be a write-off, but with Button and Barrichello confirmed for next season, the remaining rounds could at least lay sturdy foundations for 2008.
As one of only two teams to have not earned a point from the first 11 races, Toro Rossos season hasnt quite gone to plan. With an unchanged driver line-up, a Ferrari engine deal and an Adrian Newey-designed chassis, the team had high hopes for 2007, but reliability problems, driver disputes and sheer bad luck have left their season in a degree of disarray. The team have even been eclipsed by Super Aguri and lie a disappointing tenth in the standings.
In the opening ten races, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed rarely made it into the top-15, but shared an unenviable 14 retirements. Even the long-awaited arrival of a seamless-shift gearbox seemed only to compound the teams strife. With such a torrid record, it was perhaps inevitable that people would start to apportion blame - be it driver on car, or team on driver - and it was Speed who bore the brunt of the fallout. After a rather public row at the European Grand Prix, the American was replaced by up-and-coming youngster Sebastian Vettel. And Liuzzis days are also numbered - he is to be replaced by multiple Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais for 2008. Though neither signing will make an instant impression, in the long term both are seen as steps in the right direction.
In summary: a tough second season for Red Bulls junior squad with little sign of a swift remedy.
After the trials and tribulations of 2006, this season was always going to be something of a settling-in period for Spyker. With what has generally been the slowest - and possibly least reliable - car on the grid, it has been a largely thankless task, though there have been highlights. Among them has been the arrival of highly-regarded rookie Adrian Sutil. The former Japanese F3 champion has extracted some unlikely speed from the F8-VII, most notably in Hungary - where he beat Hondas Rubens Barrichello - and Monaco, where he topped a wet final practice session.
Chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne has brought valuable design experience to the novice team, a fact that will hopefully become more apparent with the arrival of a B-spec car in Turkey. And Spyker even led a Grand Prix for the first time - courtesy of Markus Winkelhock at the rain-swept Nurburgring - bringing team sponsors some much-appreciated television airtime. Overall results, though, have been predictably lacklustre. Winkelhocks one-off appearance followed the departure of Christijan Albers, whose difficult season came to an end following sponsorship difficulties. His permanent replacement, Sakon Yamamoto, has had to little time to shine, though the early signs are good.
In summary: with driver changes, reliability issues and financial concerns taking precedence, for now at least, Spyker remain firmly entrenched at the back of the grid.
Coming soon: McLaren, Ferrari, BMW Sauber, Renault, Williams.