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The midfield & more - the 2012 Season Preview Part Four 09 Mar 2012

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India F1 VJM05.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 4 March 2012 Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM05.
Formula One Testing, Day 3, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, 3 March 2012 Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM05.
Formula One Testing, Day 3, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, 23 February 2012 Sergio Perez (MEX) Sauber C31.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, 21 February 2012 Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) Sauber C31.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Jerez, Spain, Tuesday, 7 February 2012 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR7.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 4 March 2012 Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Formula One Testing, Day 2, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 2 March 2012 Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR7 makes a pit stop.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, 1 March 2012 Bruno Senna (BRA) Williams FW34.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 4 March 2012 
Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams FW34.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, 1 March 2012 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Caterham CT01.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 24 February 2012 
Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Caterham CT01.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, 1 March 2012 Narain Karthikeyan in the HRT F112, Circuit de Catalunya, Spain, March 5 2012 Narain Karthikeyan in the HRT F112, Circuit de Catalunya, Spain, March 5 2012 Charles Pic and Timo Glock, Marussia MR01 launch, Silverstone, UK. March 5, 2012 Marussia MR01 launch, Silverstone, UK, March 5, 2012

In the final installment of our look ahead to the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship, we consider the midfield teams and those at the back of the grid (Continued from Part Three)…

Force India
11 Paul di Resta, 12 Nico Hulkenberg
Force India-Mercedes VJM05

The Silverstone-based team did a fantastic job in 2011, beating Sauber, Toro Rosso and Williams hands-down on their way to sixth in the world championship for constructors’. Without an awful lot more luck, they might even have challenged Renault for fifth.

Rookie Paul di Resta showed immediately that he could match team mate Adrian Sutil’s renowned strong pace and they made a great pairing as they pushed one another hard on every occasion. Now Nico Hulkenberg takes over from Sutil, after a year playing the test and reserve driver role following his impressive rookie season with Williams in 2010. With a full season apiece under their wheels, these two will bear watching closely, especially as the new VJM05 looked pretty strong in testing.

At the very least, the team that were revitalised by investment last year from Roy Sahara must retain their sixth place, but they have showed the signs that they can improve on that if everything goes right.

14 Kamui Kobayashi, 15 Sergio Perez
Sauber-Ferrari C31

Peter Sauber is one of the sport’s great survivors, and 2011 saw his team making further progress as CEO Monisha Kaltenborn and Peter’s son Alex played greater roles in the management.

They might have lost talented designer James Key, as he moves back to the UK to take a role believed to be outside the racing industry, but there is consistency in the choice of drivers as Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez remain partnered for a second season.

The Japanese driver retained his reputation as one of the sport’s great overtakers last year, while Perez kept him on his toes after recovering slowly from the major shunt he had in the chicane at Monaco. They are a pair of hard chargers that will get the best out of the new C31, which showed good reliability in testing as the Hinwil team clocked up the third highest mileage (3,055 miles). Expect them to fight strongly with Force India, Toro Rosso and Williams in the midfield.

Toro Rosso
16 Daniel Ricciardo, 17 Jean-Eric Vergne
Toro Rosso-Ferrari STR7

Formula One racing’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ has created a new look to Toro Rosso’s driver line-up. Out have gone Swiss Sebastien Buemi and Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, two promising Red Bull Young Driver scheme graduates (the former now the reserve driver) and in their place come the equally promising Australian Daniel Ricciardo and much-vaunted Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne.

They will form a powerful alliance, the former having done a number of races with HRT last year, the latter impressing on the occasions when he has tested for Red Bull in Abu Dhabi. And both of them are aware that the one who performs more strongly could have a shot at Mark Webber’s seat alongside Sebastien Vettel at Red Bull in 2013, depending how things work out for the veteran Aussie this year.

Nothing could be a greater spur as each embarks on his first full season in a new car that has shown strong midfield promise in testing.

18 Pastor Maldonado, 19 Bruno Senna
Williams-Renault FW34

Change is in the air at Williams, after their most disappointing season ever in 2011. Patrick Head has retired and Sam Michael is now at McLaren, handing the technical reins to Mark Gillan and Mike Coughlan, while recently Sir Frank Williams stepped down from the Board to leave running the company to chairman Adam Parr.

Cosworth power has been replaced by Renault, and evergreen Rubens Barrichello’s Formula One career has finally come to end after 329 Grands Prix as younger fellow countryman Bruno Senna replaces him as Pastor Maldonado’s partner.

These are serious changes for the only F1 team quoted on a stock market, but there is a new air of optimism and sense of rebirth at the Grove-based squad that takes it into the new season on the back of some solid testing performances which saw the them amass more mileage than any other with their new FW34 (3,172 miles).

20 Heikki Kovalainen, 21 Vitaly Petrov
Caterham-Renault CT-01

Much of last year for Tony Fernandes’ improving team was tainted by the on-going battle over naming rights with Group Lotus. But eventually the savvy Malaysian businessman was ‘persuaded’ to cede the rights and to change his beloved Team Lotus into Caterham for 2012.

That’s not all that has changed. Mike Gascoyne has been promoted to wider technical duties within the Caterham Group, so responsibility falls more on designer Mark Smith. Jarno Trulli is gone, the Italian veteran being ousted late in the day by Renault refugee Vitaly Petrov.

But the green and yellow colour scheme remains, together with Fernandes’ implacable determination to move firmly into the midfield. This year they need to get into the points on a regular basis if they are to improve further, and the signs in recent testing are that the CT-01 - the team’s first KERS-equipped car - could provide the basis for that significant step.

22 Pedro De La Rosa, 23 Narain Karthikeyan
HRT-Cosworth F112

Narain Karthikeyan is one of the few things that haven’t changed at HRT, under their new management which took over from the Carabantes in 2011. Gone is Colin Kolles as team principal, and former F1 racer Luiz Perez-Sala is now calling the shots. There’s a new headquarters in Madrid, and, eventually, the new HRT F112 was ready to do film running at Barcelona, having missed the final test by a day.

Given the circumstances of the restructuring, it’s a miracle that the team will be ready to roll in Melbourne. Like Marussia, they need to make some serious progress this year, but now find themselves yet again on their back foot. But they have one bonus: the experience and massive enthusiasm of former Arrows, Jaguar and McLaren racer Pedro de la Rosa.

24 Timo Glock, 25 Charles Pic
Marussia-Cosworth MR01

With the Virgin team renamed Marussia the aim was to take a big step forwards in 2012. But when the all-new MR01 failed its crash test the season could not have got off to a worse start. You are no longer allowed to test unless your car has passed all of the intensive tests mandated by the FIA, thus the team go into their 2012 campaign with only filming mileage at Silverstone under their belt. Effectively, that means they have done a minor shakedown and go to Melbourne with zero idea of what their car can really do. It’s going to be an uphill struggle for them.

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