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Mid-season analysis part two - Force India lead the midfield pack 08 Aug 2013

Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Hungaroring, Hungary. Saturday, 27 July 2013 Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India VJM06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 25 May 2013 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren and Sergio Perez (MEX) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 22 March 2013 Sergio Perez (MEX) McLaren MP4-28 and Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-28 battle.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Race Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 7 July 2013 Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR8.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 26 May 2013 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Formula One World Championship, Rd8, British Grand Prix, Practice, Silverstone, England, Friday, 28 June 2013 1Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber C32 crashed out of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 14 April 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Hungaroring, Hungary. Saturday, 27 July 2013 Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams and Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 19 April 2013 Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams FW35 and Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams FW35.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Practice, Hungaroring, Hungary. Friday, 26 July 2013 (L to R): Max Chilton (GBR) Marussia F1 Team and Jules Bianchi (FRA) Marussia F1 Team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 (L to R): Giedo van der Garde (NDL) Caterham CT03 makes a move on Jules Bianchi (FRA) Marussia F1 Team MR02.
Formula One World Championship, Rd8, British Grand Prix, Race Day, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 30 June 2013 (L to R): Giedo van der Garde (NDL) Caterham and Charles Pic (FRA) Caterham F1 Team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 24 March 2013 Giedo van der Garde (NDL) Caterham CT03 and Charles Pic (FRA) Caterham CT03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Race Day, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 9 June 2013

Continued from Part One

In the concluding part of our mid-season analysis, we focus on the furious battle in Formula One racing’s midfield. The race for fifth place in the constructors’ standings is currently being led by Force India but surprise strugglers McLaren have looked increasingly competitive in recent races, and Toro Rosso, Sauber and Williams cannot be discounted either...

Force India
59 points (Paul di Resta - 36 points, Adrian Sutil - 23 points)

Over the last few years Force India have defied their relatively limited resources to produce some tremendously competitive cars, and the Mercedes-powered VJM06 is no exception. From the season-opener in Melbourne onwards, the returning Adrian Sutil and, in particular, Paul Di Resta, have been consistent performers and regular point scorers and have pushed Force India to the front of the midfield. Particular praise must go to Di Resta’s exceptional fourth place in Bahrain and Sutil’s fine fifth at Monaco; mature drives that have underpinned the Silverstone-based team’s solid first half of the season. The only worrying sign for Force India is that the final two races before the summer break - in Germany and Hungary - were perhaps the team’s worst of the year so far, with the lack of competitiveness shown on the revised tyres in Budapest of particular concern. Fifth place in the constructors’ standing would be a significant achievement, but with a resurgent McLaren breathing down their necks, they’re going to have to make some shrewd development choices to keep their noses in front of the Woking-based squad.

McLaren
57 points (Jenson Button - 39 points, Sergio Perez - 18 points)

For a team like McLaren who are accustomed to fighting for the world championship, 2013 has been a huge disappointment: not only are they a long way from challenging for the title, but they’ve also opened the season with ten consecutive podium-free races for the first time since 2004. Back then they broke their duck when Kimi Raikkonen was second in the 11th race of the season at Silverstone, and though Jenson Button has talked up the team’s chances for the next round in Belgium, it’ll take something very special indeed for McLaren to make the top three at Spa. The team opted against an evolutionary approach for the MP4-26 in the hope that a new design would give them more development potential. Clearly, the gamble hasn’t paid off, despite the best efforts of Button and newcomer Sergio Perez. As ever, Button has been a consistent performer who always seems to extract the maximum from the car and - crucially - the tyres. Perez, who’s had the daunting task of replacing Lewis Hamilton, had a relatively tentative start to life at McLaren, but the Mexican has since shown plenty of pace as well as a pleasing feisty quality on track. Recent changes to the MP4-26’s aero package have lifted the team’s performance of late and double points-scores in Germany and Hungary are proof that the team are making strides forward. McLaren are renowned for their ability to add performance late in the season, but with such a big regulation change coming next year, it will be interesting to see how they prioritise resources. Either way, Force India should be looking over their shoulders.

Toro Rosso
24 points (Daniel Ricciardo – 11 points, Jean-Eric Vergne - 13 points)

The first half of Toro Rosso’s 2013 campaign has been characterised by the friendly but intense rivalry between Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne; a duel that was made even spicier with the news that Mark Webber would be relinquishing his Red Bull seat in 2014, possibly to one of them. Both men have had the upper hand at different points of the season, but at the half way point it’s Vergne that holds a small points advantage over his Australian team mate. The Frenchman was superb in Monaco and Canada in the tidy STR8, but the more-experienced Ricciardo is the more obvious choice to win the Red Bull seat, not just because of his consistency, but because of some superlative performances in qualifying. The high-water mark was fifth on the grid at Silverstone, and to prove it was no fluke he then bagged sixth on the grid at the Nurburgring. In all, Ricciardo has made the Q3 cut five times, whilst Vergne has only forced his way in once. The Italian-based squad have done a creditable job so far this season and engineers say that it’s always easier to develop a car when you have two ultra-competitive drivers, but it remains to be seen how much longer Toro Rosso will divert resources to the STR8 given the enormous challenge of building the much-changed 2014 car.

Sauber
7 points (Nico Hulkenberg - 7 points, Esteban Gutierrez - 0 points)

Nico Hulkenberg was sufficiently impressed by the podium-scoring heroics of Sauber in 2012 that he opted to join the Swiss team for 2013. Sadly for the German, the Ferrari-powered C32 has failed to live up to promise shown by last year’s C31. The current car, with its distinctive narrow sidepods, suffered from rear-end instability for much of the early season, but the ever-impressive Hulkenberg has still delivered valuable points to the team. You have to wonder what he could achieve with a more competitive car. On the other side of the garage Mexican rookie Esteban Gutierrez has shown his inexperience at times (such as running into the back of Sutil in China), but is convinced that he’s improving all the time. The 22-year-old has been good at bringing the car home, but the next step is to follow Hulkenberg’s lead and bring it home in the points. Given the C32’s pace that’ll be no easy feat, but the switch to Pirelli’s revised rubber should favour the Swiss squad who were much more comfortable on the tyres in 2012. The mid-season departure of chief designer Matt Morris is a blow, but Sauber’s recent tie-up with several Russian firms should provide the team with a welcome boost.

Williams
1 point (Pastor Maldonado - 1 point, Valtteri Bottas - 0 points)

Having won a race with the competitive FW34 last year, much was expected of this year’s Renault-powered FW35. Sadly, that promise dried up relatively early on when Pastor Maldonado and his rookie team mate Valtteri Bottas struggled to bring results from a car that lacks downforce and has, at times, been difficult to drive. Maldonado, in particular, has complained that his style is unsuited to the FW35’s particular handling characteristics, while its recalcitrant pace has often masked Bottas’ undoubted qualities. Only in qualifying in Canada was the Finn able to provide a glimpse of his potential star quality. Given their struggles, it’s no surprise that changes have already been made at the Grove-based squad with technical director Mike Coughlan departing to be replaced by Former Renault and Marussia man Pat Symonds. The team’s morale was given a timely boost when Maldonado finally handed Williams a first point of the season with tenth place in Hungary, but the team won’t be satisfied until they’re scoring consistently. Despite ample resources they’ll be hard pushed to do that this season, though once Symonds is settled in his experience could help solve some of the problems with this year’s car. The introduction of Pirelli’s revised rubber is probably no bad thing for Williams either.

Marussia
0 points (Jules Bianchi - 0 points, Max Chilton - 0 points)

Marussia started the season impressively - in Melbourne there was even talk of them troubling the tail-end of the midfield in the race. That talk ultimately proved to be a little premature and they’ve largely remained locked in a private battle with familiar foes Caterham, but that’s not to say they haven’t made significant strides since last year. Jules Bianchi - a last minute addition to the team - was one of the revelations of the early season, showing an impressive turn of speed and a maturity that belied his years. Fellow rookie Max Chilton has found the going a little tougher, but has impressed the team with his consistency and feedback. The departure of technical consultant Pat Symonds to Williams could prove to be a big loss, but thanks to Bianchi’s 13th place in Malaysia, Marussia do still hold that all-important tenth place in the constructors’ standings. They’ve slipped back from the green cars in recent races, but there’s still a long way to go and you can expect the battle with Caterham to run and run.

Caterham
0 points (Charles Pic - 0 points, Giedo van der Garde - 0 points)

Caterham team principal Cyril Abiteboul recently admitted that the low point of his 2013 season so far came in FP2 at the season-opener in Australia. “We were nowhere,” he said. “Marussia was fast, their drivers had settled very quickly and we knew that our car would not evolve for a couple of races.” Caterham might have been targeting the midfield with the Renault-powered CT03, but it wasn’t until Bahrain - the fourth race of the season - that the quickest Caterham managed to out-qualify the fastest Marussia. Former driver Heikki Kovalainen had been drafted in by that point to help the team with car development (he described the CT03 as being ‘on a knife edge’) and the team’s methodical approach has gradually yielded better results. The upgrades brought to the car during the recent European races have lifted the team’s performance and at the last race in Hungary Caterham were able to outqualify both Marussias quite comfortably. However, the tail-end of the midfield remains a little out of reach. Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde have both done solid jobs; the former using his extra year of experience to the full and the latter producing his strongest performance of the year on the revised tyres in Hungary. Overhauling Marussia for tenth place in the constructors’ standings must be the primary objective for the second half of the year.

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