August 21st, 2013 (F1plus/Jael Arias).- Referring to McLaren as a team of the middle grid should be sacrilegious. But this has been the stunning reality we’ve found after the start of 2013 and has remained so in the first half.
The Woking based team has been overtaken by an amazing Force India. The key to the Indian squad success has been tire management, comparable only to that of Lotus, and an important characteristic to succeed this year.
While Toro Rosso find themselves in an objectionable state. Occasionally they have achieved remarkable results, but they’re far from the team that allowed Vettel to make the jump to Red Bull in 2009.
Is this one of the biggest racing teams in history?
If at the end of 2012 we’re said the team that had the best package for much of the year, top winner of the season alongside Red Bull and ended the championship brilliantly with two wins, would be lagging in the middle of the grid, most of us would still be shaking our heads in disbelief.
Things couldn’t be worse for McLaren. The team that historically has had the greatest evolutionary capacity during the season hasn’t been able to get closer to the front line during this first half.
Jenson Button surprised everyone the first day of testing of 2013, achieving a stratospheric lap time with a dirty track and the hard compound. Although at that time, lap records are not very significant, the MP4/28 somewhere has a great potential.
The British driver was supposed to be McLaren’s flagship after Hamilton’s departure. He was considered a major threat to Vettel.
But the bad shape of the English team ruled out the 2009 world champion from the beginning of the season. However, this year Jenson has managed to take the best out of his uncompetitive MP4/28 in race and has made it into Q3 on a few occasions. His struggle with Pirelli tires are a thing from the past.
On the other hand, Sergio Pérez has had a very irregular season but has shown he has a lot of talent and hasn’t been intimidated by sharing the team with a world champion. In Bahrain for example, Sergio’s battle with Button was the most exciting moment of a race completely dominated by Vettel.
Pérez needs to be a bit more cerebral in managing his aggressiveness. His performance in Monaco showed the best and worst from the Mexican. We’re always thankful to see aggressive drivers, but knowing when to use it is what separates the champions from the rest.
McLaren is slowly improving its shape. In Canada, historically a McLaren track, the British team hit the bottom. Slight signs of improvement were seen in Hungary with both drivers finishing in the points in a Grand Prix of difficult conditions.
In Spa, where they defend victory, we should see a strong performance by the English team, but the podium seems something very difficult for them yet.
The Indian miracle…
Force India finished last season with very good car. Paul Di Resta in Singapore and Nico Hulkenberg in Spa and Brazil, were very close to the podium. But the level shown this season that has led them to be ahead of McLaren, few would have imagined.
The VJM06 has been one of the best balanced cars of the year. It was no surprise to see it ahead of Mercedes in the early races and consistently entering Q3. Equally surprising was the level shown by both pilots.
Paul Di Resta has become a better driver this season. Wounded in his pride, being ignored by the top teams, the Scot has had a stellar performance this year and has not been on the podium by a very narrow margin.
Di Resta has a clear goal: to enter the orbit of the top teams for next year. Currently he’s having a very good season. Only the poor performances of his team in pit stops have prevented the Scot from being even higher in the championship.
On the other hand, Adrian Sutil has surprised everyone in the paddock with the level shown, after having spent a year out of Formula 1. The German has adapted to the sport in a similar fashion to his predecessor, Nico Hulkenberg.
Sutil has also being a victim of the bad performance of his pit crew which deprived him of better results. But no one doubts that the election of the German driver over Jules Bianchi has been the right one despite the level shown by the French youngster in Marussia.
The second half could be complicated for the Indian team. Pirelli 2012 construction hasn’t suit the VJM06. Despite the good feelings after testing with its two race drivers in Silverstone, the car hasn’t behaved optimally with the new Pirelli construction.
For a team that is facing serious financial problems, it seems complicated to continue staying ahead of McLaren in the championship, which has been a huge milestone so far.
More improvement is needed…
Toro Rosso has had a very intermittent season. The Faenza-based team has brought a good car this year. They have become a midfield team. But it looks it’s been more due to the slump of Sauber and Williams that to their own merits. They have two young drivers which are still adapting to the sport, especially Daniel Ricciardo who will most likely replace Mark Webber at Red Bull.
The Australian driver seems to have left behind the insecurity which made him to be outperformed by his teammate last year and he’s shown a great progression as a driver. With a very good one lap pace, Ricciardo has made it into Q3 a couple of times this year.
He’s also had great performances in some races scoring points in three events this year, highlighting his seventh place finish in China. Consistency is something he has to add to his arsenal if he wishes to have a good career at Red Bull.
Jean-Eric Vergne on the other hand, has had a similar year to his teammate. However, he has been discarded to replace Webber at Red Bull. The Milton Keynes-based squad has made clear their preference for Ricciardo although the Frenchman has shown a similar level even with less Grands Prix under his belt.
Vergne also has scored in three events in 2013, but his one lap pace and having 13 GP less than Ricciardo, were the arguments that Red Bull has used against him. Not finishing in four events this season has also been very harmful to the young driver in a year he’s been closely watched.
The Italian team shouldn’t have troubles maintaining their position in the championship. The threat from Williams and Sauber is negligible and there is no sign on the horizon of a change, because of the complicated economic crisis both teams are facing.