Hindsight is a cruel mistress. No doubt every single team will be struggling not to employ it as they reflect on the first half of their seasons. It does, however, allow us to review the events that have already unfolded this season with a bit more context, though it doesn’t change the scores. As the title of this post suggests, it certainly has been a case of good, bad and ugly for many of the teams and drivers in the field. Those underperforming have an uphill task in climbing back to the top, and those who over performed can’t rest on their laurels. They must push just as hard as the rest of the field. For the ugly? Well, there isn’t much to say about that. Ugly is ugly, and we’ve had our fair share of that so far.
The class of the field on average has taken three wins this season (all from Sebastian Vettel) along with three poles (courtesy of the German, as well). These stats don’t stack up as well as those of the Mercedes AMG team, yet it is the team in blue and yellow that sits calmly perched at the top of both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships.
The key this season has been consistency. Where Mercedes would often plummet down the order like a rock from pole position, Red Bull would keep and often extend its advantage at the front of the field in a race. Mercedes’ tire woes have a lot to do with this, of course, but Red Bull has still been more consistent regardless. That is why they are the team to beat at the moment. And they won’t let anyone forget it.
The surprise performer of last season has kept up the gig. A win in the opening round set the tone for the rest of the opening half of the season, As both Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean took seven further podiums. This has cemented their current 4th position in the constructors’ championship, but they have the performance to get up to second, without a doubt.
The only concerns that have been made apparent are the silly season rumors in which Kimi finds himself embroiled (more on that later). Whether the Finn makes the move to Red Bull, stays at Lotus, or moves back to Ferrari as some have suggested, is yet to be known. We do know that Kimi plays a pivotal role in the foundation of next season’s grid.
For now, though, the team needs to focus on making the car as fast as is possibly can. Lotus knows how to have a championship challenge with one car, now they need to get the second back in the fight.
Much like Lotus, Mclaren expected to ride the wave of a brilliant, if inconsistent, 2012 campaign into the next season. Nothing of the sort happened. The long and the short of it is, Mclaren is nowhere near as competitive as they would like. I sound like a broken record there, as does the team when they give out press releases, but just as Mclaren’s performance expectations have come up short, so has the patience of many of the team’s fans.
Mclaren approaches the next race in Belgium with a lot of confidence. Jenson Button has already stated that a podium in very possible, as the low-downforce characteristics of the track should play into the hands of the car’s relative lack of natural downforce. As a field leveler, Belgium should do a good job for Mclaren, and could provide the team their only opportunity to really shine this season.
The summer break gives everyone involved at Mclaren time to sit back and reevaluate the season. Focus has already shifted to 2014, which should simplify the rest of the campaign. Nevertheless, it will be a long, hard battle to get back in front of Force India, who have outshone the might of Mclaren this season.
In general and relative to last season, the midfield teams have taken a step back from the top teams in terms of performance. In 2012, the odd pole, front row start, or podium became not all that odd. The field last season was spookily close in terms of performance. One could look at 2013 as a bit of a disappointment then, as teams like Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso barely break into the top-10 these days. While their financial capabilities are nowhere near those of Red Bull, Ferrari or Mercedes, the midfield teams have disappointed me a little. I expected much more from Williams and Sauber who, after fantastic seasons last year, should have taken better advantage of the extra money they earned by finishing higher in the standings. That failure is on them.
What does not rest on their conscience is the fact that they still didn’t have as much money as the top teams, nor did they have the same means to implement said money. Regardless, the aforementioned teams can only look back onto the first half of the season with a sense of regret. They will be aiming to improve things after Spa.
Objectively, Romain Grosjean has had a nightmare season. Compared to his teammate, he has a little over a third of his points in a car that should, and is, consistently in the fight for podiums and wins.
Subjectively, Romain has had a troubled season. A combination of bad luck and negative public perception has made the low points of his season overpower the high points. Nevertheless, the cold hard points are what wins championships, and the truth of the matter is Romain doesn’t have that many of them.
Can he turn his season around in time? Or course he can. Will he? I believe so. There is a championship winning driver in him somewhere. We’ve seen flashes of it in the past two years. It will flourish in time.
I admire the work Pirelli has done for the sport in the past three years. That isn’t the most popular position to take, but it is one I am proud admit. However, the events that unfolded during the British Grand Prix were inexcusable. Both Pirelli, who should have been more vocal for change, and the teams, who employed a dangerous and stupid tire conservation tactic, are to blame for the exploding rear tires that wreaked havoc during that race.
This whole season has been ugly for Pirelli. They have been the bearer of a constant and incessant barrage of negative feedback from fans, and the inaction from the FIA, FOM and teams when changes needed to be made. Yes, the season has been ugly for them. But how much of that ugliness is actually their fault?
After the Spanish Grand Prix, Mercedes and Pirelli conducted a secret tire test in Barcelona. Over three days, Pirelli hoped to resolve some of the issues it was coming under fire for while using a contemporary car, rather than the outdated 2010 model it is stuck with.
The FIA and the other teams took a dim view of this secret operation, and Mercedes and Pirelli were duly called up to the FIA’s International Tribunal. The hearing ended in a reprimand for Pirelli, who were under the impression that all the teams knew about, and had the opportunity to participate in, the test, and a ban from the Young Drivers’ Test for Mercedes as punishment for any performance gains they may have made from the test.
This whole mess was extremely unfortunate, and highlighted all the issues that currently plague the sport at the moment; unworkable conditions for Pirelli are the main source of headache right now and have a knock-on effect for the rest of the sport. Until those issues are fixed, this and Pirelli will continue to be an ugly part of the sport.