As Formula 1 enjoys its traditional summer shutdown before regrouping in Belgium at the end of August, our team of experts offer their two cents on each of the teams.
In Part 1 of our mid-year review, we rate the fortunes of the top-five teams in the Constructors’ Championship: Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull Racing, Force India and Williams.
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
|Qualifying Head-to-Head:||Hamilton 6 – 5 Bottas|
|Race Head-to-Head:||Hamilton 6 (188 pts) – 5 Bottas (169 pts)|
For the first time in the hybrid era of Formula One, Mercedes is under threat of losing its run of world Drivers’ Championships thanks to the resurgence of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel.
After going in to damage limitation in the off-season due to Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement, the pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Valtterri Bottas has proven to at least worked with each other well instead of throwing handbags in the media pen. The move from Williams to the full works squad has netted Bottas his first race wins while Hamilton has scored two victories this season, enough for them to be third and second in the points respectively.
Despite not currently leading the Drivers’ Championship, Mercedes has a decent lead over the Scuderia Ferrari in the Constructors’ title race, a title they would not want to give up with ease. With power tracks like Spa and Monza coming up next, they have the chance to further extend their lead.
The standout moments so far have been the Baku drama for Hamilton where his headrest came undone while in the lead in Azerbaijan and at the Hungarian race where Bottas was handed his place back by the Englishman at the final turn after the Brit was unable to attack their rivals ahead.
- Team: A
- Lewis Hamilton: A-
- Valtteri Bottas: A-
|Qualifying Head-to-Head:||Vettel 8 – 3 Räikkönen|
|Race Head-to-Head:||Vettel 9 (202 pts) – 1 Räikkönen (116 pts)|
What a difference a year makes! Twelve months ago Ferrari were scratching their heads wondering why all the pace was disappearing in the final classification, and where all their key personnel were going with it.
This year, after the loss of their head designer James Allison to Mercedes and going in expecting a tough re-adjustment to the new regulations, Ferrari find themselves topping the Drivers’ Championship and just behind Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship at the midway point of the season with Mercedes unable to answer to some of their key strengths.
This isn’t the first time Ferrari started a year with a winning machine, but this year they seem to have found their mojo once again to keep the SF70H in winning form. With much more ability to exploit the strengths the car had been famous for in the past two seasons – mainly tyre management – a much clearer view of their development program which kept them from falling off the race as the season progressed, and much calmer heads on the pit wall avoiding the strategy cluster cock-ups of yesteryear, the Scuderia seems to have all that it takes to keep the title fight alive when the season kicks off its second leg in a couple of weeks.
The new management has played as much part in this as the drivers but now they have to keep their eyes open to avoid any of the rookie errors that cost teams championships. With Kimi Räikkönen looking set for another season despite not having many more ways to excuse the difference in pace to a teammate clearly on the edge of his temper all the time, they need to start thinking like a winning team if they want to remember this year as anything but a write-off.
Mercedes wore the crown for three years and now it’s on the floor. It’s now Ferrari’s chance to win it or lose it.
- Team: A
- Sebastian Vettel: A-
- Kimi Räikkönen: C
Red Bull Racing
|Qualifying Head-to-Head:||Verstappen 7 – 4 Ricciardo|
|Race Head-to-Head:||Ricciardo 1 (117 pts) – 2 Verstappen (67 pts)|
Before the season started we were all hoping for a four-way battle fight for the title, between Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, and Red Bull Racing.
McLaren turned out to be the biggest disappointment, swiftly followed by Red Bull. The team failed to maximize on last season’s momentum and slipped back from the top two. It is now stuck in a lonely third position in the Constructors’ Championship, neither threatened from behind but equally unable to catch Mercedes and Ferrari ahead.
Constant mechanical failures keep sidelining their best driver Verstappen who, when his car holds together, seems to have the upper hand on Ricciardo this year. Recall that when Vettel came to Red Bull, he made a Webber out of Webber, and when Ricciardo came, he made a Webber out of Vettel. When Verstappen arrived, he made a Vettel out of Ricciardo.
The latter has only being to achieve one lucky win at Baku in a race that could have won by any of the Force India or Williams drivers if they hadn’t struck trouble.
Design ace Adrian Newey seems reinvested heavily in developing the RB13, but we shouldn’t be expecting any front-row lockouts from the team given the continued lack of power from their Renault-built engines.
- Team: B
- Daniel Ricciardo: B
- Max Verstappen: A
|Qualifying Head-to-Head:||Pérez 9 – 2 Ocon|
|Race Head-to-Head:||Pérez 8 (56 pts) – 2 Ocon (45 pts)|
Force India goes into the summer break as one of the most consistent teams of the year so far, having scored points in every race of the season (bar Monaco) and arguably missing out on victory in Azerbaijan when Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon were unable to contain their intra-team rivalry.
It is this inability to manage the rivalry that stands out as the team’s only weakness. It is one thing to let the drivers race – we want to see that as fans – and it’s okay when it gets dirty for a once-dominant championship-winning team like Mercedes.
But for a midfield team with a limited budget like Force India, every single point counts as the season winds on and even though they sit comfortably in fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship, with Williams a distant fifth, it’s well known that in Formula 1 things can change incredibly fast and incidents like Canada or Azerbaijan are precisely what makes them change. Force India need to get their management together and cover the power vacuum left by Vijay Mallya’s icreasingly troubled life.
The greatest upside to the Pink Panthers’ story this year though is the immense amount of talent they have on track in almost-rookie Esteban Ocon and the more seasoned Sergio Pérez. Ocon has thus far silenced everyone who has doubted Force India’s choice to put him behind the wheel by being immediately consistent and Perez is proving he is one of F1’s most mature and capable veterans as he seeks to showcase his ability to Ferrari should a seat ever appear vacant there.
All in all, whenever a pink car is on screen, it’s a joy to be watching.
- Team: B-
- Sergio Pérez: B+
- Esteban Ocon: A-
Williams Martini Racing
|Qualifying Head-to-Head:||Massa 9 – 1 Stroll|
|Race Head-to-Head:||Massa 5 (23 pts) – 0 Stroll (18 pts)|
Since last year, Williams seems to be slipping into oblivion. It’s shocking at almost every race, because they still have the Martini colours that remind us of the pole positions, podiums, and near-winning days that were only three years ago. Pat Symonds’ departure didn’t seem to help much either.
It’s easy to assume that their strength in the past was on account of their Mercedes engines, but now they are being beaten consistently by fellow Mercedes runners Force India. That’s a clear sign of how much Williams has dropped back (and in turn how much Force India has improved).
Adding to that, their new driver Lance Stroll has cost the team dearly in points’ finishes that a more experienced driver could have brought. Irrespective of the money he brings to the table, it matters little if he can’t keep the car in one piece.
Felipe Massa has driven very well and overcome the clear limitations of the FW40 chassis. He was among many potential race-winners at Baku were it not for his mechanical failure – a win no one would have begrudged him – and a result that, given the team has only won once in the last thirteen years, been a poetic result since coming back from retirement.
- Team: D
- Felipe Massa: B+
- Lance Stroll: C
Images via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Red Bull Racing, Sahara Force India F1 Team, Scuderia Ferrari, Sutton Images