Will Gray

Gray Matter: Mid-season review – middle teams

Will Gray

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Sergio Perez enjoys his podium finish at the 2012 Canadian Grand Priz

The unpredictable start to the season allowed both Williams and Sauber to achieve breakthrough successes — but now things have settled down which midfield team is set for the strongest finish?

Pastor Maldonado's victory for Williams in Spain and second and third places for Sauber in the opening seven races saw the two teams storm ahead of last year's leading midfielders Force India. They were both quickly tipped as strong contenders for 2012 success but both have ended up having a rollercoaster ride this season.

The finishing position form chart for the three midfield teams looks like a mountain range with so many peaks and troughs, but it is clear that Sauber have greater and more regular peaks and, as such, have started to make a break.

Over the 11 races, Sauber's drivers have come out with average race finish positions of 6.8 and 6.9 and nine points finishes in all. Force India's Paul Di Resta averages 8.8 and his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg 9.4 having collected eight points finishes between them. Williams, meanwhile, are disappointingly far back with Maldonado on 10 and Senna on 11 and just six points finishes in all.

After Spain, Sauber, Williams and Mercedes were virtually level on points. Now, Sauber's 80 points haul is 26 behind fifth-placed Mercedes but they are 27 points ahead of seventh-placed Williams — who have scored just 10 points since Maldonado's victory in Spain — and 34 points clear of Force India, who now need a big upgrade to haul themselves back into the mix.

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F1 Midfield Chart

But in truth, while things look strong for Sauber, they are actually failing to capitalise on what is arguably their best opportunity to shine as an independent team.

Just two races ago, the realisation of that potential with a 20-point haul gave Sauber the confidence to target championship fifth — and although it may seem ambitious to think they can overhaul Mercedes, they have good reason to think they could.

The car has been strong on all types of circuit. Sergio Perez has a talent at managing tyres that has enabled the team to explore a greater range of strategies than their rivals. Kamui Kobayashi has an aggressive racing style that can often help him race through the pack. And so far, mistakes and misfortune have cut down what could have been a much greater haul of points - potentially even a victory.

Six top-10 starts from a possible 10 in the opening five races resulted in just two points finishes (although two other points finishes came from further down on the grid) and those lost points could turn out to be crucial.

Since then, qualifying has gone off the boil. Perez was averaging 10th place on the grid in the first five races but that is now 14th. And worryingly, 14th is his best grid spot since Spain. Kobayashi, meanwhile, averages 11th.

This slump on Saturdays is, the team say, down to making the wrong calls at the wrong time - leading to the team missing out on grid spots due to weather or traffic problems.

However, that in itself is a blessing.

Often, teams struggle to get a car set up well for both qualifying and the race so the fact that it is team mistakes and not car performance that has ruined their recent qualifying sessions will give them cause for optimism.

If they can get over those issues and get back in the top 10 then the car certainly has the potential to post some high scores. And with Mercedes faltering, that 26-point gap is not insurmountable. They may just have a chance to challenge...

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