Will Gray

Season review: The midfield

Will Gray

It was tight in the midfield with Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso battling hard all year and Renault dropping back into the pack as the season drew to a close - but different levels of development meant it was tale of two halves for many of the teams in this group.

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Force India and Renault compete

Force India and Renault compete


The junior Red Bull team showed the potential to move up the grid in the season build-up but their strong testing form only appeared sporadically early on and a strong finish was not quite enough to boost their final championship position.

It was a real rollercoaster ride at the start of the year, with Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi qualifying in the top 10 and struggling to race well at one event, then missing Q2 but fighting through the pack to score points in the next.

Grid spots of 7th and 9th came to nothing in China but then Buemi turned 16th into 9th in Turkey. They took a double points finish in Canada, but it was only 8th and 10th, while in Belgium Alguersuari took a career-best sixth on the grid only to hit Bruno Senna on turn one.

In two races a wheel fell off one of their cars after a fumbled pit stop, but it all began to come good in Korea, when the team got a set of upgrades to work, qualified 11th and 13th and Alguersuari passed Rosberg's Mercedes for seventh on the final lap with Buemi's ninth place putting them just three points behind Sauber.

Another strong race in India put them level but another pit mistake and a hydraulic problem ruined their race in Abu Dhabi and in the crucial season-ender in Brazil their pace simply dropped off and they failed to snatch that position and the crucial extra constructors' cash that comes with it.

Nonetheless, it was far from a disaster for Toro Rosso. They finished 28 points behind Force India and three points behind Sauber, closing the gap from what it was in 2010, when they ended up 55 points behind Force India and 31 off Sauber.


Sauber also looked promising in pre-season testing with newcomer Sergio Perez, the GP2 title runner-up, alongside the fast but occasionally erratic Kamui Kobayashi - but while consistency was impressive, with 13 points-scoring races out of 19, the pace was not quite enough to help the team rise up another level.

Both cars finished in the points in the season-opener, with Perez surprising his rivals by stopping just once on his way to seventh and Kobayashi eight but those important 10 points were lost when a rear wing manufacturing mistake put them beyond the legal limit.

That early season form resulted in a run of six consecutive points-scoring races and of their 44-point season total, 35 came in the first 10 races - with Kobayashi scoring 27 of them having battled with Webber and Schumacher for seventh in Malaysia, and having run as high as fourth in Monaco and second in Canada.

It was bittersweet, however, as the team constantly struggled early on in the weekend before Kobayashi came good in the race, and when that race performance dropped away they were left picking up the scraps.

Perez got his breakthrough with a Q3 spot in Monaco but a heavy crash put him out for two races and aside from a sixth-place finish at Silverstone and a strategy-assisted eighth place in Japan, there was little points-scoring success for the Mexican.

Halfway through the year they had almost double the points of closest rivals Toro Rosso with Force India even further back, but by the end they had been comfortably overhauled by the latter and only just managed to fend off the former by three points.

The biggest issue for Sauber's season was the fact their drivers were prone to incidents. Kobayashi was involved in collisions in seven races with another three crashes in practice and qualifying while Perez crashed in five races. With more consistency, it could have been a different story.


This was a big year for Force India, with sixth place the target after they narrowly missed beating Williams to that spot in 2010. Little would they know how easy it would be to overhaul Williams, but while sixth place saw their target achieved, they almost went one better.

The start of the season saw the team's car described as "consistent and reliable", usually not a good sign as it is often the case that a quick car can be made more reliable while a reliable car is not easy to make quicker.

The first five races netted just four points, three of which were gifted by the disqualification of the Sauber cars in Australia. Low grid spots made races difficult and when they did qualify well they suffered tyre problems, collisions and simply lacked the pace for points.

An upgrade in Spain proved disappointing and worse was to come when lead driver Adrian Sutil's mind was taken off the ball as he was faced with criminal charges for assault following an incident in a Chinese nightclub.

A second big upgrade proved positive, however, and when Sutil came good on home ground with sixth, beating fellow German Rosberg's Mercedes in the process, it began a run of nine points-scoring finishes in the final 10 races.

From Singapore onwards, there was at least one Force India driver in the top 10 in all but one of the remaining six races, with that car often sitting out the final session to gain the benefit of extra tyres - and it worked time and time again.

Sixth and eighth in Singapore, beating the Mercedes, was a good haul and although the next two races did little to help their points tally the promise was there and the results came in final two races, with another double points finish in Abu Dhabi virtually cementing sixth and another sixth and eighth in Brazil putting them just four points behind Renault by the end.


A radical take on the blown diffuser concept and a lead driver who was one of Formula One's hottest talents looked set to catapult Renault into the big time - and even though Robert Kubica was sidelined due to his massive rally crash before the season began, it still started well.

Vitaly Petrov stepped up a level from the off and scored a podium in the opening race then Kubica's last-minute replacement Nick Heidfeld did the same in race two.

After a poor showing in China, Turkey saw both cars qualify and finish in the top 10 but when a career-best sixth on the grid for Petrov in Spain resulted in nothing the team started to slip back as rivals managed to make faster development progress.

The radical concept that saw exhausts exit at the front of the sidepods aimed to produce more overall downforce in the middle of the car, but the new Pirelli tyres required more of a rearward balance and the team could not make that happen.

In Europe, both cars qualified outside the top 10 and began fighting with Force India, by Germany they were behind them and trialled a more standard exhaust system but chose not to introduce it.

A fiery retirement in Hungary proved to be Heidfeld's last as he was replaced by Bruno Senna from Belgium onwards and Senna immediately impressed with seventh on the grid, only to crash out on the opening lap of the race.

The team introduced new bodywork in Hungary but it caused overheating problems, costing precious time and set-up planning and resulting in a terrible weekend, with 15th and 18th on the grid and 18th and 17th in the race.

Petrov had a late spurt of top-10 qualifying positions but failed to make them count and little niggles continued to creep in following a series of management changes within a team that appeared to be rapidly disintegrating, losing its 'works' supplier status with Renault into the bargain.

Like other teams in this tight midfield battle, the opening 10 races netting them 66 of their 73 points and the rest of the year went to nothing.

In contrast, Mercedes suffered a dismal start to the year but overtook Renault for fourth after nine races and by the end of the season the flailing black-and-gold team were just four points away from being caught by Force India.

Despite the failing form, the team still attracted Kimi Raikkonen to their fold for 2012 - but they will need to make a seriously quick recovery to regain momentum if they are to provide him with a car to go into battle at the front next year.

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