Will Gray

Season review: The Midfielders

Will Gray

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Formula One's midfield was an exciting and competitive place to be this year — but in the end early optimism for some was not sustained and inconsistency stopped anyone from stepping up from the 'chasing pack'.

A win for Williams in Spain and competitive performances from Sauber in China and Canada suggested the potential of an interesting change to the order this season.

At Grove, much celebration was made of the reunion of Williams and Renault - a formidable combination in the early 1990s — and while the relationship is nowhere near as strong as it is at Red Bull, who are Renault's main focus, the simple technical advantages Williams gained from dropping Cosworth — including improved power and better aero due to reduced cooling demands - were key to the early success.

But after all that early promise at Williams, something went wrong.

They will take heart in the fact that Maldonado was extremely strong in qualifying throughout the season, suggesting they are heading in the right direction, but ultimately their points haul of 76, which put them third in the midfield pecking order, represents unfulfilled potential.

Maldonado made the top-ten shoot-out 11 times from 20 qualifying sessions — twice more than any other midfield runner. He qualified four times in the top four but his inconsistency in races led him down as aside from his pole to victory run in Spain, his other three times on the front two rows saw him end up 12th, 5th and retired.

In total, Maldonado only scored points on five occasions and failed to finish five times. His next best finish after Spain was fifth and the rest were all eighth or below. His team-mate Bruno Senna, in contrast, made the top 10 in qualifying just twice but was the second most consistent points finisher in the midfield, scoring in 50 percent of races he finished. His highest was one sixth place and two sevenths.

Take away the Maldonado victory and Senna actually out-scored his team-mate by 11 points — making it perhaps somewhat of an injustice that now he finds himself without a drive for next year.

At Sauber, the departure of technical director James Key left a big hole in the team and it was one that was never filled as they chose not to have a single technical head of department. Their success, however, was in part thanks to a legacy from previous seasons — the car's kind nature on its tyres. That proved to be so important again this year.

Their two cars still only had 13 top-ten qualifying runs — matching Williams — as they struggled to get heat into the tyres. But on the flip side that became a benefit in races. Both drivers only averaged 12th on the grid, but their finishing average was 8.9 for Perez and 9.8 for Kobayashi — best and equal second best of the midfield runners.

They took total of 16 top-ten finishes including took three podiums — two for Perez and one for Kobayashi — and claimed the highest midfield points tally of 126. They would have scored more had the drivers been less erratic, retiring 10 times in total, and they properly mixed it with the front-runners on more than the odd occasion.

But despite that, Force India's Nico Hulkenberg came within just three points of pipping Sauber's Sergio Perez for the honour of top midfield driver — and that was down to something the Sauber team was lacking: consistency.

Force India was not the fastest or most headline grabbing team — their best results were two fourth places. But between the two drivers they took 18 top-ten qualifying spots — more than any other midfield runner - and finished in the points 20 times — a 50% points-scoring rate with both cars and four top-ten finishes higher than next best midfielders Sauber.

It was Paul di Resta who showed best early in the season for Force India and with six races to go he looked to have comfortably out-performed Hulkenberg, sitting on 44 points to the German's 31. But then Hulkenberg started to qualify well, getting into Q3 on four occasions, and scored points in all but one of the remaining races.

The team developed well through the season, and in fact it could be argued that they were the midfield leaders by the end — it's just there were no peaks like Sauber had to push them up amongst the top four and get them noticed.

Down at Toro Rosso, meanwhile, it had promised to be an exciting year for the Red Bull sister team, with highly rated drivers Jean Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo stepping in to drive things forward. If only they'd had the car to do it.

Qualifying really set the team back, with just one top-ten run between the two drivers all season. In fact, they were often just on the cusp of, or failing to get out of, Q1. Ricciardo averaged four grid spots lower than the midfield leaders and Vergne was two further back.

But in the races, they actually took a total of 10 points finishes — with Vergne getting four eighth places and Ricciardo four ninths and two tenths.

That was higher than their grid position should have allowed them and although it was still five fewer top-ten finishes than Williams, the two teams actually ended up with the same average finishing position of 12th in the races they finished. It showed that while Toro Rosso struggled to get in the top ten they were rarely hanging much further back — again, consistent, but simply not fast enough.

So while Sauber appear to be kings of the midfield, Force India showed the most consistency and perhaps better improvement through the season — and with stable rules, both could close in on the leaders next year. Despite Williams' victory and Toro Rosso's promising driver line-up, however, both of those teams still seem some way from breaking through.

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