With the F1 circus enjoying their summer break, we’ve run the rule over the grid and dished out grades after the first 12 races…
With wins in 11 of the season’s first 12 races, a 159-point lead at the top of the Constructors’ Championship and with one of their drivers all but of assured of the World Championship title, Mercedes could hardly have headed into the summer break in a better position.
The tension between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is perhaps the only sour note in the Mercedes picture, but with two drivers fighting for the title it’s no surprise that they’re not best friends. Hamilton has proven in the past few races that more often than not he will out-race Rosberg, and it’s no surprise that’s hard for the German to take, he wouldn’t be one of F1’s best if he was content with second best. As long as there are no repeats of the incidents in Austria and Spain which saw Mercedes lose points as a result of the pair’s battle, Toto Wolff and co won’t be complaining too much that their drivers don’t share fire-side chats.
It’s a case of ‘when’, not ‘if’ Mercedes wrap up both titles in another season in which they have been a class above the rest.
Red Bull head into the break with plenty to celebrate after bagging a double podium finish in Germany. The Austrian team were determined to end the first stanza ahead of Ferrari in the Constructors standings and they’ve done just that, moving 14 points clear of the Scuderia.
The promotion of Max Verstappen from Toro Rosso has worked a treat, with the Dutchman picking up an historic race win in Spain while pushing Daniel Ricciardo all the way. Ricciardo initially seemed to struggle somewhat, sitting in his teenage team-mates shadow somewhat, but the Australian has brushed off a bit of bad luck and risen to the challenge – his second place at Hockenheim moved him to third in the Drivers’ standings.
With two of the best young drivers around in their race seats and Adrian Newey designing an all-changed car for 2017, the future is bright.
All is not well at the prancing horse. Sebastian Vettel’s decision to overrule his team’s strategy call during Sunday’s race underlined what can only be seen as a loss of faith in a pitwall that has made more than a few poor decisions this term. With technical guru James Allison parting ways with the team, Ferrari will need the summer break to regain some stability and plot how they are going to tame the Red Bulls, let alone catch Mercedes.
Allison’s loss is a big blow for the Italian team, with Ferrari’s director of engineering Jock Clear stating: “losing someone of James Allison’s calibre is not going to go unnoticed… James was very, very strong. He will be missed but that’s the challenge for us”.
Such an absence is going to be ever the more felt in a time of turmoil.
The decision to retain Kimi Raikkonen so early in the campaign came as something of a surprise, and the Finnish driver will need to reward the faith shown in him. Vettel has cut a more and more frustrated figure as the season as progressed. The German missed out on the podium in the last four races, and has fallen to a disappointing fifth in the standings.
After another disappointing race in Hockenheim, Vettel said that the team knew what needed to be done to turn things around. We’ll find out in Belgium if they really do.
A third-place finish in the Constructors’ race in 2014 has proved to be something of a blessing and a curse for Williams, with their inability to maintain the position painting their current position in darkened tones. Fourth last season looks more likely to be fifth this season as the Grove-based team, but given their limited budget this is still a decent showing.
And that’s just it; it’s not that Williams have been terrible, they just haven’t been great, and it’s hard to see Claire Williams and her team turning their fortunes around dramatically in the second half of the season. Staving off the challenge of Force India is their top priority.
Valtteri Bottas continues to be solid but not spectacular, with the Fin not quite delivering on the promise that saw him heavily linked with Ferrari. Felipe Massa has endured a frustrating time of late, last finishing in the points in Baku, and this is likely to be his last campaign.
Force India are starting to apply some pressure on Williams in the Constructors standings, with just 15 points separating the two teams. The Silverstone-based outfit are punching above their weight and doing a good job of it.
Part of Force India’s success is that both their drivers are delivering, albeit in different ways. After a slow start to the season, Nico Hulkenberg is consistently scoring points, while third-place finishes in Monaco and Baku see Sergio Perez in eighth spot in the standings.
A double-points finish in Germany was just what Vijay Mallya’s team needed heading into the break, and they will have Williams sweating in what is becoming an increasingly intriguing midfield battle.