Alonso leads Räikkönen in the race and the standings
We’re a little way past the exact middle of the 2012 Formula 1 season—11 of the 20 races have already been completed—but with the five-week break comes a good opportunity to reflect on what we have seen so far this year and what is yet to come.
In part one of a series of midseason reviews, we look at which drivers have been overachievers and which underachievers in the first half of 2012.
Hamilton wins in Hungary, the final race before the mid-season break
With three poles and two victories so far this season, as always, Hamilton’s outstanding ability is to make his car blindingly quick over a single lap.
However, the area in which he has overachieved this year has been an increased ability to settle for a solid points finish when things don’t go his way. This new dimension to his driving could make all the difference in the final championship standings.
After a small blip in Valencia and Silverstone, where the McLaren looked uncompetitive in race trim, the team introduced a major upgrade in Germany, and its early-season pace returned.
Hamilton’s pace in qualifying for the Hungarian grand prix was way ahead of the competition, and he soaked up pressure from both Lotus cars during the race for a confidence boosting victory right before the break.
Räikkönen's return has gone to plan so far
Possibly a contentious choice, Räikkönen has often been outpaced by his relatively inexperienced teammate Romain Grosjean in qualifying.
Nevertheless, for a man who hadn’t raced a Formula 1 car for two years, the “Flying Finn’s” points tally has been extremely impressive. He’s notched up five podiums already—outscoring Grosjean by over 50 percent—including two impressive near victories in Bahrain and Hungary.
The Lotus looks to be consistently fast at most tracks with the only question mark being its performance in cooler conditions. A fascinating new Double DRS/passive F-Duct device tested in Germany and Hungary may give them the edge in the upcoming, high-speed Belgian and Italian grand prixes.
Alonso: Top of the pile in more ways than one
The obvious No. 1, Alonso has made the most of almost every opportunity that’s come his way this season.
This year’s Ferrari, the F2012, looked difficult to drive in testing and was around 1.5 seconds off the qualifying for Round 1 in Australia, yet coming away from the second race in Malaysia, Alonso was leading the championship after a determined wet-weather win.
He’s barely let the lead go since.
Further wins in Valencia and Hockenheim have seen him take a comfortable 40-point lead into the break, with only the failed one-stop strategy in Montreal an example of any major points having been relinquished. A small error whilst chasing the Williams in China is the only mistake of note attributable to the Spaniard himself, who has otherwise driven flawlessly, and his bold overtakes on Webber and Grosjean at Turn 2 in Valencia were worthy of a champion.
Will he be able to maintain the lead? That all depends on Ferrari’s rate of development.
Going into the break, they had lost some ground on their competitors, and if the status quo remains, he will struggle to hold on. But so far, Ferrari have developed at an impressive rate in 2012, and if the car is there, Alonso will surely take a memorable third world championship.
Toro Rosso's sculpted sidepods have not paid dividends
Both Toro Rosso drivers have had a scrappy start to the season—more likely to be found clashing with the “new” teams or each other than picking up the occasional point—but Ricciardo makes the list ahead of Verne, as arguably more was expected of him than the Frenchman.
Having competed for HRT last season, Ricciardo also doesn’t have the excuse of being brand new to Formula 1 anymore, and aside from an impressive sixth place in Bahrain qualifying (which was subsequently squandered), he hasn’t shown the benefit of any experience he may have gained.
Granted, Toro Rosso’s STR7 has been a disappointment, but as a feeder team for the Red Bull cars, the Australian’s bosses were surely hoping for greater composure from their protégé.
If one, or even two, race seats do open up at Red Bull in 2014, Ricciardo will have to do a lot more to convince the parent company that he’s ready to step up.
Worrying times for Massa
Our next column in the series will delve much deeper into the trials and tribulations of the likable Brazilian, so for the time being, let’s move on swiftly…
Senna hasn't yet lived up to his famous name
As much as his subsequent actions might merit it, Pastor Maldonado can’t truthfully be labelled an underachiever, having delivered Williams’ first victory since 2004.
But the fact remains that, with only 53 constructors' points from 11 grand prix, neither he nor Senna have fully capitalised on a car that has shown flashes of genuine competitiveness.
Whilst Maldonado’s imputativeness has cost him the possibility of a couple more podiums, Senna’s best finish was sixth, and he’s never looked likely to better that in the other races.
With Valtteri Bottas—Williams’ test driver—looking quick in practice, Senna will have to up his game in the remainder of the season if he's to retain his drive. He will, however, draw much confidence from having bested his Venezuelan teammate last time out in Hungary.
Be sure to catch part 2 on Friday
In the next part of our series—to be published on Friday the 24th of August—we look at the rise and fall of Felipe Massa and ask ourselves: Can he really remain at Ferrari?