Constructors Rankings Part Two: The Top Five

Alex CowleyCorrespondent INovember 6, 2008

The continuation of my Constructors rankings, this time the top five.

Note: To see the first part of this article click here

5. Toyota: Toyota used to be a bit of a joke until 2005. This turn in reputation can be attributed to Mike Gascoigne who helped push the team up the grid. But when he left they promptly went back to the doldrums of the midfield.

But this year Toyota finally seemed to get it right. The team radically built a whole new chassis moving way from their usual conservative approach and it seemed to prove dividends. The car was instantly quick in Australia with Trulli qualifying sixth. He then beat that qualifying third in Malaysia and finishing a remarkable fourth in the race. Throughout the year Jarno was the only midfield driver to consistently challenge for points.

Glock found it harder not scoring until Canada. But once he started to put the car in the top eight he couldn’t stop culminating in that excellent drive in Hungary.  Toyota was consistently strong throughout the season and was unlucky not to finish fourth in the Constructors championship thanks to Renault who came on so strong at the end of the season.

Best Moment: A number here but Hungary and Brazil when the car was undoubtedly a car to match the top teams.

Worst Moment: Toyota did have one weak race—Turkey where they were beaten by Williams, Renault and Red Bull.

What to watch out for in 2009: Glock coming through the ranks.

 4. BMW Sauber: Another year, another step forward—BMW Sauber finally got their car up the front. While in 2007 they were the stop gap between the top teams and the midfield their pace this year was undoubted taking their first pole and first win. What’s more they drove to 11 podiums this year, compared to two in 2007.

It seemed to be going so badly in testing. With the car needing modification almost immediately, with the ugly nose wings, the car was never fast. But in Australia it seemed that BMW Sauber had been sandbagging all winter when Kubica stuck the car on the front row and Heidfeld drove to second in the race.

The team benefited greatly from their consistency, at one point leading the drivers championship, and being only three points behind Ferrari after seven races.

But Mario Thiessen was adamant that 2008 was a year of consolidation and that 2009 would when BMW-Sauber really stepped up. Indeed Kubica feels that if they had focused more on this year that he could have won the championship. This lack of development showed as the car was lacking some pace by China.

Kubica, one of the top qualifiers, was unable to get into Q3 in either China or Brazil. Still BMW Sauber did brilliantly again and it is very likely they could challenge for wins on a more regular basis next year.

Best Moment: One-Two in Canada

Worst Moment: Hungary—made to look like a midfield team after the performance of Toyota.

What to watch out for in 2009: A serious championship assault.

3. STR: Few teams could say that in just one season they could go from F1 minnows to Giant killers. But STR did the impossible, putting their car that originally had been battling with the likes of Force India, to fighting with Ferraris and Mclarens.

Let’s not forget that this is principally the Minardi team with a bit more money, red bull logos and a pre-built chassis. So for the team to take pole and win a race is truly outstanding. What’s more the team was able to get more out of their chassis than their senior team Red Bull (helped of course by their Ferrari engines).

Undoubtedly Vettel was one of the stars of the season being the first of the two drivers to not only put the car up front and challenge for points but also consistently look competitive. Bourdais found it rough going at the start but began to pick his pace up in the summer and was very unlucky to score just four points all year.

STR must build on this for 2009 although the threat of excluding customer cars from F1 in 2010 always looms and with Vettel leaving for Red Bull the future is not quite so rosy as before. So it is imperative for the team to build on this year and hopefully improve.

Best Moment: Minardi winning in Italy? I used to reenact that with my toy cars when I was eight!

Worst Moment: Seeing Bourdais breaking down in Australia—at the time that seemed the last chance for STR to get a truly amazing result.

What to watch out for in 2009: Hopefully Bourdais (should he be retained) shows us why he was a four time champ car champion.

2. Ferrari: The Ferrari team did win the constructors championship emphatically by 21 points, however they were not the best team this season. Too many errors accounted for lost points during pit stops while strategic errors hampered races. In Britain for example the team did not put Raikkonen on new wets and that lost him any chance of victory.

In Valencia they risked Massa’s victory with an unsafe release into the path of Sutil and then botched Raikkonen’s stop; and of course in Singapore where their traffic light system slip up cost Felipe Massa the race. Too many mistakes not so much hampered their progression in the Constructors but specifically Massa and Raikkonen’s title hopes.

There was also the problem with reliability. During the season Ferrari had four reliability issues, three of which were terminal. Australia was their first double DNF due to reliability since Britain 1997. This doesn’t sound a lot but usually the Ferrari is a bullet proof car and during the Schumacher years it was not uncommon to see less the Ferrari run without a single mechanical problem.

Such an issue is this that Ferrari team are preparing to conduct an investigation in order to find out why they suffered so many failures.

But of course you can’t win championships on negatives. Indeed the team obviously were more consistent than Mclaren in setting up both drivers. With Kimi Raikkonen on board and with an inform Massa the team were going to be hard to beat. Raikkonen had a poor season by his standards but still notched up 75 points and third in the drivers championship.

This was the lynchpin in Ferrari’s title aspirations as they got both cars consistently in the points when Mclaren failed to do so.

It could also be argued that the team built the best car. Even though many claim that the Mclaren is better through its unbelievable reliability and general raw pace, the Ferrari took eight poles and eight wins. What’s more with Raikkonen at the helm, 12 fastest laps. There is no doubt that the Ferrari was the better car in the warm, dry conditions while the Mclaren was easier to drive in the cooler, wet weather.

In a normal season this would have given the Ferrari a huge advantage and in races like Bahrain, Spain and Valencia the Mclaren was nowhere near the pace of the Ferrari. But 2008 was not a predictable season. Ferrari was good but not good enough to take Massa to glory. Indeed if anything they held him back.

Best Moment: Would say constructors win but overshadowed by Hamilton triumph- Malaysia to Turkey when the car looked unbeatable.

Worst Moment: Singapore the team were made to look foolish as they ran down the pit lane.

What to watch out for in 2009: A Raikkonen resurgence and fewer reliability issues.

1. McLaren: The McLaren team pulled off an almost flawless performance notching up their first title since 1999. One could argue if Mclaren had had two Hamilton’s in the car they could have taken a clean sweep. Indeed Hamilton was quick to hand out plaudits to the Mclaren mechanics for helping him win this year’s world championship.

Not only was the car consistently fast but also was the most reliable car on the track. Kovalainen’s engine blow was the only mechanical retirement of the season and the first engine problem for Mercedes since Europe 2006.

What the Mclaren team had over Ferrari was not only reliability but also their diligence on the pit wall and in the garage. There were no major pit stop hiccups for example, an area where Ferrari should take a good look at next year and while there was the slip up in Germany over Hamilton’s fuel load, the Brit was so dominant that day that it hardly mattered.

Indeed for Hamilton the team were able to pump out perfect cars almost every weekend. The same could not be said for Kovalainen who seemed to be almost forgotten in the team’s push for the drivers’ championship. This became most apparent in China where the tyres were not put on the right wheels leaving Kovalainen’s car treacherous to drive.

This almost unbelievable mistake represented the teams focus on Hamilton. Not only that but they would usually fuel up Kovalainen’s car in qualifying to put the Brit ahead of Heikki. The team quite clearly focused on Hamilton’s car at the expense of Kovalainen.

However the main strength of Mclaren was their ability to evaluate an unpredictable situation. In Monaco Hamilton appeared out of the running after brushing the barrier on the exit of tabac and getting a puncture. But the pit wall gambled and put him on a heavier fuel load hoping the rain would ease. It did and he won, not down to luck but by the calm, intelligent thinking on the pit wall.

Without doubt Mclaren were crucial to Hamilton winning the drivers championship, although it probably cost them the constructors. With their focus clearly on Hamilton, it seemed almost a one car outfit in the second half of the season, although Kovalainen’s bad luck certainly didn’t help.

Mclaren were the best team of the season outstripping Ferrari when initiative was needed and when the weather and track were unpredictable. While they were easily defeated in the constructors’ championship, they did field the best car possible and must take credit for the Brit’s first drivers championship.

What's more, they didn't hamper Hamilton like Ferrari did with Strategic errors and reliability issues. A truly diligent, polished and title winning performance from the whole team.

Best Moment: A joint moment between watching the Ferrari mechanics running down the pitlane in Singapore and winning their first championship since 1999.

Worst Moment: Japan when in the first few laps both cars were out of the running.

What to watch out for in 2009: An improvement from Kovalainen could lead to a serious assault on both titles.


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