Mid-season Review - On The Verge - 14/07/10

Nico Rosberg

One driver who could easily have found himself in the top 5 so far in 2010 is Mercedes GP’s Nico Rosberg. This season is without a doubt the most important year in Rosberg’s career so far, his first opportunity with a proven front running outfit, the very team that won last year’s drivers’ and constructors’ world championships. Alongside him at Mercedes is seven times world champion, Michael Schumacher. If ever there was an opportunity to gauge the real potential and talent of an F1 driver, surely this is it for Rosberg. On the whole, Nico has outperformed Schumacher in qualifying and on race day, the only exceptions being the Spanish and Turkish GPs where Michael outqualified Nico and finished ahead in the races. This was attributed mainly to Mercedes bringing a raft of upgrades to the car which allegedly suited Schumacher more than Rosberg, specifically a longer wheelbase. As soon as Mercedes switched back to the short wheelbase for Monaco, Nico outqualified Michael again, though it should be noted that a late-race penalty for Schumacher dropped him out of the points, promoting Nico to 6th. In recent races, Rosberg appears to be rediscovering the scintillating early season form that made the paddock stand up and take notice, notching up another podium at the British GP to go with the 2 earlier podiums in China and Malaysia. However, this was also to be the year that Rosberg finally made the breakthrough as a Formula 1 race winner with arguably his best opportunity being the Chinese GP which he led for a while before falling off the road and gifting the lead to Jenson Button. His pace relative to Button and position on the road could just as easily have seen him come home 1st. Admittedly, Ross Brawn has conceded that his group concentrated much resource on last year’s titles at the expense of the 2010 car, with the development race not flattering Mercedes GP so far this season. As heartening as it is to see Nico find his way back towards the front of the pack, one feels that as McLaren and Red Bull gear up for a fierce championship run-in, that doesn’t leave much space on the top step for Nico Rosberg and Mercedes.

Fernando Alonso

Before the full extent of Red Bull’s advantage became clear in 2010, Fernando Alonso and Ferrari were the title favourites. With Sebastian Vettel’s Bahrain gift, after 1 race there was no reason to believe differently, which is precisely the point at which Alonso’s season picked up downhill speed instead of upwards momentum. Various dramas have included a first corner collision with Button and Schumacher in Melbourne, vehicle expiration in Malaysia after a bad decision on qualifying tyres, drive through penalties in China and Great Britain, catastrophic qualifying in Turkey, a crash in P3 at Monaco which resulted in Fernando sitting out qualifying and issues with traffic in Canada when he had race winning pace and poor safety car luck in Valencia relegating him to the lower points-paying places, as well as suffering yet another ego-crushing late-race move from a driver in a fundamentally slower car, with a revitalised Kamui Kobayashi taking over the mantle from Takuma Sato. The fact that Alonso was still very much in touch with the championship leaders even after the Turkish GP is a reflection of the topsy-turvy nature of this year’s championship and all the different drivers who have found their way to the top of the pile from race to race. The lack of consistency amongst the leaders allowed Fernando’s great pace in races to keep him in touch throughout a number of solid recovery drives, but Valencia and Silverstone saw Ferrari and Alonso fall foul of the stewards and safety car rules, leaving him nearly 50 points behind Hamilton in the standings going into the second half of the season. Fans of Alonso will be desperate to see what was originally billed as a dream combination finally come good and string together a series of faultless weekends in order to bring the double champion and arguably the most complete driver in the sport back into championship contention. One would have believed that teammate Felipe Massa would have been one of the greatest challenges to Alonso in his debut Ferrari year, instead of his own uncharacteristic propensity for errors and questionable decisions in 2010.

Rubens Barrichello

At Williams, Rubens Barrichello has predictably outperformed highly rated rookie teammate Nico Hulkenburg, sporting 29 points to the Hulk’s 2 points. The team are undoubtedly disappointed that the car is not capable of podium finishes under normal circumstances, often struggling to even make the top 10 in Barrichello’s hands. Having said that, the last two races in Valencia and Silverstone have seen the never-ending Rubens story pick up 4th and 5th place finishes on days when bigger names have run into trouble. Also predicted was the possibility of Hulkenburg starting to match Rubens on pace in qualifying by mid-season, and there are some small signs of that coming to pass. The Hulk has outqualified Rubens on 3 out of 10 occasions this year, most recently at the European GP. Rubens still definitely has the measure of Hulkenburg in the races as he clearly showed his ability to maximise an opportunity in the last 2 GPs and increasing his points tally by 22 at those two events alone.

Kamui Kobayashi

On the subject of rookies, Sauber’s Japanese newcomer Kamui Kobayashi has finally begun exhibiting more of the promise seen at the end of 2009 in his two Toyota outings. Qualifying roughly on par with the vastly experienced Pedro De La Rosa, Kobayashi has scored points three times in the last 4 events after a string of 4 consecutive retirements at the start of 2010, most notably running 3rd for a significant period of the European GP ahead of Jenson Button’s McLaren and pulling memorable late race moves on Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi. The vastly improved Sauber package has given both drivers the tools to run competitively, De La Rosa even making Q3 at Silverstone. The securing of technical director James Key from Force India has added to the performance of one of the most disappointing packages at the start of 2010, but Key himself admits that the medium to high-speed nature of Silverstone suited the C29’s characteristics.

Photographs by Paul Hitchens

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