15 Apr 2013

Formula 1 - Superstars and also rans

The Chinese Grand Prix seems to have encapsulated the 2013 season so far.  The Ferraris, Lotus' and Red Bulls are the top cars with McLaren and Mercedes not far behind.  Every other car is just average or, even worse, rubbish.

Some drivers, however, are outdriving their machinery - extracting the maximum performance whilst their team-mate lags behind.  In other words some drivers are superstars whilst others are also rans - and for those teams who employ two also-ran drivers the millions of euros spent developing a half-decent package is wasted with poor driving.

Unfortunately Caterham, Marussia, Williams and Force India all hire two also rans.  OK, some, like DiResta produce the odd decent result but they are never capable of dragging a car kicking and screaming to anything like a good performance.

As an observer of Williams for many years it is painful to see that Maldonado is nothing more than a fat cheque, and Bottas has proved to be nothing special.  Hopefully Claire Williams can turn around the Grove outfit's fortunes.

The superstars are Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Button, Hulkenberg, new boy Ricciardo and, to some extent, Mark Webber.

Hulkenberg is the most pertinent example for, while McLaren hired absolute also-ran Perez, the Hulk was also available.  I, along with a few others, doubted McLaren's decision based, as it was, on one decent run in Malaysia last year.  McLaren's loss was Sauber's gain.

Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel and Raikkonen would have scored points in a Caterham had they been in the car in the past couple of seasons.  I've no doubt about that.  Jenson Button has proved an almighty team leader at McLaren.  He's remained calm and brought the car home with some results that have been better than the car deserved - a mark of a superstar.  Perez, on the other hand (like Massa) has dropped behind his team mate and allowed himself to get gobbled up by others, and by his own mistakes.

Hulkenberg has shown more than one flash of form, and Ricciardo has proved he can outdrive his car - and his teammate - much like Vettel in 2007 and 2008.

If I were a team boss of any one of Williams, Caterham, Williams, Force India and Marussia I would be looking to the lower formulae for the next superstar - and making sure I could dump both, or at least one, driver for next year.

If I were Christian Horner I would make sure Ricciardo was optioned just in case Webber decides to leave for Porsche, or even Lotus (Grosjean is so crap he'll not survive another season), at the end of this year.

If I were Martin Whitmarsh I would be double checking Perez' contract for performance clauses.

The top teams make the best cars but they also have the best drivers.  The lower teams will never perform well without superstars.

Formula 1 of the modern era lacks the likes of Paul Stoddart and Eddie Jordan to find and develop young talent like Alonso or Schumacher.  The only talent finder at the moment is Sauber and, to some extent, the Red Bull young driver programme.  Dollars, more than outright talent seems to rule the roost in F1's smaller teams at the moment.  Which is a great pity.

Article by Matt Hubbard