• 2011 teams review

Scratching for points

Laurence Edmondson December 9, 2011

In part one of ESPNF1's season review, we analyse how the bottom four teams fared in 2011, rating the drivers and looking ahead to what can be expected from them in 2012

Williams

Championship position: 9th
Points: 5
Best finish: 9th (Monaco, Canada)
Best qualifying: 7th (Great Britain)

Season high
In a season plagued by low-points, the news that Williams will be powered by Renault next year offered some hope for the future and a nod to the team's victorious past. Since splitting with BMW at the end of 2004, Williams has had to make do with a mixture of customer Cosworth and Toyota engines and hasn't won a race since. Although Williams' fall from grace has more to do with its chassis department than its engines, the Renault news will be a welcome boost and coincides nicely with a complete overhaul of the top technical staff.

Season low
After failing to score points at 16 of the 19 races, it's hard to pinpoint a single low moment in the season. The realisation at the end of the year that it was the team's worst season in its history (in terms of race finishes) was a low that summed up a torrid campaign. By Brazil the team had scored five points, which is five more than in its first year of competition in 1977 when it was running customer a March chassis, but had the 1977 season been run with the 2011 points system, Williams would have amassed 11 points.

Driver v driver qualifying

Barrichello 11
Maldonado 8

Driver v driver race

Barrichello 11
Maldonado 6

Rubens Barrichello - 6/10
It's looking increasingly likely that Barrichello won't be in Formula One in 2012, and in many ways that's a shame. On occasion he showed signs of brilliance in 2011 - such as his qualifying lap in Brazil or his drive in Abu Dhabi - but it appears to have been too little too late. He was outqualified by Maldonado on eight occasions, but tended to have the upper-hand over a race distance even if the performance of the car couldn't turn that into points. Although he can't be held to blame for the failings of the FW33, it doesn't reflect well on him as No.1 driver that Williams' cars have got increasingly worse over the last two years. Clearly the team is looking towards a new beginning in 2012 and Barrichello is unlikely to be a part of that.

Pastor Maldonado - 6/10
It wasn't a disastrous rookie year by any stretch of the imagination, but Maldonado's performances weren't enough to shake his reputation as a pay driver. With millions of dollars of PDVSA sponsorship following him to Williams, onlookers have perhaps been a tad harsh o his performances, especially as he took the seat of highly-rated 2010 rookie Nico Hulkenberg. On occasion he has shown signs of brilliance with top ten qualifying positions in Spain, Monaco and Europe and his Monaco drive was hugely impressive until he was punted off the circuit by Lewis Hamilton. But the errors have also been plain to see, with several mistakes during free practice sessions and race-ending spins in Canada and Brazil.

Chances for 2012
It may be tempting fate to say things can only get better, but all the signs suggest Williams will improve in 2012. The new technical team, led by Mike Coughlan of spygate fame, appears to be better balanced than the team's approach in recent years that put unfair pressure on Sam Michael to deliver. It's very unlikely it will return to winning or even podium-scoring ways anytime soon, but is still has the capability to run in the upper-midfield.

ESPN verdict - 3/10
By Williams' high standards 2011 simply wasn't good enough. A lack of downforce and a tendency to sap life from the rear tyres meant the FW33 was slow from the start and continued to fall off the pace throughout the season. A series of upgrades to the rear of the car failed to solve the problems and by the end of the year the drivers were powerless to haul it into the points.

Lotus made strides in 2011 but was never in the reckoning for points © Sutton Images
Enlarge

Team Lotus

Championship position: 10th
Points: 0
Best finish: 13th (Australia, Monaco, Italy)
Best qualifying: 15th (Spain)

Season high
Heikki Kovalianen's 14th place in Korea may not have been the highest finish the team achieved, but it was the most significant. Beating both Saubers using pace and strategy was proof that Lotus was starting to nip at the heels of the midfield teams towards the end of the season, at least on race pace. In qualifying they were still a second or so adrift, but over a race distance the car looked after its tyres and allowed Kovalainen to push. After the race he said: "We knew there were a few cars ahead who would struggle to get to the end, and if I'd had another half a lap I would have passed [Bruno] Senna [in 13th] for sure."

Season low
The season-long tug of war with Group Lotus over the use of the Lotus name in Formula One took the shine off the year, and was a frustrating distraction for all involved. Eventually Fernandes earned the right to keep the name, but by the end of the season came to an agreement with Group Lotus to rename his team Caterham in 2012. Nobody appeared to benefit from the squabble apart from the lawyers, and casual fans were left utterly bewildered by having Team Lotus-Renault and Lotus Renault GP on the same grid.

Driver v driver qualifying

Kovalianen 17
Trulli 2
Chandhok 0

Driver v driver race

Kovalianen 12
Trulli 7
Chandhok 0

Heikki Kovalainen - 9/10
Taking the car's limitations into account, 2011 was probably Kovalainen's most impressive year in Formula One. In qualifying he consistently got the best out of the car and gave Trulli - who was once known as a one-lap specialist - an absolute drubbing. His race pace was equally impressive and the team took every opportunity it could to sing his praises and remark on his progress.

Jarno Trulli - 5/10
Trulli struggled all year with the feel of the car's steering and only showed his best towards the end of the season when the team engineered a new system specifically for him. But despite his problems he still scored two of the team's 13th places - crucial for beating HRT in the constructors' - and was a safe pair of hands over a race distance. However, with young talent knocking on the door he must prove that he can match Kovalainen in whatever car the team throws at him in 2012.

Karun Chandhok - 7/10
It's hard to judge a driver on one race, especially when he is thrown in at the deep end in wet and cold conditions. His rating, therefore, represents his considerable progress during Friday practice. He was unlucky with weather throughout the year and the incredibly cold conditions at the Nurburgring meant his one and only race with Lotus was an uphill struggle. However, in his penultimate Friday morning outing at the Korean Grand Prix he was 11th fastest, again in wet conditions.

Chances for 2012
Points have to be the target for 2012 after 2011 was spent bridging the gap between the back of the grid and the midfield teams. It's still a massive challenge considering the team is just three years old, but anything less will be seen as a failure in the eyes of ambitious boss Tony Fernandes. The pieces have been slowly falling into place and the introduction of KERS and several key members of staff will help.

ESPN verdict - 8/10
It was a solid if unspectacular season in which the team continued to grow in popularity despite a bitter off-track row over its name. The energy of the team's decision makers was undoubtedly sapped by the Lotus v Lotus tug of war and 2012 will look much brighter now that the whole affair has been put to bed. On track the team managed to narrow the gap to the midfield over the course of the season, even if reaching Q2 in a straightforward qualifying fight was still unobtainable. But most significant was the team's second consecutive tenth place finish in the constructors' championship which makes it a 'Column 1' team under the terms of the Concorde Agreement, worth over $30 million in prize money.

HRT managed to beat Virgin to 11th in the constructors' championship for the second season in succession © Getty Images
Enlarge

HRT

Championship position: 11th
Points: 0
Best finish: 13th (Canada)
Best qualifying: 20th (Abu Dhabi)

Season high
Tonio Liuzzi's 13th place at the Canadian Grand Prix secured the team 11th in the constructors' title ahead of Virgin, and it was the only race in which an HRT finished ahead of both Lotuses and both Virgins. The wet conditions offered the perfect opportunity for a decent result and Liuzzi barely put a wheel off line while the team made the correct calls from the pit wall.

Season low
Failing to qualify for the opening race of the season was a new low for HRT, especially as it needed nothing more than to put mileage on new the chassis. Liuzzi was over a second off the 107% time while Karthikeyan was three seconds adrift after completing just 16 laps all weekend. A new front wing arrived for the next round in Malaysia and the team eventually found a decent setup.

Driver v driver qualifying

Liuzzi 10
Karthikeyan 2
Ricciardo 6

Driver v driver race

Liuzzi 8
Karthikeyan 3
Ricciardo 7

Vitantonio Liuzzi - 7/10
After losing his drive at Force India, Liuzzi's F1 career was on the rocks at the end of 2010. But at the final test ahead of the first race of the season, HRT announced it had struck a deal for him to drive in the hope that his experience would help develop the car. Both driver and team made clear that 2011 would be the first step on a long road, but given its resources, Liuzzi and HRT did well to keep in touch with the Virgins throughout the year. When he had the opportunity to score a decent finish in Canada he seized it, and his only major error came at Monza where he careered into Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg at the start.

Narain Karthikeyan - 6/10
In his first season in five years, Karthikeyan understandably struggled to match Liuzzi for pace in the early races. In his defence he finished every race bar Malaysia, where his engine overheated, and rarely made a costly mistake. However, hopes that his half-season in F1 would kick-start his career were wide of the mark and he is unlikely to secure another drive in F1 without major backing from India.

Daniel Ricciardo - 8/10
It was a solid introduction to F1 and his progress from his first race at Silverstone was clear. More often than not he out-qualified his team-mate and he started to shine in the final four races as he got a better understanding of the Pirelli tyres. Given the car at his disposal, he showed some promise but needs to be in something more competitive next season to display his true potential.

Chances for 2012
New owners Thesan Capital bring a certain amount of promise and cash to the team, but there is still some scepticism. The decision to base HRT in Spain rather than F1's motorsport hub in the UK is questionable, but a headquarters in Valencia is still better than the current situation. The team is already confident the all-new 2012 car will be significantly quicker, although it has already admitted that it against the clock to get it on track during pre-season testing. But like all the teams towards the back of the grid, there is a hope that the banning of exhaust blown diffusers will offer a more level playing field … at least until the next must-have development is found.

ESPN verdict - 5/10
Failing to qualify for the first race of the season was the team's lowest point yet, but it has to be given some credit for its efforts to scamper back into a back-of-the-grid fight with Virgin. At one stage it was producing regular updates for the F111, although they started to dry up when it became clear that the team would be sold. For all its foibles, HRT is still in existence and has future plans mapped out for the next few years - many would have doubted that this time last year.

Virgin dropped its CFD-only approach after producing another uncompetitive car © Sutton Images
Enlarge

Virgin

Championship position: 12th
Points: 0
Best finish: 14th (Australia, Canada)
Best qualifying: 19th (Germany, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)

Season high
The news that Virgin has signed a technical partnership with McLaren has instilled, in sporting director Graeme Lowdon's own words, a "new sense of optimism". It soon became clear that ex-technical director Nick Wirth's brave experiment of a 'digital' F1 team using purely CFD was not producing the desired results, meaning a new approach is needed. In McLaren, Virgin has one of the most successful partners possible in F1 and one with a proven track record after working with Force India to move it off the back of the grid.

Season low
The Turkish Grand Prix was probably one of the team's most frustrating, as it tried but failed to get its new blown diffuser to work and then Timo Glock suffered a gearbox failure on the way to the grid. The problem proved terminal and he failed to start the race.

Driver v driver qualifying

Glock 14
d'Ambrosio 5

Driver v driver race

Glock 10
d'Ambrosio 9

Timo Glock - 8/10
It was another frustrating season at the back of the grid for Glock, but it's hard to fault his personal performance. He had the edge on his younger team-mate in qualifying and battled through the races as best he could, but the car was lacking performance and he found himself fending off HRTs rather than attacking Lotuses. He remains committed to the team, but with the driver market so competitive at the moment it was difficult to see where else he could go.

Jerome d'Ambrosio - 7/10
It was a solid rookie season, but in a Virgin he was always going to struggle to show his true potential. In qualifying he was generally off the pace of Glock, but he proved how consistent he could be in the races with nine finishes ahead of his more experienced team-mate. But there were no stand-out performances and that ultimately made Virgin's decision to replace him with Charles Pic easier. Unfortunately, we may never know what d'Ambrosio is capable of in a Formula One car.

Chances for 2012
The technical partnership with McLaren should start paying dividends next year. But the big question, as with all the new-in-2010 teams, is whether it will be enough to join the back of the midfield pack. In Timo Glock they have stability at a time of change, while Charles Pic will have to prove himself quickly if he wants to have a longer tenure than his predecessors.

ESPN verdict - 6/10
It was far from a stellar season, but the building blocks for progress are starting to fall into place. The team's main objective in 2011 was to improve reliability and by finishing every race with at least one of its cars it has achieved that. However, there are still creases in the operation that need to be ironed out and the pursuit of performance in 2012 may prove more difficult.

Laurence Edmondson is the deputy editor on ESPNF1

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Feeds Feeds: Laurence Edmondson

Laurence Edmondson Close
Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010