The Countdown to Buddh International Circuit:
The Top Teams in competition for the ultimate prize
Formula One, as a sport, is at the stage where the ATP men’s tour in tennis is- whether it be team-wise or driver-wise. There is a clear and long gap between the top dog and the next three- and the real race is really between the ‘best of the rest’. Machine-driven humanoids called Djokovic and Vettel are at the very pinnacle of the game, and there is no stopping them atleast this season. 2012 might- just might- be a different ball game.
Similarly, the gap between the once-slow-progressing RBR-Renault and the ‘minnows’ like McLaren-Merc and Ferrari is quite formidable right now. Just when things seem to get a bit close due to the team’s number two drivers, the number ones demonstrate the true difference in the car’s reliabilities and power- which, of course, is subject to the tracks and weather conditions.
But RBR-Renault has not shown such logical limitations this year, with them grabbing pole in EVERY race on the calendar so far- and winning all but four of them. The podium has virtually belonged to them, and very soon, one expects them to start paying rent for this new spot of residence.
Let us take a look at the constructor’s championship standings, and the mechanical marvels that are the vehicles that will do battle for us on that Indian weekend:
–Virgin-Cosworth, HRT Cosworth (Chandhok last season- and for which Narain Karthikeyan was lovingly told to step down after round 9 in 2011) and Team Lotus– the ultimate backmarkers in today’s sport- have been relegated to a position where the only interesting thing they are really known for is the humorous battle between Virgin owner Branson and Lotus Owner Fernandes- which has one of them every year donning an air-hostess uniform in the other’s flight- depending on which team scores more points.
Cross Dressing Backmarkers
As of now, both teams are locked in a heavyweight battle at a full zero points, with none of the drivers really wanting to stand out just yet. Their owners must be wondering how they will manage this year’s bets. This might, in a certain cricket commentators words, just go down to the wire…
Will.i.am no more
Once quite a force in Formula One, Sir Frank Williams legendary team responsible for the mid-90s battle between the cream of Formula One’s drivers, is now suffering one of their worst seasons ever. On a measly 5 points inspite of having Formula One’s most experienced driver Rubens Barrichello (currently on hi 48943rd Grand Prix start), the team will most likely experience a massive technical makeover next season after the exit of director Sam Michael. Not much expected from the team for the remainder of the season, merely making up numbers at the back.
–Toro Rosso (STR Ferrari)
The World Championship leader’s independent sister team, Toro Rosso (equipped with a Ferrari engine) has the luxury of one of the most promising drivers- a future Vettel, if all goes well- the young Jamie Alguersuari. 2011 has been a better season for this breakaway team, already on 29 points, more than the entire 2010 season. One doesn’t think they will add much more to their tally, but they are certainly the best of the rest- as far as talent and potential to grow is concerned.
Sober and Consistent
Primary competition for the Force India team, this mid-table battle is more so between the Ferrari and the Mercedes engines- one of the many mini battles under the dominant Renault regime. Kobayashi, the young Japanese successor to Takuma Sato, is most impressive with consistent point-scoring finishes in 2011, and placed 10th in the driver’s championship too. The only way up from here is a random podium finish- that could do wonders to the ever-improving outfit’s confidence.
–Force India Mercedes
The second team of the relatively higher middle rung portion of the table, Force India are locked in a fierce battle with their Sauber rivals, and are only a point above them in the standings- thanks to a relatively reliable performance by their prestigious engines. Mallya, the team owner, will be secretly disappointed at the lack of progress from 2010 (and a step down from 2009)- wondering if his cricket team captains are having a word with the team principal here on how to consistently Indianize expectations by remaining stagnant for a couple of years. After a bright 2009 season with a couple of podiums, the team has lacked the expected spark as soon as Fisichella committed career suicide by moving to Ferrari for a few races. The talented Di Resta and Sutil (once Fisichella’s number two) have been unable to pull away in 2011- leaving Force India hopes in a tizzy.
Those were the days…
Ex-World Champions Renault, now sponsored by Lotus, have struggled to keep up the 2010 promise after star driver Robert Kubica was forced to skip the 2011 season because of a rally crash. Seriously looked at one of the main contenders for Vettel’s mantle, Kubica will make a comeback next season, but the young guns Petrov and Senna (who replaced Heidfeld who had replaced Kubica) are trying their best to keep their team within the points. A long way ahead from next best Force India, they are still performing below potential, and will most probably finish fifth behind a struggling Mercedes team. The Russian Petrov, though, could provide a few chills during the Indian GP- with his aggressive style extremely suited to the super-quick Buddh International Circuit.
Formerly known as Fairytale World Champions Brawn GP, the team has taken a nose-dive after a stellar 2009 season where their mastery over technical rules (of that we must not speak of) lasted for an exact total of 8 races until the other teams caught up and figured them out. Hardly a podium to speak of after that, the only reason this team has been in the news in is because of the timeless presence of old partners-in-crime M. Schumacher and Ross Brawn. One does not give up on the other- and it shows, with Brawn consistently maintaining that Schumacher will stay on and do better in 2012. Needless to mention, the team, currently in 4th position, must feel that the standings are quite deceptive- with the third-placed Ferrari more than 140 points ahead of them. This is truly the difference between the trio of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and the rest currently led by Brit Andy Murray.
The absolute Pits!
After the dizzy highs of 2010 where Alonso was leading the constructors title going into the final race after a legendary comeback, and Ferrari were in with a shout for the Constructor’s title, all went wrong in one race- leading their foray into the disappointing 2011 season. The only bright spark has been Alonso, leading the way with some stunning drives and illogical wins- that really put Massa in the dock as far as reliability on a ‘team of two’ is concerned. Recently falling behind due to Button’s string of podiums, Alonso is trying his very best to push his ailing Tifosi across the line in not third, but second positions. 2012, according to many, will be the defining season for this draught-hit Ferrari outfit, and will define Alonso’s dwindling career. A colossal waste of talent, definitely, if he does not add to his two world titles that spelt the end to Schumacher’s regime last decade.
The WAGS boyfriends
The best number two team that was never really in the hunt due to a lack of qualifying speed, the all-British team must have been put of out their denial-induced misery after a final and telling blow by Vettel at Monza. Hamilton is consistently finding new ways to apologize for criticizing himself and his team after every race, while Button is taking the high road and quietly settling down as the comeback kid of this season- currently drawn level second in the standings with Red Bull’s Webber. The only other team this season with four race wins, they are still a long and painful distance away from the team that ‘gives you wings’.
–Red Bull Renault
A good race away from the constructor’s and the driver’s championship title, this team has been a perfect combination of the one-two drivers and one of the best qualifying teams in the history of the sport. They may have lost a bit of race-pace after the eighth race, but a relative fall is still much more preferable than a complete and utter nose-dive as the Brawn GP did in 2009. Vettel is too classy to let go of his title right now, and even if he refuses to race for the remainder of the season, he has it in the bag. The Indian GP might very well see TWO double-world champions racing- one a Spaniard and one a German. Webber, meanwhile, will do well to hold onto his great qualifying speed and protect his team from the Button-inspired Mercedes.
Next stop: Singapore. The world awaits, with bated breath, for the crowning of a new World Champion- who resembles a young man who had performed a Houdini in the final race last year to steal the title from right under the noses of some befuddled Brits and a disillusioned Spaniard. This is the beginning of the next era in World Domination.