Half-term report

With Lewis Hamilton’s win in Hungary at the weekend, F1 2012 marked its halfway point in the season. Each consecutive race (up until perhaps the last two) seemed to yield greater and greater thrills, and the season still looks odds-on to be one of the best ever. Forumula1.com’s Hugh Podmore evaluates each of the runners and riders’ 2012 efforts so far.

Ferrari
Fernando Alonso has driven out of his skin this season so far, and deservedly tops the standings. Although the winter rumours of an underwhelming F2012 might just have been a good old bit of Maranello smoke and mirrors, the Spaniard has excelled himself. Wins in Malaysia and Valencia were simply highlights of a gloriously consistent campaign so far. And, that is, by his own high standards; which is ominous for those with designs on his championship. 9/10
If we accept that Alonso has been nothing short of outstanding, it lessens what otherwise must be a damning verdict for Felipe Massa. The Brazilian has underperformed this year, and talk that he could even be replaced mid-season did not seem outlandish. He might have done enough with fairly decent showings of late to have stayed his own execution, but others are waiting in the wings. 2/10

Red Bull
Mark Webber has had an outstandingly good half a season. He has upped his game and more regularly looks like the 2009-spec version of himself, ready to take on and on the day beat his illustrious team-mate. He won in Monaco and Britain, and only indifferent performances in Spain, Germany and Hungary detract from his record this year. If rule wrangles do not distract, this can be Webber’s year. 8/10
Sebastian Vettel cuts a curious figure these days. Well-liked and respected for his speed, he seems to have realised that his continued popularity depended on not walking away with the 2012 title as he had done last year. As such – with some misfortune this season – he is a pleasure to watch; genuinely exciting and one of the few drivers on the grid able to magic a result from nothing. Discount him for the title at your peril. 7/10

McLaren
Assorted chunterers can be heard musing that Hamilton is driving the best he ever has this season. Certainly, it is a maturer figure in that yellow helmet – but the impression that Hamilton is not living up to his potential cannot be escaped. When a puncture threatened his race in Germany, his petulant call to retire would have been unthinkable from an Alonso or a Vettel. And yet, and yet. He is still for my money the fastest man in the sport over a given lap. An outside bet for the title, if McLaren provide him with the tools he wants. 6/10
It’s perhaps cruel to say that Jenson Button is having a journeyman year, but his mystifying penchant for going AWOL throughout entire race weekends (in terms of performance) does rather suggest it. Whatever your view, real inconsistency from the Brit means that he will have to pull some serious results from the bag if he is to challenge this year. 5/10

Lotus
Kimi Raikkonen is a worthy re-addition to F1 and a wonderful driver to watch. He must be frustrated that the Lotus-Renault, although doubtless a machine of beauty and speed, has as yet proved of insufficent rapidity to win an actual race. Perhaps he would have done in Hungary if the track had permitted overtaking. He won’t win the title, but what a credit to the modern era that he is back, motivated and at his devastating best. 8/10
Romain Grosjean led some critics to think he might be the crash-prone incarnation of 2009 returned, but his definite ability to hold a candle to Raikkonen refutes that utterly. There may be more fireworks between the two as Grosjean is a genuine talent finding his confidence in a good runner. 7/10

Mercedes
Nico Rosberg won his first race in China and he thus lost the tag of bridesmaid that threatened to dog him forever. Elsewhere, his season has been patchy – second in Monaco and semi-regular points finishing being the highlights. The fact is that Mercedes have not yet provided machinery worthy of his talents. When they do, he will win more races. 6/10
Michael Schumacher could well have had the tag of ‘too slow, too old’ hung round his neck last season. And he did. But this year the man has been plain unlucky. Six retirements tell their own story, but crucially and tantalisingly, glimpses of the old speed have been there if you cared to look. 23rd to 10th in Bahrain. Pole (later rescinded) in Monaco. Fastest lap in Hockenheim. Please, Norbert, pull your finger out before those moments disappear forever. 7/10

Sauber
Sergio Perez has been a true revelation this season – a sure example of a driver whose machinery his skill outweighs. Ferrari-bound he may well be, because regularly outdoing Kamui Kobayashi is no mean feat. 8/10
Kamui Kobayashi is a good driver. However, his special talent – for banzai overtaking manouevres that terrify and intimidate his victims into submission – is somewhat redundant in this modern age of DRS and KERS and as such, he reverts to simply being quick. While talent is so widespread in the sport, he will only move sideways. But once Webber, Schumacher and Raikkonen inevitably go, he might have a bigger future. 7/10

Williams
Pastor Maldonado seems to take perverse pleasure in confounding his doubters one race, and at the very next race, infuriating his fans with another collision. There is little doubt that his victory in Spain was a masterstroke, a deserved victory on a great day. The rest of the time he has crashed into people with alarming regularity. Although the witch-hunt to tar him as a dangerous madman is simply mind games from his rivals, he needs to stop driving his car as if it were a tin-top. 5/10 (and that 5 is for the Barcelona win and that’s it!)
Bruno Senna has precious little time left to live up to his illustrious name. An extremely disappointing series of showings up to Hungary left bloodthirsty critics eager for his head, an execution which his competence around the Hungaroring may have delayed. But all the history and the sponsorship money in the world won’t save you from the chop if you’re not up to it. 4/10

Force India
Paul di Resta has had an even season, with seven points finishes so far. That he is the dominant partner in the team is in little doubt, and his maturity behind the wheel as well as his consistency are acknowledged up and down the pitlane. His name is not yet on Mercedes’ lips, but it will be, surely. 7/10
Nico Hulkenberg looked to deserve the seat more than Adrian Sutil when he first got it, but he has singularly failed to set the world alight. He needs to up his game to prevent that 2009 Williams pole from being the only time he was thought of as genuinely quick. 4/10

Toro Rosso
Jean Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo were part of a genuinely exciting Toro Rosso line up this year, of which the Frenchman has had the better despite the Australian’s greater experience (and recent revival). Vergne is a real talent for the future and just needs to keep at it and he will be in for a shout of Webber’s seat in 2014. 6/10. Ricciardo needs to do more or he will be commentating alongside James Allen. 4/10.

Caterham
Heikki Kovalainen is universally considered probably the biggest F1 misfit in terms of potential driver speed versus car capability. It is not often that an F1 driver’s reputation is actually enhanced by driving for one of the sport’s slower teams, but this is the case with the Finn. Do not be surprised if he snaps up a midfield vacancy at, say, Force India or Williams in the near future. 7/10
Vitaly Petrov, in direct comparison with his oft-mentioned team mate, does not fare badly. The trouble is precisely that – he is not mentioned. He is not talentless, the Russian, but is simply quite a long way behind the rest in terms of residual image pecking order. 5/10

Marussia
Timo Glock is a hero for his travails. One assumes he has fun, pootling round and jumping out of people’s way. I don’t understand why he doesn’t go off and do sportscars or something. He’s not that bad. Charles Pic’s talent is truly hidden at the moment, but those in the know promise that he does indeed have some.

HRT
Neither Pedro de la Rosa nor Narain Karthikeyan are going anywhere, and what’s more, neither of them are going anywhere very fast.