The battle for 'Number 10'


Nope, it's nothing to do with being the Prime Minister. What we have here is a battle to see who will finish 10th in the 2012 Formula 1 Constructors Championship. Thanks to Timo Glock's 12th place in Singapore it's Marussia that find themselves in pole position to take that very valuable 10th place, something previously secured by Caterham in 2010 and 2011 (under the Lotus Racing and Team Lotus banners).

Barring something miraculous in either this weekend's inaugural Austin Grand Prix or the season finale in Brazil in two weeks time, it looks like Marussia will secure that vital 10th place for the first time since entering the sport in 2010. But therein lies the problem I guess; it's going to take something miraculous for something to change in the battle for 10th.

The three 'new' teams, Caterham, Marussia and HRT are now approaching the end of their third full season in F1. Many didn't expect any, yet alone all of them to make it past one or two seasons, so to still be here after three years is impressive, maybe? How much progress have these three teams actually made over those three years though?

Over the three years it's been the Caterham outfit that have undeniably been the most 'competitive'. They've finished 10th in the previous two seasons, having had the often underrated Heikki Kovalainen heading their attack. Marussia have really struggled at times, but the second half of 2012 has been far more encouraging. The Russian owned outfit have not only caught up to Caterham, but have started out qualifying and out racing them on several occasions as of late. Having not known whether the car would be built in time for each of the three years they've been here, you could argue that HRT have done a good job in just getting a car out on track. Having said that, at times it looks like the car really isn't safe enough to be out on track, especially given the recent repeated brakes and hydraulics failures.

So why has relatively little progress been made? The improvement of the midfield teams? It's a factor. The improved reliability of the whole field? Yes, that's also been a factor. But that's it, they're factors. They're not the reasons. It's no excuse. The resurgence of Williams, and more recently in 2012 of Toro Rosso has seen the gap once again extend from the back of the midfield to the 'new' teams.

In Q1 seven cars are eliminated; and before the session has even started you are 99.9% sure of which six cars will fill the back three rows of the grid. Kovalainen has managed to battle his way through to Q2 on a handful of occasions, but that's it. Although their race pace has often been slightly more competitive than over a single lap, they've still only managed to finish ahead of (on pace alone) the midfield teams on very rare occasions. That's in almost three full seasons. Timo Glock's 12th place in Singapore, surely one of his strongest ever and maybe the biggest result in terms of what it means for the team, was skewed somewhat by the number of retirements ahead of him. You can't take anything away from Timo, it was a great drive, but would anyone have been talking about it if he'd finished 15th or 16th?

This lack of progress, the lack of even a solitary world championship point is surely not morale within the team, the drivers, the management; yet alone the sponsors and backers. We've seen what a lack of sponsors can do for a team in the past and present, just look at HRT. Sponsors will need to see progress, will need to see points or at least the possibility of scoring a point or two if they're going to stay around.

Between the three of them they've started in 336 GP's (barring the odd DNS) and the highest that any of them has finished is 12th. Timo Glock's 12th in Singapore and Heikki Kovalainen's 12th at Suzuka back in 2010. Yes the midfield is stronger and more competitive, yes we have less retirements now compared to 10, 20, 30 years ago, but a best of 12th in over 300 starts? Hmm. Let's not forget, points now go down to 10th, not 6th or 8th.

There's no denying that finishing 10th for Marussia will be a great result and a thoroughly deserved one. But for Caterham to finish 11th would be, well, a disaster. Heikki is a paid driver, not a paying one. The lost income by not finishing 10th in the Constructors, estimated to be around £10 million, could leave his drive under some threat.

Which team do I feel most confident about for the future? Marussia. Why? Over 2012 I've seen a noteable improvement in every area of the team, on and off track. They're an outfit that seem to be progressing. 2012 hasn't always been easy and the team have had to come through some tough times, Maria de Villota's horror crash for example, but the team have responded well and built a car and a team that look like they could go somewhere. Caterham frustrate me. Heading into 2012 I thought this would finally be it, we'd see them challenging for and scoring the odd point here and there. But it's just not happened; and I'm not overly sure why. They've got two fine, experienced drivers and a strong looking technical team, but the car just hasn't delivered. Kovalainen in particular has looked visibly annoyed at times and his future remains in some doubt. 2013 is going to be very, very important for Caterham, at and away from the circuit. HRT? Well, we don't know whether they'll even be on the grid in 2013.

It may seem like I've bashed these teams a little here, but it's just down to frustration and a slight disappointment that more hasn't been achieved in three years. They clearly all work extremely hard, day and night, all year round, to ensure that the cars are as good as they can be. But it just hasn't happened. And how long can it continue to not happen? What if they all went a fourth season without scoring? Would sponsors stick around? Would fans' patience be tested too much? Will drivers such as Kovalainen and Glock be happy to continue being at the rear? Who knows. One thing I do know is that I wish them all the best and hope that sooner rather than later we see them fighting further up the field. Who thought finishing 10th could be so important? Potentially hundreds of people's jobs and livelihoods are on the line here, and you'd have to think that progression and/or success are key to the longevity of these teams and personnel being around.

Image Source: Heikki Kovalainen

Image Source: Timo Glock

Image Source: Number 10

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