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Our resident Formula 1 Racing expert, PapaWheelie, brings us the state of Formula 1 as the annual summer break in the season comes to an end.

Now that we are a little more than halfway through the season, “Senna” is starting to sweep across the United States, and all of the F1 teams are on the annual summer break, we are going to take a look at where the F1 season is right now.

2011 has been a pretty big year as far as changes for the sport.  The loss tire manufacturer Bridgestone and the acquisition of Pirelli as the de facto tire for all the teams has made everyone rethink their strategy, as well as produce some exciting and close battles throughout the field.  Another innovation named the Drag Reduction System, has also brought on more passing, and has tightened up the field even more.  Many critics, including yours truly, believe that the DRS, although a clever innovation, has artificially brought the contenders closer together, and effectively made passing too easy.  Let’s be honest here, as a longtime fan of the sport, I’m here to watch the strategy and the skill to make a pass, not watch the sheer amount of passes.  That’s what makes F1 great, the anticipation of the pass, and watching the drivers on the limit trying to get there.  Seriously, if I wanted to watch passing all day long, I would check out NASCAR.

The re-introduction of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System to some teams has also helped fight the DRS effect on certain tracks, but largely remains the same as it was when it was first introduced to the sport in 2009; A glorified way of making F1 a “greener” and more environmentally friendly sport (at least its image).  All of this, mixed in with some last minute technical rule changes, mid-season schedule changes, a bunch of name calling, and the advent of a highly anticipated track in India has shaped 2011 to be one of the most exciting years in memory.  Some teams have definitely fared better than others in the midst of all of this change.

Red Bull Racing (383 points)

Sebastian Vettel remains at the top of his game after winning the championship last year.

2011 has been going a lot better than 2010 for Red Bull, and last year they were double world champions.  Taking six out of the first eight wins for the year, defending world champion Sebastian Vettel looks very much like he will take the title again, and in much less time than it took him to do it last year, when he became the youngest driver ever to do so.  The rest of the challengers are running out of time to catch up to his points lead, and even if they can challenge, a pretty big anvil will have to fall from the sky to stop Vettel from getting his second crown.  His teammate Mark Webber, has not faired as well.  Constantly battling Vettel in 2010 and just missing out on the championship himself, Webber struggled throughout the beginning of the year to match Vettel’s pace, and now he’s left in a big fight for second place for the year.  In the car that everyone believes is the class of the field, Webber is struggling a bit too much and could easily be replaced with a younger driver if he doesn’t up his game and prove he is the best fit for the best team.

Mclaren-Mercedes (280 points)

Lewis Hamilton’s reckless style is fun for fans, but tough on his chances at victory.

After a lackluster pre-season testing form, McLaren have come on strong to be the only real solid contenders for Red Bull throughout this season.  Even though the 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton has two wins this year, his performance has been far more reckless than the team would want.  His super-aggressive, all-or-nothing approach to racing is great for the fans, but is terrible for putting together title winning campaigns.  Teammate and 2009 world champion Jenson Button also has two wins to his name, but has remained much cooler under pressure, and has even delivered a stunning dead last to first place drive in a torrential Canada race.  These two drivers remain the biggest threat to Red Bull at the moment, and more so to each other in the hunt for second place.  Expect more sparks to fly from this crew.

Scuderia Ferrari (215 points)

Felipe Massa: Brazilian hero.

The team with the most fabled history, and the pure focus of only building championship winning race craft has struggled a lot this year.  After being locked into a 2010 battle that went down to the wire, Ferrari fell a little behind with their 2011 car development.  Heavily outgunned through the first few races, Ferrari has only now came back to form with a win and some strong points finishes from double world champion, and Spanish darling Fernando Alonso.  Perennial favorite and Brazilian hero Felipe Massa has done a lot to regain his confidence after his horrific 2008 crash in Hungary, but he hasn’t been on the podium since his return to the sport.  Although capable of strong race weekends, he’s another driver that may not live past his current contract if he doesn’t return to his winning form.  Ferrari is heavily embroiled in the running for second place, and mathematically could still win the title.  Nonetheless, they are highly motivated to make the best of the second half of the year after their disappointing start.

Mercedes (80 points)

Is Michael Schumacher tainting his legacy with his comeback attempt?

Showing real promise during pre-season testing brought thoughts of a rejuvenated Mercedes after a terrible 2010 campaign.  But ultimately Mercedes continues to struggle in the mid-field.  Seven time world champion (there are a record 5 world champions in the field this year) Michael Schumacher claims he’s still having fun with his comeback from retiring in 2007.  But I doubt very much that is entirely true.  Years of total domination for Schumacher up until his retirement make his current Mercedes performance all the more bittersweet. Meanwhile, budget cuts and drastic reduction of resources have hobbled the 2009 constructor champions.  Only contracted through 2012, the big question is how much longer will Schumacher have to wait and develop a championship caliber car?  He was very clear that his intention is to return to his winning ways, but this has yet to come.  His teammate is in a similar position.  Son of Finnish world champion Keke Rosberg, Nico Rosberg is arguably one of the fastest drivers over one lap, and has regularly beat his vastly more successful teammate, Schumacher.  Rosberg’s race pace is good when the car is performing, but both drivers continue to struggle with a car that is very much off form.  They have written off this year’s title challenge hoping to develop a better 2012 car.  For these two hungry drivers, having to wait another year is a real morale killer.

Renault (66 points)

Renault is scrambling to replace their injured ace driver, Robert Kubica.

After a heated court battle over the use of the name “Lotus”, and the adoption of a black paint job paying homage to the John Player Special of the 80s, Renault had many expectations for their 2011 campaign.  Technically speaking, the 2011 Renault was developed to exploit a gap in the regulations regarding rear diffusers, and initially was a quick car throughout pre-season testing.  Lately they have failed to keep up with the development of their car, and they are in danger of languishing mid-pack.  Earlier this year a horrific Rally accident took out their ace driver, Robert Kubica of Poland.  Desperate for a veteran driver to pair with Russian rookie and pay-driver Vitaly Petrov, Renault went for Kubica’s ex-BMW teammate Nick Heidfield.  “Quick Nick” has always been a solid performer, but has never really bridged the gap from race driver to race winner, and despite leading his young teammate in points, was sacked in favor of reserve driver (and nephew of the great one) Bruno Senna.  Russian driver Petrov has put in some decent performances, but nothing has really set him apart from Heidfeld as far as speed and results are concerned.  Renault continues to struggle since Fernando Alonso’s departure, the sudden loss of Robert Kubica, as well as being steeped with corruption and controversy.  They have a tough challenge ahead for the rest of the year to stay with the top teams, and it just seems like they keep going from bad to worse.

Sauber (35 points)

Sergio Pérez is proving that he has the talent to support all the money behind him.

Another team with a rich history of bringing in explosive talent that moves on to bigger and better teams has had a surprising first half of the season.  Not setting the world on fire in pre-season testing, Sauber has had a nice run of points finishes for both drivers, and continues to be a strong mid-field contender.  After being heavily sponsored by Telmex, Mexican rookie Sergio Pérez is quickly showing that he’s not just a kid with big dollars behind him, but a promising talent that will surely be a hot commodity in the years to come.  A huge Monaco accident and subsequent withdrawal from Canada to recuperate, are the only chinks in the armor of what looks to be a solid rookie season.  Kamui Kobayashi continues to be one of fiercest of competitors on the grid at the moment, putting in amazing drives and managing to out-qualify and outscore opponents with far more experience, and better equipment.  Rumors of moves to Red Bull and Ferrari definitely fuel the flame for this rising talent, who is set to just get better and better.  Although they don’t have a terribly fast car due to their team size and budget, Sauber is bound to surprise some by the end of the year, and could easily take the fifth spot in the championship away from Renault.

We’ve seen what’s going on for the top six teams.  Next time we’ll take a closer look at the bottom six teams, as well as shake the magic eight ball and get an idea where this circus is going in the next few years.

Feature image courtesy of: http://AP Photo/Rob Griffith
Vettel image courtesy of:
Hamilton image courtesy of:
Messa image courtesy of:
Schumacher image courtesy of: GER, Mercedes GP Petronas
Kubica image courtesy of:

Pérez image courtesy of:

About Papa Wheelie

Born from wolves and raised on methanol, Papa Wheelie comes from a long line of motor-heads and adrenaline junkies. Formula 1 and MotoGP are his sports passion, but he also enjoys fine tequila, electronic music and furry animals. You can reach him on Twitter @PapaWheelie11