F1 2014 mid-season report: Grading the teams so far

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Following last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the Formula 1 community now has a month off to regroup and refresh for the second half of the season.

Whilst the break is only to the detriment of race-hungry fans, it is an important aspect of the sport. Not only does it give the drivers and teams a chance to prepare for the final eight races of the season, but it also allows them to reflect on the year that has been so far.

It also gives MotorSportsTalk a chance to look back on what we have seen in 2014. In the first half of our mid-season review, we’ve graded all of the drivers and teams on their performances so far. Who is getting a gold star and who needs to stay behind for extra classes? Find out below…

RANKING THE TEAMS

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team – Grade: A
Quite simply the dominant force in Formula 1 this season. A mix of the best power unit, the best complete car and two determined and talented drivers has helped the German marque on its way to one of the best ever starts to a season in the history of the sport.
Highlight so far: Any one of the six one-two finishes, with the battle in Bahrain a particular favorite.

Williams Martini Racing – Grade: A-
Did anyone really see this coming? After a year from hell in 2013 that yielded just five points, the British team has bounced back in style in 2014. 135 points after just half a season, and a breakout year for flying Finn Valtteri Bottas. With the tracks coming up set to suit the car, it could get better still for Williams.
Highlight so far: Front-row lock-out in Austria before tailing the Mercedes cars home in the race.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing – Grade: B+
It may seem odd to give the defending world champions such a high grade given that the title defence has been tame, but given where Red Bull was after pre-season testing, we’ve seen a remarkable turnaround. Two race wins is so much more than Christian Horner and co. could have expected back in February.
Highlight so far: Daniel Ricciardo’s win in Hungary on a level playing field with Mercedes.

Sahara Force India F1 Team – Grade: B+
Force India is just eleven points shy of its best ever season in F1, and we’re only halfway through 2014. The line-up of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg has excelled, and the team is now ready to fight with Williams, Ferrari and McLaren at the top-end of the standings.
Highlight so far: Sergio Perez scoring the team’s first podium in five years at the Bahrain GP.

Marussia F1 Team – Grade: B
It might be difficult to give the lower ranking teams high grades, but Marussia has flourished in 2014. Jules Bianchi scored its first ever points in Monaco, but this has been underlined by great qualifying results in Great Britain and Hungary. A breakthrough year for the Anglo-Russian team.
Highlight so far: Bianchi’s charge to ninth in Monaco.

McLaren Mercedes – Grade: B-
After such a good start to the season in Australia, McLaren hasn’t fared much better since. The memories from its 2013 nightmare still linger, but both Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen have ran well on occasion. It has been better for McLaren, but it is still the lowest ranking Mercedes-powered team.
Highlight so far: Double podium in Australia.

Scuderia Toro Rosso – Grade: C+
Another pretty so-so season for Toro Rosso so far, with Daniil Kvyat producing some good results in his rookie year. Jean-Eric Vergne’s seat may be at serious threat for 2015, but he has shown some good pace and still leads the team’s charge. A gulf between the team and the top six exists, though.
Highlight so far: Both drivers in the points at the Australian Grand Prix.

Scuderia Ferrari – Grade: C
Maybe it’s a bit harsh to give Ferrari such a low grade, but the team appears to be all at sea. Changes behind the scenes are aplenty, yet there have been few signs of improvement on track. Fernando Alonso continues to drag the F14 T kicking and screaming into the points, but will the novelty wear off for 2015?
Highlight so far: Alonso’s valiant attempt at wining the Hungarian Grand Prix before coming second.

Lotus F1 Team – Grade: C-
Like Red Bull, Lotus was in a torrid state of affairs during winter testing and has done well to get even eight points. Unlike Red Bull, there have been few signs of a great deal changing. Romain Grosjean continues to plug away, but question marks still hang over Pastor Maldonado’s ability even if his place with the team is secure for 2015.
Highlight so far: Grosjean’s eighth place finish in Spain (slim pickings here).

Sauber F1 Team – Grade: D
Oh dear Sauber. The Swiss team has been the biggest disappointment of the season so far, scoring zero points and trailing Marussia in the constructors’ championship. The car is a pig, no doubt about it, but when points have been possible (e.g. Monaco), big mistakes have been made.
Highlight so far: Sutil finishing 11th in Hungary when the car didn’t look too bad…

Caterham F1 Team – Grade: D
As we said with Marussia, it’s hard to grade the backmarkers, but Caterham’s season has been a bit of a disaster. After starting with such promise in pre-season, the on track results have been very average whilst a soap opera has unfolded behind the scenes following the sale of the team. All a bit of a mess in truth.
Highlight so far: Marcus Ericsson’s 11th place by default in Monaco… and little else.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.