The curse of the ‘midfield’ label



Being labelled as a midfield team is harder than one might think. Whilst these teams may not have the pressures of championship victories looming over them, their higher levels of experience can produce inflated expectations.

The fight between midfield teams spans the majority of the grid covering Sauber through to Toro Rosso. Their championship battle is perhaps the most hotly contested during a season as millions of pounds worth of funding separates each position – with Force India and Williams predominately independent, this financial reward is crucial.

You may have noticed that Mercedes do not appear on the above mentioned list. To many people, Mercedes AMG fall into their own category. Fundamentally a continuation of Brawn’s unprecedented success, you could argue that with Michael Schumacher at the helm, a championship was possible. However their finishes have placed them lower in the standings than the comeback kings Lotus and McLaren, the team that Lewis Hamilton now leaves behind.

With major personnel changes, including the signing of Toto Wolff and with Lewis Hamilton in the hot seat, the team hope this will change. Their car showed pace in testing but more will need to be done if they intend to fully launch themselves away from this tag.

There is one significant problem with being a mid field team – qualifying. Yes, we saw some exceptions: Pastor Maldonado’s Spanish victory from pole and Daniel Ricciardo propelling his Toro Rosso to an impressive top ten qualifying in Bahrain last year. However it cannot be denied that the concertina effect that takes place to the first corner is incredibly challenging.

Maldonado himself came more familiar with the race stewards than he would have hoped and the Sauber of Sergio Perez always seemed to be in the firing line. This makes fair racing against the front runners increasingly more unsustainable and fights against the slower teams not as exhilarating as one would hope – there is nothing entertaining about a one-sided race.

Toro Rosso drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne need to emulate the success of Sebastian Vettel, who is responsible for the team’s maiden (and only) victory in Monza 2008. If anything this win has been a bit of a hindrance; a win is only achievable under exceptional circumstances yet many within the team (especially the boss Helmut Marko) have witnessed this triumph once for themselves.

It will be interesting to see whether this fate is repeated with this year’s Williams following Maldonado’s own victory.

This does pose the question: how are these drivers meant to prove themselves as worthy replacements to Mark Webber without a race win? It’s a good question and one that very few can answer.

The curse of the midfield teams saw Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Speed, Kamui Kobayashi and Bruno Senna leave the sport in recent years after failing to obtain a race win. The gap between the teams may not seem enormous on paper but with podiums sometimes separated by tenths of a second, suddenly the grid appears different.

Fifth place should, in theory, go to Mercedes but with reliability issues halting some runs in testing, Sauber could be their greatest challenger as the combination of Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez form an intimidating pairing.

It will be a closely fought battle between the teams. A few tenths could separate each team and the fate of their drivers as 2013 already proves that nobody in the midfield is safe.

This blog post is the fifth in this year’s pre season build up. For the next nine days, ‘stoodonthepodium’ will be bringing you exclusive interviews, stories, analysis and more from the world of Motorsport.

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