There is a lot of ink spent on analyzing the “Big Three” of Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. That’s fair, as they are the only constructors to win a race in 2018.
But just behind them is a closer and more unpredictable battle between four or five constructors for the title of “best of the rest.” We call it the Midfield. Thus far, we have seen that any of these teams can realistically hope to be tops in any given race. In contrast to the predictability at the front of the race, in-season development and how well each track is suited to the car means we have seen great variety in how these teams stack up against each other.
As Formula 1 heads into the European segment of the race calendar, let’s see how they are doing.
Drivers: Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne
At the outset of the season, McLaren was making bold claims about nipping at the heels of RedBull for third-best team. Things haven’t panned out as hoped and McLaren is locked in the tight midfield battle. With the Renault engine this year, McLaren can no
longer blame it’s lack of pace on the powerplant. In 2017, we heard the team claim that it had the best chassis. The early part of 2018 has shown that is not the case, at least not yet. McLaren is bringing substantial upgrades to the Spanish Grand Prix and they looked promising at FP1 and FP2. Saturday’s lack of qualifying pace has meant McLaren is starting each race fairly far back on the grid, but the team has shown promising race trim, good strategy and a long run of reliability to be not only the only team to bring two cars to the finish in every race this season, but to score a bunch of points in doing so. At every race thus far, a different Midfield constructor has looked faster than McLaren, but the consistency and good fortune has been with McLaren.
Drivers: Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz
Renault is several years into their return as a works team and it is starting to pull together. At the last race in Baku, Renault was easily the fastest of the Midfield teams and had both Hulkenberg and Sainz passing Red Bulls! Hulkenberg is a very talented driver
already and Sainz is very promising. The latter says he’s not quite comfortable with the 2018 car’s handling characteristics, but he’s getting there quickly. Both drivers still make race-day errors that cost the team points, but Renault has been on a steady upward trajectory in 2018.
Drivers: Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon
2018 started poorly for one of Formula 1’s smallest outfits; it was at the back of the pack with the likes of Sauber and Williams. But Force India has come on strongly at Baku and now is soundly in the Midfield and threatens to lead the pack if things fall the right way.
Perez is a veteran driver and is trying to prove he deserves another shot at a well-funded constructor. His third place finish at Baku was clearly a fluke, aided by Bottas’s flat tyre, the RB/RB crash, and Vettel’s lockup. But Perez was the driver who had avoided trouble and was in place to take advantage. So kudos to him. Ocon is having a difficult year, but he’s a driver with big potential. Force India gets the benefit of the Mercedes engine and should be a force in the Midfield for the rest of the season.
Drivers: Pierre Gasly, Brendon Hartley
Full team name is Toro Rosso Honda. That is the big story here. Toro Rosso has the under-powered Honda engine in the back. The highwater point for TR was the second
race at Bahrain, where TR finished 4th. After that race, there were some people who thought Honda had made a huge breakthrough, that McLaren had made a big mistake in leaving Honda, etc. But in the following race, a Honda engine blew and thus far, the Honda power units have needed to be replaced at the highest rate. The TR cars will definitely be taking grid penalties for exceeding the 3 engine limit this season. But despite the Honda engine, TR has been able to mix it up in the Midfield.
Drivers: Kevin Magnussen, Romain Grosjean
There is no good reason why Haas has the fewest points of the Midfield constructors. Right off the bat in Australia, they were head and shoulders above their competitors. But there they managed to botch pit stops with not one, but both cars, and you aren’t
allowed to finish the race with only three wheels. More recently, Grosjean drove into the barriers while the field was under a freakin’ Safety Car! And “big balls” Kevin Magnussen keeps getting into trouble for dangerous driving, most recently during FP1 for the Spanish Grand Prix. Haas is buying every single car part that it can under the regulations from Ferrari. So it has a car that should go fast. And it has gone fast in FP2 for the Spanish GP, placing its cars first and second in the Midfield (7th and 8th overall). So don’t expect Haas to stay here at the tail end.
Keep an eye on the exciting Midfield this season!