See also my driver rankings.
11. Virgin Racing
Conventional wisdom suggests that HRT have the slowest car, and perhaps they do. But HRT have always had their back against the wall, and perform regardless. Virgin Racing have, for the second year in succession, finished in last place in the Constructors’ Championship. Often they are slower than the HRTs.
The much-fanfared CFD-only design is now consigned to the dustbin. This is at least a sign that this team is willing to change in order to make progress.
10. HRT F1 Team
Almost didn’t make it to the start of the season. As with 2010, it has been a hairy year for HRT, but under the leadership of Colin Kolles they somehow managed to get through with their dignity somewhat still in tact.
Their driver choices leave a lot to be desired, particularly with the unexpected comeback of Narain Karthikeyan. HRT certainly is a team with the capacity to surprise. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Given how much the odds are always stacked against them, you have to admire HRT for getting through the season, and not being comprehensively the worst team on the grid.
This year was nothing short of a disaster for one of the proudest and most successful teams in F1. From a distance, it looks like a team in turmoil, and it’s difficult to imagine that they’ll ever be running at the front again.
In 1997, when Williams last won a Championship, they were equal with Ferrari as the most successful constructor of all time. This year, they have suffered their worst season in history, scoring a mere five points.
The downfall has been going on for a long time. But even in the context of this decline, 2011 was a shockingly poor year. Even last year Williams scored 69 points. What a disaster.
8. Team Lotus
Team Lotus continue to make steady progress, taking the plaudits for being the best of the ‘new teams’. They may not quite have made the strides they were hoping for. The first points finish still looks a long way away. And the team’s reliability record remains relatively poor.
But Team Lotus can take heart from the fact that they have been able to, on occasion, beat the established teams on merit. 2012 will be an important year for them. They need to progress through the field, but they certainly seem like the most likely of the ‘new teams’ to become genuine contenders.
7. Renault GP
A serious case of what might have been for Renault GP. The season began badly with Robert Kubica’s injury. Given that the car was said to have been designed around Kubica, this was a major enough disaster.
But the car, with its radical exhaust system, started of the season remarkably well. It looked like it was comfortably capable of regularly finishing in a podium position, with both drivers finishing third within the first two races.
Then it all started to go wrong. The radical car proved difficult to develop, and the car tumbled through the order until it was virtually the worst of the established teams. The controversial exhaust system also appeared to be a bit of a safety hazard, with the car catching fire twice during the season.
Their cause wasn’t helped by the unnecessary and heavy-handed dumping of the solid and consistent Nick Heidfeld. They ended the season with Dave Ryan monitoring the team to pinpoint where it’s all going wrong for them. I hope, for their sake, the report is useful.
6. Scuderia Toro Rosso
Toro Rosso is one team that punches above its weight. It exists as an appendage of the Red Bull empire, so it can’t approach F1 in the same way that other teams do. They don’t go out to win (although if it happens almost by accident, as it did at Monza in 2008, then they won’t complain). Rather, they are a means for Red Bull to assess its young drivers.
But they have to design and build their own cars. They are unable to rely totally on Red Bull’s expertise in this area. In this sense, Toro Rosso have done an excellent job. At times it seemed as though they had the fastest car, setting chart-topping speeds through the speed trap on occasion.
Red Bull’s driver development programme may be harsh, as we can see with the disposal of Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, not to mention the countless other former Red Bull drivers that have been dumped in years gone past. But if you can prove that you have what it takes, as Sebastian Vettel did, then there are many worse teams you could be a rookie at.