Will Gray

Summer break report – Mercedes and Renault

Will Gray

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The Formula One season headed into its summer break with Sebastian Vettel still firmly in control - but with 11 of the 19 races done, who are the winners and losers up and down the grid?

Last week we looked at the front-runners, so this week we'll look at how the two teams chasing them - Mercedes and Renault - have battled it out for the 'best of the rest'.

MERCEDES AND RENAULT

Both Mercedes and Renault started the year with high hopes of breaking into the top three, Mercedes having switched early to working on their 2011 car and Renault hoping a radical design coupled with momentum from a strong finish to 2010 would see them step up a level.

The black-and-gold Renaults got off to a flyer, taking two podiums in the first two races and clocking up 30 points as the silver arrows of Mercedes netted a total of just two points for Michael Schumacher's seventh place in Malaysia.

Since then, however, Renault have wobbled and Mercedes have slowly overcome them to take a 14-point advantage in the standings - but neither team is where they wanted to be, with Ferrari, who are at the back of the front-running trio, now on more than three times the points of Renault and Mercedes some 135 points behind.

What has been intriguing with both these teams, however, has been the relative performance of their drivers.

Mercedes had hoped Schumacher would be the man to lead them to glory last year, but he struggled to get a handle on a new F1 that was very different to what he knew when he had taken his first retirement. He promised a marked improvement this year but has fallen short again.

Team-mate Nico Rosberg has out-paced Schumacher in qualifying in all but one Grand Prix so far this year, creating a 10-1 scorecard that makes embarrassing reading for the seven-times world champion. Rosberg is consistently in the top 10 shoot-out and averages 6.5 on the grid, but Schumacher has missed the cut four times and his average reflects that, down at 9.7.

But for all Rosberg's success on Saturdays, his performances on Sundays have failed to live up to the promise and only once has he managed to finish higher than he started, when he went from ninth to sixth in Britain. Indeed, if he had converted all his grid positions, he would be on 77 points rather than 48.

Schumacher, meanwhile, has risen through the field on six occasions and although his lower grid places have given more chance to do that, he has actually scored 32 points compared to the 25 he would have got if he had just maintained his starting places.

Rosberg is still ahead 5-3 in the races that the two have both finished but the average position gap is much less than in qualifying, with Rosberg on 8 and Schumacher just 1.1 back on 9.1. If Schumacher can find a way to improve in qualifying, then, it seems he still has a chance to get a handle on his team-mate in races.

At Renault, meanwhile, Nick Heidfeld was brought in as their 'star', replacing the injured Robert Kubica, but he has been a disappointment and the man who was supposed to be playing a supporting role, Vitaly Petrov, has become the surprise performer.

Qualifying has been Heidfeld's downfall, with his average grid spot down at 13 compared to Petrov on 9.4. Given their competitiveness at the start of the season, the two Renaults would have been expected to make the top-10 shootout every time, and Petrov did just that in the first seven races but Heidfeld missed out on four occasions. The team's performance then had a sudden drop, and both drivers have made the top 10 just once each in the last four events, but Petrov still holds an 8-3 qualifying advantage over the German.

In the races, things flip around and Heidfeld has been more successful, leading 6-2 in the races they have both finished. But aside from his single podium, finishing seventh and eighth is not good enough for a team of Renault's level, and both drivers are under pressure.

Given that Heidfeld was expected to lead, he in particular has been forced to fend off some critical questions and being replaced by Bruno Senna in Hungary was a clear nudge from team boss Eric Boullier. Heidfeld says he feels he's done well, but you get the feeling he'll have to do better to be in F1 again next year.

NEXT WEEK: The rest of the field under scrutiny

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