The middle part of our 2011 driver reviews aptly shines the spotlight on the middle part of the grid, otherwise known as the Chasing Dogs. Convenient, no?

Renault

  • Vitaly Petrov: Points – 37, Championship –  10th
  • Nick Heidfeld: Points – 34, Championship – 11th
  • Bruno Senna: Points – 2, Championship – 18th

What was meant to be a solid step forward for Renault turned into a two steps backwards in a season that held more promise than most. Robert Kubica’s rally accident was a massive blow, but Nick Heidfeld was the right man to take the reigns, thanks to his experience, Pirelli testing and 2010 races. They had an innovative car too, but it just didn’t…click.

It all started so well with two consecutive podiums – the only team outside of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari to manage it. The most surprising thing was that Vitaly Petrov scored the first one. Yes, that Vitaly Petrov. Don’t worry, the Russian returned to form in Malaysia, where he managed to get his R31 airbourne, whilst Heldfeld made the rostrum. Both cars got into the points at Istanbul too, with 7th and 8th.

petrovThat would’ve been a good platform to build on, but then it all headed south pretty quickly. The success of regular points was replaced with mediocre performances and scraps with the other Lotus team, losing out several times right at the end, thanks to an innovative exhaust system that just didn’t really work.

Heidfeld was replaced by Bruno Senna at Spa to attempt to halt the slide, yet the young Brazilian was probably there to fund the team through to 2012, while also being a perfect media magnet. Senna + Lotus + Renault = money. Fact.

The shining light through all of this was the form of Vitaly from the very first race. Gone was the error prone rookie of 2010 to be replaced by an assured and confident driver who knew his car. Up until Renault’s dip mid-season, he was always in the top 10, and was a good indicator of where the car should be, instead of where the car shouldn’t be. Which, last year, was often in the wall. Shame he decided to ruin it all by speaking his mind, as he’s now out in the cold.

2012 is a new dawn for the team – new name and new drivers. Kimi Raikkonen, when interested, is a demon on the track, and Romain Grosjean has matured exponentially since 2009, so what could go wrong?

Badger’s Best: Vitaly Petrov

Force India

  • Adrian Sutil: Points – 42, Championship – 9th
  • Paul di Resta: Points – 27, Championship – 13th

The rise of the former Jordan team continues. Can you believe that two seasons ago they hadn’t scored a point? Although they only scored one point than 2010, they crucially finished one place higher in 6th. Now they are firmly established, and this season they beat others in terms of development as well, moving from just outside the top ten to begin with, to being regularly within it as the season drew to a close.

diresta

In terms of drivers, it was hard to distinguish just who was the rookie between Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil. The Scottish youngster made the unique career transition from DTM to F1 look incredibly easy and with better luck between China and Germany, would’ve probably scored a handful more points. Remember his lap at Silverstone to qualify 6th? Brilliant stuff. And he matched Sutil with a 6th place in Singapore, but the German took two, one on home soil and the other at the Brazilian finale.

Which leads us neatly on to Sutil. For a man who settled in nicely into the midfield last year, he sure made a pig’s ear out of it this time round. Unmotivated? Maybe. Pressured by Paul? Probably. But he did string it together when it mattered, most importantly the last few races when pride was at stake. The problem is, was it too late for his seat to be guaranteed.

That brings Nico Hulkenberg into the equation. He didn’t drive, but should do next year. You can just tell that the plan was for him to replace Di Resta this season to partner Sutil, strengthen the relationship with Mercedes and push the team forward. Paul’s now looking more secure, and credit to him for working hard to get there.

Badger’s Best: Paul di Resta

Sauber

  • Kamui Kobayashi: Points – 30, Championship – 12th
  • Sergio Perez: Points – 14, Championship – 16th
  • Pedro De La Rosa: Points – 0, Championship – 20th

A welcome return for Sauber, who finally shrugged off any remnants of BMW and got back to the good old days of signing talented young drivers. Kobayashi proved his maturity, scoring regularly in 7 of the first 10 races. But, did anyone else feel he wasn’t as exciting as last year? The new regulations, all designed to aid everyone else into passing regularly, neutered what KK was all about. Everyone was on level pegging because their cars could perform an overtake, and Kamui suffered because of it. It was only Brazil that we saw the fight that made him so famous, clawing his way up the order to get the points the Swiss squad needed for a safe 7th place overall.

Sauber spent the year modifying strategies to cope with this as best they could. Three-stoppers turned to two, and two-stoppers turned to one, with Kamui mostly seen struggling through the midfield holding a bunch of faster cars up. It even caused a few accidents from time to time. But that leads us very nicely onto rookie Sergio Perez.

kobayashiThe Mexican definitely has a Button-esqe talent when it comes to preserving tyres. The DSQ in Oz was a shame because it showcased that talent more than ever all season. And let’s not forget, Sergio is a very lucky boy indeed after Monaco and that shunt. But, he bounced back to nab 7th in Great Britain and score a few more points in a pretty impressive debut year.

Pedro De La Rosa got the nod to stand in for Perez in Canada after the Monaco shunt, and deserves a mention as it got him a drive with Hispania. Bonkers.

Badger’s Best: Kamui Kobayashi

Toro Rosso

  • Sebastian Buemi: Points – 15, Championship – 15th
  • Jaime Alguersuari: Points – 26, Championship – 14th

It seems to be that if you want to drive under pressure, you drive for Toro Rosso. If you have string of bad results, the axe hovers above your head – just ask Sebastian Bourdais – and it keeps you on your toes.

alguersuariThe team has improved so much as well, and improved mid-season too, which is a massive ask from such a small outfit. Some of the onboards late in the year showed just how slippery the STR chassis was, blasting past other cars as if they were racing at minimum downforce. And the way they celebrated getting both cars into Q3 in India show just how much it means to the Italian squad. But, it was all about the drivers from the first red lights to the last chequered flag.

It see-sawed from Jaime Alguersuari to Sebastian Buemi and back again as the season rumbled on, all the while with Daniel Riccardio sat on the sidelines waiting for a chance. In the first seven races Buemi was 7-3 up in points, then the next 5 Alguersuari won 5-3. Then the Spaniard came into his own.

Yep, Badger has decided – Jaime Alguersuari wins the inter-team Toro Rosso battle. He scored more points (26 to 15) in more races (7 races compared to 6), qualified highest (6th in Spa, before Bruno used him as a brake assist) and finished higher (7th in Italy and Korea). He also released a number one album and wears horn-rimmed glasses. That just says “winner” in our eyes, quite frankly.

Badger’s Best: Jaime Alguersauri