Sauber on the up, Force India in trouble

A fourth and a sixth from the two fly-away races for Nico Hulkenberg coupled with Esteban Gutierrez’s maiden points finish in Formula One capped an impressive turnaround in Sauber’s fortunes in recent races.

The 26 points accumulated from these results has more than doubled the team’s points tally to move them onto 45 points heading into the final four races.

Sauber’s resurgence is largely academic at this stage of the season with their improvement unlikely to have any bearing on this season’s championship with Sebastian Vettel’s lead virtually impregnable.

However, their return to form may have their neighbours in the pits at Force India turning their heads.

Force India started the season much the stronger of the two teams with strong results coming in Bahrain for Paul di Resta with a fourth place finish followed a couple of races later by a fifth for Adrian Sutil in Monaco.

But their form has tailed off in recent races – perhaps partly attributable to a change in specification of the Pirelli tyres – culminating in just one point from the last four races.

The result is Force India have gone from boldly talking in terms of challenging McLaren for fifth place in the constructors’ championship to now facing the possibility of losing sixth to Sauber for the second year in a row.

The seventeen point deficit separating Sauber from Force India is certainly not an unassailable lead, especially when comparing the relative performances of the cars in the most recent races.

And Sauber also have several elements in their favour at this stage of the season:

–          Nico Hulkenberg is still looking to impress potential suitors keen to grab him for next season and with Brazil still to come, we may be yet to see the best of him if his previous two performances at the track are anything to go by

–          Esteban Gutierrez finally seems to have come to terms with his car and extracting the best performance from it and he is also keen to prove his worth at this crucial stage of the season with his drive on the line

–          And the Sauber seems to just be a quicker car than the Force India now and with teams fully focused on next year’s cars, it is likely they will maintain that advantage for the remainder of the year.

Conversely, Force India is on the back foot as we reach the sharp end of the championship:

–          Paul di Resta has failed to score any points in the last seven races and will be growing increasingly frustrated as he reaches the end of his third season with the team as it looks like he has once again been overlooked by the top teams

–          Adrian Sutil is on a run of poor qualifying performances, with his best in recent races an eleventh in Hungary, and with a resurgent Sauber on the team’s heels Sutil really needs to be starting further up the grid if they are to have any hope of scraping some points together

Many questioned Hulkenberg’s decision to move from Force India to Sauber earlier in the year, especially when their relative performances were so evenly matched last year and Sauber’s potential to provide Hulkenberg with a competitive car was no greater than Force India’s.

And the revelation from Eddie Jordan yesterday that Hulkenberg could be rejoining Force India next year would seem an even more peculiar move if it turns out to be true.

As things stand, Force India would welcome Hulkenberg back with open arms. But Hulkenberg is certainly deserving of a far better drive than either Sauber or Force India are capable of providing him with.

It would be fair to say that neither of the teams will be happy with the way their respective seasons have gone taken as a whole; Force India started promisingly but have been languishing in the midfield for several races while Sauber have done the opposite.

But the pain will be felt most at Force India where the trajectory appears to be a downward one. 2014 can’t come soon enough, I’m sure.


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