Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel and Adrian Newey are top F1 team
The break before the British Grand Prix at the end of the month gives us a chance to look back at the season so far after seven of the 19 races and analyse the performance of the teams.
These are the reasons I believe the top six teams in the constructors' championship are where they are - and how I think they can move forward.
Red Bull:201 points,3 poles,4 fastest laps,3 wins.
Sebastian Vettel: 132 points,3 poles,3 fastest laps,3 wins.
Mark Webber: 69 points,0 poles,1 fastest lap,0 wins.
Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has very deep pockets, but the team's success is about more than money. Red Bull spend their budget wisely.
The key to their recent record was bringing in Adrian Newey, without doubt the inspiration behind this team and any other for which he has worked over the last two decades.
Red Bull have succeeded with Newey in a way McLaren did not because they have given him the space to work in the way that gets the best out of him.
He is chief technical officer, but that doesn't mean he should sit behind a desk and shuffle paperwork around all day. Red Bull have other very competent engineering and system managers who allow Newey to do what he likes - get his hands dirty and think about racing cars.
Would Red Bull perform as well if Newey left? The answer is no. Would they perform as well if team principal Christian Horner was to move on? Probably. He does a very good job at keeping it all together but there are many other people out there who can do that job. There are very few capable of sitting in Newey's hot seat.
Sebastian Vettel is also a major asset.
Anyone who thinks he is not the real deal and only successful because he has the best car is missing the point.
Vettel is part of a big team of people and his feedback has allowed Newey to focus on the development direction required to continually move forward. What impresses me most is that Vettel seems to come back each year mentally stronger than the previous season.
I have compiled some statistics that compare Vettel's career success to date with a few other leading names from down the years, as well as his current main rivals.
|Races||Poles||Fastest laps||Wins||Average (%)|
|Jim Clark||72||33 (45.8%)||28 (38.9%)||28 (38.9%)||39.8%|
|Sebastian Vettel||108||39 (36.1%)||18 (16.7%)||29 (26.9%)||26.6%|
|Ayrton Senna||161||65 (40.4%)||19 (11.8%)||41 (25.5%)||25.9%|
|Michael Schumacher||306||68 (22.2%)||77 (25.2%)||91 (29.7%)||25.7%|
|Jackie Stewart||99||17 (17.2%)||15 (15.2%)||27 (27.3%)||19.9%|
|Lewis Hamilton||116||27 (23.3%)||12 (10.3%)||21 (18.1%)||13.9%|
|Kimi Raikkonen||181||16 (8.8%)||38 (21.0%)||20 (11.0%)||13.6%|
|Fernando Alonso||203||22 (10.8%)||19 (9.4%)||32 (15.8%)||12.0%|
|Felipe Massa||179||17 (8.4%)||14 (7.8%)||11 (6.1%)||7.4%|
|Mark Webber||203||11 (5.4%)||15 (7.4%)||9 (4.4%)||5.7%|
|Jenson Button||235||8 (3.4%)||8 (3.4%)||15 (6.4%)||4.4%|
|Nico Rosberg||135||4 (3.0%)||4 (3.0%)||2 (1.5%)||2.5%|
Some drivers have spent their whole career in good cars and some haven't - and Vettel is luckier than most on that front. But even so it is clear he is mixing it with some of the big boys from previous decades.
What do Red Bull do now? More of the same, from an engineering perspective and management style.
Ferrari: 145 points, 0 poles, 0 fastest laps, 2 wins.
Fernando Alonso: 96 points, 0 poles, 0 fastest laps, 2 wins.
Felipe Massa: 49 points, 0 poles, 0 fastest laps, 0 wins.
This year's Ferrari is a step forward from last year's but they still seem to struggle to get the best out of it in qualifying. And if you are always coming from behind, as Fernando Alonso is in races, it makes the job more difficult.
From a technical point of view they are in better shape this year and the developments they are bringing to the track seem to be working.
But they are only small developments giving the 0.1-second improvement per race for which every team strives.
To give Alonso a better chance, Ferrari need a step to bring them in line with the fastest team. That will have to be a fairly major aerodynamic package as they are something like 0.5secs off the ultimate pace. That is never easy to achieve mid-season, so they are probably stuck more or less where they are for this year.
In race conditions, though, they have generally been as strong as anyone and they seem to have a handle on how to get the best from the tyres on a consistent basis. This, combined with Alonso's determination, will always bring him big points.
Felipe Massa is inconsistent. When he is good he is good but if there is any aggro around he seems to get in the thick of it too easily. So relying on him for constructors' championship points that will allow them to battle with Red Bull seems unrealistic.
Ferrari need a stronger technical team with more ideas to put on the table. What they are doing now they are doing well, but they need to do more of it.
The best information we have suggests Ferrari is going to be where James Allison ends up now he has left his role as Lotus technical director. I rate Allison very highly and he could be the man to provide that.
Mercedes: 134 points, 4 poles, 0 fastest laps, 1 win.
Lewis Hamilton: 73 points, 1 pole, 0 fastest laps, 0 wins.
Nico Rosberg: 57 points, 3 poles, 0 fastest laps, 1 win.
Mercedes' overall performance is a major turnaround from the previous three seasons - although less so from the corresponding period last year - and bringing in Lewis Hamilton was a statement of intent that success is a must.
With the driver and technical line-up they have, winning races is a minimum - and if they win enough races then the championship will follow.
They are the opposite of Ferrari - fast over one lap but falling away over a race distance. Rear tyre degradation - a problem for the last few seasons - is their Achilles' heel. They seem incapable of making any progress on it.
Sometimes you need to take a step backwards in the short term to go forward overall.
I would suggest a set-up change that sacrifices some of their one-lap performance and then find an overall aerodynamic step that will bring back that lap time in both qualifying and the race.
Lotus: 114 points,1 poles,0 fastest laps,1 win.
Kimi Raikkonen: 88 points,1 poles,0 fastest laps,1 win.
Romain Grosjean: 26 points,0 poles,0 fastest laps,0 wins.
Lotus are very similar to Ferrari, in that they struggle to get the tyres working over one lap in qualifying but generally have good race pace.
Technical director James Allison has left. Losing the guy with the vision that got them where they are makes it very difficult to set the development direction and with apparent money problems the funding for this is not going to be easy.
The bigger problem is that if performance drops off this year then Kimi Raikkonen may leave and I don't think Roman Grosjean has what it takes to lead a team. If this happens, as I expect, they will be on the hunt for a driver with the necessary credentials but there aren't many of them around.
For Lotus to keep what they have and improve, they need to find some development money and allow their very competent team of engineers to get their heads down and find more speed from the car in qualifying.
With current component costs, this could mean something in the region of £1m a race but if you want to play with the big boys you have to pay the price.
Force India: 51 points,0 poles,0 fastest laps,0 wins.
Paul di Resta: 34 points,0 poles,0 fastest laps,0 wins.
Adrian Sutil: 17 points,0 poles,0 fastest laps,0 wins.
Force India are the first team of what can be classified as the midfield bunch and they are punching above their weight.
Over the last couple of seasons they have developed the car quickly after a slow start. This year they focused on improving their start, so if they can keep the same development rate, it could be their best season in F1 to date.
The car is very good on tyres - in Montreal Paul di Resta opened everyone's eyes by completing 56 competitive laps on one set of medium tyres, a feat most others can only dream of.
They don't have the out-and-out pace of the front-runners but pound-for-pound they are achieving more than most.
McLaren: 37 points,0 poles,1 fastest laps,0 wins.
Jenson Button: 25 points,0 poles,0 fastest laps,0 wins.
Sergio Perez: 12 points,0 poles,1 fastest laps,0 wins.
McLaren's statistics do not make good reading and the biggest problem is they don't seem to have a clue where they are going.
They are sixth in the constructors' championship, but their budget is that of a front-running team.
If they cannot improve, it will mean a major reduction in prize money - as much as £40m. Finding a sponsor to make up that shortfall will be no easy task.
No team deliberately builds an uncompetitive car. At the launch they were all very happy that it was a step forward and I agreed. I still think the concept is an improvement but the devil is always in the detail and somewhere in there they have lost themselves.
The research they do before signing off components is not showing up the potential problems. They need to look outside the box and reassess how they are looking at their data analysis.
To recover from this in the short term they need someone to stick their head above the parapet and make some changes based more on gut feel than the big in-word, 'data'. How many times this year have I heard, "Well, we have generated lots of data to analyse tonight"?
I have said many times that, in my opinion, the front wing assembly is not current thinking. Until they change this they will get very little - if any - response from their current development direction.
For the longer term, they also need a change in management structure.
McLaren seem from the outside to have the opposite in engineering direction and management style from Red Bull. The car has a different philosophy and it is technical management by committee rather than one visionary leader.
They need a defined leader on the engineering side - someone with vision.
They had that with Newey and let it slip away. They made an offer to Allison this year but it looks like they have missed out on him.
They need someone like that - and when they find him, they need to let him do the job his way.