This is the second part of the half-way rankings of all of the drivers so far this year. I wasn’t able to fit all 12 top drivers in one post, so these are drivers 12-6:
12: Vitaly Petrov
The Vyborg Rocket has had a tough time trying to keep up with his extremely talented team-mate Robert Kubica, but Vitaly hasn’t let himself down either. The first few races were difficult, as only one points position in the first 10 races was below expectations. However, his defensive driving certainly impressed me, most notably in Turkey against Fernando Alonso, who he held off for most of the race. They eventually clashed, with Petrov coming off worse, but he had still made an impact.
However, it soon became clear that he would have to up his game to keep his seat for 2011, and he has done exactly that. A 10th place in Germany was the start, then he qualified 7th and finished 5th in Hungary, a career best. On both occasions these finishes were because of his driving skill, not getting lucky with the safety car like others have done. A few more points finishes will seal his seat for next year.
11: Felipe Massa
For most of the first half of the season, very little mention was made of Felipe’s recovery from his crash in Hungary, which he only returned from this year. He started impressively, with 2 podium positions in the first 2 races, but since then has been well outpaced by Fernando Alonso. It wasn’t too notable until Canada onwards, when a string of poor performances mixed with bad luck shot down his chances for the championship.
With this in mind, the team decided to push Fernando Alonso’s assault for the title instead, and used Massa to hand the lead of the German Grand Prix. Massa has since received critisism worldwide, especially in Brazil, for being weak and spineless in handing his position over. In my view, the team orders scandal could have been avoided if Massa had just been driving as fast as, or faster than, Alonso. At the moment, Felipe is 63 points behind Mark Webber. Significant improvement is needed to justify his new 2012 contract.
10: Adrian Sutil
2010 saw the arrival of something completely unprecedented: Adrian Sutil hasn’t crashed into anything yet this season. This has been his main weakness so far in his F1 career, so now we can truly see Sutil’s potential. So far, he has 35 points, more than double that of team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi. Adrian is driving very much like Nico Rosberg did last year, getting consistent points finishes in a midfield car, while their fumbling team-mates held the team back.
Adrian has every reason to be happy with his performances so far, as he is only 3 points behind Michael Schumacher. While the Mercedes’ understeering nature doesn’t suit Schumacher, it must still be a good feeling to be close to overtaking a 7-times world champion. 6 points-scoring positions in a row has been Sutil’s highlights so far, and Belgium and Italy are up next, so there is a great chance of his first ever Formula 1 podium finish.
9: Kamui Kobayashi
I can still clearly remember last year in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, when this Toyota test driver suddenly became a Formula 1 favourite, thanks to his “absolutely crazy, very aggressive” driving, as Jenson Button called it. His overtake on the Brawn in Abu Dhabi single-handedly granted him a drive with Sauber this year. At the start, it seemed as if it was just a one-hit wonder, as until Turkey he only had one single, unimpressive finish. But, he didn’t let us down that easily, and as the car has improved, has shown us dazzling performances that makes him one of my favourite drivers.
His first points finish was 10th in Turkey, with not much to report. However, in Valencia, he pulled off a risky hard-tyre strategy to leap up to 7th place, after overtaking Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi (on the last corner of the last lap). Then, at Silverstone, he got another impressive 6th place, and has since gt 9th in Hungary as well. All of this has come from a car with dire performance and reliability (and the worst livery on the grid). Kamui has overcome all of these obstacles to fully justify his place on the F1 grid.
8: Rubens Barrichello
Like Adrian Sutil and Kamui Kobayashi, Rubens Barrichello has impressed me this year, comfortably beating his team-mate to be the driving force of the Williams team. 6 points finishes out of 11 finishes overall, in a mediocre car, is certainly a good performance. Valencia was by far his best drive this year, where he valiantly held off Robert Kubica to finish 4th. Another impressive race in Great Britain left him 5th, and he was also 10th in Hungary.
With exactly 3 times the points tally of Nico Hulkenberg, Barrichello has proved that his experience in his 299 Grands Prix has not affected his pace at all, and he is still able to mix it with the frontrunners. If it wasn’t for a loose drain cover in Monaco, he would have finished every race as well, meaning he is bulletproof reliable as well. The only main problem he still needs to face is the difficulty he faces with the starts, more specifically he needs to stop releasing the clutch too early, as he has done a few times in recent years.
7: Nico Rosberg
As previously mentioned, this year’s Mercedes car has suffered chronic understeer, mainly as it was designed for Jenson Button’s driving style. While Michael Schumacher has toiled with the W01, Rosberg has kept his head down and got on with the job, and has hugely impressed me by his ability to pull podium positions out of a extremely disappointing car.
If it wasn’t for 13th place in Spain, where he struggled with the new longer-wheelbase car, and the mistake from the pit crew in Hungary, Nico would have finished in the points in every race so far, which is what he was doing for a lot of the season back at Williams. Three podium positions, in Malaysia, China and Britain, as well as three 5th places, show his potential. He has twice as many points as Schumacher, and before Hungary had more points than Felipe Massa, which is a huge achievement considering how much faster the Ferrari is. However, competition from Renault and Force India may well dampen Rosberg’s second half of 2010, as the car appears to go backwards.
6: Fernando Alonso
At the start of the season, Alonso said that titles may well take time with Ferrari. While this was probably being pessimistic, Alonso has done well in his first season so far for Ferrari, but the controversies just seem to follow him around.
Alonso’s return to a top Formula 1 team started well with a win in Bahrain, thanks to Sebastian Vettel’s reliability woes. However, by Malaysia, Alonso fell prey to problems, with a gearbox problem and engine failure forcing him out after battling his way up the grid. From then on, a string of 6 high-scoring positions followed, as the car was unable to challenge for wins just yet. But, within 2 races, 2 different controversies circulated around Alonso. First of all, he was blamed for getting a drive-through penalty in Britain, after cutting a corner to pass Robert Kubica.
Then in Germany, his team blatantly handed him the win by getting Felipe Massa to allow him past. Fernando has the pace to win, and should not have to resort to pushing his team-mate past to win. However, he also has a characteristic that, when he is surrounded in controversy, he often produces a great result. He did so in Hungary, when he split the dominant Red Bulls to finish 2nd. Fernando is well on course to challenge for the championship, but needs to do so without using Massa.
Part 3 of my half-way driver rankings will be up tomorrow.