Monthly Archives: December 2011

2011 final driver rankings: 3rd – 1st

This is the final article in a 4-part series, ranking all 28 drivers this season. As you would expect, this post tackles Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

3rd – Jenson Button

Button is a drastically improved driver from last year

Button is a drastically improved driver from last year

Previous ranking: 3rd

Review from previous ranking: “He has shown himself as a more complete driver this year, and unlike his teammate, shows restraint where necessary.”

In the first few races of 2011 it appeared that Jenson was still a step behind Lewis Hamilton in terms of performance. A single podium in the first 4 races was earned because of his trademark tyre conservation, not because of outright pace.

However, from Monaco onwards, the balance of power had shifted at McLaren, and Button is now comfortably ahead of his teammate in all areas.

He has scored double the amount of podiums compared to Hamilton this year (12 against 6). As well as his damp/wet weather skills, he was able to keep his car out of trouble – a complete contrast compared to Lewis. His two retirements were not caused by his hand, compared to two silly crashes by Hamilton.

He seems to have a sixth sense in changeable weather conditions. His drive in Canada was outstanding, overtaking the entire field in a matter of 30 laps. In Hungary, a straight fight between the McLarens, Lewis fell apart while Button cruised to victory.

In Suzuka, he was able to scrape a win deep in Red Bull territory – a remarkable feat considering the pace of the RB7.

Many doubted that Jenson could withstand Lewis when moving to McLaren. However, he has proven us all wrong by becoming the first driver to beat Lewis on points while in the same team, by 43 points – and it should have been a lot more.

Not only this, but he has firmly put himself in the elite group of top racing drivers.

2nd – Sebastian Vettel

Vettel was at the front 99% of the time, and seemingly unstoppable

Vettel was at the front 99% of the time, and seemingly unstoppable

Previous ranking: 1st

Review from previous ranking: “Nearly utterly faultless all season, Sebastian is more complete a racing driver.”

Sebastian Vettel is vastly changed from 2010. Barely a single foot put wrong all season, the German deservedly took back-to-back world championships – but still pushed himself the entire way.

He could have backed off on the first lap in Monza, but he didn’t. Taking to the grass at Curva Grande, he sliced past Fernando Alonso to take the lead in style.

He could have backed off in Spa, but again he didn’t. Vettel is the first driver in recent history to make a pass around the outside of the fearsome Blanchimont corner. I honestly can’t remember the last time a driver did this.

The dropping of points were almost always out of his control. His retirement in Abu Dhabi was mechanical, while gearbox issues in Brazil cost him the win. There is very little to fault Vettel with this season.

So the question is – why is he second instead of first?

Obviously, we saw the making of a top-class driver this year, but I feel there’s more to it than just raw pace. The Red Bull tactic of sticking the car on pole and tearing away in the first few laps, to remain out of sight for later, isn’t the most desirable tactics we’d like to see – especially if it’s done 90% of all the races.

He has the scope for overtaking moves, but this simply doesn’t define a season. Webber’s pass on Alonso in Spa proves that a ballsy move doesn’t earn you Driver of the Year on merit.

As well as this, whenever the slightest variable moves in the car, Vettel’s driving falters. Germany was the prime example of this, where a suspension change resulted in Sebastian’s pace falling off a cliff. He was lucky to finish 4th considering the pace he had.

There’s no denying that he is a world class driver, and one of the best drivers in F1’s history. But the absolute perfect team/car set-up cannot last forever, and when it slips away, Vettel’s talent will be severely tested. However, we still have one more driver, who has shown that he can still rip up tarmac while well outside of his comfort zone…

1st – Fernando Alonso

In similar machinery, Alonso thrashed anyone who stood in his way

In similar machinery, Alonso thrashed anyone who stood in his way

Previous review: 2nd

Ranking from previous review: “If there’s anyone on the grid who can [challenge Vettel] it will be Fernando Alonso.”

After the last two years I can easily say that Fernando Alonso doesn’t need the best car to inspire terror in his fellow drivers. While his championship challenge failed to materialise, he pushed maximum performance out of a lifeless car, and put that Ferrari where no other driver could.

As Felipe Massa proved, an average driver will produce average results from an average car. But Fernando is not an average driver. When the opportunity arose to take a single win in 2011, Alonso was there, snatching the victory while his teammate was half a minute behind.

Even when the car was nowhere near its best, Fernando was always ready to fight for whatever scraps Red Bull and McLaren had left behind. He made an astonishing start in Spain to grab the lead from 4th on the grid, and only the prime tyres proved to be his downfall.

When Vettel was out of the running in Germany, Alonso was primed to take another victory, but was thwarted by an excellent pass by Hamilton after his pit-stop. Without that move, it could well have been another win.

With such a dog of a car, the only driver we can effectively compare him to is Massa, and that’s a pretty easy comparison. Alonso has destroyed Felipe in every possible sector this year. While Fernando has taken 10 podiums this year, Felipe has none whatsoever. What’s more impressive is the fact that Alonso was out of the top 5 only twice this year (considering that Red Bulls and McLarens would dominate the top 4 according to car pace), while 5th was all that Massa could achieve at all.

This shows the gap between an ordinary driver and an extraordinary one. If I were to criticise him for anything this season, it would be  an ill-judged defense of his position in Canada, resulting in his only retirement of the year.

Despite this, Alonso is capable of pushing his car well beyond what it would achieve with any other driver at the wheel. His long-term contract with Ferrari shows that he has faith in the Scuderia, and the prospect of a competitive car next year will undoubtedly set us up for a brilliant showdown against Red Bull and McLaren.

For achieving what no other driver could in a dismal car, Fernando Alonso is my driver of the year.

2011 final driver rankings: 10th – 4th

This is the third article in a 4-part series, ranking all 28 drivers of the season. This section of the ranking covers drivers such as Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

10th – Paul di Resta

Di Resta has proven to be a surprisingly fast and reliable rookie

Di Resta has proven to be a surprisingly fast and reliable rookie

Previous ranking: 13th

Review from previous ranking: “Ragged drives have lost him points, but nevertheless a decent start to his F1 career for the Scot.”

It still amazes me that Paul di Resta is in only his first year in F1 – his form makes him look like an experienced veteran.

Aside from a few scrappy rookie errors, Di Resta has been incredibly reliable and solid for a rookie, amassing the most racing laps by any driver this year. He out-qualified teammate Adrian Sutil 9 times, and held this advantage 6 times in the races.

Force India later began to split their strategies between their two drivers, which resulted in a hit-and-miss second half for Di Resta. Despite this, many have been seriously impressed with the Scot’s mature attitude and confident driving this year.

The fact that he scored points in his first 2 races, as well as 6 of the last 9, spoke volumes.

9th – Adrian Sutil

Sutil performed well, but it wasn't enough

Sutil performed well, but it wasn't enough

Previous ranking: 15th

Review from previous ranking: “If he is beaten by Di Resta in his first year, then Adrian will find himself shunted out of the way by the hotshot rookie.”

It’s both a blessing and a curse for teams to see their driver perform brilliantly while their contract is up for review. A blessing because it brings the results the team craves, a curse because the form rarely continues into the next season (see Toro Rosso).

Sutil found himself under huge pressure from rookie Di Resta, and delivered the goods fantastically in the second half of 2011. Taking season-best 6th places in home race Germany and Brazil were the highlights. It has been a complete turnaround from Germany only 2 years ago, when he bottled his first-ever points-scoring finish by clashing with Kimi Raikkonen.

He enjoyed a decent overall margin over Paul in both qualifying and the races, and rarely lost an opportunity when it was presented.

Adrian has proven himself to be much more reliable and mature than his previous driving indicated, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to retain his contract for 2012.

8th – Mark Webber

Webber tussled with the Pirelli tyres all year

Webber tussled with the Pirelli tyres all year

Previous ranking: 7th

Review from previous ranking: “Webber seems to be lacking in pace, and is at risk of being beaten (points-wise) by Alonso.”

After the end of one of his most disastrous seasons in Formula 1, it is a mystery as to how Mark Webber can pull his career around.

Webber has been completely annihilated by Sebastian Vettel in every single sector this year. While his German teammate finished in the top two 16 times, Mark could do the same only 3 times across the entire season.

He struggled massively at starts, couldn’t extract any performance from the Pirelli tyres in qualifying, and wore them out too quickly in the races. A solitary win in Brazil was barely deserved either – it was only because Vettel suffered gearbox issues.

His racecraft was hit-and-miss as well. His pass on Fernando Alonso in Spa was breathtaking, but he showed inability to adapt to the 2011 racing style in Korea, passing Lewis Hamilton just before a DRS zone, allowing the McLaren to sail past.

A charge through the field in China was fantastic to watch, but overall it was incredibly disappointing to see Webber toil with the Ferraris and McLarens rather than with his teammate.

7th – Sergio Perez

Perez is a completely different type of driver than other rookies

Perez is a completely different type of driver than other rookies

Previous ranking: 8th

Review from previous ranking: “Impressive pace has led many to praise Perez as rookie of the year.”

A crash in Monaco ruled out Perez when the Sauber car was at its best, but he has still done an immense job in his rookie year.

“Checo” made an immediate impact in F1 by scoring points on his debut, only to have them cruelly taken away after a minor technical infringement. A scrappy few races followed, particularly in China, where Sergio picked up two penalties after some questionable driving.

One of the things that has impressed me the most about Perez is his mature no-nonsense attitude. After his Monaco crash, he sensibly sat out the Canadian GP as well, after not feeling well in Friday practice. There are many drivers on the grid who would go into the Grand Prix regardless, putting themselves and their fellow drivers at risk. The fact that Perez reported side-effects from the crash up to 4 races later shows that his decision was the sensible one.

He was soon back to his best, taking a career-best 7th in Silverstone. He was vastly superior over Kamui Kobayashi in qualifying, and was very competent at adapting to the Pirelli tyres. The fact that he is already being lined up for a Ferrari drive is a signal of his prowess.

6th – Lewis Hamilton

Undoubtedly the worst season of Hamilton's career

Undoubtedly the worst season of Hamilton's career

Previous ranking: 4th

Review from previous review: “Hamilton needs to ease off at times, and learn which battles to fight and which to avoid.”

My prediction for Lewis Hamilton could not have been more wrong – it’s been an incredibly difficult year for the former world champion.

Needless clashes, spats with the stewards, tussling with a superior teammate, and apparent overwhelming personal issues all dogged Lewis in 2011. He hasn’t lost his racing ability, as shown by excellent driving in China, Spain and Germany. However, it was clear that Hamilton was surrounded by the wrong people.

The decision to hire a celebrity manager rather than a sporting one took its toll – Lewis was making 3 media/sponsor appearances every single day for a 3 week period at one point. His frustration took to the track, and several shunts with Felipe Massa in Monaco was just the beginning of a fracas that would last the entire season.

As well as the collisions with Massa, Monaco proved to be the worst race of the year. Hitting Pastor Maldonado near the end provoked another penalty from the stewards, and Lewis didn’t hold back in his criticism afterwards.

To make matters worse, the fact that Jenson Button had improved to become an increasingly competitive teammate proved calamitous. In Canada, relations were tense after the two collided in the treacherous conditions.

However, we must not forget that Lewis was still able to show his talents this year. He was completely deserving in every race he won, and pushed Vettel to the flag in Spain, where Red Bull have dominated so much in the past. Wonderful passes in China and Germany were a demonstration of how good a driver he is.

It’s absolutely certain that Hamilton has the pace to win championships, all he has to do is calm down. But that’s easier said than done.

5th – Michael Schumacher

A notable improvement from Schumacher this year

A notable improvement from Schumacher this year

Previous ranking: 10th

Review from previous ranking: “Further improvement this year would be the main aim for Schumacher.”

It’s been more than improvement for Schumacher – he has seriously upped his game, and pushed Nico Rosberg in nearly every way to the final race in Brazil.

Ending the season only 13 points behind Rosberg, it’s been an impressive year for Schumacher. He deserved a well-earned podium in Canada, only for an oversized DRS zone to rip it out of his hands.

Poor qualifying was his hindrance, but he frequently made it up in the races. Michael has set 116 overtakes this season, more than any other driver. Of course, this stat is skewed in the fact that Rosberg was unable to make up much places, while Schumacher would ascend from the depths of Q2, but it is still an impressive statistic.

It’s no secret that Schumacher’s side of the garage is 100% geared towards defeating Rosberg. There is apparently a growing tension in the team as both sides do their best to out-perform the other. It will be very interesting to see how the German duo battle it out in 2012, but much of it will hinge on the car.

4th – Nico Rosberg

Rosberg needs better machinery to show his potential

Rosberg needs better machinery to show his potential

Previous ranking: 5th

Review from previous ranking: “Consistently beating Schumacher will do his reputation a world of good.”

Another year, another lacklustre car at Rosberg’s disposal. It’s a wonder why he puts up with it.

While he was unable to completely dominate Schumacher in the points total, Rosberg completely out-classed his fellow German in qualifying pace. While Michael’s races were spattered with retirements, Nico has cleanly and consistently been taking points finishes by the truckload.

His points margin over Schumacher was reduced this year compared to 2010, but that was to be expected after a torrid campaign last time around from the 7-times champion.

Rosberg is completely capable of mixing it with the frontrunners whenever the opportunity arises, such as Spa or China. He has led quite a few Grands Prix, but the lack of pace from the W02 has constantly held him back from crossing the chequered flag first.

The start of next season will be similar to the start of 2011 – many will be looking to see does Mercedes deliver on its long-awaited frontrunning car. I’m also looking forward to that day – but mostly to see can Rosberg show what he’s really made of.

2011 final driver rankings: 18th – 11th

This is the second article out of 4, ranking all 28 drivers from this season. This section includes drivers such as Felipe Massa, Kamui Kobayashi and Jaime Alguersuari.

18th – Felipe Massa

The Pirelli tyres brought no improvement to Massa's form

The Pirelli tyres brought no improvement to Massa's form

Previous ranking: 14th

Review from previous ranking: “Ferrari need a second driver who can consistently take podiums, not struggle for 6th.”

The one thing I find more frustrating than Felipe Massa is those who keep praising him despite his disastrous pace. Every single year, we are promised a return to form by the Brazilian, and every year is a let-down.

This year, it was the Pirelli tyres that were to catapult Massa to the top, which of course never happened. While teammate Fernando Alonso took 10 podiums, one of which was a win, Massa was never higher than 5th.

A clear sign of his ineptness at the Ferrari was in India, where he was the only driver to find trouble with the kerbs – and did it twice. as well as this, he was not blameless in the spat with Lewis Hamilton – turning into the McLaren in India was ill-judged to say the least.

The best indicator of a driver’s pace is their performance relative to their teammate, and Massa didn’t even get half of what Alonso won. Even Mark Webber, who had a shocking season by his standards, was able to beat this.

Renault and Ferrari have, in recent times, shown that it is entirely plausible to end a driver’s contract prematurely. Why they haven’t done this with Massa yet, we’ll never know.

17th – Bruno Senna

Senna's first race was ruined by his own hand

Senna's first race was ruined by his own hand

Previous ranking: 24th (2010 half-way rankings)

Review from previous ranking: “Senna’s potential is still unclear.” (2010 half-way rankings)

After spending 2010 lingering at the back of the grid, the Senna name was thrown into the midfield of the grid, after Nick Heidfeld was given the boot. So far, Bruno’s impact has been unconvincing to say the least.

He qualified an excellent 7th at his first race of the year in Spa, but bottled it at the first corner. A pair of points were scored at Monza, but that was the only top 10 finish of the season.

Despite this, he showed interesting flashes of pace, generally being faster than Vitaly Petrov, and driving well at his home race in Brazil, before clashing with Michael Schumacher – the first time since 1993 that those two surnames have collided.

As the Renault and its radical front exhausts fell apart, it became clear that Senna was unable to demonstrate his prowess. I’m unsure as to his full potential, but many feel that despite the circumstances, he should have performed better in 2011.

16th – Vitaly Petrov

A single podium was the only high point of Petrov's season

A single podium was the only high point of Petrov's season

Previous ranking: 9th

Review from previous ranking: “It will be up to Petrov to take the majority of Renault’s points this year.”

As the Renault car became more and more hopeless, Petrov began to falter, and was being worryingly out-paced by new recruit Senna by the end of the year.

A podium in Australia was undoubtedly the standout moment of the year, but there wasn’t much to talk about after that. In Malaysia, a mistake by Petrov resulted in a spectactular launch into the air, which was the last race the team had any chance of racing at the front.

Apart from a 5th place in Canada, he was only able to snatch 9th and 10th places throughout the year, and only had 3 points more than Nick Heidfeld – who missed the last 8 races.

It was an improvement from 2010, but not improvement enough to keep his seat for next year, and I can’t complain about that.

15th – Sebastien Buemi

The wheels came off Buemi's season in the second half

The wheels came off Buemi's season in the second half

Previous ranking: 16th

Review from previous ranking: “Of Ricciardo impresses at HRT, then Buemi may still be under pressure for the race seat in 2012.”

After the unceremonious dumping of both drivers, Toro Rosso have indicated that they have had enough of their drivers. Buemi and Alguersuari tussled for the lead in the team throughout the season, but ultimately the better driver came out on top.

Sebastien had the upper hand in the first few races, adapting well to the Pirelli tyres. He was able to out-qualify Alguersuari, and conserve his tyres better in the races. However, when Jaime turned his season around, matching pace from Buemi was nowhere to be seen.

It must be considered that he suffered more than his fair share of technical problems, but the general consensus is that Buemi should have achieved more after 3 years in Toro Rosso, which is considerably more than what many other drivers got.

14th – Kamui Kobayashi

A difficult second half of the season for Kobayashi

A difficult second half of the season for Kobayashi

Previous ranking: 6th

Review from previous ranking: “Kobayashi continues to punch well above his weight with scintillating drives.”

The fans’ favourite overtaker suffered a disappointing second half to the season, while his teammate took the limelight.

The first half of 2011 was spectacular, with Kobayashi finishing in the top 10 7 races in a row, something that neither of the Mercedes drivers could achieve.

However, his qualifying pace began to falter alarmingly, and teammate Perez began to take control. Finishing the season with 2 points finishes was impressive, and helped him end the season with double what Perez achieved. However, it must be considered that Sergio missed out on two races which I feel he would have performed well in.

Overall, it was a decent season, but improvement is still necessary for Kobayashi.

13th – Jaime Alguersuari

A spate of points-scoring finishes was not enough for Alguersuari

A spate of points-scoring finishes was not enough for Alguersuari

Previous ranking: 12th

Review from previous ranking: “Alguersuari came very close to being replaced, but several good drives have rescued his career.”

Not good enough, I’m afraid. An impressive improvement came in the second half of 2011, but Alguersuari was still dropped at the end of the year.

A series of 18th-to-points runs were entertaining to watch, and a pair of 7th places in Monza and Korea were the high points for Jaime. Qualifying 6th in Spa was also an excellent performance, before he was cruelly taken out by Bruno Senna.

In the end, he was comfortably ahead of his teammate, where he deserved to be. However, holding up Vettel in Korean practice did him no favours with Red Bull, and earned him an severe dressing-down from Helmut Mark0 (which I’ve heard will be featured in the F1 review DVD).

Whether this politics hurt his chances at retaining his seat, we’ll never know.

12th – Nick Heidfeld

Heidfeld was a casualty of Renault's demise

Heidfeld was a casualty of Renault's demise

Previous ranking: 11th

Review from previous ranking: “Reliable driving has helped him in the races, but a lack of raw pace is holding Nick back.”

A surprise ditching by Renault saw Heidfeld out of a drive halfway through the season. Because of this, we will never know how he was to handle with the deteriorating R31.

A magnificent start in Malaysia, as well as holding up the McLaren drivers, saw Nick take a well-deserved podium. As the Renault slipped down the order, Heidfeld was able to take as many 7th and 8th places as he could. He was taken out on the first lap in Germany, and an exploding sidepod took him out in Hungary, which proved to be his last race.

I’m still confused as to why Renault bothered dropping Heidfeld, considering Petrov could hardly amass his points total with an extra 8 races in hand. He was a safe pair of hands, and consistently got the job done, aside from a calamitious error at the Nurburgring.

His main weakness was dire qualifying, which principal Eric Boullier was particularly angry about. Still, I feel that Renault was worse off without Heidfeld.

11th – Heikki Kovalainen

Kovalainen far exceeded the car's potential

Kovalainen far exceeded the car's potential

Previous ranking: 19th

Review from previous ranking: “It will be up to Kovalainen to secure 10th place in the Constructor’s Championship for the team.”

With HRT and Virgin constantly falling further behind, and Jarno Trulli proving lacklustre, it was always going to be up to Kovalainen to prove Lotus’ worth.

I admit that I had nearly given up on Kovalainen after his dismal years at McLaren – he recently said that those two years had drained all his confidence. In that light, going back to basics was the best possible move for Heikki. With little pressure around him, he has been able to re-invigorate his racing spirit.

Whenever a midfield car faltered, it was Kovalainen who snatched the opportunity to move into Q2, which he did three times. He absolutely demolished his teammate in every sector – qualifying (16 successes out of 18), and races, where he often finished half a minute ahead of Trulli.

A 13th-placed finish in Monza secured 10th for Lotus in the constructors’ championship. With luck, the team soon to be known as Caterham can finally improve to the midfield, with Kovalainen the driving force of the squad.

2011 final driver rankings: 28th – 19th

This will be the complete ranking of each driver in 2011 based on their performances throughout the season. These rankings also contain clippings from previous reviews from 2011 and 2010. Without further delay, here are the first 10 drivers to be examined:

28th – Karun Chandhok

Chandhok had one chance for redemption and failed

Chandhok had one chance for redemption and failed

Previous ranking: 25th (2010 final rankings)

Review from last ranking: He has not been given the car to prove himself in the races.” (2010 half-way review)

The popular Indian driver’s season got off to a miserable start in Melbourne, crashing three turns into his out lap.

He was drafted in for a one-off drive at the Nurburgring, and was completely off the pace, spinning several times and resulting in Chandhok finishing 2 laps behind his teammate.

He made no impact at all during his practice session runs during the season, and his rejected attempt to drive at the Indian Grand Prix was embarrassing to say the least.

27th – Jarno Trulli

Retirement is still knocking on Jarno's door

Retirement is still knocking on Jarno's door

Previous ranking: 23rd

Review from last ranking: “Retirement may not be too far off the horizon for Trulli.”

After another season considerably out-paced by his teammate, its a wonder as to why Caterham will retain Trulli for next season.

Blaming most of his problems on a strange power steering issue, Jarno was still miles off the pace of Heikki Kovalainen after this had been fixed. The former one-lap master was out-qualified 16 times out of 19 this year.

He performed reasonably well in Monaco, but apart from this, it was a truly dismal season for Jarno. After Vitaly Petrov was ousted from his Renault seat, it makes you wonder will the Italian be seen in the paddock in 2012.

26th – Narain Karthikeyan

Karthikeyan impressed in India, but that was about it

Karthikeyan impressed in India, but that was about it

Previous ranking: 24th

Review from last ranking: “With disappointing pace in a lacklustre car, a replacement driver was inevitable.”

Many were very surprised to see Narain return in Australia after a 5-year absence, but that was basically all the impact the Indian had all year.

He was ousted after 8 races, but I was rather impressed with his one-off return at the Indian Grand Prix. Karthikeyan performed reasonably well in a car he had to re-acquaint himself with, and finished ahead of his teammate.

However, this was the only shining moment in a dull and uninspired season for Narain.

25th – Pastor Maldonado

It has been a dreadful debut for Maldonado

It has been a dreadful debut for Maldonado

Previous ranking: 22nd

Review from previous ranking: “If he is unable to turn this form into results, then there will be little future for Maldonado in Formula 1.”

The 2010 GP2 champion has given no reason as to why he deserves to be in Formula 1, relying solely on a substantial paycheck by his fellow Venezuelan backers.

Williams are known to be in trouble financially, and with their decision to float an IPO failing also, they turned to Maldonado to keep the team afloat. He may have done that, but Pastor hasn’t done much else. A single solitary point is all Maldonado has to offer at the end of 2011.

He performed well in Monaco, and was on course for a 6th-placed finish before clashing with Lewis Hamilton. However, he was less friendly with Lewis at Spa, deliberately trying to punt the McLaren off the track.

The last time a driver deliberately crashed in Formula 1, he was disgraced and essentially thrown out of the sport. I wouldn’t have minded if the same happened to Maldonado.

24th – Vitantonio Liuzzi

Liuzzi was well out-performed in the second half of 2011

Liuzzi was well out-performed in the second half of 2011

Previous ranking: 20th

Review from previous ranking: “Vitantonio has done well to demonstrate his prowess in a dismal car.”

In the first half of the season, it appeared as if Liuzzi had driven well, comprehensively beating Karthikeyan and giving HRT their best ever finish in Canada.

But, once Daniel Ricciardo was ordered to replace Karthikeyan, Tonio’s lack of pace was revealed, and his season began to unravel. In the 6 times where both HRTs finished, Liuzzi only beat the rookie twice.

Even when he was in front of Ricciardo, he was never definitively faster than him, and causing a multiple-car crash in Monza was the low point of what could be the last season for Liuzzi.

23rd – Jerome D’Ambrosio

D'Ambrosio has not done badly, but not well enough

D'Ambrosio has not done badly, but not well enough

Previous ranking: 21st

Review from previous ranking: “A first foray into F1 has not gone disastrously just yet for Jerome D’Ambrosio.”

For a rookie, D’Ambrosio was unusually quiet – and that’s not a good thing.

He failed to make a considerable impact at Virgin, but never disgraced himself either. A pair of 14th place finishes kept him ahead of Timo Glock in the drivers’ standings. His worst moment was probably Hungary, where he spun in the pit lane, almost taking his mechanics out with him.

An oddly anonymous debut is not what a rookie driver needs, although I’m still surprised to see him replaced by another rookie. Jerome had the potential to do better, and it’s been disappointing to see him leave F1 so soon.

22nd – Timo Glock

Glock deserves better after 2 lacklustre Virgin cars

Glock deserves better after 2 lacklustre Virgin cars

Previous ranking: 18th

Review from previous ranking: “He has consistently out-qualified D’Ambrosio, and is set to perform better as the season progresses.”

Another season languishing at the back is not what a talented driver like Timo Glock needs to progress his career.

He did his best to prove his worth – particularly in Monaco – but the lack of pace from the MVR-02 held him back.

While Lotus/Caterham continued their ascent to the midfield, all Glock could do was circulate ahead of D’Ambrosio and the HRT cars, and he generally did just that. We all know Timo deserves better, and with a move to a better team out of the question for 2011, next season looks like a similar struggle.

21st – Rubens Barrichello

Not much to talk about for Barrichello

Not much to talk about this year for Barrichello

Previous ranking: 17th

Review from previous ranking: “A horribly uncompetitive Williams is to blame for Barrichello’s slump, but being pushed by underperforming rookie Maldonado does not bode well for Rubens.”

Only two years ago the thought of placing Barrichello this far down the rankings would be unthinkable – the likable Brazilian has retained good pace throughout his 19-season career. However, 2011 was the indicator that Rubens’ career is on its last legs.

Two 9th places in a row was all that Rubens could manage for points. It was still better than teammate Maldonado, but Barrichello doesn’t come with financial backing, and that’s why he is most likely on the way out at Williams.

Uncharacteristic errors, most notably in Australia, marred Rubens’ season. It’s  been a strange few years for the veteran, having experienced the highs of Ferrari and Brawn, contrasting with the lows of Honda and Williams. Unfortunately, I suspect that we may have seen the last of Rubens Barrichello.

20th – Daniel Ricciardo

Ricciardo excelled where others could not

Ricciardo excelled where others could not

Previous ranking: N/A

Review from previous ranking: N/A

Many rookie drivers deliberately avoid joining an F1 team halfway through the season, to avoid being thrown out of the sport mere months later. I highly doubt this will occur to Daniel Ricciardo.

Drafted in at Silverstone, Ricciardo was on the pace from the get-go, and was beating Vitantonio Liuzzi after only 3 races. Red Bull are well known for backing the Australian’s move into F1, and it seems that their decision has been justified.

Daniel made no catastrophic errors, and mixed it with the Virgins and Liuzzi throughout qualifying and the races. Racing for Toro Rosso next season, I feel he can succeed where Buemi and Alguersuari failed.

19th – Pedro de la Rosa

Pedro de la Rosa did what was expected of him

Pedro de la Rosa did what was expected of him

Previous ranking: 19th (2010 final ranking)

Review from previous ranking: “HRT are reported to be looking at the Spaniard for 2011, but despite this, his future is in serious doubt.”

It may have been a year late this time around, but I seem to have developed a knack for predicting De la Rosa’s future moves in these rankings!

Pedro had little to do this year, making a sole appearance in Canada, substituting for the injured Sergio Perez. He performed the job as expected, finishing a rather impressive 12th in difficult circumstances.

Considering he had never driven the Sauber C30 before, praise is certainly deserved for De la Rosa. He will drive for HRT next year, and it will be interesting to see how he performs there. To make an attempt at 3 correct predictions in a row, I believe that he won’t make much impact in such a poor car  – and knowing HRT, he’ll likely get replaced halfway through the year.

My top 5 drives of the season

After looking at the finest races and overtakes of 2011, it’s time to move on to the best race performances by any driver. This is judged by looking at raw pace, clever use of strategy and sheer brilliant driving.

5th – Sebastian Vettel – Monaco Grand Prix

After a scintillating drive in qualifying, a clean getaway would normally have sealed the race for Sebastian.

But, a mistake at his first pit stop put Vettel at a disadvantage – and on the wrong tyres. He emerged on the soft compound instead of the super-softs.

To make matters worse, the Red Bull was later reeled in by both Alonso and Button. His Pirelli tyres were nearly shredded to pieces, but Sebastian hung on lap after lap, keeping the Ferrari and McLaren at bay.

A red flag with 6 laps to go calmed the battle, and ensured the Red Bull would cruise to the chequered flag on new tyres, but it was by no means easy for Vettel.

4th – Mark Webber – Chinese Grand Prix

A torrid performance in qualifying left the Aussie in 18th place on the grid. Clearly a fightback was the order of the day.

Slicing through the field, Mark made it up to 4th place, then overtook Jenson Button on the final lap to take a brilliant podium position. Unfortunately much of his racing action was missed by the cameras.

It was a sweet ending to a poor weekend, marred by electrical and KERS problems.

3rd – Fernando Alonso – Spanish Grand Prix

By the Spanish GP, it was well known that the 2011 Ferrari challenger was hopeless against the Red Bulls – it’s a good thing nobody told Fernando Alonso.

A trademark demon start put Fernando in the lead of his home Grand Prix, to the delight of the fans. He held the position until the first pit stop, where his race began to unravel.

After being pipped by Vettel in the first set of stops, Alonso eventually had to put on the prime tyres, which killed his charge completely. He slipped to 5th, and was a lap down by the chequered flag.

So why is this drive on the list? Because nobody else on the grid would have been able to do what Fernando did in the opening stages. He thrashed the car to the absolute limit, and was beating a significantly faster car. A ferocious drive from the Spaniard.

2nd – Jenson Button – Japanese Grand Prix

In a year of Sebastian Vettel domination, it was quite a considerable achievement to beat the double world champion on a trademark Red Bull track.

By missing pole position by less than 0.01 seconds, it was clear he had the pace. After Button undercut Vettel at the first set of stops, there was no stopping him.

Fernando Alonso chased the McLaren to the flag, so much so that Jenson nearly burned out the minimum fuel sample required after the race. He pulled over after the final lap, finishing just a second ahead of Alonso.

Still, it was a fantastic drive to out-perform the Red Bulls at one of their strongest circuits…

1st – Jenson Button – Canadian Grand Prix

But not as good a drive as in Canada. Disaster after disaster couldn’t stop the Briton’s charge through the field – twice.

A puncture after clashing with his teammate, a drive-through penalty for speeding, followed up by another accident – this time with Fernando Alonso – and another puncture.

Most drivers’ races would end here. But for Jenson, he took it on himself to make another final dash from last to first, and took the lead on the final lap for icing on the cake.

On a difficult damp track, to lap over 2 seconds a lap faster than anyone else is simply incredible, and that’s why Button has earned the drive of the year.

Hulkenberg replaces Sutil at Force India

Hulkenberg has been promoted to race driver for Force India

Hulkenberg has been promoted to race driver for Force India

Nico Hulkenberg will drive alongside Paul di Resta at Force India for the 2012 season.

This leaves veteran Adrian Sutil, who has been with the team for 5 years, without a race seat for next year.

Nico last drove in F1 in 2010, when he took a shock pole position at the Brazilian Grand Prix in his debut season. He was not retained however, and has been reserve driver for Vijay Mallya’s outfit ever since.

Mallya praised Nico and Paul for their impressive talent, and thanked Adrian for his years of service:

"Our new line-up means we say 'goodbye' to Adrian Sutil, who has been with the 
team since we entered the sport. He has been an integral part of our success over 
the past four seasons and we wish him well for the future.

In Paul and Nico we have two extremely talented drivers with tremendous potential.

I think Paul caught the eye of everybody in the pit lane during his rookie season. 
His speed, maturity and racecraft confirmed that we were right to believe in him 
and we look forward to working with him again next year.

As for Nico, we identified him as a rising star at the end of 2010 and chose to 
evaluate him during the course of this season. Despite having only limited time in 
the car, he convinced us that he deserved a race seat for 2012."

Alguersuari and Buemi make way for Ricciardo and Vergne at Toro Rosso

Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo will be at Toro Rosso next year

Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo will be at Toro Rosso next year

Toro Rosso is to completely reshuffle its driver line-up for next year.

Current drivers Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi, who have been at the team for 3 years, have both been dropped by the team.

They will be replaced by former HRT driver Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, who has tested for Red Bull and Toro Rosso. Both of these drivers have been part of the Red Bull Development Drivers scheme.

Team principal Franz Tost noted that Toro Rosso’s “culture” has been about changing drivers frequently:

"I must thank Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari for all their hard work over the 
past three seasons.

They have delivered some excellent performances which have helped the team move 
forward and develop. We wish them well for the future.

However, one has to remember that when Scuderia Toro Rosso was established in 
2005, it was done so with the intention of providing a first step into Formula 
1 for the youngsters in the Red Bull Junior Driver programme. It is therefore 
part of the team’s culture to change its driver line-up from time to time in 
order to achieve this goal."

Both Ricciardo and Vergne have tested for Toro Rosso in Friday practice in 2011, and both will make their Grand Prix debut on March 18th in Melbourne next year.

My top 5 races of the year

With a review of the top overtaking moves a few days ago, let’s move on to my favourite 5 races of 2011:

5th – British Grand Prix

With a one-off ban on off-throttle blown diffusers, and rain falling on only one half of the circuit, we were always for a great race at Silverstone.

Tyre strategy proved crucial in the opening 15 laps, as the drivers struggled their way back onto the soft tyres. Once Red Bull made a mistake at their pit stop, Fernando Alonso wasted no time in snatching a victory in unlikely circumstances.

Further back, we saw battles between Button, Webber, Hamilton and Massa throughout. Lewis in particular was in the wars, making a brilliant move on Alonso in the early stages, then tussling with Massa all the way to the finish line:

4th – Hungarian Grand Prix

Another rain-affected start here – Hungary has a penchant for throwing up excellent races in tricky conditions.

Lewis Hamilton took the lead from Vettel in the opening laps, tearing out a lead over everyone else. Once Button got past the Red Bull, he grew closer and closer to his teammate’s rear wing.

Eventually, the rain had a say in the matter, causing Hamilton to spin and lose the lead – but not for long. The two McLarens slid off the track several times battling for the lead, with Lewis ending up on top.

However, a faulty radio resulted in him pitting before the track was fully wet, destroying his chances of winning the race, and a drive-through penalty sealed his fate. It wasn’t all at the front, though, as there was exciting racing throughout the entire field:

3rd – German Grand Prix

With Vettel uncharacteristically off the pace, we were treated to a fantastic 3-way battle for the lead throughout the German Grand Prix.

In between pit stop battles, a brilliant move by Hamilton on Alonso (which I named my favourite move of the year) gave him the lead, which he took with pleasure.

It was an enthralling battle of wits and guts against Alonso and Webber, and the highlight of a disappointing year for Lewis.

2nd – Chinese Grand Prix

After a problem with his car nearly stopped him starting the race, Hamilton (clearly the star of this article!) was again on top form, passing Rosberg, Massa and Vettel en route to victory.

Mark Webber sliced up to 3rd from 18th on the grid – an unlikely achievement after his dismal qualifying.

Button provided the entertainment in another form, making a bizarre mistake in the pit lane, nearly stopping in the Red Bull box.

But it was Lewis who stole the show, taking the lead on the final lap without using DRS, which is just what we want to see:

1st – Canadian Grand Prix

You knew this was coming – a 4 hour race in Canada was always going to be epic.

After Turn 1, Webber had already been taken out of the frontrunner action, with both McLarens in the wars only a few laps later. A calamitous collision between Hamilton and Button left the former out of the race, and the latter in last place:

Jenson was in for further trouble – breaking the safety car speed limit earned him a drive-through penalty. A later collision with Fernando Alonso, sending him right back down the field – should have ended his day.

But Button is a master of the tricky conditions, and the drying track in Montreal allowed him to scythe back up the field, going from last to first in only 30 laps.

Again, we were never short of racing action, with Michael Schumacher showing us why he is still a driver to be feared, only just missing out on a podium finish. Felipe Massa once again provided a photo finish, this time with Kamui Kobayashi.

Despite the 2-hour red flag, it was one of the most enjoyable F1 races I have ever seen, and that’s all that needs to be said.

Grosjean joins Raikkonen at Renault

Grosjean will return after a 2-year absence

Grosjean will return after a 2-year absence

Former Renault driver Romain Grosjean will rejoin his former team next year.

He will be paired up with former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, forming one of the most interesting driver combinations on the grid.

Grosjean drove for Renault in the second half of the 2009 season, replacing Nelson Piquet Jr and joining Fernando Alonso at the squad. Despite not being too far off the Spaniard’s pace, he failed to score a point, and was dropped after the season finale.

He has since returned to GP2, where he finished 4th in 2009 despite missing the last 8 races. He won this year’s title convincingly driving for DAMS.

Romain has said today:

"There’s a big grin on my face at the prospect of getting behind the wheel of next 
year’s car, and I feel very privileged to be given this opportunity.

To be racing alongside a former world champion and someone who is hungry and 
returning to Formula 1 will be a great experience, and I’m sure will help raise my 
level of performance too.

I feel that my successful season in GP2 has helped me mature a lot, and I am a much 
more complete driver than I was last time I was competing in this sport.

Returning to Enstone as a race driver feels like coming home. I will not disappoint 
and I wish to thank all the people without whom this return to F1 would not have been 
possible. Total, [who have been supporting] me since 2006, and Gravity Sport 
Management, are first on this list."

 

My top 5 overtakes of the year

With the Pirelli tyres and KERS providing a welcome new element to on-track racing, 2011 saw some fantastic battles between the drivers.   Although DRS grew slightly stale in its repetitive passes, we were in no shortage of wheel-to-wheel action. Here are my favourite overtaking moves from this season:

5th – Michael Schumacher on Kamui Kobayashi and Felipe Massa – Canada

This year saw an improvement from Schumacher, after struggling for much of his return so far. After Felipe Massa got held up by Kamui Kobayashi in Canada, we saw a glimpse of the old Schumacher as he sliced through to take 2nd place.

4th – Sebastian Vettel on Fernando Alonso – Italy

Seeing one driver dominate at the front is no fun, it’s much more entertaining for everyone when Vettel has had to fight for the win. This pass on Fernando Alonso after a safety car restart showed Sebastian at his very best, racing at the limit even when the title had been neatly wrapped up.

3rd – Fernando Alonso on Jenson Button – Brazil

The surprised expressions from Brundle and Coulthard says it all – very few could imagine overtaking around the outside of Turn 6 in Brazil, but Fernando Alonso made it look easy.

2nd – Mark Webber on Fernando Alonso – Spa

An incredibly committed move by Mark Webber, shoving Alonso aside as the two cars entered Eau Rouge. This was a pass achieved through sheer bravery – and hoping that Fernando would give Mark space, which thankfully he did.

1st – Lewis Hamilton on Fernando Alonso – Germany

Victory for Lewis Hamilton at the Nurburgring was sweet, but the moment of the day had to be this fantastic opportunistic pass on Fernando Alonso. As the Spaniard exited the pits on cold tyres, Lewis swept around the outside to take the lead – and later the win.

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