Monthly Archives: August 2013

Sebastian Vettel dominates Belgian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel has won the Belgian Grand Prix, showing that Mercedes’ apparent comeback may not be as smooth sailing as previously anticipated.

The Red Bull driver passed pole sitter Lewis Hamilton on the first lap, and was completely untouchable for the rest of the afternoon. Hamilton clearly struggled with the pace of his car, and gradually slipped away, finishing in 3rd place.

Fernando Alonso made an emphatic start as usual, jumping up from 9th to 5th on the first lap. After disposing of Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg, he later dived down the inside of Hamilton at La Source, but was unable to put any pressure on Sebastian.

Behind the top 3, Hamilton’s and Vettel’s teammates did duel for the entire race. Mark Webber hounded Nico Rosberg since the first set of pit stops, but a lack of straight line speed and outright pace kept the Aussie in 5th place. Rosberg began to catch Lewis in the closing stages, but never got close enough to make a move.

Jenson Button did his usual strategy of using prime tyres to briefly jump up the order, before being forced to revert to a 2-stopper, and took  6th. Felipe Massa passed Romain Grosjean in the later stages of the race, while Adrian Sutil and Daniel Riccardo took the final points-scoring positions.

Sutil previously survived an incident with Pastor Maldonado, which resulted in Paul di Resta being taken out of the way. During a 4-way battle into the Bus Stop chicane, Maldonado broke his front wing off Sutil’s car, then clattered into Di Resta while trying to pit. A stop/go penalty combined with his repair stop ensured the Williams driver finished well out of the points. After a brilliant qualifying session, Di Resta fell down the order at the start, was soon passed by his teammate, and afterwards never even looked like challenging for a good finish.

Kimi Raikkonen was never on the pace of the Red Bulls and Mercedes today, and a brake failure ended his 27-race streak of consecutive points finishes.

Vettel’s victory gives him a commanding 46 point lead over Fernando Alonso, who in turn is 12 points ahead of Hamilton. Raikkonen’s retirement puts him in an extremely difficult situation, so the title fight appears to be narrowing to a 3-horse race.

Lewis Hamilton takes last-gasp pole position in Spa

Lewis Hamilton has taken a surprise pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix.

While it appeared until the dying minutes that Paul di Resta would take the top spot, the changing conditions meant that the Mercedes driver could unseat the Force India, preventing their first pole position since Belgium 2009. Here is what happened:

Q1

With rain falling 20 minutes before the start of Q1, intermediates were equipped on all 22 cars.

The times tumbled throughout the session, with 10 seconds being shaved off the fastest time in the final few minutes. As the track became drier, the Marussia drivers and Giedo van der Garde opted to take on slick tyres, which paid off immensely. Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton were 11th and 16th, while Giedo van der Garde took an unlikely 3rd place after being the last driver to set a time on the improving track.

However, this left a few bemused drivers at the back of the grid. Both Toro Rosso drivers, along with Pastor Maldonado, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierrez and Charles Pic were all knocked out in the first session. Pic also took on the dry tyres, but was held up at the weighbridge, and was unable to set a fast time.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

17) Pastor Maldonado – 2:03.072

18) Jean-Eric Vergne – 2:03.300

19) Daniel Riccardo – 2:03.317

20) Valtteri Bottas – 2:03.432

21) Esteban Gutierrez – 2:04.324

22) Charles Pic – 2:07.384

Q2

As expected, the three backmarkers filled the grid spots from 14th to 16th, but all 3 were pleased with their personal best qualification finishes.

With the track dry in Q2, the best Giedo van der Garde could manage was 14th, with Bianchi and Chilton behind.

Drivers knocked out of Q2:

11) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:49.088

12) Adrian Sutil – 1:49.103

13) Sergio Perez – 1:49.304

14) Giedo Van der Garde – 1:52.036

15) Jules Bianchi – 1:52.563

16) Max Chilton – 1:52.762

Q3

As 9 drivers sat at the end of the pit lane before Q3, rain began to fall once again. They all scrambled to set a fast time before the track dampened, but were forced to pit for intermediates, as the rain fell harder.

The last remaining driver – Paul di Resta – had quietly emerged from the pits, 30 seconds after everyone else, equipped on the inters. The rest of the paddock could only watch in shock as Di Resta grabbed pole position – or so he thought.

Force India believed that the rain would keep falling, and so pitted Paul, confident that pole was theirs. As the other drivers hastily rejoined the track on wets, they were unable to match Di Resta’s time in the wetter conditions. Nico Rosberg got the closest, but he was still half a second off the mark.

To Force India’s surprise though, the rain clouds slowly cleared, paving the way for a crazed finish to Q3. Rosberg then thought he had provisional pole secured, but within a matter of seconds found himself in 4th place. Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and then Lewis Hamilton all set blinding lap times, with the Mercedes driver eventually on top.

A bemused Di Resta finished 5th, ahead of the two Lotuses and two Ferraris. Hamilton and Vettel share the front row once again, and we are set for a stunner of a race tomorrow.

 

Belgian Grand Prix: Tyre failures overshadow Friday practice

Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time in practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, but once again controversy has reared its head, as two tyre failures have threatened to ruin the entire race weekend.

One happened to Vettel at the end of an 11-lap stint, while the other was discovered on Fernando Alonso’s car after FP2 had concluded. While Pirelli have claimed that the failures were due to debris, drivers have grown worried that there will be a repeat of the Silverstone tyre explosions.

First practice

Rain across Thursday night and Friday morning in the Ardennes forest meant that the track was damp at the start of FP1. As the session continued, the middle sector began to dry out, while everywhere from the Bus Stop chicane to Rivage was still wet.

While McLaren’s Jenson Button set some impressive times in the varying conditions, once the slick tyres were available, the usual drivers topped the timesheets. Sergio Perez, Nico Rosberg, Daniel Riccardo, Lewis Hamilton and later Fernando Alonso all took P1 at different points in the session.

Light rain fell again with 15 minutes to go, leaving Lotus as the only team who failed to set proper lap times when the track was at its driest.

Times from FP1:

 1.  Fernando Alonso      Ferrari               1:55.198          11 Laps
 2.  Paul di Resta        Force India-Mercedes  1:55.224  +0.026  10
 3.  Adrian Sutil         Force India-Mercedes  1:55.373  +0.175  11
 4.  Sergio Perez         McLaren-Mercedes      1:55.518  +0.320  14
 5.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes              1:55.614  +0.416  10
 6.  Sebastian Vettel     Red Bull-Renault      1:55.636  +0.438  14
 7.  Esteban Gutierrez    Sauber-Ferrari        1:55.954  +0.756  18
 8.  Nico Hulkenberg      Sauber-Ferrari        1:56.110  +0.912  11
 9.  Daniel Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:56.770  +1.572  14
10.  Valtteri Bottas      Williams-Renault      1:56.858  +1.660  18
11.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari               1:56.863  +1.665  10
12.  Pastor Maldonado     Williams-Renault      1:57.081  +1.883  14
13.  Jean-Eric Vergne     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:57.084  +1.886  17
14.  Jenson Button        McLaren-Mercedes      1:57.281  +2.083  14
15.  Lewis Hamilton       Mercedes              1:57.358  +2.160  10
16.  Heikki Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault      1:57.821  +2.623  16
17.  Giedo van der Garde  Caterham-Renault      1:57.887  +2.689  16
18.  Max Chilton          Marussia-Cosworth     1:58.600  +3.402  14
19.  Mark Webber          Red Bull-Renault      1:58.929  +3.731  12
20.  Jules Bianchi        Marussia-Cosworth     1:59.209  +4.011  12
21.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus-Renault         1:59.441  +4.243  11
22.  Romain Grosjean      Lotus-Renault         2:03.176  +7.978  15

Second practice

A dry track greeted drivers for FP2, allowing everyone to make full use of the medium and hard compounds.

Until a tyre failure for Vettel put some worried faces in the paddock, that is. With 20 minutes to go, the Red Bull developed a puncture around the Turn 13/14 area, resulting in the German limping slowly back to the pits.

This is the same area where Fernando Alonso’s car later developed a problem. Giedo van der Garde crashed at the same corner, but this was caused by the Dutchman losing control of his Caterham, rather than another worrying blowout. Pirelli have stated that they will inspect the track overnight, but they do not attribute the failures to a tyre design flaw.

Despite their issues, Red Bull still secured a 1-2 finish for FP2, with Vettel 0.05 seconds ahead of Mark Webber. While Mercedes appear to be their main rivals this weekend, they opted to complete only long-run simulations in second practice.

Times from FP2:

 1.  Sebastian Vettel     Red Bull-Renault      1:49.331          22 Laps
 2.  Mark Webber          Red Bull-Renault      1:49.390  +0.059  34
 3.  Romain Grosjean      Lotus-Renault         1:50.149  +0.818  34
 4.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari               1:50.164  +0.833  27
 5.  Jean-Eric Vergne     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:50.253  +0.922  28
 6.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus-Renault         1:50.318  +0.987  33
 7.  Fernando Alonso      Ferrari               1:50.510  +1.179  21
 8.  Sergio Perez         McLaren-Mercedes      1:50.536  +1.205  27
 9.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes              1:50.601  +1.270  33
10.  Paul di Resta        Force India-Mercedes  1:50.611  +1.280  27
11.  Adrian Sutil         Force India-Mercedes  1:50.629  +1.298  30
12.  Lewis Hamilton       Mercedes              1:50.751  +1.420  27
13.  Nico Hulkenberg      Sauber-Ferrari        1:50.972  +1.641  33
14.  Pastor Maldonado     Williams-Renault      1:50.991  +1.660  28
15.  Jenson Button        McLaren-Mercedes      1:51.195  +1.864  28
16.  Daniel Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:51.447  +2.116  26
17.  Valtteri Bottas      Williams-Renault      1:51.568  +2.237  28
18.  Esteban Gutierrez    Sauber-Ferrari        1:51.644  +2.313  26
19.  Giedo van der Garde  Caterham-Renault      1:53.157  +3.826  21
20.  Charles Pic          Caterham-Renault      1:53.251  +3.920  29
21.  Jules Bianchi        Marussia-Cosworth     1:53.482  +4.151  28
22.  Max Chilton          Marussia-Cosworth     1:54.418  +5.087  12

2013 half-way driver rankings: 4th – 1st

In the last of 3 articles, I rank this year’s F1 drivers based on their performances in the first 10 races.

We are left with 4 drivers, each driving for a different team, which shows just how spoiled we are for driving talent these days. Without delay, here’s the driver in 4th place:

4th – Fernando Alonso

Previous ranking: 1st

Previous quote: “In 9 years of watching F1, this [2012 season] was the closest thing to perfection I’ve ever seen.”

Had Fernando Alonso reached his peak in late 2012? It’s a question I refused to believe at the start of this season, but slowly I can see why this may be the case.

Flawless victories in China and Spain demonstrate what he can do when the car is on form. Spirited drives in Australia and Canada earned him praise as well. But we’ve also seen uncharacteristic errors from the Spaniard – a bizarre decision to stay out with a broken front wing in Malaysia cost him a potential podium finish.

Making the error of activating his broken DRS wing in Bahrain forced a second unscheduled stop, ruining any chance of a good result. As well as this, we have seen Alonso become more visibly flustered by Ferrari’s incompetence at building a consistently competitive car. A rift in the team grew over the summer break, fuelled by comments from Luca di Montezemelo, criticising Fernando for turning on his team.

None of this has helped his 2013 challenge in the slightest. It also puts him under pressure as to his drive for the 2014 season – should he switch to Red Bull or Lotus, or continue to try with a team that can’t fix a wind tunnel after 3 years of failure?

At this point, there’s no correct decision. All he can do for now is push on track, and try to close the gap to Sebastian Vettel as much as possible. But the title may already be out of reach, thanks to his early-season errors.

3rd – Lewis Hamilton

Previous ranking: 2nd

Previous quote: “If Hamilton can transform Mercedes like Schumacher did to Ferrari, he will go down as one of the best drivers of the modern era.”

3rd place in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix confirmed what many had hoped over the winter – Hamilton’s switch to Mercedes was indeed the right call. More than that, we are seeing inspired, confident drives from the Brit more than ever.

Coping with a car that proved erratic under braking and suicidal when it came to tyre wear, two podiums in Malaysia and China were also very impressive, with his first Mercedes pole position to boot. Losing out in the pit stops in Monaco cost him another excellent finish.

Once he got to grips with the W04, wins were just around the corner. To everyone’s surprise, he calmly converted a pole in Hungary into a win, and I feel he could have done it even with Vettel unhindered by backmarkers. More superb victories in 2013 are expected, naturally.

Any poor finishes were the fault of the car, not the driver. The two Pirelli tyre massacres – Barcelona and Silverstone – threw him out of podium-finishing places. If it weren’t for these, he would have finished in the top 5 at every single race. With himself and Kimi Raikkonen both on form, there could still be a surprise winner to the 2013 season.

2nd – Sebastian Vettel

Previous ranking: 4th

Previous quote: “I still think that he was out-performed by other drivers on the grid.”

His unsporting antics in Malaysia earned him criticism, but in my mind it has cemented Vettel as a true racing driver. No triple world champion would throw away a victory like that – drivers like Hakkinen, Senna and Gilles Villeneuve have done the exact same.

His 2013 campaign is already shaping up to be one of his best – flawless performances are a standard for him these days. Of course, he is assisted by the Red Bull RB9′s stellar pace, but what world champion won their title in a Minardi? Sebastian has proven himself, once again, to be more calculating, more tactical and overall faster than his disillusioned teammate.

If it wasn’t for a gearbox failure in Silverstone, he would have finished in the top 4 at every single race. Such consistency is what we’ve come to expect from the triple world champion, and we’ve seen so much of it that perhaps we’re used to it. Perhaps that’s a good and a bad thing, but at the end of the day, Vettel is as ferocious a racing driver as ever.

1st – Kimi Raikkonen

Previous ranking: 3rd

Previous quote: “Raikkonen did a hugely impressive job this year, establishing himself as one of the sport’s finest drivers.”

It’s easy to appreciate Vettel’s stellar streak of wins across multiple seasons. But Raikkonen’s string of second-placed finishes is perhaps even more impressive, considering the speed difference in the cars they drive.

This year’s Lotus is reliable and consistent on the tyres, but lacks overall pace. The fact that such a car can be dragged to 5 2nd-placed finishes in 8 races is proof of Kimi’s impeccable racecraft. A win in Melbourne was earned with supreme tactical finesse, surprising many inside and outside the paddock.

Where the E21 has failed, it has tended to drag Raikkonen down with it, but I doubt any other driver could do much better. But even where his car was clearly off the pace, we still saw tremendous racecraft from the Finn, with Monaco being the prime example. After falling to 13th, Kimi pulled off three impressive passes on the final lap to snatch 10th place.

Such consistency has earned him the record for most points finishes in a row, with 27 being his current streak. It’s impossible not to recognise this kind of racecraft, and that’s why I’m tipping Raikkonen to be the surprise victor of the 2013 championship.

Daniel Ricciardo set to be confirmed for Red Bull at Spa

It is almost certain that Daniel Ricciardo will be confirmed as Red Bull’s replacement for Mark Webber next season.

In the last few days, Kimi Raikkonen’s manager, Steve Robertson, has stated that negotiations with Red Bull ended some time ago, and were not successful. As well as this, Sport Bild are reporting that Riccardo has been selected as Sebastian Vettel’s teammate for next season.

Both Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso were both in the running for the last Red Bull seat, but negotiations with Kimi fell through, while it is still unclear what the situation is with Fernando.

With both world champion drivers out of the running, all we wait for now is the confirmation of Riccardo’s arrival. Motorsport chief Helmut Marko has said that no statement will be made until the Belgian Grand Prix weekend: “We will make no announcement until Spa. I cannot say anymore on this.”

2013 half-way driver rankings: 13th – 5th

In the second of 3 articles, I rank this season’s drivers according to how I felt they performed so far this year.

This section deals with drivers from teams like Toro Rosso all the way up to Red Bull. Let’s start with driver #13…

13th – Mark Webber

Previous ranking: 12th

Previous quote: “Despite his protests, he is the perfect number 2 driver to partner Vettel.”

Another disappointing season for Mark Webber looks to be on the cards, although this one will certainly be his last. After the events of Malaysia, I doubt he will ever win another race again.

It’s true that he has faced his usual share of bad luck. Issues like two botched pit stops in China and Germany have been well documented, but at the end of the day, at no point has Mark ever challenged for victory this year. His two podiums in Monaco and Silverstone came only because of the misfortune of others, particularly in the latter case.

Even more worryingly, he hasn’t finished in front of Sebastian Vettel at any point in 2013 – in qualifying or the race. There is a point where you cannot keep blaming bad luck or a rogue teammate, but it seems as if the message was lost on Webber.

Mark’s regular post-race whinge will be absent next year, to be replaced by infrequent sniping at the state of F1, and how it was so much better in the good old days, etc etc. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to it.

12th – Jean-Eric Vergne

Previous ranking: 21st

Previous quote: “Toro Rosso will now overlook him while they search for Mark Webber’s eventual replacement in the future.”

While I correctly called that Vergne would be overlooked for the Red Bull seat, I didn’t predict the improvement that we’d see in the Toro Rosso teammates. Like Riccardo, Jean-Eric has grown into a rather solid and dependable driver, without any loss in speed.

While he has been annihilated in qualifying by an embarrassing margin, Vergne has made up for it in the races, never finishing any lower than 12th, excluding DNFs. Compare this to Daniel Ricciardo, who has finished lower than 12th 4 times already, and the Frenchman’s consistency is clear to see.

A fantastic race weekend in Canada is undoubtedly the highlight of his year so far, out-pacing most of the field apart from the top 3 teams. However, his Webber-esque qualifying performances do him no good whatsoever, and tends to blight his race weekends before they’ve gotten properly underway.

I’m disappointed that he’s been passed over for being Webber’s replacement, but I’m confident that Vergne will be able to improve with Toro Rosso for years to come.

11th – Sergio Perez

Previous ranking: 10th

Previous quote: “A poor end to 2012 signals that Perez may not be completely ready for his big break.”

At the start of the 2013 season, it seemed as though my fears were confirmed. Struggling to get to grips with the car, Perez only broke into Q3 once in the first 4 races. However, an impressive turnaround has shown a vast improvement by Checo, much to the displeasure of his teammate.

I mention this because as the season continues, we are treated to more and more inter-McLaren duels, most of which end with Perez in front and Button fuming over the radio. Enjoyable as it is to watch, it also shows that Sergio is threatening to out-pace Jenson after only 10 races in the team – not a bad feat at all.

But his season has already taken some downturns, not least at Monaco. Despite some rather ambitious and impressive overtakes, Perez soon got over-enthusiastic, and clashed with Kimi Raikkonen as a result. That aside though, with the midfield machinery at his disposal, it’s been a relatively impressive start to his McLaren career.

10th – Adrian Sutil

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

A year’s absence has surely hurt Sutil’s hopes of progressing up the grid, but he’s still doing a respectable job in the Force India in 2013.

Superb drives in Australia and Monaco have been his highlights so far, and out-pacing Sebastian Vettel in the middle stint at Melbourne was no mean feat either. There’s little to choose between the two Force India drivers in general, but where Sutil seems to excel at is qualifying. He has broken into Q3 5 times already this year, compared to just 2 for Paul di Resta.

Unfortunately, the VJM06 is proving to be extremely difficult to handle on the new Kevlar-belted tyres, and this could hurt Sutil’s chances badly going into the second half of 2013.

9th – Paul di Resta

Previous ranking: 13th

Previous quote: “He has the talent to push for podiums in a midfield car.”

Barely missing out on a podium in Bahrain, Di Resta has certainly had good moments this season. Unfortunately, an apparently deteriorating relationship between him and his team isn’t helping matters.

Three ruined qualifying sessions in 4 race weekends was the focal point of this issue, where Paul blasted Force India’s strategies and criticised the team heavily. He and his race engineer have had their fair share of spats, with several team radio clips highlighting the issues within the team.

All of which has overshadowed Di Resta’s impressive streak of points-scoring finishes in 2013. Between China and Britain, he finished in the points 6 times in a row, even after being dropped to the back of the grid in some occasions.

But a worrying drop-off in pace in Hungary spells what may be a drastic loss in form going into the second half of the season for Di Resta.

8th – Jenson Button

Previous ranking: 7th

Previous quote: “It will be interesting to see how he fares as a team leader at McLaren – it can go either brilliantly or disastrously.”

An embarassing loss of form after 2012 has dropped McLaren to competing with Force India for 5th place in the constructor’s championship. But Button has appeared to be unfazed by this change of fortunes, and has driven well in such poor circumstances.

Twice this season he has competed for podiums amongst clearly superior cars, in both Malaysia and Germany. A botched pit stop foiled the former, while backmarkers ruined the latter. Nevertheless, Jenson has dealt with 2013 remarkably well, taking consistent points for the team in most races.

His feud with Sergio Perez has been entertaining, but he seems to have the upper hands in terms of overall points and consistency. With McLaren on a slow mend, a podium this year certainly isn’t out of the question.

7th – Daniel Ricciardo

Previous ranking: 20th

Previous quote: “Another mundane season in the lower midfield will effectively end his career.”

After what I felt was a disappointing 2012, Riccardo has evolved into one of the most promising drivers in recent years, threatening to take the Red Bull seat over Kimi Raikkonen, of all drivers.

As well as domination over his teammate in qualifying, Daniel has often out-performed most of the grid on Saturdays. Breaking into Q3 5 times out of 10 races, he has struggled to turn most of these into points-scoring finishes, but his raw pace is certainly notable.

7th in both qualifying and the race in China put him ahead of Romain Grosjean, and he missed out on a fantastic result at Silverstone after his team made the wrong strategy call. Ricciardo has been stellar in the Toro Rosso, but the question is whether he can perform well enough to take the Red Bull spot for 2014.

It would be almost impossible to score a win in his current car – to replicate Vettel’s Monza 2008 victory – but more consistent points-scoring finishes should seal the deal for 2014.

6th – Nico Hulkenberg

Previous ranking: 5th

Previous quote: “Hulkenberg has done his career the best possible boost. A switch to Sauber may be viewed as a move sideways, but I think it might just pay off.”

Despite an ill-timed switch, Hulkenberg has still proven that he is one of the most exciting talents on the Formula 1 grid.

After the first 4 races, he had led the most laps out of any driver, a stellar achievement given what a poor car the Sauber C32 is. In terms of race finishes, all Nico has been able to do is drag his car into the points, but this is still head and shoulders above what Esteban Gutierrez has managed.

It is clear that he has excelled in situations where other cars have chewed their tyres up. He started on the medium tyres in China, picking off Red Bulls and McLarens before later dropping back. However, when the Sauber burns out his tyres, he is completely helpless, like in Monaco.

The switch to Kevlar-belted tyres seems to have given Sauber a little boost, so I expect to see Hulkenberg continue to impress throughout 2013.

5th – Nico Rosberg

Previous ranking: 6th

Previous quote: “A disastrous end to the season for Mercedes has held back Nico from performing better.”

After 3 seasons of beating Michael Schumacher, Rosberg was still treated with suspicion as to the extent of his driving talent. The fact that he has squared up to – and sometimes beaten – Lewis Hamilton has surely alleviated these worries.

Two emphatic wins are his highlights so far, but both came with plenty of luck. In Monaco, he was able to back up the entire grid throughout the race without being passed – a feat impossible anywhere else. And the win in Silverstone dropped into his lap after Hamilton’s tyres exploded and Vettel retired.

Still, he has been rather impressive this year, almost always on Hamilton’s pace, but he has taken the brunt of Mercedes’ poor reliability so far. He was instructed to hold off passing Lewis in Malaysia, which didn’t help his points tally, but surely improved his standing within the team.

However, as Hamilton becomes increasingly comfortable in the W04, we may see Rosberg being outperformed more and more often.

2013 half-way driver rankings: 22nd – 14th

As I do every 6 months, I rank this year’s F1 drivers and their performances so far this season.

This first part will rank the drivers from 22nd place all the way up to 14th. Let’s start with a driver who has had more than a few moments of criticism:

22nd – Max Chilton

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

Perhaps it’s a little unfair to view Chilton as only a pay driver – some decent wins in GP2 confirm that he’s a competent driver, but at this level he is simply outperformed week after week.

In all instances where both Marussia cars finish a race, Max is beaten by Jules Bianchi on every occasion. He is more than half a second off his teammate in qualifying, and rarely shows any promise in the races.

It is extremely difficult for Caterham and Marussia drivers to show talent in their own little tussle at the back of the field, but it’s still clear that there are many drivers waiting in the wings that are better than Chilton.

21st – Esteban Gutierrez

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

Many fans were disappointed to see Kamui Kobayashi forced out of a Sauber drive, and weren’t any less pleased when they saw his replacement. So far, Esteban Gutierrez hasn’t shown a single commendable performance so far in his F1 career.

I don’t expect him to outperform Nico Hulkenberg on many occasions, but the only time he has done so – the Spanish Grand Prix – was when Hulkenberg was forced to pit six times. Aside from this, Esteban has failed to score a single point, and is almost a second slower in terms of qualifying lap times.

Considering how much Nico struggles in the 2013 Sauber, it is unlikely that we will see drastic improvement from Gutierrez any time soon. But that could call time on his F1 career rather quickly – Robin Frijns is threatening to break onto the F1 scene, and if he can amass some decent finance, Esteban will be out of a job before he knows it.

20th – Felipe Massa

Previous ranking: 8th

Previous quote: “In the last few races, Massa has been superb. 10 points-scoring finishes in a row is well deserved.”

Sometimes I feel that praising Massa is pointless – every time he performs well for a few weeks, he promptly falls off a cliff and crashes into anything solid for months to come. For Ferrari to hold onto him for 2014 would be a travesty for potential world champions across the F1 grid.

His two retirements this year have been not only his fault, but embarrassing to watch as well. After two similar shunts into the wall at Monaco, he somehow managed to spin away from the first corner at the Nurburgring, on only lap 4 of the race. Much like the other drivers at the back end of the rankings, he has failed to beat his teammate in a single race in 2013.

There is absolutely no reason for him to be retained at one of the top Formula 1 teams. There is a cavalcade of drivers – Hulkenberg, Riccardo, Perez, Sutil, Grosjean, Bottas, Bianchi, Frijns, Da Costa, Vandoorne – that would be able to perform a supporting role to Fernando Alonso better than what Felipe is currently doing.

It seems that both Massa and his dwindling number of supporters are still living in the past, convincing themselves that the 2008 season can be repeated. But the sport has moved on, and so should Ferrari.

19th – Giedo van der Garde

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

Faced with the unpopular stigma of bringing sponsorship money to secure his F1 drive, Giedo van der Garde has performed decently enough in a car miles off the midfield pace.

Qualifying an excellent 15th on the grid for Monaco, and finishing there, did his reputation no problems whatsoever. Another 14th-placed finish in Hungary is Caterham’s joint best finishing position so far in 2013. Having said that, his teammate Charles Pic certainly has the overall edge on the Dutchman. Pic has out-qualified and out-raced Giedo more often this year, and therefore Van der Garde is looking less likely to hold his seat into 2014.

Another few performances like Monaco would more than likely secure his drive for next year. But that’s easier said than done – the Caterham is increasingly slow compared to teams like Williams and Toro Rosso, and breaking into Q2 looks less and less likely after every race weekend. Van der Garde certainly has a challenge on his hands.

18th – Pastor Maldonado

Previous ranking: 15th

Previous quote: “A brilliant win in Spain was marred by needless collisions and constant penalties [later in 2012]. After that, a 9-race streak without points fuelled rumours that Pastor wasn’t fast without aggression.”

Aside from a spin in Melbourne, Pastor’s crashing record in 2013 is surprisingly clear. But unfortunately there isn’t much else to say about his year, as he’s struggling to hold off rookie teammate Valtteri Bottas.

A single points-scoring finish isn’t much to report about either, since it came from the late retirement of Nico Rosberg in Hungary. Compared to Bottas, their performances are relatively close – Maldonado is beaten in terms of qualifying positions, but certainly has the edge in the races.

Considering the massive paychecks that PDVSA are throwing at Williams every year, Maldonado’s drives aren’t exactly setting the world on fire. But they could do a lot worse in terms of driver-picking, and now that he seems to have settled down a little, an interesting fight with Bottas is on the cards for the rest of 2013.

17th – Charles Pic

Previous ranking: 16th

Previous quote: “Pic is definitely a driver to look out for in the future.”

Considering that his move from Marussia to Caterham looks increasingly like a sideways step, Charles Pic hasn’t done too bad a job in 2013.

More often than not, he leads Giedo van der Garde in qualifying and races, and has a decent 14th-placed finish in Malaysia as well. There’s not too much to be said after that – Pic and Van der Garde can only drive so well with such a slow car. Still, Pic certainly deserves to be retained for 2014, if he can keep up his current form.

16th – Jules Bianchi

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

After cutting short Luiz Razia’s 0-race F1 career out of sheer luck, Jules Bianchi has performed superbly well in 2013 with the sub-par machinery he is dealt with.

As expected, he has crushed Max Chilton in every qualifying session and race where possible. A 13th-placed finish in Malaysia is Marussia’s best finish of 2013, and is even able to out-drive Giedo van der Garde when the car lets him.

Such is his commendable performances that Ferrari are eyeing him up, not for a jump to the Scuderia just yet, but to have him mature in a midfield team before having him possibly partner Fernando Alonso. In fact, Bianchi’s drives this year are almost comparable to Alonso’s year with Minardi in 2001. All Jules needs is a brilliant performance in Suzuka, and his career’s all set to take off.

15th – Valtteri Bottas

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

As much as I was pleased by his excellent qualifying in Canada, there haven’t been many other brilliant drives from Valtteri Bottas so far this year. But when you consider he’s only 10 races into his Formula 1 career, his out-driving of Pastor Maldonado is all the more impressive.

Taking 3rd on the Canadian Grand Prix grid, only behind Vettel and Hamilton, cannot be understated. Unfortunately, the Williams car gave him no pace that Sunday, and not a single point has been earned by the young Finn so far in 2013. Much of it is down to the car, as seen by Maldonado only scraping a single point out of good luck in Hungary.

The question is how much more Bottas can improve before hitting the limit of the Williams team. It remains to be seen how much the Fw35 can improve over the summer break, and this may make or break Valtteri’s 2013 campaign. Despite what many would like to believe, drivers can only do so much when they are held back by sub-par machinery.

But at the very least, Bottas has been a competent and superior replacement to Bruno Senna. That much is enough to earn him praise.

14th – Romain Grosjean

Previous ranking: 14th

Previous quote: “Three decent podiums, as well as nearly winning a race, shows that he is talented enough to mix it at the front. The issue is whether he has the confidence to do that any more.”

I’d have loved to be able to praise Grosjean’s excellent Hungarian Grand Prix win, laud him as a future world champion, and leave it at that. Unfortunately, this is Romain Grosjean, and a screw-up was almost mandatory. After botching a probable win, Romain has some serious explaining to do if he is to remain at Lotus for 2013.

There’s no doubt that Romain hasn’t shaken off the “crash kid” stigma just yet. A needless clash with Jenson Button in Hungary showed that after almost three years in F1, he still hasn’t learned the dimensions of his own car, never mind how to navigate it around someone else’s. With someone like Kimi Raikkonen as a teammate, Lotus need to sit back and judge whether having someone like Grosjean as a teammate is even necessary. While the Finn has 134 points to his name, Romain has only 49, as a result of his own incompetentness.

He has extremely good pace when he’s on form, we already know this. Both the Bahrain and German Grands Prix saw calculated, cool driving from the Frenchman, and combined with some searing pace from the Lotus E21, earned him two well-deserved podiums. But his atrocious spatial awareness does his reputation no good whatsoever – just look at his hilariously bad Monaco Grand Prix weekend to see what I’m on about.

Yes, he’s a fast driver, but that means absolutely nothing without the mental capacity to not bin the car every second race. As I said before, Lotus need to have a good long think about whether a driver like Grosjean is required for a team that’s aiming for consistent finishes and the constructor’s championship.

Who can catch Sebastian Vettel in 2013?

We are now halfway through the 2013 season, and Sebastian Vettel again holds a commanding lead in the championship – a sizeable 38 points over nearest rival Kimi Raikkonen.

But if the form of the first half of 2013 is anything to go by, we’re in for an unpredictable battle all the way to the end. Let’s have a look at the drivers who will take the fight to the Red Bull:

Kimi Raikkonen

Gap to Vettel: 38 points

Finishing form in 2013: 1-7-2-2-2-10-9-5-2-2

To say that his return to F1 has been a success would be a massive understatement. Kimi has been on the pace from the get-go, and has shown nothing but sheer determination and speed every time he’s out on track.

What holds him back though is the team itself. Lotus is bearing the brunt of severe overspending in recent years, and they have shown to be unpredictable when it comes to car development. A temporary slump from Monaco to Silverstone hurt Raikkonen’s chances of making steady progress, and it remains unclear whether Lotus can keep up to Red Bull in the development race.

The E21 can be described as “erratic” when it comes to performance between races – track temperature impacts on their car moreso than others, and this tends to make or break their race weekends before they even begin.

But when the car is on the pace, so is Kimi, every single time. The emergence of Romain Grosjean as a more reliable teammate may also come in handy, as the team may opt to use him as a tactial tool to delay his rivals. If Raikkonen is to win the championship, it won’t be by out-pacing the Red Bull, rather by clever tactics and strategy.

Fernando Alonso

Gap to Vettel: 39 points

Finishing form: 2-DNF-1-8-1-7-2-3-4-5

Rumours of a rift in the Ferrari garage wouldn’t be unrealistic – Alonso has been unhappy with the pace of his Ferrari for some time now, and he can only do so much with the 3rd fastest car.

Like Raikkonen, Alonso is being forced to put more pressure on his team to achieve results, but Ferrari’s leadership has struck back, claiming Fernando should put the team before himself. This has produced a rather worrying situation where Fernando may lack the support from Ferrari in order to win the title.

To make matters worse, Alonso is not the faultless driver he was last year. A bizarre decision to stay out with a broken front wing cost him a Malaysian Grand Prix finish, and Fernando made the mistake of accidentally activating his broken DRS wing in Bahrain, despite having just pitted to have it fixed down.

It’s clear that he has been rattled by years of chasing the apparently unassailable Vettel, and it is now a case of whether Alonso will jump ship altogether, or continue to fight with Ferrari. Despite being a fan, I can’t see any realistic chance of the Ferrari/Alonso combination catching Sebastian in this form.

The next 2 races are expected to suit the F138 though, so if we are to see any late-season charge, we will have to see Fernando perform well in Spa and Monza.

Lewis Hamilton

Gap to Vettel: 48 points

Finishing form: 5-3-3-5-12-4-3-5-1

Only a week ago, I assumed that the 2013 title battle was a 3-horse race. It seemed impossible that the tyre-melting Mercedes could possibly mount a charge. But mount a charge it did, in the searing heat of Hungary no less. Lewis Hamilton is now equipped with the best car to take down Sebastian Vettel, but is it too late?

A 48-point gap is by no means unassailable – look at what Fernando Alonso managed after Silverstone 2010. But the fact that Red Bull are so strong in the second half of the year is the biggest issue. Tackling Vettel at the power circuits – Spa, Suzuka and Austin – will be Hamilton’s biggest test.

Another factor will be Lewis’ reliability – we know all too well what happens when Hamilton goes off the rails, and to do so in 2013 would be catastrophic. I feel that he still lacks the precision driving that Raikkonen excels in, and this could be the difference between becoming the champion and crashing out at the decisive moment.

Lewis has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last 2 years, but it remains to be seen whether he can tackle his major weakness in 2013.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers