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.

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