Category Archives: Opinon

Australian Grand Prix analysis: McLaren heading a new pecking order?

The first race of the 2012 Formula 1 season has brought with it the usual bundle of surprises, and the Australian Grand Prix showed us a glimpse of what’s to come over the next 19 races.

As McLaren and Red Bull strengthen their position at the top, Ferrari faltered, but Mercedes and Lotus failed to capitalise. Teams like Williams and Toro Rosso impressed with good race pace, while Marussia were quietly impressive at the back of the field.

Let’s have a look at what we learned from last weekend:

McLaren vs Red Bull – a year-long battle?

Can Red Bull claw back the deficit to McLaren?

Can Red Bull claw back the deficit to McLaren?

The first race of the season clearly showed McLaren’s strong pace. They locked out the front row in qualifying, and should have held their footing in the race, if it was not for an ill-timed safety car.

Meanwhile, Red Bull were worryingly poor in qualifying – it was the first time since Monza 2010 that neither Red Bull was on the front row – but fought back well to split their rivals.

What’s interesting is that, once Red Bull get a hold of their qualifying issues, the teams will be almost neck-and-neck at the front. Until then however, Button and Hamilton will look at building their points tally. This raises another interesting debate, as to which of the British drivers will end the season on top.

Button showed superior start-line traction, and after that he sailed into the distance. Hamilton was clearly rattled, and suffered for the rest of the race. This allowed Sebastian Vettel to close rapidly, and deny McLaren a perfect start to the season.

His Australian GP jinx aside, Mark Webber looks stronger than last year – though he had to be, to be honest. Despite this, with the EBD ban, he appears more than capable of challenging his teammate.

With all of these drivers looking competitive, we are facing a distinct possibility of all 4 drivers duking it out for the world championship.

Ferrari’s woes, Mercedes’ gain

Alonso is surely furious over Ferrari's poor pace yet again

Alonso is surely furious over Ferrari's poor pace yet again

There is no denying how atrocious the Ferrari F2012 is in terms of pace – 12th and 16th in qualifying proved this. Even their fellow Italian team, Toro Rosso, did better than this.

The team will undoubtedly look to Fernando Alonso to lead the Scuderia’s charge back up the field, but that will take time. As we saw in practice, the F2012 was wildly uncontrollable exiting corners, showing that Ferrari are still struggling to understand their own radical design.

Meanwhile, Mercedes have enjoyed excellent pace so far this year. Pole position in Australia was a definite possibility for Nico Rosberg, until he binned his lap at Turn 3.

A disastrous race left the Brackley squad without a single point, but the potential is still there to win races. Michael Schumacher’s 4th place in qualifying, followed up by running 3rd until his retirement, showed that he has improved greatly since his comeback. Rosberg’s race pace was much more disappointing, however.

Still, the rear wing F-duct innovation shows that the team are in with a chance of taking on the top two teams.

Contrasting fortunes at the back

Charles Pic performed reasonably well on his debut

Charles Pic performed reasonably well on his debut

HRT showed the world why they deserve to be racing in the highest level of motorsport – by flunking testing and failing to qualify. Enough said.

Marussia, on the other hand, enjoyed a relatively successful race, taking a 14th placed finish, equaling their best so far. Rookie Charles Pic stayed out of trouble, though he was forced to back off massively in the last few laps, eventually retiring with an oil pressure issue.

Rivals Caterham retired both cars with mechanical issues, confirming their horrid reliability for another season. With this, consistency and reliability is key for Marussia. If the time ever comes when much of the field are out of the running, they need to be ready to take advantage.

Latest young driver shoot-out

Vergne is a talented youngster, but so is Ricciardo

Vergne is a talented youngster, but so is Ricciardo

Toro Rosso’s ditching of Alguersuari and Buemi came as a relief to many – their latest duo of Vergne and Ricciardo has provided a fresh rivalry in the midfield.

Their last-gasp battle for points showed that neither is afraid to back down, and the fact that they didn’t collide shows a relative amount of maturity to their driving. I’m personally a fan of both drivers, and as of yet cannot determine who may end up on top.

This leaves us with an exciting battle within the Faenza squad. So far, Ricciardo has the upper hand, but only just. Can he remain on top for the entire season?

What excites you about the 2012 season?

With Christmas and the New Year out of the way, our focus is turning more and more to the imminent return of Formula 1.

Fans have plenty to be excited about this year, particularly the return of a certain world champion. Before we get stuck into the testing season next month, I want to know what interests you this year. Here are a few examples…

The clash of 6 champions

Can Raikkonen upset the order in 2012?

Can Raikkonen upset the order in 2012?

The return of Kimi Raikkonen means that, barring disaster, there will be 6 world champions at the starting grid in Melbourne. As far as I know, this is completely unprecedented in F1 history, as former/current world champions now make up a quarter of the entire grid.

These six drivers will be seated in vastly different cars, and not all of them will deliver as expected. Raikkonen’s move to Renault is particularly noteworthy, as it is still unclear what type of approach the team have taken to their 2012 car.

As well as this, Michael Schumacher is still well in the mix, and a powerful Mercedes car could propel him back to the podium. We still have the established champions – Vettel, Hamilton, Button and Alonso – to take everyone else on.

The return of the US Grand Prix

The Circuit of the Americas may well get finished

The Circuit of the Americas may well get finished

The Circuit of the Americas has had a difficult birth, fraught with controversy and arguments, resolved only weeks ago. Still, it appears that the track is on schedule to be on the 2012 calendar.

From the get-go, it became clear that this track would be a fan favourite. The layout incorporates corner elements from Turkey, Silverstone, and a small bit of Interlagos is in there too.

There is fantastic incline around the track, and many of the corners are fast and flowing. More importantly to Bernie Ecclestone, this track is F1′s latest hope to crack into the American market, which has been rather cold to the sport since the Indy 2005 fiasco.

Exciting new rookies

Can Pic survive longer than Di Grassi and D'Ambrosio did?

Can Pic survive longer than Di Grassi and D'Ambrosio did?

After Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi were booted out of Toro Rosso, it became clear that we were to see an influx of new rookies. Their latest two drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, are an exciting pairing to say the least.

Ricciardo impressed last year in a HRT – quite the feat in itself – and Vergne has performed well in testing in the past. We also have Charles Pic, the third driver in 3 years to partner Timo Glock at Virgin. Whether he can perform better than Lucas di Grassi or Jerome D’Ambrosio still remains to be seen.

As well as this, Romain Grosjean has finally been given the opportunity to return to F1. It’s debatable whether he’s actually a rookie, but it’s certain that 7 races in 2009 was not enough for the Frenchman to prove his potential. I am quite a fan of Grosjean, and am hugely looking forward to see how he performs against teammate Raikkonen.

Siginificant French drivers – finally

Can Grosjean cause a major upset and beat his teammate?

Can Grosjean cause a major upset and beat his teammate?

Neither Grosjean or Sebastien Bourdais could retain their seats in 2009, and with the imminent exit of Renault as a constructor this year, it appeared as if the French had completely abandoned F1.

However, with the arrival of Grosjean (again), Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne, the French F1 fans have reason to celebrate. The last successful French F1 drivers were Jean Alesi and Olivier Panis, who took his one and only win back in 1996.

I’m not suggesting that these three drivers could win a race in 2012 (though I’m not completely ruling Grosjean out), but there is fantastic potential here for future seasons.

The end of exhaust/diffuser debates

Exhaust-blown diffusers are finally buried for good

Exhaust-blown diffusers are finally buried for good

The FIA have finally stamped down on “off-throttle blown diffusers”, as the layout of the exhaust has been restricted so as to not generate downforce over any area of the car.

Exhaust-blown diffusers were an excellent idea, generating plenty of downforce with minimal drag. However, as the technology evolved into the “off-throttle” format, it became more and more irritating to watch the teams scuffle over the regulations.

This ruling should hopefully end the 3-year debate on exhausts, diffusers and the like, which began in 2009 with double-decker diffusers being introduced by Brawn, Toyota and Williams.

Can Lotus/Caterham hit the midfield?

Another year, another promise from the team  now known as Caterham, as they drive to reach the back of the midfield.

While they have made good progress over the last 2 years, many fans are wearing thin with watching the 3 “new” teams languishing at the back, and it’s time that one of them makes a stand and changes the running order.

I won’t comment on Jarno Trulli, but I feel that Heikki Kovalainen is the most promising chance to pull the team out of the bottom 3. Whether it happens any time soon remains to be seen.

The return of the Bahrain Grand Prix

Just kidding.

Over to you…

I can’t cover all the exciting prospects of the 2012 season, but those above should do fine.

But back to the original question: What excites you about the onset of the 2012 season? Have a say in the poll below, and you can add your own answer if you wish:

Massa vs Hamilton round 5 – who’s at fault now?

Today’s Indian Grand Prix saw the latest spat between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa – both on and off track.

The pair collided while racing for 6th position, leaving Felipe with a drive-through penalty and Lewis with a broken front wing. Hamilton has borne the brunt of blame for most of their collisions this year, most notably in Monaco.

However, this time the McLaren driver is not 100% at fault, as both drivers made poor judgement:

Felipe Massa

Replays showed the Ferrari driver checking his mirrors several times, so there is no doubt that he was aware that Hamilton was closing in. The fact that Felipe continued to turn in was more than likely an estimation that the McLaren wouldn’t attempt a pass – a poor decision considering who he was racing against.

Massa was dealt the drive-through for the incident, but protested his innocence afterwards:

"I simply stayed on the ideal line, braking on the limit and staying on the part of 
the track that was rubbered in. What else could I do?

It’s the umpteenth time that Hamilton runs into me this year and it seems it’s some 
sort of fatal attraction. In the past, I tried to talk to him but he did not seem to 
be interested in doing so."

The Ferrari team have also suggested that the collision contributed towards Felipe's suspension failure, which is of course absolute rubbish.

Lewis Hamilton

Never the one to stay out of trouble, Lewis is back in the headlines for the wrong reasons once again.

After being docked three places on the grid for ignoring yellow flags on Friday, Hamilton's weekend was already compromised. The collision with Massa came after a very poor first stint, where the McLaren driver failed to make any progress from 7th.

It was a slightly ambitious move that presumed that Massa would give him space - which of course he didn't. Lewis will of course argue that he had every right to move up the inside and attempt a pass, which is true. However, he failed to place his car in between Massa and the kerb, backing off slightly as the two cars entered the corner. This resulted in the Ferrari cutting across Lewis and causing the crash.

The most interesting thing I found about the crash was Hamilton's reaction immediately afterwards. After he gestured towards the Ferrari, he continued to slow for several seconds before he got back on the throttle. To me, it seemed as if he didn't even care about the race for a while, being incredibly frustrated after this many accidents.

In my opinion...

While Lewis could have judged his move better, I feel that Felipe gave him absolutely no opportunity to make a move. Hamilton has been lambasted for his off-form driving this year - and rightly so - but this incident should not be blamed on the Brit.

The more I look into these past collisions,the more childish Massa appears to me. While it is understandable that a driver would be furious after a collision, it is immature to say that they "don't care" about what the other driver feels about the incident (referring to minor tap by Hamilton in Suzuka).

However, the most important thing out of this is that it doesn't turn into a juvenile clash-fest every single race. These drivers should realise that F1 is supposed to be the collection of the finest racing drivers in the world, and should at least attempt to resolve their conflict. Not that many see that happening, of course.

Who do you hold at fault for today's collision? Here is a replay:

FIA must make example of Maldonado

Only a few years ago in Formula 1, if a team used a new engine after less than two Grands Prix, they were docked 10 places on the grid – a standard penalty.

Today, we have seen Pastor Maldonado’s blatant swerve at Lewis Hamilton, replied to by the stewards with nothing more than a 5-place grid drop.

The steward’s actions today seem to indicate that there was very little dangerous about Maldonado’s incident – which is completely untrue.

First of all, and most obviously, the clash occured right beside a spectator area, with only a wire fence protecting the fans. The chances of a piece of debris hitting a spectator cannot be ruled out.

Secondly, this sets a terrible example for up-and-coming race drivers. Trying to take out another driver might be acceptable on F1 2010 online (it pretty much is), but it cannot be a part of the highest class racing series in the world.

This kind of incident has happened before – in the GT1 championship, Stefan Mucke accidentaly took out Richard Westbrook, after Mucke moved alongside the driver to complain about an incident, before slamming into him and taking both cars out.

Such behaviour in high-level motorsport is unacceptable, and the FIA must put a stop to it. Extremely lenient penalties have been given to Mucke and Maldonado, which is no example to give to young drivers.

Opinions differ on this matter, but I feel that Maldonado made a deliberate attempt to damage Hamilton’s car. I’m sure he wasn’t aiming to take him out, but this very easily could have been the case.

Will Sky bring about the death of the casual F1 fan?

Today’s announcement that F1 coverage will be moved to Sky is nothing short of a disaster. While the BBC retains partial broadcasting control, this deal is a mess and will alienate the casual Formula 1 fan.

First of all, the obvious – a casual fan won’t be paying £610 a year to continue watching the sport. Even the average fans won’t be making that move. This obscene amount of money to be paid to Murdoch’s empire will turn away all but the most die-hard of fans.

Sky is touting “no ads during races” as a feature for their coverage – but it is rumoured that this is simply a ploy to pull viewers in, and ads would return from 2013 onwards.

The only good news is that the BBC will still show 10 races live per year – the others being deferred until the evening time.

However, the actual broadcasting quality of the BBC will still be hurt. Even BBC editor Ben Gallop has stated that “our coverage will not be as comprehensive as it has been in recent years”.

After searching for cuts in all departments, the BBC are probably happy with this decision. Sky will of course be delighted, having added another sport to their profit-driven portfolio. However, everyone involved in this deal seems to have forgotten the fans in this move, mistakenly beliving they will settle for a compromise.

FOTA were touted as the orginisation who could protect the fans’ interests, but it appears that they have no intention of doing so, with  Martin Whitmarsh in favour of the move. Bernie Ecclestone, of course, supports this deal, claiming that the overall number of viewers will increase.

With this, it appears as if the fans have no way of opposing this move. In my view, a huge amount of the audience are going to lose out, and may well drift away from F1.

Despite the fact that I consider myself quite the die-hard F1 fan, I will be the first to say that I have no intention of switching to Sky. Even if it means losing out on 50% of live races, the excellent BBC coverage will always be better than whatever ad-ridden garbage is thrown at us by Sky.

Of course, not all fans will share this view. Many will not accept missing out on live races, and similarly will not be able to pay for Sky coverage. This is what many fear of, if this news is to cause people to lose interest in Formula 1.

This will be an important time for the sport. If FOTA are really going to protect the fans, they would want to get a move on.

Edit: If the fans want their voice heard, their opinions should be aimed at one location to maximise attention. The comment section on the BBC’s sport editor’s official statement is a good place to start.

2011 mid-way driver rankings: 5 – 1

This is the final article in a 3-part review of the drivers’ performances so far this season.

5 – Nico Rosberg

Rosberg continues to lead Mercedes instead of Schumacher

Rosberg continues to lead Mercedes instead of Schumacher

Ranking in 2010: 6th

Review from 2010 ranking: “He never crashed on his own, only finished out of the points twice, and a brilliant qualifying in soaking conditions in Malaysia proved he has the talent when it counts most.”

Like 2010, Rosberg has never retired of his own accord. He drives as consistently as Nick Heidfeld, with the pace to match. It’s just a pity he still can’t race for wins.

Within firing range of Felipe Massa, Rosberg has the chance to finish in the top 6 for the first time – but this won’t be enough. Nico won’t rest until he gets a championship-winning car, and Mercedes doesn’t look up to the task.

With this in mind, a switch to Red Bull replacing Mark Webber could be on the cards. But what would Rosberg have to show for his performances so far? For one, he has trounced a 7-time world championship race after race for the past season and a half.

It’s not a move that’s out of the question – personally, I’d love to see it happen. But in the meantime, consistently beating Schumacher will do his reputation a world of good.

4 – Lewis Hamilton

A troubled year amid controversy for Hamilton

A troubled year amid controversy for Hamilton

Ranking in 2010: 5th

Review from 2010 ranking: “While Lewis showed good pace this year, he let himself down when he needed results most.”

Every year, we see a new improvement to who is undoubtedly a fantastically talented driver. Still, Lewis Hamilton’s reputation has taken a battering this year.

Outbursts against the press and the stewards have done him no good. Questionable driving in Monaco earned him stern words by past champions, to which he responded petulantly.

To make matters worse, the collision between him and Button in Canada has fractured what was a very good team relationship. Lewis’ anger at the team was also at boiling point last race, where it was revealed he wanted drastic reductions in the number of sponsor events in his next contract.

Perhaps this is too harsh on Hamilton. To be fair, he was doing 4 sponsor appearances every day for 2 weeks between Valencia and Britain.

Also, his spirited driving has not left him, as shown at Silverstone, where he wowed the crowd with a splendid comeback from 10th to 4th.

He is currently level with Button on points, but Lewis will never be satisfied being nearly 100 off Vettel.

You can be guaranteed some dramatic performances – good or bad – this season, and every one after. Despite this, Hamilton needs to ease off at times, and learn which battles to fight and which to avoid.

3 – Jenson Button

Button has improved in many sectors compared to 2010

Button has improved in many sectors compared to 2010

Ranking in 2010: 7th

Review from 2010 ranking: “The McLaren car was far better than what Button delivered, and this must be improved on for 2011.”

Aside from his retirement at Silverstone, Button has finished in the top 6 at every race so far. He has been stronger at McLaren than last year, where he constantly struggled for race pace.

Holding back slightly in Monaco may have cost him the race win, but his performance was still excellent. He produced one of the greatest drives in years in Canada, getting a taste of every single position, before scything through the field with blistering pace.

Strangely enough, his wet weather pace was rather poor in Britain, where he slipped behind Massa, Hamilton and Di Resta, before fighting back in the dry conditions.

Still, he has shown himself as a more complete driver this year, and unlike his teammate, shows restraint where necessary. Unfortunately, the title is probably well out of reach by now, but beating Hamilton in the standings would still be a good achievement.

2 – Fernando Alonso

Is Alonso the only man who can take down Vettel?

Is Alonso the only man who can take down Vettel?

Ranking in 2010: 3rd

Review from 2010 ranking: “Despite the controversies, Alonso is still a driver to be feared.”

Many were against Alonso last year, after Ferrari manipulated Massa to grant Fernando extra points. This year, no such controversy exists, as Fernando may well be the only driver with the skill to take down Vettel.

The Ferrari car has been inconsistent to say the least. Within 30 laps, Alonso went from leading the Spanish Grand Prix to being lapped, thanks to unpredictable behaviour on the hard tyres.

In the hands of a normal driver, this would be no car to challenge the championship with. However, Fernando is no ordinary driver. His fiercest enemies and rivals still fear him, and for good reason. Alonso has thrashed the Ferrari to its absolute max in the search for performance, and recently his endeavours have been rewarded.

When granted a sniff at victory in Britain, Alonso took it and ran, stretching out a 20-second lead to Vettel. At times, he was up to a second a lap faster than the Red Bull.

Still, a 92-point gap exists between Fernando and the championship leader. Don’t rule the Ferrari out, though. 2010 saw a similar situation, where, after Silverstone, he declared he would win the championship, despite a massive points deficit. We all know what happened next – he came perilously close to clinching the title – a defiant Renault standing in his way being the only obstacle.

It would be the stuff of legends if anyone were to still take the title fight to Vettel. But if there’s anyone on the grid who can do it – it will be Fernando Alonso.

1 – Sebastian Vettel

Clever and calculating - Vettel has managed his lead perfectly

Clever and calculating - Vettel has managed his lead perfectly

Ranking in 2010: 1st

Review from 2010 ranking: “I believe he truly is the best driver of 2010.”

It’s an accepted fact that drivers will always make a mistake. Jenson Button failed to see Lewis Hamilton in Canada, and squeezed him into the wall. Lewis made a badly judged move on Felipe Massa in Monaco. Fernando Alonso pushed Button too close to the kerbs in Canada, while Mark Webber has struggled for pace on occasions.

And Sebastian Vettel? He slipped wide and lost a place. That’s it.

That slip, of course, occurred on the final lap of the Canadian Grand Prix, costing him the win. But compared to the mistakes others have made, Vettel has proven himself as almost bulletproof in reliability.

In a complete contrast to 2010, clean, consistent and careful races are the order of the day. Never cracking under pressure, Sebastian has utilised the Red Bull’s searing pace to the maximum, slicing out an 80-point lead over his teammate.

Nearly utterly faultless all season, Sebastian is more complete a racing driver. With a favourable position in the team, the stage is set for back-to-back championships.

Or is it? Fernando Alonso took a valiant victory at Silverstone, and marked his return to the very top. With Ferrari pushing to surpass Red Bull, there may well still be a fight for the title.

In which case, Vettel’s mettle will be tested severely. Or, Alonso’s charge may fail to materialise, and Vettel may cruise to the title. Hopefully it will be the former, and we will see Sebastian’s true talent tested.

2011 mid-way driver rankings: 14 – 6

Here is part 2 of the mid-season review of all the Formula 1 drivers. This article tackles drivers ranked 14th up to 6th.

14 – Felipe Massa

Massa has found himself being beaten by all his rivals

Massa has found himself being beaten by all his rivals

Ranking in 2010: 14th

Review from 2010 ranking: “No race wins, no pole positions, no fastest laps, and no hope for 2012 if he doesn’t improve fast.”

To lag behind Sebastian Vettel in 2011 is to be expected. But to have only a quarter of the German’s points, while driving a Ferrari, is nothing short of laughable.

This year was where the Pirelli tyres would leap Massa back through the field. Nothing of the sort has occurred. Take the Spanish Grand Prix for example – Fernando Alonso tussled for the lead in the early stages, while Massa was being beaten by the Force Indias in the envious battle for 10th.

With less than half of Alonso’s points, and not even a sniff at a podium finish, Felipe has been completely dominated. He has yet to out-qualify Fernando at any point in 2011.

While it would be incredibly difficult for Ferrari to find a driver as talented as Alonso, they need a second driver who can consistently take podiums, not struggle for 6th.

13 – Paul di Resta

Di Resta has had a solid start in F1

Di Resta has had a solid start in F1

Ranking in 2010: N/A

Review from 2010 ranking: N/A

Ragged drives have lost him points, but nevertheless a decent start to his F1 career for the Scot.

Di Resta’s best performances so far have been in qualifying, as he has out-qualified teammate Sutil 7 times in 9 races, with over 0.6 seconds in the average gap between the two.

However, despite spending more laps in front of Sutil than vice-versa, Paul has struggled for results, with only 2 points to his name. He was on course for a large points haul in Britain, before a tyre mix-up ruined his chances.

Poorly-judged moves, particularly in Monaco and Canada, have also cost Di Resta. However, with more consistency and experience, he may be able to challenge Sutil in the driver’s championship.

12 – Jaime Alguersuari

Alguersuari has improved in recent races

Alguersuari has improved in recent races

Ranking in 2010: 19th

Review from 2010 ranking: “Three points finishes is all he could do, with a car that never really looked like pushing for points.”

Alguersuari came very close to being replaced, but several good drives have rescued his career.

3 points-scoring finishes in a row have kept Jaime his Toro Rosso race seat from going to Daniel Ricciardo. The Spaniard now lies one point ahead of Sebastien Buemi.

His qualifying results have been poor, but in recent races Alguersuari has been able to turn Q1 knockouts into points on race day.

Both of the Toro Rosso drivers’ futures still hang in the balance though, so it will be interesting to see which driver ends the season on top.

11 – Nick Heidfeld

Heidfeld has not performed up to expectations

Heidfeld has not performed up to expectations

Ranking in 2010: 16th (Only 5 races)

Review from 2010 ranking: “He will need to work fast just to get a drive for next year.”

Hailed as a consistent replacement for the injured Kubica, Heidfeld has not had the required impact at Renault so far.

The German has only just taken the lead in the championship standings battle with Vitaly Petrov. With 11 years of F1 experience, much more was expected, especially going up against a rookie driver.

Heidfeld has been soundly beaten in qualifying, being knocked out in Q1 on more than one occasion. Reliable driving as always has helped him in the races, but a lack of raw pace is holding Nick back.

10 – Michael Schumacher

Driver errors are still an issue for Schumacher

Driver errors are still an issue for Schumacher

Ranking in 2010: 12th

Review from 2010 ranking: “Schumacher’s 2011 campaign entirely hinges on the W02.”

Expected to be soundly beaten this year, Michael Schumacher has surprised some by showing much improvement from last year.

While his qualifying record against Nico Rosberg is still extremely poor, race day has allowed Schumacher to make huge progress, often held back by misfortune.

Punctures in Australia and Britain, DRS difficulties in China, as well as being swamped near the end of the Canadian GP, show that Michael’s points tally doesn’t reflect his occasionally great drives this year.

12 points is a gap that could be easily bridged with good luck. Further improvement this year would be the main aim for Schumacher.

9 – Vitaly Petrov

Petrov has improved compared to last year

Petrov has improved compared to last year

Ranking in 2010: 10th

Review from 2010 ranking: “2011 should see Petrov improve even more.”

A first-ever podium in Australia, followed by leading Heidfeld for most of this year – 2011 has not gone badly for the Russian.

Consistently out-qualifying Nick, often by huge margins, shows that Petrov has improved alongside Renault this year. However, it is still apparent that neither driver could hold a candle to Robert Kubica, who surely would be dicing it with the Red Bulls at this stage.

The hot-blown diffuser crackdown has hugely hurt the team, so expect to see Petrov and Heidfeld slip down the order. Still, it will be up to Petrov to take the majority of Renault’s points this year.

8 – Sergio Perez

Perez is arguably the rookie of the year

Perez is arguably the rookie of the year

Ranking in 2010: N/A

Review from 2010 ranking: N/A

Already a master of the 1-stop strategy, impressive pace has led many to praise Perez as rookie of the year.

With 7th place in his first ever F1 race, his talent was clearly apparent. Poor luck in Malaysia and China held him back, before another points finish in Spain.

His year was disrupted by a heavy crash in Monaco, ruling him out for 2 races. However, the smash did nothing to faze the Mexican, taking 11th on his return, then a career-best 7th in Britain.

A large tally of points could have been taken in Monaco and Canada, so Perez’s current total doesn’t reflect his excellent performances so far.

Two energetic rookies may not seem like an intelligent combo, but it has worked wonders for Sauber so far. With luck, Perez could even challenge to finish in the top 10 in the championship.

7 – Mark Webber

Webber has been dominated by his teammate

Webber has been dominated by his teammate

Ranking in 2010: 2nd

Review from 2010 ranking: “Dominant at times, disappointing at others, but still a wonderful campaign.”

While Sebastian Vettel continues to rip up tarmac at the front, Mark Webber seems to be lacking in pace, and is at risk of being overtaken by Fernando Alonso. What’s going on?

It’s not like the days of Ferrari domination, though. Back then, when Schumacher crushed his opponents to win, Barrichello would come around in 2nd place. This year, a single 2nd place is all Webber can muster so far.

In Australia, for example, Mark had absolutely no pace. His first pole position (Spain) was ruined by a bad start, relegating him to 4th after the chequered flag.

Webber has had good moments though. A spirited charge through the field in China saw him take 15 places back after a qualifying disaster.

However, his second pole saw him suffer a similar fate, slipping to 3rd during the race.

On the plus side, the Australian is yet to finish outside the top 5. Still, that doesn’t mean much when your teammate hasn’t fallen lower than 2nd at any point.

6 – Kamui Kobayashi

Kobayashi is as impressive as ever

Kobayashi is as impressive as ever

Ranking in 2010: 9th

Review from 2010 ranking: “Kobayashi has breathed fresh life into Formula 1 with his “unique” [driving] style.

Still as exciting to watch as ever, Kobayashi continues to punch well above his weight with scintillating drives.

If people were asked which car was quicker – the Mercedes or the Sauber – there would be little doubt that the Mercedes has much better pace. Because of this, seeing Kobayashi only 3 points behind 7-time world champion Schumacher will demonstrate how much Kamui is extracting from the car.

6 points finishes in a row is much better and more consistent than many drivers – only the Red Bulls, McLarens and Alonso can claim better records.

While teammate Perez is taking headlines for his special 1-stoppers, Kobayashi tends to take the 2-stop route. Compared to the rest of the grid, both Perez and Kobayashi have taken the least pit stops this year, which is a massive advantage.

Like Perez, a top 10 finish in the championship is well within Kamui’s reach.

2011 mid-way driver rankings: 24-15

This is the bi-annual review of driver’s performances over the season. Improvements have been made from last year’s review, with an indication towards a driver’s performance the year beforehand being added.

This first article will tackle drivers from 25th to 16th place. Here are the bottom ranked 10 drivers:

Note: This article was written before the British GP, and so stats will not be fully up to date, and any performance from Silverstone will not be taken into account.

24 – Narain Karthikeyan

Karthikeyan was never going to set the world ablaze in a HRT

Karthikeyan was never going to set the world ablaze in a HRT

Ranking in 2010: N/A

Review from 2010 ranking: N/A

The 34-year-old’s return to F1 racing was never going to set the world ablaze, but with disappointing pace in a lacklustre car, a replacement driver was inevitable.

However, this may still be too harsh on Karthikeyan. The only driver he had to compete with was teammate Liuzzi. But, he has qualified behind Vitantonio at every race, and the average gap between the two is 0.639 seconds.

It is common knowledge that Narain excels in wet conditions. The only race where he has had an opportunity in this sense was Canada, but he still finished in last place, whereas Liuzzi scored HRT’s best ever finish.

With Daniel Ricciardo now at the wheel, perhaps both of HRT’s drivers can take the challenge to Virgin.

23 – Jarno Trulli

Trulli has lost out in his best skill - qualifying

Trulli has lost out in his best skill - qualifying

Ranking in 2010: 18th

Review from 2010 ranking: “2011 will tell us if he still has what it takes.”

Formerly regarded as a master of the one-lap qualifying run, Trulli has succumbed to being regularly beaten at every course by Heikki Kovalainen.

Long gone are the glory days of pole position and the win back in Monaco 2004. Jarno has been out-qualified by Kovalainen 6 out of 7 races so far, with the average gap being 0.34 seconds.

Two 13th places are better than Heikki’s best, but if his best asset is being soundly beaten, then retirement may not be too far off the horizon for Trulli.

22 – Pastor Maldonado

Without a single point, a bad review was always on the cards

Without a single point, a bad review was always on the cards

Ranking in 2010: N/A

Review from 2010 ranking: N/A

The 2010 GP2 champion had huge expectations on his shoulders entering the season, replacing Nico Hulkenberg. Unfortunately a disastrous start to his F1 career has left Maldonado second last in the driver’s championship.

A points finish was on the cards in Monaco, before a collision with Lewis Hamilton ruled the Williams out of 7th place. That kind of form has not been repeated anywhere else, with a 15th place in Spain being Pastor’s best result to date.

An impressive qualifying record has kept Maldonado from finishing last in this article. Pastor has qualified ahead of Rubens Barrichello 4 times, on average 3 tenths faster than the Brazilian.

However, if he is unable to turn this form into results, then there will be little future for Maldonado in Formula 1.

21 – Jerome D’Ambrosio

D'Ambrosio has been respectable so far

D'Ambrosio has been respectable so far

Ranking in 2010: N/A

Review from 2010 ranking: N/A

A first foray into F1 has not gone disastrously just yet for Jerome D’Ambrosio, with respectable results to his name, as well as occasionally beating his experienced teammate.

Two 14th places are slightly better than a solitary 15th managed by Timo Glock. In the 4 occasions where both Virgins have finished a race, D’Ambrosio has finished ahead of Glock 50% of the time.

He has out-qualified Timo on two occasions; however he has struggled in terms of the average qualifying gap (+0.56 seconds).

20 – Vitantonio Liuzzi

Liuzzi has done well in a poor car

Liuzzi has done well in a poor car

Ranking in 2010: 22nd

Review from 2010 ranking: “I would be hugely surprised if Force India were to retain him for 2011.”

The only car Liuzzi has properly raced against is Karthikeyan, and the Italian has done well in asserting himself as the number 1 driver in the team.

A clean sheet in qualifying, combined with beating Narain 4 times out of 5 in the races, proves Liuzzi’s good form. He managed a 13th position in the chaotic Canadian Grand Prix, achieving Hispania’s best ever result, one place off Lotus’ highest finish.

Many questioned the point of remaining in F1 after being ditched by Force India, but Vitantonio has done well to demonstrate his prowess in a dismal car.

19 – Heikki Kovalainen

Dominance over Trulli as expected, but Kovalainen is yet to challenge the midfield

Dominance over Trulli as expected, but Kovalainen is yet to challenge the midfield

Ranking in 2010: 15th

Review from 2010 ranking: “If Lotus deliver on their long-developed 2011 car, then Heikki will be the one to challenge the midfield.”

In 3 out the last 5 races, Heikki has out-qualified Jarno Trulli by over half a second. This dominance has allowed Kovalainen to become the driving force of Lotus in 2011.

2 mechanical retirements have beset Heikki, but he has still managed one 14th place so far this year. Despite his teammate getting one position better, Kovalainen has also led more laps so far this year ahead of Trulli.

With Lotus struggling to match the midfield’s pace, and Trulli’s future uncertain, it will be up to Kovalainen to secure 10th place in the Constructor’s Championship for the team.

18 – Timo Glock

Like Kovalainen, Glock excels in an underacheiving car

Like Kovalainen, Glock excels in an underacheiving car

Ranking in 2010: 21st

Review from 2010 ranking: “A much faster and reliable car is what Timo needs to get himself back up the grid next year.”

In similar fashion to last year, Timo Glock continues to push well above his weight in a very uncompetitive car.

While the Virgin team appear to be being pulled in by HRT, Glock has been chasing after Lotus, with varying results.  While he has only finished in front of one of these two drivers twice, three mechanical retirements have also held back Glock. Similarly, he failed to start the race in Turkey after losing fifth gear before the warm-up lap.

Despite these setbacks, he has consistently out-qualified D’Ambrosio, and is set to perform better as the season progresses.

17 – Rubens Barrichello

Barrichello has not unlocked the FW33's slight potential

Barrichello has not unlocked the FW33's slight potential

Ranking in 2010: 8th

Review from 2010 ranking: “Hopefully, Barrichello has a few more years left on the clock, and can lead Williams to their first win in years.”

A pair of 9th places is all the veteran has to offer so far, in one of the toughest F1 seasons in his 19-season career.

Once again, a horribly uncompetitive Williams is to blame for Barrichello’s slump, but being pushed by underperforming rookie Maldonado does not bode well for Rubens. The Brazilian is 3 tenths slower in qualifying on average compared to his Venezuelan colleague.

An ill-timed move on Nico Rosberg was the start to this poor season. Two mechanical failures have also undermined Barrichello’s hopes for points.

16 – Sebastien Buemi

Buemi hasn't underperformed, but much more is expected

Buemi hasn't underperformed, but much more is expected

Ranking in 2010: 17th

Review from 2010 ranking: “2011 is Buemi’s last chance to keep his race seat at Toro Rosso.”

With the news of Ricciardo joining HRT, Buemi’s seat is safe at Toro Rosso – for this year at least. While he has not been dominated by his teammate, many were expecting more from Buemi in his 3rd season.

Qualifying is where Sebastien gains an edge over Jaime Alguersuari. The Swiss driver has out-qualified the Spaniard 7 times out of 8, with an average gap of over 0.4 seconds.

However, finishing positions between the two appear to be generally the same, with Alguersuari having a slight lead on points. Toro Rosso have a tendency to drop drivers at the slightest sign of lack of pace, so many are asking why Buemi has been retained for so long.

However, it must be remembered that Buemi is well favoured by Helmut Marko, a man who doesn’t seem to mind leaning over one driver to serve the other.

Still, if Ricciardo impresses at HRT, then Buemi may still be under pressure for the race seat in 2012.

15 – Adrian Sutil

Sutil cannot let himself be beaten by Di Resta

Sutil cannot let himself be beaten by Di Resta

Ranking in 2010: 13th

Review from 2010 ranking: “2011 will be crucial if Sutil is to prove himself.”

Legal action with Eric Lux aside, there may be trouble on the horizon for Sutil. If Paul di Resta were to out-perform Adrian in the second half of 2011, then it could be a huge struggle for him to progress any further in Formula 1.

Di Resta has a huge lead in qualifying results, beating Sutil 6 times out of 8, with more than half a second in the average distance. Results haven’t gone the Scot’s way, so Sutil has an 8-point lead in the standings. However, it must be remembered that Di Resta, apart from being a rookie, has suffered poor luck in the races.

At times during his career, Sutil has been linked with a future drive for McLaren. However, 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.

Monaco madness proves tyres are key

Pirelli tyres allowed for fantastic racing in Monaco

Pirelli tyres allowed for fantastic racing in Monaco

Not since 1992 has the Monaco Grand Prix seen such fantastic racing. Back then, Nigel Mansell chased down a significantly slower Ayrton Senna, hounding the McLaren all the way to the chequered flag.

On Sunday, we saw the astounding sight of three cars racing for the lead in Monte Carlo. Last year, only 4 overtakes were made here, all by Fernando Alonso passing the Virgins and Lotuses. However, 2011 is becoming one of the best seasons for on-track racing – all because of the tyres.

Many will criticise DRS, and rightly so, as being an artificial way of spicing up the racing. While it helps in a way, it also takes away the appeal of seeing cars side-by-side, rather than one simply slicing past another.

Turkey was a prime example of this, as the Mercedes and Red Bull cars were slaughtered in a straight line, and had no way to respond under braking.

On the other hand, the Pirelli tyres are promoting pure racing, and generating unpredictability at the same time. Although Sebastian Vettel has taken control of the world championship swiftly, he has been hounded to the flag in the last two races. In Spain, Lewis Hamilton, in an inferior car, clung onto the Red Bull for dear life. In Monaco, both Ferrari and McLaren caught Vettel out on worn tyres, and very nearly punished him dearly for it.

The best thing is, 3 or 4 stops are not needed by every driver in order to shake up the field. In Monaco, a 1-stop for Vettel and a 3-stop for Button both proved to be race-winning strategies (safety car periods and red flag excluded).

Unfortunately, the red flag, and the consequent switching of tyres, ruined what could have been a classic showdown to the flag. Despite this, I don’t think anybody will be disappointed with last weekend’s racing. Seeing so many overtaking moves in unpredictable locations, with varying results, has improved this sport far more than any technical gimmick ever could.

Kimi Raikkonen considering career after father’s death

Kimi Raikkonen's career is in doubt

Kimi Raikkonen's career is in doubt

Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 world champion, has closed talks about his plans for the 2011 season after the death of his father Matti.

The major Finnish newspaper Iltalehti reports that the 31 year old, who was considering to switch teams for the next world rally championship, is even expected to call time on his racing career.

Raikkonen was very close with his father, who was a road builder and supported Kimi’s careers from an early age, and died suddenly at the age of 56, two days before Christmas.

“Since the death of Matti Raikkonen, all the plans of Kimi Raikkonen are on ice,” confirmed the Finn’s rally co- driver Kaj Lindstrom.

He added:

"Let's hope he stays in rallying. The chances of success are much better in 
the second year than the first, because you don't have to be learning all 
sorts of things all of the time."

Raikkonen moved to the WRC after disappointing 2008 and 2009 campaigns with Ferrari, after winning the 2007 title. He raced with the Citroen Junior Team this year, and was rumoured to be moving to either Monster World Rally Team or Mini for 2011.

Earlier in the year, he was in negotiations with Renault regarding taking Vitaly Petrov's seat for 2011, but his wage demands were reported to be far too high for the team's liking.

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