Category Archives: Reviews and Previews

What to look forward to in 2013

Unfortunate as it is, but it is now time to consign the brilliant 2012 season to the history books, and look forward to the next. Will the 2013 season deliver as many thrills and spills?

Let’s have a look at some of the things that could make the 2013 season great:

Continued competitiveness at the front

As Sebastian Vettel searches for his fourth world title on the trot, double world champion Fernando Alonso attempts to win his first title since 2006.

Meanwhile, Jenson Button will try his best to lead a reshuffled McLaren team to glory, while Lewis Hamilton will settle into Mercedes and attempt to push the team to the front of the grid.

Ferrari, despite their vocality on every single issue in F1, have struggled in recent years, and look to a resurging Felipe Massa to improve the team’s chances at a constructor’s championship.

The 2012 season saw one of the closest and most competitive grids ever seen in the sport, and with little change in the rulebooks for 2013, most of the teams at the front should be able to continue racing for wins. It is likely that Red Bull will continue to have one of – if not the – most competitive cars on the grid, and it will be fascinating to see who will try to topple them.

I estimate that up to 5 teams will have a shot at the title for next year, and that’s good news for F1.

An ever-improving Lotus team

Despite a huge increase in fans and supporters in 2012, Lotus’ actual season was a disappointment. They lost out on opportunities for victory in early races, and only an inherited win for Kimi Raikkonen in Abu Dhabi spared their blushes.

To put it simply, the team too often failed to exploit the fantastic race pace of the E20, and single lap pace was lacking. This must improve for 2013 if the team wishes to challenge for the title.

Romain Grosjean will be looking to recover from a terrible second half of last year, and will be doing his best to turn excellent pace into actual finishing results. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen will presumably continue as the team leader, and should be able to reap rewards from the Lotus’ fantastic reliability and (hopefully) improved pace.

Considering how close Raikkonen got to the title this year, even before his win in Abu Dhabi, then Lotus are a serious force to be reckoned with this year.

Can Hamilton’s move reap rewards?

One of the most controversial news stories of last year was Lewis Hamilton’s surprise move to a struggling Mercedes team. There will be massive pressure on the Brit to transform the team into a title-winning squad.

That’s an odd statement though, as the team won their previous title only back in 2009. A slump in form in 2010, coupled with a series of underperforming cars, has held them back since. So what does Hamilton bring to the table? Awesome speed and a newfound maturity certainly helps.

Partnered with karting teammate Nico Rosberg, Mercedes now has one of the most exciting driver duos in the sport. Which driver ends up on top is anyone’s guess, but either way, 2013 will be a defining season for both drivers.

A more unpredictable Q1

The exit of HRT will either come as a disappointment or a relief to fans, but their demise has resulted in a much more exciting prospect for Q1 in qualifying.

With the 3 new teams taking up 6 of the 7 drop zones up to 2012, Q1 has been one of the few uneventful parts of an F1 weekend. However, with one less team at the back of the grid, the midfield teams now have a much bigger risk of being knocked out in the first part of qualifying. This also applies to the frontrunners, who will have to push harder to avoid being caught out.

Overall this will result in better competitiveness and more exciting racing in Q1. It also raises the prospects of slower cars being caught out by the 107% rule, as the frontrunners may be forced to take on the option tyre in this session, raising the bar for the teams behind.

Small DRS rule change – big consequences

A minor change to the technical rulebook in 2013 has stated that the DRS device can only be used in its designated zone during practice and qualifying. While it seems unnecessary, looking closer into the matter will show what consequences this has.

By lowering emphasis on DRS in qualifying, teams will no longer give their cars longer gears to benefit from the DRS, only to see that benefit slide away in the race.

This will also provide a boost to Ferrari, whose F2012 struggled in regards to rear stability when braking and disengaging DRS at the same time. For some reason, when the DRS flap deactivated, it failed to provide sufficient downforce for a split second, meaning the car would lose grip when braking for corners in qualifying.

This problem dogged the Ferrari team for all of last year, but it will no longer be an issue in 2013. Hopefully this means that they can improve on their poor qualifying form, and actually challenge Red Bull and McLaren on Saturdays.

Goodbye to stepped noses?

Stepped noses proved to be a flop with fans in 2012, many of whom engaged 100% nostalgic capacity and bemoaned the look of the current generation of cars.

Thankfully, the FIA has introduced an optional panel, to be fitted to the cars’ nosecones to eliminate these controversial steps. Before 2012, a safety measure meant that the front of the nosecone was to be lowered – but the rear was to remain the same height. This is what caused the controversy in 2012, and it’s good to see the matter finally come to a close.

For the record, I didn’t actually mind the stepped noses – the initial surprise is the only thing bad about them.

Hulkenberg and Sauber – a step up or sideways?

Force India described Nico Hulkenberg’s switch to rival team Sauber as a “step sideways”, an opinion shared by more than a few in the paddock. Can Hulkenberg prove them wrong?

Nico is one of the finest talents in F1, finishing off the 2012 season with a series of brilliant drives. In only his second season, he has taken a pole position, and nearly took a shock win in last year’s season finale. However, his performances in 2013 may be limited by what Sauber can produce.

But we’ll have to wait until March to see how the Hulkenberg/Sauber combination works. Nico has the potential to be a race winner and world champion in the future, so this is a hugely important moment in his career.

2012 final driver rankings: 3rd – 1st

In the last of 4 articles, I rank the 25 drivers from the 2012 season in terms of their performances.

This final section deals with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Kimi Raikkonen – but in which order? Let’s find out…

3rd – Kimi Raikkonen

Previous ranking: 5th

Previous quote: “Overall he has been hugely impressive, and I am tipping him as the dark horse for the 2012 title.”

While he was unable to keep up the pressure for the world title, Raikkonen did a hugely impressive job this year, establishing himself as one of the sport’s finest drivers.

Victory could have come as quickly as his third race since his return, but Kimi initially appeared rusty in racecraft. This cost him a well-deserved win, and was his only major flaw across the entire year.

If it wasn’t for his tyres falling off the cliff in China, he would have finished every single race in the points. Not spinning and making a slow recovery in Brazil would have meant that he would have completed every single racing lap in 2012. These are very impressive feats from a driver only just returning to the sport.

Kimi only got more impressive as the season progressed. He took three podiums in a row from Germany to Belgium, then a string of good finishes kept him within striking range of Alonso and Hamilton. A worthy win followed up in Abu Dhabi, but it was too late to keep him in contention for the title battle.

Raikkonen appears perfectly at home within Lotus, a team that actively encourages his laid-back behaviour. Is it a match made in heaven? I think it might just be.

2nd – Lewis Hamilton

Previous ranking: 2nd

Previous quote: “2012 has seen a new evolution in Lewis Hamilton”

Hamilton’s 2012 title challenge will go down as a failure, forgotten within only a decade or two. However, this doesn’t do justice to what was a magnificent flourish in form for Lewis.

From the offset, he was quick. He deserved wins immediately, but luck was not on his side – being passed by Button in Melbourne, Alonso and Perez in Malaysia, and crucially, a series of disastrous pit stops.

McLaren are entirely to blame for Hamilton losing the championship. Once they had sorted out their horrifically slow pit stops, the car began to fall apart. Technical failures robbed Lewis of good results in Germany, Korea, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

Nevertheless, we were able to see how good a driver he really is. Outstanding victories in Canada, Hungary, Italy and USA were a joy to watch – when the team and car allowed him, Lewis was unstoppable. After announcing his move to Mercedes, he was freed from the shackles of a restrictive contract, and the next few seasons will show if he is legend material.

Will 2013 yield any results at Mercedes? I doubt anything will come just yet. But it will be hugely interesting to watch – if Hamilton can transform the team like Schumacher did to Ferrari, he will go down as one of the best drivers of the modern era.

1st – Fernando Alonso

Previous ranking: 1st

Previous quote: “For Alonso never to get a third title would be a tragedy.”

To put it simply, Alonso’s performances this year have been nothing short of astounding. I would even suggest that this is the best season performance we have ever seen from a Grand Prix driver.

By pre-season testing, it was already clear that the Ferrari was several seconds off the frontrunner’s pace. Yet Fernando managed to drag the car into 5th by the first race. When the opportunity arose in Malaysia, he grabbed it and never looked back. He battled tooth and nail with Pastor Maldonado in Spain, never giving up despite the Williams’ speed advantage.

At no point in 2012 did Alonso have the fastest car. Yet he managed 3 wins and another 10 podiums, more than any other driver on the grid. If it wasn’t for crashing out on the first laps of Spa and Suzuka, he could have taken 9 podium positions in a row.

His determination and raw speed throughout the season cannot be underestimated. It is something of  miracle that he found himself battling Vettel until the final lap of Brazil, but he somehow pulled it off. A mere 3 points separated him from the greatest championship victory in the history of the sport.

Fernando has already said that he can never recreate this season’s performance again, and to an extent I believe him. In 9 years of watching F1, this was the closest thing to perfection I’ve ever seen.

2012 final driver rankings: 7th – 3rd

In the third of 4 articles, I rank the drivers from the 2012 season in terms of how they performed across the entire year.

Part 3 includes drivers from Red Bull, McLaren, Force India and Mercedes:

7th – Jenson Button

Previous ranking: 12th

Previous quote: “It’s a harsh ranking, but I don’t think that so far in 2012 we can rank him amongst the high-level drivers.”

Like Webber, there are two ways of looking at Jenson Button’s season. He certainly took impressive wins at the start and end of 2012, and crushingly dominated in Belgium. But you have to doubt his team leader role next year, when he slides around the track in 16th place for weeks on end.

Button’s struggles with the MP4-27 are well documented, but the car is not entirely to blame. Like in 2009, Jenson seems to work his way into a bad spot, and cannot pull himself out, in terms of car development.

This resulted in a disastrous few races near the start, where he slithered around the racetrack, taking a pathetic 16th place in Monaco and Canada. It is completely unacceptable of a former world champion to fail so badly, and rule himself out of the title fight.

Granted, he did finish within 2 points of Lewis Hamilton, but this is mostly down to Lewis’ terrible luck. Button simply spent too much of the season finishing 4th or 5th to make an impact at the front.

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

6th – Nico Rosberg

Previous ranking: 7th

Previous quote: “It’s the same old story for Rosberg – a great driver held back by an unpredictable car.”

Not much changes for Rosberg in this sport. Once again, a disastrous end to the season for Mercedes has held back Nico from performing better.

His emphatic win in China was obviously the standout moment, and he hounded Mark Webber in Monaco all the way to the chequered flag.

However, apart from that, the slowing pace of the W03 limited his charge. Chasing performance from the double DRS system instead of Coanda exhausts, they fell behind their rivals, ruling out Rosberg from scoring a single point after Singapore.

Will 2013 be the same story? Unfortunately, it appears that way. Despite Lewis Hamilton joining the squad, the team are not hopeful about their W04′s potential, and are instead looking towards 2014 to leap up the field. You’ve got to wonder if Rosberg will bother waiting.

5th – Nico Hulkenberg

Previous ranking: 13th

Previous quote: “So far, it is almost too close to call, but I think that Paul [Di Resta] has a slight edge over Nico at the moment.”

After a slugglish return to Formula 1, Nico Hulkenberg is back on form.

Taking advantage of the first corner pile-up, he snatched a brilliant 4th in Belgium, even leading the race for a while. His form towards the end of the season was impressive, and his 6th, 7th and 8th-placed finishes do not represent how well he drove.

His drive in Brazil was one of the best of the 2012 season. Personally I feel he was hard done by with the penalty, and without that clash with Hamilton, probably would have gone on to win the race.

In contrast to Paul di Resta’s terrible end to the season, 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.

4th – Sebastian Vettel

Previous ranking: 4th

Previous quote: “Vettel is still completely sheltered by his team [...] he still has to develop as a driver”

The “test” I mentioned in 2011 came true in 2012, and Sebastian passed it with flying colours. Recovering from a poor start to the season, he stamped his authority on the rest of the field, and took a well-deserved third title.

So why is he out of the top three? Firstly, although it’s only a small issue, I’m still bothered by his childishness at times. After being held up by Narain Karthikeyan in Austin, despite the fact that there was nothing the HRT could do, Vettel claimed that the Indian had lost him the race. Worryingly, his team backed him up, which only supports Red Bull’s Ferrari-like arrogance.

The other issue is that his performances appear to be directly proportionate to his car’s speed in relation to the rest of the grid. In simpler terms, the majority of his wins came from when the Red Bull was the class of the field. Out of his 5 wins, the only one where his car wasn’t the fastest was Bahrain, and even that is debatable.

Obviously, he’s still a seriously fast driver. Just look at his drives in Abu Dhabi and Brazil, and you’ll have no doubts that he’s a deserving world champion yet again. But I still think that he was out-performed by other drivers on the grid. It’s been said many times, but if you compare Fernando Alonso’s and Lewis Hamilton’s performances this year to Vettel, the German loses out by a considerable margin.

It says a lot that the fastest driver is widely not considered to be the best on the grid. Perhaps that’s down to the brilliant quality of drivers we have at the moment, but nevertheless Vettel still has more work to do to be the best in Formula 1.

2012 final driver rankings: 15th – 8th

In the second of 4 articles, I rank the drivers from the 2012 season in terms of how they performed across the entire year.

Part 2 includes drivers from Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and Lotus.

15th – Pastor Maldonado

Previous ranking: 18th

Previous quote: “He drives like a complete thug. And that’s why I have absolutely no respect for him.”

I make no secret of my dislike of Pastor Maldonado, but an impressive turnaround in the second half of the year has improved his image somewhat.

As everyone is well aware by now, a brilliant win in Spain was marred by needless collisions and constant penalties. After that, a 9-race streak without points fuelled rumours that Pastor wasn’t fast without aggression.

Still, three points finishes in the final 6 races was able to keep him ahead of Bruno Senna, and after staying out of more crashes, had a quiet end to the season.

Maldonado has been retained for next year, but his drive was rarely under threat, with so much PDVSA backing. What worries me is that without any pressure for him to calm down, his antics at the start of 2012 will appear again. Adding in the fact that Pastor never apologised for his ridiculous driving, and his criminal record hasn’t been wiped clean just yet.

14th – Romain Grosjean

Previous ranking: 6th

Previous quote: “He has hugely impressed me with his remarkable pace and raw talent.”

What should have been a strong finish to the season turned into a nightmare, as Grosjean crumbled under mounting pressure.

Many argue that the worst point of his season was Spa, where he tipped Lewis Hamilton into a first-lap pile-up, earning him a 1-race ban. However, I think that ramming Mark Webber in Suzuka hurt him the most, as he was clearly rattled by constant criticism from fellow drivers. He was never the same after that.

He then clashed with Pedro de la Rosa in Brazil, failing to see that the HRT was turning into the final corner.

His future with Lotus is now in doubt, having earned severe criticism from boss Eric Boullier. However, I think that his good form up to  Hungary should be enough to keep him in the sport. 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.

13th – Paul di Resta

Previous ranking: 11th

Previous quote: “Di Resta will still need to up his game if he is to remain on top at Force India.”

Oddly enough, just as Di Resta’s season began to slide near the end, teammate Hulkenberg’s picked up. It was this unfortunate timing that marred Paul’s decent season.

His two best races were in Bahrain and Singapore, using superior strategy to out-pace most of the field. However, once news broke that he was not to be promoted to a faster team, his pace slipped, and Di Resta almost dropped off the radar.

A 9th place in Abu Dhabi, his only top 10 finish in 6 races, was not enough to hold off Hulkenberg in the points standings. It isn’t representative of Paul’s pace though, as his 2010 form proves that he has the talent to push for podiums in a midfield car.

It’s expected that he will be retained by Force India, and for him to bounce back in 2013.

12th – Mark Webber

Previous ranking: 3rd

Previous quote: “On the face of it, Webber’s having his best season yet.”

There are two ways of looking at Webber’s 2012 season. One way is by looking at the Monaco and British Grands Prix, where he fully asserted his authority on the rest of the grid. And the other way is by looking at the other 18 races.

As is the case every year, Mark slides away from teammate Sebastian in the points standings the further the season progresses. This year, Webber managed to lose 112 points to Vettel in only 10 races. This disastrous form is completely overlooked by his occasional dominating win, and I can’t figure out why.

Surely Webber can’t be satisfied with this. He has no hope for winning the world championship with such hopeless form – only 2 podiums in 10 races, in what was, at the time, the best car on the grid.

Can he bounce back from this? Sure, but only when he flops at the end of the season as per every other year. I’m being harsh on Mark here, but the fact is that despite his protests, he is the perfect number 2 driver to partner Vettel.

11th – Michael Schumacher

Previous ranking: 9th

Previous quote: “Keep your eyes peeled, lest we see the return of the Schumacher of old.”

Michael is quoted as saying that in his comeback, he learned how to lose. It’s a nice way of putting what was a disappointing return to Formula 1.

Did we see the “Schumacher of old”? No. But we saw a more mature driver towards the end – perfectly demonstrated when he allowed Vettel past in the dying laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix. He knew his time was up, and passed the baton to the younger generation in a beautiful way.

Michael was extremely unlucky in the first half of the year, being robbed of podiums by ill-timed mechanical failures. The second half saw less issues, but a drop-off in pace from the Mercedes W03 eliminated all hopes of a powerful end to his career.

Schumacher will be missed, but ultimately his return was a poor choice.

10th – Sergio Perez

Previous ranking: 8th

Previous quote:

While astounding drives early on cemented him a drive with McLaren, a poor end to 2012 signals that Perez may not be completely ready for his big break.

We are all aware of Sergio’s outstanding drives in Malaysia and Italy, but he will need to perform this well every race in order to justify his McLaren drive. Granted, his 66 point tally could have been higher – seeing as he finished 11th 5 times.

Could he have done better though? Sergio suffered a huge drop in form once he had signed for McLaren, and spun out of a good position while battling Lewis Hamilton in Japan.

I’m unconvinced about Perez’s hopes for a future F1 title, but we will have to wait and see.

9th – Kamui Kobayashi

Previous ranking: 10th

Previous quote: “Despite differing results, I would still regard both Sauber drivers as being nearly equals in talent.”

Despite being completely overshadowed by his teammate, I was still impressed with Kamui Kobayashi this year.

A podium in his home country was clearly the standout performance, while strong performances in Spain and Abu Dhabi propelled him up the standings. Unlike Perez, Kobayashi’s pace didn’t falter when the Sauber car struggled, taking 25 points in the last 6 races, compared to Sergio’s 0.

Another underrated drive was qualifying 3rd in China, behind the Mercedes drivers. To me, it’s a travesty that Kamui has been dropped, despite scoring only 6 points less than his McLaren-bound teammate.

Encouragingly, he has amassed over €2m in fan donations for a drive next year, and I am hopeful that we will continue to see him on the grid.

8th – Felipe Massa

Previous ranking: 17th

Previous quote: “In a championship-leading car, Massa lies 14th, in between a Force India and a Williams.”

Felipe Massa is the success story of the 2012 season, bouncing back and nearly outperforming Fernando Alonso in the closing stages.

He deservedly earned massive criticism for over two years of rubbish driving, but credit is due where it’s due, and in the last few races, Massa has been superb. 10 points-scoring finishes in a row is well deserved.

He has also firmly secured his future with the Scuderia, by diligently allowing Fernando Alonso past in Austin qualifying (through a penalty), and in the dying laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix. Alongside his improvement in form, he has won himself back into favour with the team.

This bodes a question though: Will his form continue into 2013? I have an inclination that it will, but it remains to be seen how Felipe will (or won’t) play a role in Fernando’s title challenge.

Top 10: Overtakes of the 2012 season

Like the previous year, 2012 was a fantastic season for overtaking. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the best passes of the 2012 season:

10th – Sergio Perez on Lewis Hamilton, Japanese Grand Prix

Perez eliminated himself from the Suzuka race later on with an ill-judged pass on Hamilton at the same corner. But his first move was brave, albeit slightly clumsy.

The Sauber came from miles behind at the Turn 11 hairpin, threw his car into the corner, and just about made it stick.

9th – Lewis Hamilton on both Toro Rossos, Spanish Grand Prix

An overtaking article wouldn’t be complete without Lewis Hamilton. Recovering from a disastrous 2011 season, he immediately set out to prove that he is one of the finest drivers on the grid.

Arguably his best pass was on Ricciarado and Vergne in quick succession in Barcelona:

8th – Kimi Raikkonen on Nico Hulkenberg, Grand Prix of America

Nico Hulkenberg performed admirably in the second half of 2012. But he was left completely helpless when Kimi made a ruthless move around the outside in Austin.

Passes like these are very underrated – the sheer level of bravery and confidence required is unparalleled.

7th – Romain Grosjean on Lewis Hamilton, European Grand Prix

Despite the (justified) criticism of Grosjean’s antics this year, he remains a fiesty racer when the opportunity arises.

His best move of the year was this ballsy pass on Hamilton, where he refused to budge and forced the McLaren off the racing line.

6th – Fernando Alonso on Romain Grosjean, European Grand Prix

Before this season, who would have guessed that the Valencia street circuit would throw up one of the best races of 2012?

Another great pass from that race was Fernando Alonso’s incredible move around the outside of turn 1. It’s even tougher than it looks –  the exit barriers of that corner close in rapidly, so even a few kp/h too many, and you’re in the wall.

5th – Kimi Raikkonen on Paul di Resta, German Grand Prix

Raikkonen spent several laps behind the Force India before he made a proper attempt to overtake. But it was well worth it.

After attempting to undercut Di Resta exiting the Spitzherhe, he dived around the outside of the following corner, and muscled his way through.

4th – Kimi Raikkonen on Michael Schumacher, Brazilian Grand Prix

Raikkonen and Schumacher were back to their old antics in Brazil. At the same corner, Raikkonen squeezed past Michael on the race of his first retirement in 2006.

This time though, it was around the outside, and not a millimetre of space was shared between the two. Just look at that photo, and that tells you everything you need to know.

3rd – Kimi Raikkonen on Michael Schumacher, Belgian Grand Prix

As you can tell, I’ve hugely enjoyed Raikkonen’s performances this year. He’s been absolutely outstanding all year – but more on that in another post.

This time, he bravely shot down the inside of Schumacher’s Mercedes entering Eau Rouge. It wasn’t as brilliant as Mark Webber’s similar move last year, but still very commendable.

2nd – Felipe Massa on Bruno Senna, Singapore Grand Prix

After a miserable start to the season, Massa picked up his game hugely.

The first sign of Felipe’s comeback was in Singapore, where an incredible slice up the inside of Bruno Senna netted him an extra place. Bonus marks go for the dramatic slide entering the corner. Awesome stuff.

1st – Nico Hulkenberg on Lewis Hamilton & Romain Grosjean, Korean Grand Prix

While the Korean Grand Prix wasn’t a standout race, it brought one of my favourite passes from one of the best upcoming drivers on the grid.

Hulkenberg has been brilliant in the final few races of 2012, and this move was icing on the cake. After waltzing past Grosjean, he proceeded to barge his way alongside Hamilton, and then shoved his way past entering the next corner. Brilliantly calculated, and fantastic to watch – a classic overtake.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many videos of the pass online. This is the best I could come up with.

2012 half-way driver rankings: 2nd – 1st

In the last of 4 articles, I rank the 24 drivers from the 2012 season so far in terms of their performances.

After the three previous articles, we are left with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Without delay, here is the final post:

(Note: I can’t post any pictures for the moment because of my useless internet connection, sorry about that)

2nd: Lewis Hamilton

Previous ranking: 6th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “Wonderful passes in China and Germany were a demonstration of how good a driver he is.”

2012 has seen a new evolution in Lewis Hamilton – no longer is he getting caught up in unnecessary crashes, or off-track whingeing. His pace is further improved, and with a new consistency, he may be able to finally make his way back to the top.

In the opening races, what surprised me the most, amidst the action-packed racing, was Hamilton’s consistency. Three third-places in three races didn’t set the world on fire, but allowed him to slowly move up the standings. He then began to suffer from a series of misfortunes – none of which were his fault – and he has not been able to recover his championship position yet.

He has, though, been able to show us why he is such a feared driver. He remained calm to pass Fernando Alonso in Canada, taking a well-overdue victory, then decisively held back the Lotuses in Hungary. Nothing dramatic, just well-disciplined racing.

His form against Jenson Button is as impressive as ever: 9 times he has qualified ahead of Jenson, by over 0.4 seconds on average. He keeps this pace into Sunday, beating his fellow Brit 7 times so far, and unsurprisingly holds a good lead in the championship.

Hamilton is the only driver to get into Q3 for every single qualifying session so far this year, and that speaks volumes.

1st: Fernando Alonso

Previous ranking: 1st out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “While his championship challenge failed to materialise, he pushed maximum performance out of a lifeless car, and put that Ferrari where no other driver could.”

The last time I did this review, I was unsure whether to put Alonso or Vettel at the top. There is no such doubt this time.

Roll back to Australia, and you can see how dreadful a car the F2012 is. I am adamant that no driver in the field could control it – not even Alonso, who his the grass and spun into the gravel in Q2. Nevertheless, he survived, and managed to beat the Lotuses and Saubers in the race, a seriously impressive drive.

Despite the horrible car, it only took one more race for Fernando to take control of the championship. Where other drivers faltered, he powered through the soaked Malaysia track, luckily holding off the charging Sergio Perez. Since then, Alonso’s fearsome pace has been undeniable.

I can only describe his thrashing of Felipe Massa as a total massacre. He has out-qualified the Brazilian in every single quali session. He has beaten Massa in every single race this year. He has spent all but 15 laps ahead of the other Ferrari. All of this has combined to make Alonso the undeniable leader of the Ferrari team.

He has been willing to take risky strategies to win more races. He took tyre gambles in Canada and Silverstone, and though neither fully paid off, they displayed his fighting spirit. It took until the final few laps for the Spaniard to surrender the lead in Montreal and Britain.

After his initial struggles, he has been able to compete in Q3 9 times, compared to 4 times by Massa. Despite an incredibly inferior car, he has been able to pull out a 40-point lead in the championship, the most astonishing feat I have ever seen in my time watching Formula 1.

With this season, I has absolutely no doubt that we are in a golden age of F1. We have some of the best drivers ever seen in this sport’s illustrious history, and leading them all is this spirited and incredibly talented Spaniard. At this stage, for Alonso never to get a third title would be a tragedy.

2012 half-way driver rankings: 7th – 3rd

This is the third of 4 posts, ranking each driver so far in 2012.

After eliminating Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button in the previous post, we are now down to the top 7 drivers in the field (in my opinion). Without any more delay, here is the 7th placed driver:

7th: Nico Rosberg

Previous ranking: 4th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “Nico has cleanly and consistently been taking points finishes by the truckload.”

After his impressive performances in 2011, Rosberg has again delivered this year, with a first win. However, a faltering Mercedes may crush his charge for more success this year.

However, the gap between him and Michael Schumacher is reducing, with the 43-year-old regaining traction with every race. While he has more points, this is mostly down to Schumacher’s horriffic reliability. Oddly enough, Rosberg has only beaten him in a race once this year, largely due to the same reason.

In qualifying, the two are very close in terms of Q2 and Q3 appearances, but Nico has often pipped him in terms of actual qualifying position. However, it is clear in most races that Rosberg cannot hold onto his position, losing out to most of his rivals by the first stops, and never being able to fight back.

Much of this is down to the Mercedes car, whose strengths have been surpassed by other teams, and whose weaknesses are truly crippling Rosberg’s talents. In short, while he may have won a race this time, it’s the same old story for Rosberg – a great driver held back by an unpredictable car.

6th: Romain Grosjean

Previous ranking: N/A

Review from previous ranking: N/A

After being dropped at the end of 2009, Romain Grosjean is back, and has hugely impressed me with his remarkable pace and raw talent.

The start of the season saw many unforced errors – he collided with Pastor Maldonado in Australia, then took out Michael Schumacher in Malaysia. However, he has been on fire since then, taking his first fastest lap only two races later, and two excellent podiums.

His fight back to the front in Britain was similarly impressive, and he qualified second on the grid for Hungary. There is no doubt that this young driver is a future Grand Prix winner – it would be a travesty if he didn’t.

Unlike Rosberg, his Lotus car isn’t half as tempermental as the Mercedes, which means that he has no excuses to up at the front every race. However, like his teammate Raikkonen, he has let a possible win slip through his hands, failing to capitalise in Hungary when he had the fastest car on track.

Is this excusable? Yes, but not for much longer. Grosjean is already consistently out-qualifying his teammate, and only needs to improve his very poor starts (-26 total so far) to lead races. After that, we will see if he is world champion material.

5th: Kimi Raikkonen

Previous ranking: N/A

Review from previous ranking: N/A

The Iceman is back, and is as fearsome as ever. Without even as much as a sound, Raikkonen has sneaked his way into the battle for the world championship, and is at the forefront of Lotus’ charge for its first win.

So far, I would liken his performances so that in 2003 – very calm and collected, and nothing dramatic. That time, he came within a few points of the title, and in 2007 won that championship in the same manner. He has accumulated 5 podium finishes out of 11 races so far, and even without a win is within 50 points of the lead in the championship.

He has committed a few faults along the way – a mistake in Australian qualifying leaving him 17th, and miscalculcating his tyre’s lifespan in China, meaning he lost 10 positions in a single lap. However, overall he has been hugely impressive, and I am tipping him as the dark horse for the 2012 title.

4th: Sebastian Vettel

Previous ranking: 2nd out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “The absolute perfect team/car set-up cannot last forever, and when it slips away, Vettel’s talent will be severely tested.”

The start of 2012 saw this test, and it certainly has brought interesting results. Vettel may have performed very well, but his attitude has been revealed as tempermental to say the least.

Given the circumstances, a win in Bahrain was impressive, and Vettel has been at the front of the field since. He has been willing to run risky strategies in China and Canada, and has done well compared to teammate Mark Webber. He has out-qualified the Aussie 6 times, and spends the vast majority of the races ahead of the other Red Bull.

An alternator failure in Valencia has been the only fault outside of his control, where a certain win was ripped out of his hands. Still, his race finishes have been very consistent, with 3 podiums and only 2 finishes outside the top 5.

However, what is most interesting about his season so far is his unnecessary attraction to incident and controversy. In Malaysia, Sebastian caused a needless clash with Narain Karthikeyan, then called the HRT driver a “cucumber” afterwards, which is as ridiculous as it is funny. After his retirement in Valencia, both he and the team slammed the decision to call out the safety car (which may have caused the car failure), rather than simply admit defeat. After being penalised in Germany, he branded the penalty as “stupid” and claimed his move was “fine”.

It is this  arrogance that bothers me – Vettel is still completely sheltered by his team, who feel the need to protect and defend him at every possible opportunity. He still has to develop as a driver, and I feel he can’t do that while he’s in the same team as Helmut Marko. Having said that, Germany aside, his racecraft has been championship material, and he is well in contention for a third title.

3rd: Mark Webber

Previous ranking: 8th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “Webber has been completely annihilated by Sebastian Vettel in every single sector this year [...] he struggled massively at starts [...]  his racecraft was hit-and-miss as well.”

Mark Webber has overcome his massive problems from 2011, but has more obstacles to overcome before he will ever win a title.

On the face of it, Webber’s having his best season yet. After a consistent string of 4th places, while his enemies faltered, followed up by two excellent victories, has slammed him into the championship battle. He has cured his terrible starts (average 0 places lost/gained on lap 1), and has overcome his struggles on the Pirelli tyres.

He is finally holding up against his teammate – out-qualifying him 5 times, and being able to race side-by-side on track for a change. His pass on Vettel in Malaysia proved that he has not fallen behind like in 2011.

However, his problem this year is his starting positions on the grid. Webber has already been knocked out of Q1 once, and Q2 twice. Even when he gets through to Q3, he very rarely goes any higher than 4th. It is this poor qualifying form that holds him back in the races.

Once he starts up far enough, he can thrash his opponents – holding back 5 drivers in Monaco until the chequered flag proved that. But it still doesn’t occur enough, and this may well be Mark’s achilles heel if the running gets tough later in 2012.

2012 half-way driver rankings: 14th – 8th

In the second of 4 posts, I will judge the 2012 drivers based on their performances so far this season.

Drivers knocked out in Q1 (so to speak) included Felipe Massa, Daniel Ricciardo and Pastor Maldonado. Here is the second round, including a few more big names…

Nothing massively convincing from Senna, but still better than Maldonado

Nothing massively convincing from Senna, but still better than Maldonado

14th: Bruno Senna

Previous ranking: 17th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “Bruno’s impact has been unconvincing to say the least.”

It might seem a surprise to put Senna ahead of his more celebrated teammate, but the small gap in the points standings is more than compensated by considerably more intelligent driving.

In only his second race for Williams, he stormed through the field in treacherous conditions to finish 6th. He inherited points-scoring positions after teammate Maldonado was handed post-race penalties.

Despite this, a lack of raw pace is apparent. He has only out-qualified Maldonado 3 times, with an average deficit of over half a second. While Pastor stormed to victory in Spain, he had crashed out in qualifying and retired from the race. He has only reached Q3 once, compared to the Venezuelan’s 7 times.

At the end of the day though, if you were to ignore the one-off result in Barcelona, then Senna has performed much better against Maldonado than many would have thought. Also, Bruno hasn’t been involved in half the accidents, and still spends the majority of his racing laps ahead of his teammate. Rather quietly, he is the more complete driver of the Williams team.

A decent start from Hulkenberg

A decent start from Hulkenberg

13th: Nico Hulkenberg

Previous ranking: 11th out of 27 (2010 final)

Review from previous ranking: “Several poor showings may not have helped him, but nevertheless I would have thought that Nico should have stayed on [with Williams].”

After a rather pointless year out of the sport, Nico Hulkenberg is back, and has already proved himself a worthy adversary to last year’s hotshot rookie Paul di Resta.

Judging by the stats, both drivers are incredibly well matched. Neither has the edge in either qualifying or race results, although Di Resta has been able to achieve slightly higher finishing positions on times, which has given him the lead on points.

Hulkenberg’s finishing positions, while not dramatic in any way, are still more consistent though, and this is a considerable advantage to have. On more than a few occasions Nico has finished in 11th or 12th places, so with a bit of luck he could have closed up the 10-point gap between the two.

So far, it is almost too close to call, but I think that Paul has a slight edge over Nico at the moment. However, this could change at any time, and I am looking forward to see how the young German retaliates in the second half of 2012.

It's been a mix of highs and lows for Button

It’s been a mix of highs and lows for Button

12th: Jenson Button

Previous ranking: 3rd out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “The balance of power ha[s] shifted at McLaren, and Button is now comfortably ahead of his teammate in all areas.”

To say “how things change” doesn’t begin to analyse Button’s predicament – his on/off season has shown that even the best drivers can be thrown off course.

Yes, it is very easy to point out his crushing win in Melbourne, or his return to form in Germany, but his atrocious form a quarter way through the season says it all. In some races, Jenson was displaying Felipe Massa levels of rubbish. In Monaco for example, a complete drop-off in pace allowed him to be humiliated by Kovalainen’s Caterham.

This complete lack of pace continued on into Canada, where he qualified 10th and finished 16th. In his home race, he was unable to make any impact on the frontrunners, only barely scraping a point.

It’s hard to believe that this is the same driver who cakewalked the first 7 races of 2009. He has only out-qualified teammate Hamilton twice, and only by sheer pace once. The gap between them in qualifying is nearly half a second, which demonstrates how off the ball he has become.

We know that Button can demolish the entire field when he is on form. The problem is that his driving style simply doesn’t suit the 2012 Pirelli tyre compounds, which require high tyre temperatures through the corners. Jenson’s smooth entry and exit into corners means that his McLaren simply slides around the racetrack.

It’s a harsh ranking, but I don’t think that so far in 2012 we can rank him amongst the high-level drivers.

Aside from Silverstone, remarkably consistent pace for Di Resta

Aside from Silverstone, remarkably consistent pace for Di Resta

11th: Paul di Resta

Previous ranking: 10th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “It still amazes me that Paul di Resta is in only his first year in F1 – his form makes him look like an experienced veteran.”

Like 2011, Paul di Resta has shown unremarkable yet consistent pace, which has allowed him to creep up the driver’s standings.

As I said earlier, there is little between Di Resta and teammate Hulkenberg in either qualifying or the races, the only difference being is Paul’s higher finishing positions. Di Resta’s weakness seems to be his poor starts – so far he has lost 10 overall places on the first lap.

However, he has proven himself to be rather flexible with tyre strategies. This has allowed him to run 1-stop tyre strategies in several races so far, netting him 7th place in Valencia.

Points-wise, he still has a slight advantage over Hulkenberg, but a single race could change that. Therefore, Di Resta will still need to up his game through 2012 if he is to remain on top at Force India.

Kobayashi races as well as always

Kobayashi races as well as always

10th: Kamui Kobayashi

Previous ranking: 14th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “Overall, it was a decent season, but improvement is still necessary.”

Like Senna, Kobayashi’s season has been rather overshadowed by the performances of his highly rated teammate. Still, Kamui has shown that he is a force to be reckoned with.

As always, he has proven himself to be able to battle with the big boys, as proven in Spain when he passed both Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg in daring moves. He once said “If I feel I can overtake I just do it” and this is as true as ever.

Despite teammate Perez taking much of Sauber’s glory in Malaysia, Kobayashi has out-qualified him more frequently. In qualifying, where Perez hasn’t gone better than 14th since Spain, Kamui has been able to break into Q3 three times so far this season – not bad for a midfield car.

Despite differing results, I would still regard both Sauber drivers as being nearly equals in talent. While Kamui doesn’t have a sixth sense for tyre management like Sergio does, he makes up for that with commendable pace and brave overtaking manouvers.

Rookie errors from a 43-year-old is unheard of in F1

Rookie errors from a 43-year-old is unheard of in F1

9th: Michael Schumacher

Previous ranking: 5th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “It’s been more than improvement for Schumacher – he has seriously upped his game, and pushed Nico Rosberg in nearly every way”

After only a few races I began to feel very sorry for Michael Schumacher – this season’s woes have mostly been technical-related, and generally have been out of his hands. Generally.

The problem is that a 7-times world champion should not be making rookie errors. Slamming into Senna in Barcelona, and a howler of a mistake at the start in Hungary were the main examples.

Despite this, the 43-year-old is still showing promising pace. He took an excellent pole position in Monaco, took his first podium in 6 years in Valencia, and in many races has upsetted the established order. Mainly because of technical faults, he has been unable to mount a championship challenge.

Coupled with this, the Mercedes W03 car seems to be falling away from the frontrunners. With this, Schumacher may have to settle for aiming to catch up to his teammate, Nico Rosberg. So far, he has been on par with his fellow German, and has performed much better in recent races.

We may not see Michael after the 2012 season, so keep your eyes peeled, lest we see the return of the Schumacher of old.

Several fantastic drives has put Perez closer to a Ferrari drive

Several fantastic drives has put Perez closer to a Ferrari drive

8th: Sergio Perez

Previous ranking: 7th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “The fact that he is already being lined up for a Ferrari drive is a signal of his prowess.”

In recent days, Sergio Perez has made his desire to drive for Ferrari clear. Does he deserve it? Absolutely.

Perez became one of my favourite drivers within a few races of 2011, and his admirable form has continued on to this season. Obviously, his best to drive to date came at Malaysia, where a fantastic drive nearly earned him his first Grand Prix victory.

Apart from this, he took another podium only 5 races later, and drove well in Germany to seal a great weekend for Sauber. He also recorded the fastest lap in Monaco, nearly 3 seconds faster than the frontrunners – although it must be noted that they were held up by a conservative Webber.

Compared to Kobayashi, Sergio has done well. They are neck-and-neck in terms of qualifying and race results, and Perez nips ahead due to having 14 more championship points.

The only downside so far is that his car has a magnetic attraction to Pastor Maldonado’s. This has resulted in two crashes so far this year, and has cost him several points. However, this is of no fault to Sergio, and he has performed admirably in a midfield car.

2012 half-way driver rankings: 24th – 15th

As I’ve done for a while now, every 6 months I do a quick review of each driver and his performances in that season so far.

The reviews are based on qualifying performance (particularly vs. teammate), race finishing position (+ vs. teammate), fastest laps, number of penalties, and relative form.

So without further ado, let’s start with drivers ranked from 24th to 15th…

Another disappointing season for Karthikeyan

Another disappointing season for Karthikeyan

24th: Narain Karthikeyan

Previous ranking: 26th out of 28

Ranking from previous review: “The only shining moment [2011 Indian GP] in a dull and uninspired season.”

Not much was expected of Karthikeyan after a disappointing 2011 season, and not much is what we got.

Narain has been completely out-performed by Pedro de la Rosa in every single aspect of the 2012 season. He has been out-qualified 11 times out of 11, by an average of 0.8 seconds per race. Race pace is similarly awful, with 15th and 18th places the only time he moved above 21st.

The one decent performance so far has been at the Malaysian Grand Prix, where he made the bold call to take on wet tyres at the start. As the rain hammered down, Karthikeyan was able to punch above his weight, and moved up to 5th for a brief moment. I feel he was innocent in his clashes with both Button and Vettel – it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Still, there is little to suggest that Karthikeyan should be in Formula 1 – apart from a sponsor’s paycheck, of course. It says a lot of HRT to accept the paycheck rather than the driver.

 

De la Rosa can achieve little in such a poor car

De la Rosa can achieve little in such a poor car

23rd: Pedro de la Rosa

Previous ranking: 19th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “I believe that he won’t make much impact in such a poor car  - and knowing HRT, he’ll likely get replaced halfway through the year.”

It seems I’ve lost my 100% record for predicting De la Rosa’s future – he hasn’t lost his job just yet, and is making a small impact at the back of the field, considering it is all he can do.

In such a dire car, you can’t expect miracles, but Pedro has managed to perform rather consistently. As previously stated, he has out-qualified Narain Karthikeyan at every single race so far, and has spent the majority of his race laps in front of his teammate.

His only fault was not being able to match Narain’s progress up the field during brief stages of the Malaysian Grand Prix, when a tyre gamble gave HRT an opportunity to move up the grid.

Despite this, he has performed well, and deserves to be retained for another while. But this may mean nothing, as we all know from before.

 

LIttle from Petrov to suggest he can beat Kovalainen

LIttle from Petrov to suggest he can beat Kovalainen

22nd: Vitaly Petrov

Previous ranking: 16th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “A podium in Australia was undoubtedly the standout moment of the year, but there wasn’t much to talk about after that.”

Like 2011, there was nothing awful, but nothing spectacular either to speak of for Petrov.

If there was ever an opportunity for Caterham to challenge the midfield, it was always Heikki Kovalainen who took the honours. Petrov has been out-qualified 9 times out of 11, albeit by a smaller margin than most other drivers.

While Vitaly tends to finish the races ahead of Heikki, he still has led less laps ahead of Kovalainen than vice-versa, as the Finn remains ahead of Petrov for the majority of the races as well.

Vitaly has only qualified in 3 specific places so far this year – 18th, 19th and 20th. As I said before, this is nothing awful, but Kovalainen has been up in the dizzying heights of 16th and 17th consistently, and Petrov rarely challenges his more experienced teammate.

If he doesn’t step up his game, he runs the risk of becoming a fully-fledged pay driver.

 

An average performance so far for Pic

An average performance so far for Pic

21st: Charles Pic

Previous ranking: N/A

Review from previous ranking: N/A

Not the average backmarker driver as many had expected, Charles Pic has impressed in his debut year so far, and has put a good deal of pressure on established teammate Timo Glock.

On 4 occasions has Charles been able to out-qualify Glock, by small margins. In the races, Glock is able to claw back this deficit quite often, but not without a bit of resistance, as the rookie has spent nearly 150 race laps ahead of his teammate.

Before him, Lucas di Grassi and Jerome D’Ambrosio were much the same, however, and they were not able to hold onto their drives the following year. Assuming Marussia will act the same this year, Pic will have to up his game if he expects to be in F1 in 2013.

 

Despite his talent, Glock has not extracted the Marussia's full potential

Despite his talent, Glock has not extracted the Marussia’s full potential

20th: Timo Glock

Previous ranking: 22nd out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “We all know Timo deserves better [...] next season looks like a similar struggle.”

As expected, there has been no dramatic change in fortunes for Glock – he continues to struggle to make an impact in a hopeless car.

There is, as always, data to show he has the potential to do so much more. Despite a few slips, he enjoys a comfortable lead over Charles Pic in both qualifying and the races. At race starts, he gains on average 2.4 places, and has gained 22 places in total on opening laps this year.

That is the best record of all F1 drivers so far – the Ferraris, renowned for their good starts, have only gained a total of 17 and 18 places respectively.

Unfortunately, that’s as far as it goes. While he is able to make waves on the first lap, with such a poor car, he cannot hope to keep up to the midfield, or even the Caterhams.

There is nothing left for Glock to achieve at the back of the grid. Marussia may well be pleased with Timo, but I highly doubt that he is pleased with the car. A bold move is required by the German in order to save his career.

 

The two new Toro Rosso drivers are little better than the old ones

The two new Toro Rosso drivers are little better than the old ones

19th: Jean-Eric Vergne

Previous ranking: N/A

Review from previous ranking: N/A

Toro Rosso opted to ditch Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari for a new pair of rookies, but to be honest, I’m not sure why they bothered.

Jean-Eric Vergne, in particular, has been particularly unimpressive, with a dismal qualifying record being his main weakness so far. On average, he starts in 17th place, with teammate Daniel Ricciardo on average being 13th.

A silly and needless move against Kovalainen in Valencia did nothing to improve his reputation. He has been eliminated in Q1 6 times, while Ricciardo has been into Q3 twice, compared to none for the Frenchman. On the plus side, his race pace is more impressive, with Vergne often finishing one position ahead of Ricciardo.

However, the qualifying gap to his teammate is over half a second, an astronomical amount for someone trying to defend his place in Formula 1. I think Toro Ross (effectively Red Bull) should obviously give them more than a year to prove their worth, but so far I have been unimpressed with Vergne’s performance.

 

An average race for Pastor Maldonado

An average race for Pastor Maldonado

18th: Pastor Maldonado

Previous ranking: 25th out of 28th

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

It’s arguable whether Maldonado should be so far down the rankings. On one hand, he has some serious pace – the Spanish Grand Prix proved that. There’s no doubt that the Venezuelan driver has the talent to make it big.

But, on the other hand, he drives like a complete thug. And that’s why I have absolutely no respect for him.

It’s hard to keep count of the crashes – losing 6th on the last lap in Australia, taking out Perez in Monaco, crashing into De la Rosa (Monaco), slamming into the Wall of Champions, taking out Lewis Hamilton in Valencia, taking out Sergio Perez (again), and last but not least hitting Paul di Resta in Hungary. That would be impressive, but this isn’t Destruction Derby.

At this point, a Maldonado fan might bring up any other good performances he had, but there’s the problem – there isn’t any. And with that, Pastor has a lot of work to do if he wants to improve his destroyed reputation in Formula 1.

 

Massa can barely amount a challenge to Force India, never mind his teammate

Massa can barely amount a challenge to Force India, never mind his teammate

17th: Felipe Massa

Previous ranking: 18th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “Every single year, we are promised a return to form by the Brazilian, and every year is a let-down.”

Business as usual for Massa, then. I cannot understand the people who say that 4th place in one solitary race is acceptable – his teammate is pulling out a lead in the world championship as we speak.

While Alonso took control in Malaysia, Massa was 97 seconds down, and close to being lapped. It took him 4 races to score a single point, by which time Fernando was sitting pretty on 43. First-lap clashes aren’t even a surprise in 2012. The list of negatives just goes on and on.

And like Maldonado, he has had practically no plus sides. He performed decently in Silverstone, until you consider that his teammate was still ahead of him up the road. His qualifying record is abysmal – he has only reached Q3 4 times, hasn’t out-qualified Alonso once, and loses out by an average gap of 0.6 seconds per session.

In a championship-leading car, Massa lies 14th, in between a Force India and a Williams. How Ferrari continue to justify his performances by continuing to keep him on board is beyond me.

 

Kovalainen was persistent as always

Kovalainen was persistent as always

16th: Heikki Kovalainen

Previous ranking: 11th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “He absolutely demolished his teammate in every sector.”

2012 has been less of a cakewalk for Heikki Kovalainen, but nevertheless he continues to impress with consistently good performances.

Partnered with Vitaly Petrov, Kovalainen still has the upper hand in all areas. He is leading in qualifying by 9-2, and achieved Caterham’s best performance to date with 13th in Monaco. He has also been behind the driving force to reach the midfield, reaching Q2 on two occasions so far.

Overall, the stats are good as usual. However, Kovalainen’s future really hinges on how much more progress Caterham can make. Despite their pluckiness, they have repeatedly failed their ambitious goals (Consistently reaching Q2, scoring a point), and surely this must be beginning to wear on Heikki.

There have been a few occasions where he has been able to keep up with the Toro Rossos, but surely this isn’t enough to satisfy his desire to race at the front again. Kovalainen is doing all he can – now it’s up to the team.

 

Ricciardo has performed slightly better than Vergne so far

Ricciardo has performed slightly better than Vergne so far

15th: Daniel Ricciardo

Previous ranking: 20th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “I feel he can succeed where Buemi and Alguersuari failed.”

The second of the new Toro Rosso signings, Ricciardo hasn’t underperformed, but has still struggled to cement his place in Formula 1.

His qualifying pace is quite commendable – beating Vergne 9 times out of 11 so far, with an average margin of over half a second. He has only been eliminated from Q1 once, and has progress to Q3 twice. Not too shabby.

In the races is where the faults start to appear. He has lost an average of 3 places per race on lap 1, which is by far the worst in the field. Being located at the back end of the midfield, this is what is holding back Ricciardo’s race pace.

I feel it’s unfair to compare the two drivers in terms of points – both have only been in the top 10 only once each, after all. However, I think that if Ricciardo can get to grips with his starts, then he may emerge as the dominant force of the Toro Rosso team.

Monaco GP analysis: Historic season can only get even better

With 6 different winners in 6 different races, we have never before seen such a varied an unpredictable grid. Every race, there are 7 or 8 drivers in with a chance of winning, and nearly as many are in the battle for the championship.

This time last year, we were already becoming certain who was running away with the title. In 2012 however, there is no doubt that it is shaping up to be one of the closest seasons in history.

Heroes to zeroes, and vice-versa

For Felipe Massa, criticism is due where it’s due, but praise equally so. Under massive pressure from the Scuderia after a dismal start, the Brazilian impressed by keeping Fernando Alonso honest on the streets of Monaco.

His pace may have been complimented by Alonso’s conservative driving, but it is still a massive improvement from what we have seen so far.

It’s clear what Ferrari want from him – good, but not great, performances. A driver who can pick up points where Alonso slips, but is otherwise content to finish 5th or 6th. A few more races like Monaco, and Felipe’s season will be back on track.

Pastor Maldonado, meanwhile, has completely wiped out his form from Spain. A thug-like swipe at Sergio Perez in practice left him near the back of the grid, then the Williams driver punted Pedro de la Rosa at the start, ending his race.

It’s hard to imagine that the same driver took the top step of the podium only two weeks ago.

Reputation is a fragile thing in Formula 1, and Pastor may have gone and thrown his away with a single burst of anger. Like the BBC F1 crew commented, to use your car as a weapon is nothing less than disgraceful. After years of safety campaigning, the FIA has thrown it away by allowing such reckless behaviour to go on.

McLaren continue to throw away valuable points

Yet another shocking race for the McLaren team

Yet another shocking race for the McLaren team

Only a quarter of the way into the season, and it is clear that even single points are precious for the frontrunners. With a single race win covering the top 5, the title race could go to the wire.

In such circumstances, McLaren’s dismal form makes them stand out even more. Starting the season with one of the fastest cars, repeated mistakes and slip-ups have cost the team in nearly every race.

Monaco was no exception – Lewis Hamilton was livid after his team lost him a place in the pit stops. He was not informed of Sebastian Vettel’s searing pace up front, and subsequently dropped behind the Red Bull. He claimed afterwards that he could have pushed and stayed ahead, if he was told the information.

He has gone on and stated: “We haven’t had a grand prix weekend where something hasn’t gone wrong” which pretty much sums it up for McLaren.

While Jenson Button’s failures this weekend were largely his fault, Hamilton was frustrated by everything around him, and suffered as a result. It’s so early into the season, and the title may already be slipping away.

Meanwhile, at Sauber…

Just another normal start for Kamui Kobayashi

Just another normal start for Kamui Kobayashi

At the start of the Monaco GP, replays showed Kamui Kobayashi having a more frenzied start than usual. After being clipped by a flailing Romain Grosjean, the Sauber was launched into the air, before bouncing back onto the tarmac, nearly knocking Jenson Button into the barriers in the process.

The replays made it seem spectacular, but the photo attached even more so. That alone was why this extra section was added!

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