Category Archives: Reviews and Previews

Malaysian Grand Prix preview

Can anyone stop Red Bull in Malaysia?

Can anyone stop Red Bull in Malaysia?

The second race of the 2011 Formula 1 season is at Sepang, Malaysia. A tweak of the DRS rules, as well as ominous weather in the region, is sure to make the race unprecictable this weekend…

DRS

The Drag Reduction System didn’t have a particularly large effect on the Australian GP (not necessarily a bad thing), but with the longer straights of Malaysia, the device will have a much bigger role to play here.

The operating zone has been extended from 600 to 700 metres. Also, race director Charlie Whiting hinted at placing more than one DRS zone on the track. This has not been confirmed for Malaysia, but it is being looked at for other races.

Several drivers, including Felipe Massa, have voiced their concern over this suggestion. However, for Sepang at least, the main straight will be the prime place to pass.

As with 2 weeks ago, a significant advantage can be played to the Red Bulls, if they are able to deploy their rear wings earlier out of the corners in qualifying.

Weather

Unusually cool and overcast weather in Melbourne led to cooler tyre temperatures and reduced tyre wear. No matter what happens this weekend, the same will not happen this time around.

A tweet from Lotus technical director Mike Gascoyne reads: “Lots of heavy thunderstorms around every day so the weather will be unpredictable this weekend.”

Most of the time, Malaysia suffers from searing heat of up to 40 degrees Celcius. Any other time, rain hammers down like a tropical storm.

Weather forecasters are predicting heavy showers on Saturday and Sunday. The rain is more likely to hit in the evening time, which is onimous considering the 16:00 start time for qualifying and the race.

Tyres

As previously mentioned, cool temperatures in Australia quelled fears briefly about over-wearing tyres, but the debacle may well return this weekend.

40 degree heat will have an exponentially larger effect than the 17-18 degree conditions from Melbourne. Pirelli are stating that up to 4 pit stops may be required.

That would be presuming that race  day was dry. If it is wet, then all bets are off, because nobody is sure yet how the extreme wet Pirelli tyres stand up to a full tank of fuel at the start of a race.

Predictions

One third of a lap in Sepang is spent in braking and cornering areas. This will play right into the hands of Red Bull, whose RB7 is renowned for ripping up tarmac with its unbeievable amounts of grip. On the other hand, the Red Bull is quite slow on the straights, which could hamper them on race day, if they come under pressure from their rivals.

Ferrari’s tyre conservation could prove crucial if the race is dry. A lack of race pace was highlighted in Melbourne, so strategy is what is needed to put them back on top. McLaren and Renault are the two main teams to challenge Vettel and Webber this weekend, but it is difficult to see how they can match their pace.

It will be interesting to see how Sauber fare. Their illegal rear wing may well have been the reason why they were so fast through the speed traps in Australia. If their top speed remains high this weekend, then we know they have a properly fast car.

At the back of the grid, speculation is mounting as to whether Virgin and HRT will even be able to qualify. A new front wing is being delivered to Hispania, while changes in the technical department are occuring for Virgin. However, I fear that it may not be enough for these backmarkers.

Australian Grand Prix preview

After a long winter of waiting, Formula 1 is back for 2011! The cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix has delayed the season start, but it has only served to up the expectations of the sport’s avid fans.

With yet another reshaking-up of the rulebook, the season opener looks to be incredibly unpredictable. Here’s a look at the important factors this weekend:

DRS (Drag Reduction System)

DRS, or the adjustable rear wing, is without a doubt the most talked-about innovation in years. It was designed by the FIA to aid overtaking manouvers, by increasing the speed advantage of the car behind.

DRS may be deployed at any time during practice and qualifying, but we’ll get back to that later. In the race, this can only be used on the main straight of a circuit, when a car is less than 1 second behind the car ahead, the corner before the straight.

The rear wing flap adjusts itself to create much less drag for 600 metres, which aids the car behind with an approx. 10-12 km/hr speed advantage. However, if the system makes overtaking too easy, then the 600 metre use of the device will be lowered, and vice-versa.

Also, the rear wing innovation cannot be used within the first 2 laps of the race, or within the first 2 laps after a Safety Car restart.

In Melbourne, DRS may not have a particularly big role to play, as the main straight rarely poses as an overtaking spot anyways. However, use of the device in qualifying will be very interesting. Like the F-duct last year, it will be interesting to see who can deploy their DRS quickest out of the corners, and gain a speed advantage. Those with the best rear grip will benefit most from this type of situation.

107% Rule

This rule re-introduction will have a more profound effect at the start of 2011. In Q1, any driver who sets a time more than 7% slower than the driver in 1st place will not be allowed to start the race. Exceptions are allowed by the stewards, such as if the car was unusually slow, but teams are not allowed to appeal these decisions.

This will be particularly bothersome to HRT this weekend. As they have not turned a wheel in their F111, there is a chance that they may not be able to qualify.

Most other teams should not be fazed by this rule.

KERS

Having been mutually dropped by all teams in 2010, Kinetic Energy Restoration Systems return for 2011.

At the time of writing, some teams have not yet confirmed or denied whether they are using KERS in Australia. Therefore, the start will be absolutely crucial for all drivers. Those without the unit (Hispania and Virgin confirmed so far) will be hugely disadvantaged by the loss of 80.5 horsepower at the start.

KERS has also been touted, along with DRS, as the solution to increasing overtaking in F1. A 60kW power boost combined with 10-12 km/h speed gain will be massively beneficial to those who can utilise it. Bear in mind though that the car in front could use more of his KERS supply at the overtaking spot, if he conserves it over the rest of the lap.

KERS may be used anywhere the driver likes, so it is better in some ways to DRS. As well as the main straight, between Turns 2 and 3, 8 and 9, and 12 and 13 will be the main spots for KERS to be deployed.

Tyres

The rebirth of Pirelli in Formula 1 has turned the formbook on its head in terms of tyre degradation. Bridgestone tyres were too consistent and durable, resulting in certain 1-stop races in 2010. Not any more.

Pirelli are bringing the soft and hard compounds to Melbourne. The general consensus is that a 3-stop strategy is the maximum required this weekend. Drivers have previously complained of up to 4 stops, but Pirelli have disregarded their claims.

Wear on the rear tyres is the main concern at the moment. Drivers with progressive throttle and steering input, like Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, may benefit by prolonging the use of their tyres by up to a handful of laps, which could be crucial in terms of race strategy.

Continuing from last year, drivers must still use both compounds of dry tyres in the race, and Q3 drivers must use the same set of tyres they qualified on to start the race. The latter of these rules seems like a poor decision by the FIA to keep, as it discourages diversity in tyre compound choices at the start of the race.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the tyre reshuffle works out this weekend.

But, with the unpredictable nature in recent years of F1, we will never know for certain until race day. Roll on 2011!

How the teams are shaping up after testing – Part 3

This is the final part of a 3-post series looking at each individual team before they head off to Melbourne in little over a week’s time.

Sauber

Perez and Kobayashi looks like an impressive line-up

Perez and Kobayashi looks like an impressive line-up

With good testing form and a formidable line-up, Sauber are certainly a team to watch out for in 2011.

Critics slate the driver line-up as inexperienced, but Peter Sauber’s last young driver pairing was Kimi Raikkonen and Nick Heidfeld in 2011, which earned them 4th in the constructors championship.

This year’s pairing of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez may not have the same effect, but they are both forces to be reckoned with. Perez, a former winner of British Formula 3, seeks to stake his claim in Formula 1. Kobayashi strikes fear into those in front of him with his trademark breathtaking overtaking.

The arrival of James Kay last year came at around the same time Sauber turned their year around. This year, the C30 is not radical or innovative technically, but with a Ferrari KERS system, the car could be battling high in the midfield.

Such a young driver line-up is risky to some, but I don’t think that it will affect the team in any negative way.

Toro Rosso

Both Buemi and Alguersuari will be under pressure in the STR6

Both Buemi and Alguersuari will be under pressure in the STR6

Despite having retained both Alguersuari and Buemi for another year, the arrival of Daniel Ricciardo as test driver will keep both Toro Rosso drivers on their toes all year.

Both Alguersuari’s and Buemi’s contracts allow them to be pushed aside for Ricciardo at the half-way mark, so any underachieving will be heavily punished. However, the promising form of the STR6 should propel the team forward regardless of drivers this year.

The double floor and upswept sidepods, created by Giorgio Ascanelli, are both clever innvoations, but it is unclear where Toro Rosso stand after testing. The general consensus though is that the team are in a much better position than last year, having been the worst-ranked out of the points-scoring teams.

As previously stated, both drivers will have to up their game, but the pressure is more on Sebastien Buemi. Having been at the team for two years, he failed to show his impressive form from from 2009 into 2010, and completely lost out to Alguersuari by the end of last year. It could be a terrible shame to see him replaced, as his first race back in Australia 2009 was extremely promising.

No matter which drivers survive the year with the team, improvements are essential.

Lotus

The Lotus T128 is a huge improvement from its predecessor

The Lotus T128 is a huge improvement from its predecessor

Considerably the best of the new teams last year, Lotus seek to leap into the midfield with radical improvements over the winter.

Leaving aside the “Lotus vs Lotus” legal battle, everything is looking up for Lotus at the moment, as the T128 is already showing signs of huge improvements.

Heikki Kovalainen has said that the 2011 machine “feels like a proper Formula 1 car”. The gearbox and hydraulic issues that plagued the team last year have been solved by ditching Xtrac for Red Bull. Even with those difficulties in 2010, they were the most reliable out of the 3 teams, so this is another big step forward.

A pull-rod suspension system has been implemented, the same sort that has been used on the Red Bull for years. A blade roll-hoop and split air intake, unpopular but possibly promising choices, have also been used on the T128.

A Renault engine will give them a boost in fuel efficiency, but more than likely a drop in reliability, considering Cosworth’s good performance last year.

With all of these changes since 2010, it is a considerable achievement that a 18-month-old team could consider challenging for points. It seems well within reason for them to do this, so 2011 could be a fantastic improvement for Lotus.

HRT

HRT won't turn a wheel until Melbourne

HRT won't turn a wheel until Melbourne

Hispania Racing, just starting their 2nd Formula 1 season, still have the shockingly awful record of not running at a single test session in their history.

There are reasons, of course, why the team couldn’t attend the Barcelona test, but it is still a PR disaster for a team looking for sponsors to not be able to turn a wheel until the season opener. Where have we heard that line before…

I don’t mean to appear biased, but there is little good to speak of Hispania so far this year. The livery is an exceptional improvement from the horrid F110, but the F111 displays only one sponsor, and this is not good news for a financially struggling team.

Vitantonio Liuzzi, however, may be able to show some good form. Having been dropped by Force India, he now needs to prove that he can still race at the top level. Beating Narain Karthikeyan will obviously be his main target. Karthikeyan, who last raced in F1 for Jordan in 2005, has been competing in A1 GP and Superleague Formula since.

It’s not a bad line-up, but Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok were both promising drivers last year. Regardless, HRT’s aim will probably be to just keep up with their rivals.

With more time than 2010 to develop their car, the F111 should probably be an improvement, but we won’t know until Melbourne.

Virgin

An all-CFD approach may not pay off for Virgin

An all-CFD approach may not pay off for Virgin

Once again, Nick Wirth has led an all-CFD approach to the Virgin Racing MVR-02, and it appears to bring the same disadvantages as last year.

A lack of underfloor aero simulation has left the Virgin car underdeveloped again this year. The last car to never see a wind tunnel was the epic disaster of the 1997 MasterCard Lola team, which survived one race – 13 seconds off the pace. In qualifying, seeing as they never made the race.

Timo Glock is pessimistic, saying that he doubts they will reach the midfield, meaning the team may have to dice it out with HRT again in 2011.

Testing highlighted their woes. Many wasted days were spent miles off the pace, with Jerome D’Ambrosio bearing the brunt of not being able to set a single fast time over several days.

With Timo Glock recovering after surgery, the team have suffered by not having any experienced hands develop the car, and it will probably show in Melbourne.

How the teams are shaping up after testing – Part 2

This is part 2 of a 3-post series, looking at each individual team with less than 2 weeks to go until Melbourne. So without further delay here are the next 4 teams:

Mercedes

Mercedes may well leap to the front in 2011

Mercedes may well leap to the front in 2011

After the fairytale double championship success of 2009, last year was a huge shock to the Brackley outfit. With only a handful of podiums courtesy of Rosberg, and Schumacher’s performances lacklustre at times, 2011 is a crucial year for the silver arrows.

Despite struggling in the first few test sessions, a large upgrade package has launched Mercedes back to the top of the testing timesheets. Although we aren’t exactly sure how the W02 is shaping up just yet, it seems as if the team has minimized the damage from the loss of the double diffuser and F-duct.

With Schumacher happier than last year with the slick tyres, things are looking up. Nico Rosberg appears to be very happy with the performance of the car, so race wins can’t be ruled out for either driver in 2011.

Renault

There's a lot more to the R31 than a shiny new livery

There's a lot more to the R31 than a shiny new livery

Despite the ongoing battle with Lotus over naming rights stealing the headlines (for all the wrong reasons), Renault may have made huge progress over the winter behind the scenes.

The front exhaust-blown diffuser looks like a stroke of genius, and rumours hint that there are more technical secrets hidden inside the R31. However, the temporary loss of Robert Kubica has shot down some of the high expectations they may have had. Despite Nick Heidfeld taking his seat, there are very few drivers in the world who could replace Kubica.

Vitaly Petrov is still learning, and podium finishes may be too much to ask. Heidfeld is fantastically consistent, but this means that the team will lose out in terms of raw performance.

Despite a radically designed car, Renault may still lose out, though by no fault of their own.

Williams

A radical rear end design may help or hinder Williams

A radical rear end design may help or hinder Williams

At first glances, Williams’ Fw33 doesn’t seem to be particularly exciting, having shied away in the midfield for most of testing. However, a closer look at the car will hint that the team have quietly produced a very interesting car.

With some difficulty, they have created their smallest-ever gearbox, which is crucial to having a tight rear end layout on the car, which benefits both aerodynamically and mechanically.

A low differential, combined with high-angle rear axles, have manipulated the rear wing to squeeze more downforce out of the car. Unfortunately, their coveted flywheel KERS will still not be run yet, the team opting to run a conventional battery system – for the moment.

The loss of several important sponsors has hurt the team financially, and perhaps this is what prompted them to drop Hulkenberg for sponsor-laden Maldonado. The PDVSA logos (Pastor’s sponsor) all over the FW33 demonstrates this.

Reliability appears to be a huge problem at the moment, but their raw pace has yet to be discovered.

Force India

Force India may struggle to improve

Force India may struggle to improve

The end of 2010 was very disappointing for Force India, considering the way they started the year battling near the frontrunners. 2011 has seen the field raise their game, and after losing two senior team personnel, the team may find this year just as difficult.

Both James Key and Mark Smith have left to join rival teams, leaving the technical department under-resourced. The blade roll-hoop design is risky, but apart from this there doesn’t seem to be huge leaps in design compared to the VJM03.

On the other hand, the arrival of Paul di Resta (who has beaten Sebastian Vettel in lower racing categories) should bring some extra pace. A Mercedes KERS system, by far the best of the pack in 2009, is also a huge boost.

However, I feel that this is not enough for Force India to even retain their ground. Their car has failed to impress many in testing, and the midfield will probably be the only battleground for the team in 2011.

The final post, part 3, will be up tomorrow.

How the teams are shaping up after testing – Part 1

After the conclusion of testing in Barcelona, we now have only 12 days until the start of the 2011 F1 season in Melbourne. The cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix has given us more time to examine the new fleet of cars, and the season outlook varies drastically for some compared to others.

This is part 1 of a 3-part preview for the 2011 season.

Red Bull

Red Bull go into 2011 as firm favourites

Red Bull go into 2011 as firm favourites

Despite clashes between their drivers, reliability issues, and the odd spot of bad luck, Red Bull still deserved to take the title last year.

They move into the 2011 season with improvements to make, but with aerodynamics guru Adrian Newey on board, the RB7 looks as revolutionary as ever. Without the double diffuser, the Red Bull has lost a certain amount of rear grip, but most believe that it is a smaller loss compared to other teams.

In testing they have shown good pace throughout, and with less relaibility worries than expected. Most personnel are confident, with Mark Webber stating a week ago that the team were “ready to go” to Australia.

Tactical expertise shown last year should also help, with the new 2, 3 or even 4-stop races shaking up the formbook for the leading teams.

With world champion Vettel looking to continue his form, and Webber looking to put one over his team-mate, Red Bull are without a doubt the team to beat.

McLaren

Just like with their 2009 car, McLaren may well struggle this year

Just like with their 2009 car, McLaren may well struggle this year

All is not well in McLaren, and a brief look at the testing timesheets tells the story.

Having completed the least miles out of all the 2011 cars (excluding HRT), McLaren were already on the back foot. That, combined with reliability woes, and much less knowledge about their car compared to their rivals, the MP4-26 may well be another disaster for the team.

It’s happening unusually often for such a professional team. 2009, 2006 and 2004 saw the team enter the season with disastrously off-the-pace cars. A substansial re-design saved face in 2004 and 2009, but their radical designs do not seem to work as often as many would have hoped.

Having said that, several aspects may work to their advantage, particularly KERS. The McLaren unit was by far the most efficient of the 2009 season, and it should be the same in 2011.

Despite this, 2011 may well be another year of playing catch-up.

Ferrari

Ferrari look likely to rival Red Bull

Ferrari look likely to rival Red Bull

Just like in 2008, Ferrari suffered a last-gasp loss at the season finale, with Fernando Alonso losing out to Vettel and Red Bull in Abu Dhabi. This year, testing form indicates that the Scuderia are on course to be battling with Vettel and Webber at the front once again.

A technical reshuffle over the winter has revitalised the team, as well as the additions of Pat Fry and Neil Marting, both from rival teams.

Fernando Alonso is clearly the team’s lead driver at the moment, commanding the team with a presence not seen since the glory days of Michael Schumacher. Stunning victories such as his one in Singapore prove he is on top form. Felipe Massa suffered a torrid 2010, being shunted out of a win by his own team, and losing momentum after that. This year, he hopes that the Pirelli tyres suit his driving style better.

A huge asset to the team has been the ridiculous amount of mileage they have completed so far this year. With over 6,000km in testing, Ferrari have already completed more than an entire season’s worth of laps. This, as well as bulletproof reliability, will bolster the team as they look to win their first championship trophy in 3 years.

Part 2 will be up soon.

2010 final driver rankings: 5 – 1

This is the final post in a 3-part series, ranking the Formula 1 drivers of 2010 according to their seasonal performance. Here are the final 5 drivers:

5: Lewis Hamilton

Several retirements shot down Lewis' title hopes

Several retirements shot down Lewis' title hopes

4 months ago:

“In 2010 (he) has matured incredibly, with a hint of caution to his speed and aggression, which has turned him into a more complete racing driver, and one of the favourites for the title.”

Now:

Despite the dominance of the Red Bulls, and the resurgence of Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton was still able to push for the title in the last race, a considerable achievement when you notice how much their car has struggled at times this year.

A shaky few races, where he didn’t look at all like winning, was not the best start, and not helped by his erratic driving in Malaysia. On the other hand though, he was ready to capitalise in Turkey when the Red Bulls failed, and was the outright best driver in Canada. Two second places in Valencia and Britain, and Hamilton looked to be back in the hunt.

However, his over-exuberant driving got in the way of him again. Needless retirements occured in Italy and Singapore, when Hamilton was too close to the other car when fighting for position. One mechanical DNF in Hungary didn’t help matters either.

Two more second places in Korea and Abu Dhabi pushed him closer to the top, but in neither of these races did he look like winning. While Lewis showed good pace this year, he let himself down when he needed results most.

4: Robert Kubica

Once again, Kubica excelled in an unimpressive car

Once again, Kubica excelled in an unimpressive car

4 months ago:

“Has proven multiple times that he is one of the best drivers on the grid, just without the best car.

Now:

With Renault struggling in the midfield for most of the season, an average driver would similarly stay in the middle of the pack, occasionally getting points. But as we all know, Robert Kubica is no ordinary driver.

His talent is difficult to see when his car lags behind others, but in a situation like Monaco, where car performance is equalled to an extent, Robert is easily spotted as one of the best drivers around. He nearly took pole position, then tried to cling onto the Red Bulls in the race, finishing 3rd.

Spa-Francorchamps, a real driver’s track, will also provide evidence to this. Throughout the race, Kubica was dicing it with the McLarens, Ferraris and Red Bulls, and was rewarded with another podium. These 2 races were the best of the year for him, but in other situations he could not reach to the top, mostly down to the car.

On the positive side, though, is the fact that he was also bulletproof in reliability. All three of his retirements were out of his control, and only one of these was related to car reliability.

In fact, the only bad thing I can find about Kubica is his questionable move on Adrian Sutil in Canada, where he swerved around the Force India entering the pits. This is only a small matter though, and 2010 was still another impressive year for Kubica.

3: Fernando Alonso

Despite the controversies, Alonso is still a driver to be feared

Despite the controversies, Alonso is still a driver to be feared

4 months ago:

“The controversies just seem to follow him around.”

“Fernando is well on course to challenge for the championship, but needs to do so without using Massa.”

Now:

Even his biggest detractors will still admit that Fernando Alonso is a force to be reckoned with. It takes a daring and brilliant driver to claim they will win the world title, at a point where they are nearly 50 points behind the leader.

But of course, that is not all there is to Alonso. His ascension to the top in 2010 was not without huge controversy in Germany, where Felipe Massa was shoved aside to allow Fernando win. In my opinion, without that order by Ferrari (and the subsequent win), Alonso wouldn’t have gotten the psychological motivation to challenge for the championship. If Massa had held his ground, then Fernando would have struggled much more in the second half of the season.

3 out of his 5 victories came in situations where his rivals missed their opportunities to win, be that reliability or team orders, once again awakening the argument of the lack of overtaking executed by Alonso. He could well have passed Massa, easily so if he was “much faster”, but played it safe and used the team instead.

Don’t take all of this the wrong way though. Fernando is still unbeatable on his day. Just look at Singapore, where he became the first driver out of all the championship contenders to take a Grand Slam (led every lap of the race from pole position, then take the win with fastest lap) result. Michael Schumacher is the only F1 driver still racing who has done this achievement.

At the end of the day though, his lack of overtaking was is downfall, spending 40 laps stuck behind a rookie in Abu Dhabi. Instead of making a move, he waited for a mistake from Petrov, which never happened, and then proceeded to complain aggressively to Vitaly after the race. Was he supposed to just jump out of the way? Not every driver is Felipe Massa, and this ultimately caused Alonso’s title loss this year.

2: Mark Webber

Dominant at times, disappointing at others, but still a wonderful campaign

Dominant at times, disappointing at others, but still a wonderful campaign

4 months ago:

“While he deservedly leads the championship at the moment, improvements must be made to secure the title.”

Now:

Recent revelations have shown us that Mark was racing with a fractured shoulder over the last 4 races of the season. The improvements that I spoke of could well have happened, but unfortunately bad luck never seems to leave Mark Webber.

The first 4 races were not very impressive for the Red Bull driver. With Sebastian Vettel taking (then sometimes losing) the lead at almost every race, Webber was being outperformed massively, and only a few races in, and I was wondering would he be replaced for 2011.

How he proved me wrong. Spain and Monaco were two of the best drives I’ve seen in recent times, completely dominant without a hint of over-aggression. Watching his post-race celebrations in Monaco, a new world champion was becoming apparent in many people’s views. Then, he was suddenly brought crashing back down to earth, as a badly-orchestrated move by his team-mate ruined a 1-2 finish in Turkey, and the team rounded around Sebastian, leaving Webber in the cold.

Silverstone saw Webber’s fightback, and “Not bad for a number 2 driver” was his way at getting back for Turkey, and the front wing controversy which overshadowed his British GP win to an extent. While Vettel was more heavily supported by the team, Webber seemed to have the overall strength to pull through.

Hungary demonstrated this well. While Vettel fell asleep at the race restart, and suffered a drive-through penalty, losing him the race win, Webber carved himself a 25 second lead to Alonso, and even with another pit stop, took a magnificent win.

Then came the shoulder injury, which surely hampered his performances from Japan onwards. While he was 2nd in Suzuka, Vettel was 1st, and this only got worse. He crashed out on his own in Korea, handing 43 points effectively to Sebastian, who subsequently lost those advantage points to Alonso. It seemed as if the Red Bulls were about to have the title ripped out of their hands, if Brazil hadn’t saved them all.

Another 1-2 finish was excellent, but there were hints that the team were going to get Vettel to allow Webber through, seeing as Sebastian was so far behind in the title race. This never came to fruition, and a possible lifeline to Mark was cut. Despite that though, he made his own fate in Abu Dhabi, being horribly off the pace all weekend. This disastrous race handed the title on a plate to Vettel, and Webber had nobody but himself to blame.

Maybe it’s over-analysis, but I think that Webber had plenty of opportunities to take the title, and the shoulder injury can only account for so many of these.

1: Sebastian Vettel

Despite slip-ups, Vettel is deservedly the world champion

Despite slip-ups, Vettel is deservedly the world champion

4 months ago:

“4 races were lost because of driver failure, and that is unacceptable from a potential world champion.”

Now:

What an incredibly topsy-turvy season it has been for Sebastian Vettel. From being public enemy no. 1 in Turkey and Belgium, to the stunning race wins which sealed him the title. Despite everything that has happened, there is no denying that Vettel was invincible at his best.

The amount of obstacles in Sebastian’s way was certainly a huge challenge, reliability being one of them. Bahrain, Australia, Spain and Korea all saw him lose the lead (or 2nd in Barcelona’s case) thanks to problems with the car. And yet, he fought his way back countless times from these.

In fact, the main obstacle was himself. A badly-placed move on Webber in Turkey showed he needed to mature, and the same story is clear in Spa, where he managed to T-bone Button in a straight line. He then followed this up with a poor move on Vitantonio Liuzzi, giving him a puncture, and killing all chances of points that day.

From that, I count 6 races ruined by either of those problems. And yet, he managed 5 victories in the other 13 races, every single one of those being the same, as when Sebastian is on form, he is an unstoppable force. If car troubles hadn’t got in the way, he could have taken 8 wins this year.

But that wouldn’t have made the championship very fun, would it? These troubles were simply challenges to be overcome, and so he did in spectacular fashion. As he did in 2009, he finished the 2010 season in stunning form, taking 3 out of 4 wins, and so very nearly 4 out of 5, if Alonso hasn’t held him off in Singapore.

With such dominant driving at his disposal, the world championship was the least he deserved. True, he  nearly bottled it on so many occasions, if he can fight back to clinch the title like that, then I believe he truly is the best driver of 2010.

2010 final driver rankings: 27 – 16

Just like the series of posts halfway through the season, these articles are to rank all of the drivers’ performances this season. Across the next few weeks, more detailed analysis will be written on each driver and team. For the moment, here are the lowest ranked 13 drivers of the year:

27: Sakon Yamamoto

Sakon has shown little to prove himself in F1

Sakon has shown little to prove himself in F1

4 months ago:

“His comic driving is coming at the expense of Chandhok and Senna”

Now:

With Hispania’s financial situation consistently becoming worse and worse, Yamamoto was an obvious choice to keep on for the rest of the year. However, despite the extra time in the car, he has shown absolutely no improvement, and has been vastly out-performed by all of his fellow drivers.

A 15th place finish out of 7 races is all Sakon has to show for this year, and unfortunately this simply won’t do, if HRT are to have any chance of catching up to Virgin and Lotus. Christian Klien, who similarly brings in quite a substansial financial package, has proved himself to be much faster, and it would be in the team’s best interests to switch the drivers for 2011.

26: Lucas di Grassi

Lucas has not stood up to Timo's pace

Lucas has not stood up to Timo's pace

4 months ago:

“While he has not been terrible, he needs to show his potential to stay in F1.”

Now:

His 14th-placed drive in Malaysia was his best of the year, and it must be considered that he did this even with the under-sized fuel tank that Virgin were struggling with earlier on. However, despite this, a lack of pace compared to Timo Glock has put his seat in doubt for next year.

In every race of 2010 where both Virgins finished, Di Grassi was beaten by Glock in every single one. While Timo has plenty of experience in F1, and I wouldn’t have been expecting Lucas to beat him, he still hasn’t proved his mettle to deserve a 2011 spot, which follows on from what I said 4 months ago.

25: Karun Chandhok

Chandhok has had no racing time since July

Chandhok has had no racing time since July

4 months ago:

“He has not been given the car to prove himself in the races.”

Now:

With much disappointment, my end-of season review for Karun Chandhok is exactly the same for his mid-season one, simply because he hasn’t been in an F1 car since.

Two 14th place results are slightly better than what Bruno Senna had to offer, but Karun has still been left on the sidelines since Germany, thanks to Yamamoto and Klien taking his place to keep HRT financially afloat.

Rumours have been moving about that Force India were considering Chandhok for next season, but Vijay Mallya has since snubbed the idea, leaving many in doubt as to whether the Indian can remain in Formula 1.

24: Bruno Senna

Senna has done well against Yamamoto, but less so against Klien

Senna has done well against Yamamoto, but less so against Klien

4 months ago:

“Showing his potential is nearly impossible, but it is certainly visible to see that Senna is the faster of the two Hispania drivers.”

Now:

A painful end to the year for Chandhok has completely evaded Bruno Senna, as he has managed to keep his race seat in all but one race. The HRT car has held him back, but he has at least comprehensively beaten Sakon Yamamoto.

A 14th place result in Korea was the best of the season, in difficult conditions for the Brazilian to survive. Rumours of him being replaced by pay drivers never surfaced, and he has done his best in a car that is rooted to the back of the grid. On the other hand though, Christian Klien has certainly pulled out a few surprises on Senna, particularly in qualifying, so Senna’s potential is still unclear.

23: Christian Klien

Christian Klien has shown good potential in qualifying

Christian Klien has shown good potential in qualifying

Was not racing by the time of the previous review.

Now:

Several impressive qualifying results have been heartening for Klien, but with only 3 races under his belt this year, it is still tough to judge his performance.

Both in Singapore and Brazil, Christian out-qualified Senna by huge margins (up to a second). However, in the races, all he has to show for himself is a 20th place finish. On two occasions out of three, his lack of race pace was down to the reliability of the car. Therefore, it would be very difficult to evaluate his drives just yet, but based on his Q3 pace, I would say that Klien made the best of what he had.

22: Vitantonio Liuzzi

4 months ago:

“In no way has Liuzzi justified his race seat this year.”
Now:

Liuzzi was at the back far too often in 2010

Liuzzi was at the back far too often in 2010

A 6th-placed finish was a good end to a dismal season for Liuzzi. While team-mate Adrian Sutil gave Michael Schumacher trouble in the championship table, Vitantonio has been lagging at the back with the Toro Rossos.

6 points finishes in a row was the highlight of Sutil’s season. Yet those 6 top 10 places are all that Liuzzi mustered over the entire year. The Force India car is not up to the pace of the Mercedes or Renault teams, but was well ahead of Williams and Sauber throughout most races. Adrian showed this, yet Tonio was consistently knocked out of Q1. He didn’t start too badly, with 9th and 7th in Bahrain and Australia, but another couple of 9ths were all he could manage until Belgium.

Retiring 4 times in the last 5 races (every time in a collision) was a disastrous end to a year to forget for Liuzzi. I would be hugely surprised if Force India were to retain him for 2011, with talent like Paul di Resta struggling to enter F1.

21: Timo Glock

Glock has not been given the car to succeed

Glock has not been given the car to succeed

4 months ago:

“Now is the time for Virgin and Glock to seize the initiative and get ahead of Lotus.”

Now:

With Lotus starting work on their 2011 car amazingly early, a lot of focus was on Virgin, to see if they could bridge the gap to the best new team of 2010. But, with their testing woes, undersized fuel tank saga, and endless reliability gremlins, the year never developed successfully for Virgin, which left Glock unable to prove his value to the team.

True, Timo only retired 3 times in the last 11 races, but in the other 8 cases, he never finished higher than 14th, and was nearly always stuck back in 17th or 18th place. In both 2008 and 2009, Timo stood up well to team-mate Jarno Trulli, so pace doesn’t seem to be the problem.

A much faster and reliable car is what Timo needs to get himself back up the grid next year.

20: Pedro de la Rosa

De la Rosa was miles off Kobayashi's pace

De la Rosa was miles off Kobayashi's pace

4 months ago:

“If Sauber are to move up the grid, they need a younger and certainly faster driver. Nick Heidfeld would do fine.”

Now:

Not a bad prediction, if I may say so. Pedro de la Rosa was completely lacklustre with the Sauber car this year, despite team-mate Kobayashi often having stunning performances.

One single points-scoring finish is all Pedro has to offer after 14 races, and that simply won’t do. Sauber gave up, and replaced him with Nick Heidfeld, who promptly equalled De la Rosa’s 14-race points tally after only 3 races.

He ended the season without a drive, and 5 times less points than Kamui. HRT are reported to be looking at the Spaniard for 2011, but despite this, his future is in serious doubt.

19: Jaime Alguersuari

Jaime was consistently very close to points

Jaime was consistently very close to points

4 months ago:

“One good points performance is not good enough to prove your place in Formula 1″

Now:

Unfortunately, this review is more of the same for Jaime Alguersuari. Three points finishes is all he could do, with a car that never really looked like pushing for points.

However, he also managed 5 11th-placed results, which shows he was on the pace quite often, and consistently beat Sebastien Buemi in the last 5 races. Therefore, it’s a little bit more difficult to assess Alguersuari compared to Buemi.

Franz Tost has praised Jaime over Sebastien, but I feel that, despite everything, Buemi did earn more points in the end, which is why Jaime ends the year lower down.

18: Jarno Trulli

Jarno has done well, but was still beaten by Kovalainen

Jarno has done well, but was still beaten by Kovalainen

4 months ago:

“While he is not off the pace, retirement seems to be looming for Trulli.”

Now:

With hindsight, retirement may not come so soon. Jarno has hinted at staying at Lotus for 2011, and with a much improved car expected, Trulli seems to remain a valuable asset to the team.

Excellent qualifying pace, but poor race pace, has always been Trulli’s downfall. However, now being near the back of the grid, this no longer occurs, as Jarno balanced out his pace between qualifying and races this year.

Japan is where the Lotuses performed best, with Kovalainen leading Trulli to 12th and 13th. In the races where both finished, Heikki was mostly ahead of Jarno, so despite his improvements, Trulli was still beaten by his team-mate. 2011 will tell us if he still has what it takes.

17: Sebastien Buemi

Buemi out-scored Alguersuari in 2010

Buemi out-scored Alguersuari in 2010

4 months ago:

“Maybe some good luck could show his real potential in the second half of 2010.”

Now:

The good luck never arrived for Buemi. A poor car, teamed with dissappointing pace in the final few races, left the Toro Rosso driver with only one points-scoring finish in the last 10 races.

On the other hand, he gave us a glimpse of his potential, by leading the Canadian Grand Prix, and holding back Hamilton and Alonso considerably well. He finished 8th, which was the best of the year for him. Despite this though, he was out-performed by Alguersuari near the end of the year, and has been critisised by the team for his lack of pace.

Daniel Ricciardo was being pushed to replace him, but after he was assigned the test driver role, 2011 is Buemi’s last chance to keep his race seat at Toro Rosso.

16: Nick Heifeld

Heidfeld impressed in only 5 races

Heidfeld impressed in only 5 races

Was not racing at time of last review.

Now:

A replacement for Pedro de la Rosa rather than a driver for next year, Nick Heidfeld still impressed many by beating Kamui Kobayashi in the final few races.

Arriving back to the paddock at the Singapore Grand Prix, after testing for Pirelli, Heidfeld was swiftly hit by the news that he would not be racing for Sauber in 2011, as rookie Sergio Perez was being brought in. Nevertheless, Nick got to work, getting more points than rookie sensation Kobayashi in the last 5 races. While he was overtaken easily by his team-mate in Japan, Nick still obtained 8th and 9th places in Suzuka and Korea.

I still believe Nick is a hugely talented driver, who richly deserves his first race win, but he will need to work fast just to get a drive for next year.

Part 2 will be up soon.

A look at the F1 2011 applicants

The FIA has opened the process to accept one more team into the Formula 1 paddock for 2011. After the epic failure of USF1, more stringent measures are being put in place this time to ensure the same does not happen again. It has not, however, deterred teams from their interest, and we will now have a look at their applications.

Durango/Villeneuve Racing


This application is a tie-up between the racing team Durango, who currently compete in the AutoGP series (formerly European Formula 3000), and 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. It is understood that this team would be named after Villeneuve if they are successful.

AutoGP isn’t a bad place for a racing team, but Durango only ran 1 car in this series, which will damage their application. However, they have previously raced in Formula 3 and sports cars. They also competed in GP2 between 2005 and 2008, where they took 3 wins. While this is good, they have since dropped out of the 2009-2010 GP2 Asia Series, due to financial problems. However, despite winning races in GP2, they blatantly broke the rules regarding standard-spec parts.

In 2006, they manufactured their own parts, instead of using Dallara’s own spec equipment. At Silverstone that year, Lucas di Grassi’s rear wing came off, and it emerged that instead of sending the car back to Dallara, Durnago decided to repair it themselves, and did a terrible job of it.

Then, it got even worse in Spa 2008, when Stefano Coletti’s steering column snapped (probably another botched repair job) at Eau Rouge. When the team turned up at the next race in Monza, Dallara had impounded one of their cars, as it was too unsafe for use, as the team had badly repaired it once too many. Interestingly enough, no official explanation came out for either of these 2 incidents I mentioned, I had to dig deep to get a hold of them. Therefore, you can’t rule out Durango trying to cover up this farce, which wouldn’t surprise me at all.

It gets even worse. Last year, it emerged that Durango was being investigated for criminal tax evasion and fraud, and that it had been using a system of companies which constantly changed their names to issue bills with inflated figures in order to reduce costs and lower the payable tax. It has been reported that Durango has €12m of unreported revenue, €11m of false invoicing, €3m of unpaid tax, and they reduced their base tax illegally by €16m. Nice.

Despite all of this, the team still believes they have the funds to enter F1 (even if they can’t afford to stay in GP2), and claim that they have 2 major international finance suppliers or sponsors. It is believed that one of these is Russian.

However, Durango is the last team I would look at for an F1 spot. They look completely unprofessional, may well have covered up their troubles (I can’t allege it though, no proof), and at the end of the day, they can’t even properly repair their own car. They look as viable as USF1.

Pros: Good experience in a variation of motorsport categories. And a nice livery.

Cons: Can’t repair their own car, huge amounts of tax evasion and fraud, broke GP2′s standard-spec equipment rule multiple times, no clear investment, very little known about their actual team.

Overall: Not a hope in hell of them getting through.

Stefan GP


A name that should be easily remembered, if you were following this blog in January-March.  Stefan GP has not raced in any other categories of motorsport at all, but have more technical partnerships to prop them up than Durango. Toyota’s technical details, as well as the chassis  from their 2010 car which was never raced, has been obtained by the Serbian team. It certainly wasn’t a bad piece of kit for them to get themselves experienced, as the TF110 features a triple-decker diffuser, and a radical aerodynamic profile.

Stefan GP had obtained this car before the 2010 season began, but were turned away by the FIA, as they felt they wouldn’t have time to get up to speed. However, the team are trying again next year with the same car, and they have talked to many drivers, such as Sebastien Loeb.

However, like Durango, Stefan GP have a shady background which does not inspire confidence. The team owner, Zoran Stefanovich, owns a Serbian engineering company called AMCO. This company convinced Toyota that they were involved with space and military technology, to get Toyota to support Stefan GP.

To convince Toyota, they set up web pages, that said that AMCO worked with Germany’s Federal Defence Force on flight drones and contributed to the European Space Agency’s orbit launch rocket Ariane 5. But, the German Defense Force then responded that “there are no technologies of the AMCO”.

Furthermore, after looking at the company’s registry, it emerged that the AMCO was founded with capital of… €500. The company has only one employee, took in €3315 in 2009, and after deductions (no info available), ended up with a net total of €42 profit. Yeah!

So, it is obvious that Zoran Stefanovich and his companies are complete frauds, and I’m praying that this is the reason why the FIA turned them down. Of course, the FIA cannot allege what I said, since concrete facts cannot be obtained without a criminal investigation, and I’m not convinced the Serbian government can get that done.

Pros: Very eager to get into F1, despite the probability that they wouldn’t get in, excellent technical partnership with Toyota.

Cons: A fraud company owned by the team owner, too aggressive towards FIA.

Overall: Up to a while ago I wanted them to get in, but never again.

Epsilon Euskadi


While there are very suspicious operations behind Durango and Stefan GP, no such problems occur with Epsilon Euskadi (try saying that 5 times quickly). At the moment, this team competes in the Le Mans Series, World Series by Renault, Formula Renault 2.0 West, and the European Cup.

The team have a history of promoting well known and sometimes very successful drivers, such as Robert Kubica (won the 2005 World Series by Renault with the team), Jaime Alguersuari (won the Formula Renault 2.0 Italia Winter Series), Brendon Hartley ( winner of the 2007 Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0) and Albert Costa (winner of 2009 Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0).

The team itself it fantastically well-equipped, with an Innovation and Technology Centre to design their F1 car if they are accepted. Also, they have backing from Carlos Garcia, the president of the Spanish Automobile Association, which is an important factor when considering the teams.

On the other hand, their financial situation is unclear, so we will have to wait and see can they get any sponsors on board. Despite this, I firmly believe that Epsilon Euskadi are the best team for the job, and I would also love to see them replace the disastrous Hispania team, which throws out its perfectly good race drivers just to stay financially afloat.

Pros: Impressive technical facilities, huge experience in motorsport, great eye for upcoming young drivers, titles in many racing categories, well supported from the region.

Cons: Unclear financial situation may hamper their budget.

Overall: The best option for the empty grid slot, and even if they were somehow rejected, they could replace Hispania instead.

2010 Half-way driver rankings: 5-1

Over the last two days I have looked at 20 of the grid’s drivers, so here are the final top 5 drivers of 2010 so far:

5: Sebastian Vettel

A review of Vettel’s season will always begin with the same question: Why isn’t he leading the championship? True, he lost 38 points in the first two races thanks to mechanical failures, but the truth is that Sebastian has bottled nearly every chance he has had of taking the lead of the drivers’ championship.

It has been starting from 1st position that has been his weak point, as after 7 pole positions this year, he has only won one of those races. His other win was back in Malaysia, when he took Mark Webber on the first corner. By my calculations, Vettel has had 8 chances to win races this year. 2 of those were hampered by reliability, 2 of them were actually won, while the other 4 races were lost because of driver failure, and that is unacceptable from a potential world champion.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of Sebastian’s season so far has been the fact that, when the team is split, the bosses always backed Vettel. Take the crash between in Turkey for example. While the crash was completely Sebastian’s fault, the team still instantly sided with him, and blamed Webber for the crash, with no evidence to do so. After huge pressure from the fans (I was going to point out an article on Red Bull’s site after Turkey where thousands of fans blasted the team for favouritism, but they removed the comments section recently), the team eventually said that both drivers were at fault, then moved on.

It wasn’t over though. When the team opted to take Mark Webber’s front wing and give it to Sebastian in Britain, it set off the same argument again. To summarise, while Sebastian would technically have been in the lead without reliability gremlins, he needs to win the championship through consistency and equality in the team something which is lacking at the moment.

4: Jenson Button

Many claimed that the 2009 champion would be slaughtered by Lewis Hamilton by moving to McLaren. This move, they claimed, would prove that his championship success was purely because of the Brawn car, and not the driver. After only half a year at McLaren, Jenson Button has proved his critics completely wrong, and has made the best possible move to defend his title.

While it surely takes time for drivers to adapt to a new team, Button has settled in remarkably well in McLaren, being only 10 points off Lewis Hamilton after 12 races. He was beating him earlier in the year, after victories in Australia and China, both through excellent strategy and tyre managment. However, a recent slump in form is damaging his championship hopes. His raw pace is simply not good enough, and in dry-weather races with low tyre degradation, Button has stood no chance. His consistency has helped him though, in the fact that, except Monaco, he has finished every single race in the top 8.

But again, there is no point in being consistent when your team-mate keeps out-performing you. Jenson hasn’t qualified ahead of Lewis since China, a gap of 8 races. This has given Lewis a massive advantage in races, as Jenson generally can’t keep up. While there aren’t many drivers faster than Hamilton when he is on the pace, Button still needs to counter this and get his way back up the field.

3: Mark Webber

In the top 5 drivers of the championship, 4 of these have scored 2 wins each, a respectable amount considering the topsy-turvy form this season. However, Mark Webber has scored 4 wins so far, every single one of them convincingly. When Webber is in top form, he has been simply unstoppable, and is a deserving 1st place in the championship.

So why, you may ask, is he only 3rd in the rankings? Well, when he is on form he is brilliant, but when he is off form, it is dire to watch. His scrappy form in Australia was awful, and he ended up crashing into Lewis Hamilton for no explainable reason. A horrible start in Valencia ruined his race there, before it was sealed with a collision with Heikki Kovalainen, which in my view was more Mark’s fault.

But, he is still leading the championship, and with good reason. His dominant performances in Monaco and Spain were fantastic, and he overcame team bias to win in Britain. In Hungary, a massive stint on the super-softs paid off, although he was helped by Vettel’s penalty. Another excellent drive was qualifying in Malaysia, where a gamble on the intermidiate tyres paid off, to take pole position.

So, while he deservedly leads the championship (just) at the moment, improvements must be made to secure the title for Mark Webber.

2: Robert Kubica

The Polish driver is in a situation very similar to 2008. He is in a car that is unable to challenge for wins, yet he is smashing his way up to the top of the grid when he can, and has proven multiple times that he is one of the best drivers on the grid, just without the best car.

His results, on paper, don’t look to impressive to the average F1 fan, with only two podium positions. But, when you consider the fact that he is in only the 5th or 6th best car, Robert Kubica is driving the R30 out of its skin. He does so by avoiding the mistakes the frontrunners have made, such as qualifying in Malaysia, tyre choice in Australia and China, and when that doesn’t suffice, he can outperform some of the best drivers in terms of sheer pace.

He got 2nd place in Australia, by simply combining good strategy with a fast pace, something most of the championship contenders couldn’t do. He beat the Ferraris in Turkey, simply through raw pace. All of this has been done with remarkable consistency, as Robert Kubica has never spun or crashed this year. All of his retirements or his one race outside the points were caused by mechanical failures or Adrian Sutil.

After another season mixing it with the top drivers, you would wonder why the main teams haven’t tried to get him on board. his best shot is at Ferrari, where there might be an opening as Felipe Massa struggles for pace.

1: Lewis Hamilton

I’ve never really liked Lewis Hamilton, to be honest. The massive media attention from the second he entered the sport, to the stuck-up attitude he showed all through 2007. However, since then, Lewis has been improving and improving, and in 2010 has matured incredibly, with a hint of caution to his speed and aggression, which has turned him into a more complete racing driver, and one of the favourites for the title.

When he has found himself down the field in Australia, Malaysia or China, he has fought his way back up the grid, and does so in breathtaking fashion. In Spain, he was on course to split the Red Bulls, after they had out-qualified the grid by an entire second, before a broken wheel nut forced him out at the very end. His first win of 201o was obtained by sticking behind the Red Bulls, and when they crashed out, the win was Lewis’ for the taking. Then, in Canada, he got an excellent pole position, the only non-Red Bull one so far, and stayed calm throughout a chaotic race to take one of the best wins of his career.

A slightly sluggish start was odd for him, and brushed a little to close to the stewards in Malaysia, but these are very small instances when you compare them to the troubles of the other top drivers. There is no blatant favouritism at McLaren, so if Lewis wins the title, it is because of his work. His car will need to improve in the next few races though.

2010 Half-way driver rankings: 12-6

This is the second part of the half-way rankings of all of the drivers so far this year. I wasn’t able to fit all 12 top drivers in one post, so these are drivers 12-6:

12: Vitaly Petrov

The Vyborg Rocket has had a tough time trying to keep up with his extremely talented team-mate Robert Kubica, but Vitaly hasn’t let himself down either. The first few races were difficult, as only one points position in the first 10 races was below expectations. However, his defensive driving certainly impressed me, most notably in Turkey against Fernando Alonso, who he held off for most of the race. They eventually clashed, with Petrov coming off worse, but he had still made an impact.

However, it soon became clear that he would have to up his game to keep his seat for 2011, and he has done exactly that. A 10th place in Germany was the start, then he qualified 7th and finished 5th in Hungary, a career best. On both occasions these finishes were because of his driving skill, not getting lucky with the safety car like others have done. A few more points finishes will seal his seat for next year.

11: Felipe Massa

For most of the first half of the season, very little mention was made of Felipe’s recovery from his crash in Hungary, which he only returned from this year. He started impressively, with 2 podium positions in the first 2 races, but since then has been well outpaced by Fernando Alonso. It wasn’t too notable until Canada onwards, when a string of poor performances mixed with bad luck shot down his chances for the championship.

With this in mind, the team decided to push Fernando Alonso’s assault for the title instead, and used Massa to hand the lead of the German Grand Prix. Massa has since received critisism worldwide, especially in Brazil, for being weak and spineless in handing his position over. In my view, the team orders scandal could have been avoided if Massa had just been driving as fast as, or faster than, Alonso. At the moment, Felipe is 63 points behind Mark Webber. Significant improvement is needed to justify his new 2012 contract.

10: Adrian Sutil

2010 saw the arrival of something completely unprecedented: Adrian Sutil hasn’t crashed into anything yet this season. This has been his main weakness so far in his F1 career, so now we can truly see Sutil’s potential. So far, he has 35 points, more than double that of team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi. Adrian is driving very much like Nico Rosberg did last year, getting consistent points finishes in a midfield car, while their fumbling team-mates held the team back.

Adrian has every reason to be happy with his performances so far, as he is only 3 points behind Michael Schumacher. While the Mercedes’ understeering nature doesn’t suit Schumacher, it must still be a good feeling to be close to overtaking a 7-times world champion. 6 points-scoring positions in a row has been Sutil’s highlights so far, and Belgium and Italy are up next, so there is a great chance of his first ever Formula 1 podium finish.

9: Kamui Kobayashi

I can still clearly remember last year in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, when this Toyota test driver suddenly became a Formula 1 favourite, thanks to his “absolutely crazy, very aggressive” driving, as Jenson Button called it. His overtake on the Brawn in Abu Dhabi single-handedly granted him a drive with Sauber this year. At the start, it seemed as if it was just a one-hit wonder, as  until Turkey he only had one single, unimpressive finish. But, he didn’t let us down that easily, and as the car has improved, has shown us dazzling performances that makes him one of my favourite drivers.

His first points finish was 10th in Turkey, with not much to report. However, in Valencia, he pulled off a risky hard-tyre strategy to leap up to 7th place, after overtaking Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi (on the last corner of the last lap). Then, at Silverstone, he got another impressive 6th place, and has since gt 9th in Hungary as well. All of this has come from a car with dire performance and reliability (and the worst livery on the grid). Kamui has overcome all of these obstacles to fully justify his place on the F1 grid.

8: Rubens Barrichello

Like Adrian Sutil and Kamui Kobayashi, Rubens Barrichello has impressed me this year, comfortably beating his team-mate to be the driving force of the Williams team. 6 points finishes out of 11 finishes overall, in a mediocre car, is certainly a good performance. Valencia was by far his best drive this year, where he valiantly held off Robert Kubica to finish 4th. Another impressive race in Great Britain left him 5th, and he was also 10th in Hungary.

With exactly 3 times the points tally of Nico Hulkenberg, Barrichello has proved that his experience in his 299 Grands Prix has not affected his pace at all, and he is still able to mix it with the frontrunners. If it wasn’t for a loose drain cover in Monaco, he would have finished every race as well, meaning he is bulletproof reliable as well. The only main problem he still needs to face is the difficulty he faces with the starts, more specifically he needs to stop releasing the clutch too early, as he has done a few times in recent years.

7: Nico Rosberg

As previously mentioned, this year’s Mercedes car has suffered chronic understeer, mainly as it was designed for Jenson Button’s driving style. While Michael Schumacher has toiled with the W01, Rosberg has kept his head down and got on with the job, and has hugely impressed me by his ability to pull podium positions out of a extremely disappointing car.

If it wasn’t for 13th place in Spain, where he struggled with the new longer-wheelbase car, and the mistake from the pit crew in Hungary, Nico would have finished in the points in every race so far, which is what he was doing for a lot of the season back at Williams. Three podium positions, in Malaysia, China and Britain, as well as three 5th places, show his potential. He has twice as many points as Schumacher, and before Hungary had more points than Felipe Massa, which is a huge achievement considering how much faster the Ferrari is. However, competition from Renault and Force India may well dampen Rosberg’s second half of 2010, as the car appears to go backwards.

6:  Fernando Alonso

At the start of the season, Alonso said that titles may well take time with Ferrari. While this was probably being pessimistic, Alonso has done well in his first season so far for Ferrari, but the controversies just seem to follow him around.

Alonso’s return to a top Formula 1 team started well with a win in Bahrain, thanks to Sebastian Vettel’s reliability woes. However, by Malaysia, Alonso fell prey to problems, with a gearbox problem and engine failure forcing him out after battling his way up the grid. From then on, a string of 6 high-scoring positions followed, as the car was unable to challenge for wins just yet. But, within 2 races, 2 different controversies circulated around Alonso. First of all, he was blamed for getting a drive-through penalty in Britain, after cutting a corner to pass Robert Kubica.

Then in Germany, his team blatantly handed him the win by getting Felipe Massa to allow him past. Fernando has the pace to win, and should not have to resort to pushing his team-mate past to win. However, he also has a characteristic that, when he is surrounded in controversy, he often produces a great result. He did so in Hungary, when he split the dominant Red Bulls to finish 2nd. Fernando is well on course to challenge for the championship, but needs to do so without using Massa.

Part 3 of my half-way driver rankings will be up tomorrow.

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