Tag Archives: Mark Webber

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

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

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

13th – Mark Webber

Previous ranking: 12th

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

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

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

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

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

12th – Jean-Eric Vergne

Previous ranking: 21st

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

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

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

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

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

11th – Sergio Perez

Previous ranking: 10th

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

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

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

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

10th – Adrian Sutil

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

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

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

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

9th – Paul di Resta

Previous ranking: 13th

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

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

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

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

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

8th – Jenson Button

Previous ranking: 7th

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

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

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

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

7th – Daniel Ricciardo

Previous ranking: 20th

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

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

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

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

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

6th – Nico Hulkenberg

Previous ranking: 5th

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

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

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

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

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

5th – Nico Rosberg

Previous ranking: 6th

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

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

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

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

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

Webber’s departure is disappointing but inevitable – and the WEC suits him perfectly

Mark Webber’s departure from Formula 1 will leave many fans disappointed. His honesty and frankness are rarely seen by drivers these days, and he will leave big shoes to fill in the Red Bull garage. But it would be naive to say we didn’t see this coming – Webber’s growing animosity towards Red Bull, and F1 as a whole, has been steadily growing for several years now.

While he can occasionally decimate the entire field, in far too many races this year has Mark been lacklustre and generally poor compared to teammate Sebastian Vettel. He has been the subject of favouritism arguments with both team boss Christian Horner and Helmut Marko across the years, often stemming from him and Sebastian’s on-track antics. This year’s Malaysian Grand Prix debacle only distanced himself further from management, who the Ausssie has always felt has shown more support towards the other side of the garage.

It is clear that Webber dislikes Vettel as a teammate – overlooking the pace issue, Mark must be psychologically hurt from the preferential treatment that Sebastian has received over the years. With this, departure from Red Bull was always a certainty, it was just a matter of when.

Unfortunately, it is also apparent that the current formula of F1 does not cater to the 35-year-old. Strategic, tactical racing and planning has been the name of the game in recent years, which is a huge contrast compared to fuel-dependent power runs when Webber first entered the sport. One style of racing isn’t intrinsically better than the other, but we all know which suits him better.

To make matters worse, even if next year’s tech changes suit Mark’s style of driving more, there would be little purpose to it. After 13 years in the sport, it is likely that he has grown tired of playing second fiddle – intentionally or by sheer pace – and there would be no point to spending another year doing exactly what he did in the previous seasons.

Moving to another team for a single team was out of the question as well. Mercedes, McLaren and probably Ferrari are full up for next year, so Webber would have had to take a huge drop down the grid to keep racing. After so many seasons, what would have been the point?

With this in mind, the World Endurance Championship seems right down his street. Racing stints are decided not by tyre degradation or tactical positioning, they are decided by raw pace and sheer bravery. Not to say that F1 doesn’t have these qualities, but it’s reflected more in modern endurance racing.

Webber will be joining a team with massive historical presence in endurance racing, not least 16 victories in the glorious Le Mans race. Porsche will suit Mark to the bone – no inter-team squabbles, just clean, proper racing like he’s always wanted. I’ll be watching the WEC next year with huge interest next year, knowing that we might just see the Mark Webber of old.

Mark Webber to leave F1 for Porsche WEC programme in 2014

2013 will be Red Bull driver Mark Webber’s final year in the sport, as he moves to Porsche’s World Endurance Championship squad for the 2014 season.

The Australian has struggled relative to teammate Sebastian Vettel in recent years, frequently citing favouritism as a catalyst for conflict within the team. Several spats between the two drivers have emerged – most recently being the Malaysian Grand Prix debacle – and Webber has decided to give up on the sport without a world championship in hand.

Regarding his move to Porsche, Webber has said:

"It’s an honour for me to join Porsche at its return to the top category in Le Mans 
and in the sports car World Endurance Championship and be part of the team. Porsche 
has written racing history as a manufacturer and stands for outstanding technology 
and performance at the highest level. I’m very much looking forward to this new 
challenge after my time in Formula 1.

Porsche will undoubtedly set itself very high goals. I can hardly wait to pilot 
one of the fastest sports cars in the world."

Interestingly, no quotes from Red Bull have been supplied from the team just yet.

Mark previously raced in the Le Mans race of 1999 with Mercedes, but a spectacular flip and crash resulted in him pulling out and switching to Formula 1.

He has spent the last few years in the fastest car on the F1 grid, but a cavalcade of problems – poor starts, KERS issues, team conflicts, as well as a general dislike for where the sport is moving – meant that his departure was an inevitability.

Regardless of his disappointments in recent years, the F1 paddock will sorely miss Mark. His straight-forwardness attitude won him many fans over the years, and the sport now lacks a driver who is always willing to speak his mind.

It also opens the floodgates of rumours about who will take his place at Red Bull for next year. Without trying to get into too much speculation at this early stage, I would suggest that Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg would be the initial candidates.

Red Bull claim new record with 2.05 second pit stop in Malaysia

Red Bull Racing have officially completed the fastest pit stop ever seen, with a 2.05 second stop being recorded during the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Mark Webber made his second pit stop on Lap 19 of the Grand Prix, and remained stationary for just over 2 seconds. This breaks the previous record, held by McLaren at the 2012 German Grand Prix, of 2.31 seconds for Jenson Button.

Amazingly, Red Bull managed to break McLaren’s record five times during the Malaysian Grand Prix, although not each pit stop was faster than the one before. They are as follows:

Driver Lap Time
Mark Webber 19 2.05
Sebastian Vettel 5 2.13
Mark Webber 7 2.13
Mark Webber 31 2.21
Mark Webber 43 2.26

It is almost certain now that some team – probably Red Bull – will breach the 2-second barrier during this season.

Team orders are ugly and unpopular, but they have to be made – and obeyed

The use of team orders by more than one major team this weekend has left a sour taste with many F1 fans. The fanbase is divided – at Red Bull, there are those who feel Sebastian Vettel should have respected the order to hold position, and those who claim that he should race as hard as he could, regardless of the situation.

In the case of the Mercedes team orders, things are more clear-cut. Nico Rosberg passing fuel-saving Lewis Hamilton would have had no adverse affect on the team’s standing in the championship, and it was a more “pure” outcome – if they weren’t teammates, Rosberg would have passed Hamilton easily.

I fully agree with those who argue that Nico shouldn’t have been held up, and that he deserved to take the podium spot. However, the fact that he still obeyed team principal Ross Brawn shows a degree of respect within the team, something that is not apparent at Red Bull.

If another team orders debate arises at Red Bull, neither driver will think twice about ignoring such an instruction from the pit wall. This might be fun to watch, but it raises huge risks for the team, and can destroy any professional friendship between the drivers and/or their bosses. Sebastian and Mark would do well to avoid a repeat of Turkey 2010 in the future.

Whether the fans like it or not, Formula 1 is a team sport at heart, and the team should always come first. Ferrari understand this, having ironed out any hope of a rivalry between Alonso and Massa in recent years. Meanwhile, the current constructors’ champions are faced with dealing with two ego-fuelled rebels, who will now lock horns on-track at the first opportunity. It doesn’t take a genius to calculate that Ferrari’s system is more consistent and safe.

Vettel’s ignoring of his team’s instructions has unraveled any remaining friendliness between himself and Webber, that much is certain. Compare this to Rosberg’s choice, which has gained him respect within the team, and by Hamilton. If such an issue arises again, both drivers should be able to deal with it in a professional manner which benefits the team. Red Bull have no hope of this.

This isn’t about adrenaline-fueled glory runs, or brazen chest-bashing. It’s about understanding that the team is more important than the individual driver, and how sacrifices should be made for long-term benefits. If a three-time world champion can’t comprehend this, the Red Bull have a serious problem on their hands.

Webber pips Vettel in Red Bull Korean qualifying lockout

Mark Webber caused a minor surprise, beating teammate Sebastian Vettel to pole position for the Korean Grand Prix.

Championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso will line up 3rd and 4th, setting us up for an exciting race tomorrow. Jenson Button didn’t make it through to Q3, while Mercedes showed signs of improvement, with both cars getting through to Q3. Here is what happened:

Q1

With the track still dusty off-line, times were still relatively slow. Fernando Alonso’s first flying lap, a 1:39.543, was enough to put him on top.

Continuing on from his good form in Japan, Felipe Massa improved on his teammate’s time by half a second. Narain Karthikeyan had a huge spin at turn 3, “losing the brakes completely” in the braking zone, but was able to move his car out of the way.

Lewis Hamilton struggled with brake locking, but took 3rd after several attempts. After dominating Saturday morning practice, Vettel again set the standard, with a 1:38.2.

Teammate Webber could only manage to get within 2 tenths of the sister Red Bull. The Saubers showed much less pace than last week in Suzuka, and like Williams were forced to expend a set of super-softs to get both drivers into Q2.

Incredibly, despite dropping as low as 16th place, Lewis Hamilton opted not to set another lap time, just scraping through to Q2 alongside Fernando Alonso.

Drivers knocked out of Q1:

18) Bruno Senna – 1:39.443

19) Vitaly Petrov – 1:40.207

20) Heikki Kovalainen – 1:40.333

21) Charles Pic – 1:41.317

22) Timo Glock – 1:41.371

23) Pedro de la Rosa – 1:42.881

Narain Karthikeyan – N/A

Q2

The two Sauber drivers left the pits first on scrubbed supers-softs. A 1:38.901 for Perez and 1:38.594 for Kobayashi briefly put them on top, until Mark Webber went 0.3 seconds faster.

Fernando Alonso was the first driver to get into the 1:37s, but he was instantly beaten by Sebastian Vettel. After a complete lack of pace in Q1, Lewis Hamilton got close to pipping Vettel, but lost several tenths in the final sector.

In the final few minutes, all drivers but Vettel went back on track. However, many fast laps were ruined after Jean-Eric Vergne caused double-waves yellows in the final sector, pulling over to the side of the track.

Amazingly, Jenson Button only took 11th place, losing out on Q3 by 0.005 seconds.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Jenson Button – 1:38.441

12) Sergio Perez – 1:38.460

13) Kamui Kobayashi – 1:38.594

14) Paul di Resta – 1:38.643

15) Pastor Maldonado – 1:38.725

16) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:39.084

17) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:39.340

Q3

Despite the light going green at the end of the pit lane, the Mercedes drivers opted to hold at pit exit for half a minute, to improve track position.

Fernando Alonso was first up, setting a 1:37.667, 4 tenths faster than Felipe Massa. Mark Webber got very close to Alonso, while Vettel quickly slashed the fastest time by 0.35 seconds.

Lewis Hamilton was nowhere in comparison, again locking up his front left and ruining his lap. Nico Hulkenberg pitted after his out lap, opting not to set a fast time on his first run.

All 10 drivers decided to go out on track for the final few minutes. Mark Webber was up first, pipping Vettel’s time by 0.074 seconds. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg lost huge amounts of time in the final sector, while Fernando Alonso could only manage 4th position.

After Vettel failed to improve on his last lap, pole position was confirmed for Webber, while championship contenders Hamilton and Alonso line up 3rd and 4th, right behind Sebastian Vettel.

Kimi Raikkonen was a quiet 5th, with Felipe Massa 6th. Nico Hulkenberg decided to set a time at the end of the session, lining up behind  Romain Grosjean. The two Mercedes drivers made it into Q3, but could only manage 9th and 10th.

Japanese Grand Prix practice: Webber back on top, with Hamilton close behind

After two dismal showings, Mark Webber appears to be getting back on top of his game, leading Friday practice for the Japanese Grand Prix.

After extensive re-surfacing on the majority of the track over the winter, the times tumbled throughout both sessions, and a late time on the softer time put the Red Bull on top.

First practice

Lewis Hamilton was the first driver to set a fast lap, and spent most of the session battling against Webber and teammate Jenson Button.

A 1:34.507 was enough to put Jenson on top, with Lewis slotting in 2 tenths of a second behind.

Nico Rosberg’s best lap was good enough for 4th, but he soon pulled over at the Esses with an unspecified technical problem. Despite announcing his retirement yesterday, there was no drop-off in pace from Michael Schumacher, who was only 0.06 seconds off Rosberg.

Local favourite Kamui Kobayashi pleased the crowd with 6th, despite nearly losing the car at the exit of the Spoon curve. Fernando Alonso ran with high fuel loads in the morning, and was 11th.

Giedo van der Garde made his second appearance in a Caterham, taking 23rd, over a second off Vitaly Petrov.

Times from FP1:

 1.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1:34.507           20
 2.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes      1:34.740  +0.233   26
 3.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault      1:34.856  +0.349   24
 4.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes              1:35.059  +0.552   18
 5.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes              1:35.112  +0.615   20
 6.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari        1:35.199  +0.692   27
 7.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari               1:35.283  +0.776   24
 8.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes  1:35.474  +0.967   22
10.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault      1:35.478  +0.971   24
11.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari               1:35.484  +0.977   26
12.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari        1:35.584  +1.077   24
13.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault         1:35.691  +1.184   22
14.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault         1:35.724  +1.217   21
15.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:36.123  +1.616   19
16.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:36.222  +1.715   25
17.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      1:36.366  +1.859   23
18.  Valterri Bottas       Williams-Renault      1:36.389  +1.882   24
19.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth     1:37.716  +3.209   17 
20.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault      1:38.295  +3.788   23
21.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth     1:38.616  +4.109   25
22.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth          1:39.043  +4.536   25
23.  Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault      1:39.374  +4.867   22
24.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth          1:39.688  +5.181   19

Second practice

After a fuel-laden run in FP1, Sebastian Vettel was battling at the top again in FP2. He, along with Romain Grosjean, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber all had moments on top of the timesheets.

Paul di Resta caused the first red flag of the weekend, spinning into Spoon curve and hitting the barriers. That move was replicated by Michael Schumacher in the closing stages, with similar results.

Kimi Raikkonen suffered a KERS failure while out on track, disrupting his running and leaving him 14th.

Vitaly Petrov had a scare at Turn 1, after his Caterham’s rear wing came off, but luckily he managed to stop the car without slamming into the tyre wall.

Times from FP2:

 1.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault      1:32.493           34
 2.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes      1:32.707  +0.214   32
 3.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      1:32.836  +0.343   37
 4.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes  1:32.987  +0.494   30
 5.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari               1:33.093  +0.600   28
 6.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault         1:33.107  +0.614   35
 7.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1:33.349  +0.856   22
 8.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault      1:33.499  +1.006   35
 9.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari               1:33.614  +1.121   32
10.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes              1:33.750  +1.257   13
11.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes              1:33.866  +1.373   19
12.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari        1:33.903  +1.410   36
13.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari        1:33.983  +1.490   33
14.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault         1:34.291  +1.798   12
15.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault      1:34.300  +1.807   33
16.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:34.863  +2.370   32
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:35.080  +2.587   34
18.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault      1:35.711  +3.218   41
19.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault      1:35.870  +3.377   37
20.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth     1:36.194  +3.701   32
21.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth     1:36.636  +4.143   28
22.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth          1:37.342  +4.849   30
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth          1:37.701  +5.208   35
24.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes  N/A                 2

Webber demoted to 11th after illegaly overtaking Kobayashi

Mark Webber is the second driver to fall prey to the stewards today, after being handed a drive-through penalty after the Singapore Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver was deemed to have overtaken Kamui Kobayashi off the track, which became a 20-second time penalty after the race had ended.

The stewards noted a “minimal” use of the run-off area, but it was still enough to earn a penalty:

"Notwithstanding that the distance by which car two left the circuit was minimal, 
advantage was gained hence a breach did in fact occur. Such a breach has 
consistently attracted a drive-through penalty."

Webber has dropped to 11th place, which promotes Sergio Perez to 10th position.

Webber penalised for another gearbox change

Mark Webber will drop 5 places on the Belgian Grand Prix grid – the second time this has happened in three races.

The Red Bull RB8 requires a new gearbox, and since it has not completed the required 5 races, Webber has been dealt yet another penalty. This occurred two races ago as well, when he was forced to change his gearbox in Germany.

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.

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