Tag Archives: Nico Rosberg

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.

Nico Rosberg wins bizarre British Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg has taken an unexpected victory today at Silverstone, after 4 tyre blowouts and a shock engine failure for other drivers gifted him first place.

Lewis Hamilton initially led proceedings, until the first of many tyre failures rocked his race. His left rear tyre was blown to bits, and the Mercedes driver dropped to last place after only 8 laps.

This granted Sebastian Vettel what appeared to be an easy victory. However, he was kept under pressure from Nico Rosberg throughout the race. While tyres were exploding left, right and centre, both Sebastian and Nico hung on, until a shock engine failure for the Red Bull put him out of the race, and granted Rosberg victory.

At the start, Rosberg had been jumped by Sebastian, while Mark Webber was shunted off the racing line by Romain Grosjean, and dropped to 14th place. Felipe Massa had a terrific start, leaping past his teammate up to 5th place.

Hamilton’s tyre failure destroyed his chances of victory soon after though, and Massa’s Ferrari suffered a similar fate only two laps later. This resulted in worried faces across the paddock, which was only made worse after Jean-Eric Vergne suffered a tyre explosion on the Hangar Straight on Lap 15.

The safety car was deployed to clear rubber debris, while team engineers examined tyre data from the first pit stops. Red Bull noticed that Vettel’s tyre had unusual cuts in the sidewalls, meaning they got extremely lucky with their pit stop.

Some engineers blamed the kerbs, the outside of which may have been causing unusual damage to the sidewall of the tyres. Others simply believed that the Pirellis weren’t standing up to regular wear, which is odd considering how the medium and hard compounds were being raced. Either way, it seemed as if a repeat of Indianapolis 2005 was on the cards.

The safety car peeled off on lap 22, with Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso becoming embroiled in a battle with Lewis Hamilton, who had recovered from last place. Alonso had made his way up from 10th on lap 1, getting past Daniel Ricciardo, Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta in quick succession earlier on.

Hamilton later had a fantastic battle with di Resta over 11th place, after his second stop. Up front, Rosberg began to slowly catch Vettel, but it proved to be unnecessary, as the Red Bull suffered a catastrophic engine failure, pulling over on the pit straight.

With the safety car out for the second time, Rosberg, Alonso and Webber all pitted. This time, it was Nico who was granted good luck, as it was revealed that his tyres were developing blisters near the end of his stint. With 10 laps to go, Rosberg led Raikkonen – who hadn’t pitted – , Adrian Sutil, Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber.

The second Red Bull driver swiftly found a way past the Ferrari, and set his sights on the leaders. Together with Fernando, they carved up Sutil and Ricciardo in a matter of minutes, and were immediately all over the back of Raikkonen battling for a podium finish.

Kimi was left to rue not pitting under the safety car, as he was dropped from 2nd to 4th. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton charged up the field from 9th place, making his way up to 5th by the final few laps.

With the Force India and Lotus dispatched, Webber began a last-gap charge to catch Rosberg, getting to within the 1-second window in the final lap. Depsite a nail-biting push, Nico just hung on to take his second win of the year by only 0.7 seconds, with Webber and Alonso joining him on the podium.

Sergio Perez – the fourth victim of Pirelli delaminations – was forced to retire in the closing laps. Hamilton passed Raikkonen for 4th place, while Felipe Massa recovered from last to 6th place, pipping the Force India of Sutil, who had been gunning for a podium finish.

Ricciardo and Paul di Resta were left stranded in 8th and 9th, while Nico Hulkenberg scraped a point for the struggling Sauber team. After 64 consecutive points-scoring finishes, McLaren have now failed to score a single point in the last 2 races.

While this race will be rembered for a thrilling finish and the closing up of the championship contenders, there must also be serious steps taken to ensure that these tyre failures never happen again.

Rosberg takes first victory of 2013 in eventful Monaco Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg has become the 4th race winner of the 2013 season, taking a lights-to-flag victory at the Monaco Grand Prix.

At the start, Sebastian Vettel put Rosberg and Hamilton under immediate pressure, but was forced to recede into 3rd place. Jenson Button got to work on passing his teammate, but was unable to in the opening laps.

However, the McLaren pair began to clash wheels within a few laps, with Perez cutting two corners while battling Jenson. The Brit took to his team radio to complain, while Perez maintained 7th position.

Mercedes’ strategy of backing the rest of the field up began to materialise, as Nico’s 1:22.5 lap times were several seconds slower than those who had pitted early for new tyres. The top 5 – Rosberg, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and Raikkonen, were nose-to-tail, while Fernando Alonso in 6th began to slip into the grasp of Perez, Sutil and Button behind.

A cagey first stint limited proceedings until about lap 21, when Rosberg and Hamilton were instructed to turn up the engine and push. This move was copied by the Red Bulls, Raikkonen and Alonso, who all began to catch the leaders again.

A stop for soft tyres for Mark Webber on lap 26 started the pit stop frenzy. While the leaders pitted, Paul di Resta put a brave move on Felipe Massa into Sainte Devote. Felipe’s race didn’t last much longer, as he shunted into the barriers a few laps later, in a similar situation to his crash in Friday practice.

The safety car was deployed, which secured Rosberg’s lead. However, Hamilton was less lucky, being held up while he waited to pit, and slipped to 4th behind Sebastian and Mark.

The safety car pulled in on lap 39, and the racing resumed. Unlike the first stint, there was very little conservative racing, with drivers  immediately getting stuck into fascinating battles up and down the field. Hamilton did his best to get past Webber, while Alonso hunted down Raikkonen. He got slightly wide at Loews, and got a clip from Jenson Button behind as a result, but both drivers were able to continue.

The inter-McLaren battle continued, with Sergio Perez putting a fantastic move on Jenson for 7th place. He then chased down Fernando Alonso for 6th, making another move at the Nouvelle Chicane, but the Ferrari was forced to cut the corner to defend his position.

However, there was no time for the stewards to intervene just yet, as the red flag was out for a crash at Tabac. Pastor Maldonado was squeezed by Max Chilton, and the Williams was launched into the barriers, luckily getting away unscathed.

After a quick scramble where all the drivers changed their tyres, the race restarted 20 minutes later. Alonso was instructed to hand his place back to Perez, and it only got worse for the Spaniard after that – he was soon put under pressure by Adrian Sutil in 7th. A mistake at Loews corner put the Ferrari wide, and Adrian wasted no time in punishing the 2-time world champion.

A crash by Jules Bianchi at Sainte Devote out out double-waved yellows, but the safety car was soon to make another appearance. This time, it was Romain Grosjean who caused a crash on the Monte Carlo circuit, spearing into Daniel Ricciardo at the Nouvelle Chicane, putting both cars out on the spot.

But after the safety car peeled away, the carnage wasn’t over yet. On lap 70, Sergio Perez clashed with Kimi Raikkonen under braking out of the casino tunnel, breaking Perez’s front wing and giving Kimi a puncture. The McLaren retired several laps later with a brake issue, while the Lotus was left stranded in 16th with only a few laps to go.

However, Raikkonen pulled off an amazing raft of overtakes on his final stint, passing Chilton, Van der Garde, Bottas, Gutierrez and Hulkenberg in a matter of laps, and continuing his 23-race streak of points-scoring races.

Up front, Rosberg maintained a 4-second gap to the Red Bulls until the chequered flag, taking an emphatic victory in his home city. Teammate Hamilton chased down Mark Webber for the second half of the race, but couldn’t find a way past. Sutil took an excellent 5th place, with Button, Alonso, Vergne, di Resta and Raikkonen finishing the top 10.

While Mercedes can finally rejoice in their first victory of 2013, it is Sebastian Vettel who gains the most, stretching out an 18-point lead to Kimi Raikkonen in the drivers’ championship.

Rosberg takes thrilling Monaco pole position

Nico Rosberg has taken his third pole position in a row for the Monaco Grand Prix, after a fantastic shootout between 5 different drivers in challenging conditions.

Lewis Hamilton was once again cast to one side, and forced to settle for 2nd place. Sebastian Vettel was extremely close to the Mercedes drivers, just a single tenth of a second off the pace.

Q1

The rain began to fall half an hour before Q1 began, dampening the track to the extent where intermediate tyres were a necessity.

Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean remained in the garage though, as both drivers were undergoing repairs after shunts in third practice. Grosjean made it out with 5 minutes to go, and got through to Q2, but Massa will start tomorrow’s race from the back of the grid.

Jules Bianchi became the third driver to encounter trouble, after his Marussia overheated while waiting in the pit lane, then failed on the run up to Massenet.

The session was filled with small incidents, mostly drivers locking their brakes at Sainte Devote and Mirebeau, as well as the Nouvelle Chicane. The changing conditions allowed Giedo van der Garde to slip into the next session, at the expense of Paul di Resta, who was left fuming on the team radio.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

17) Paul di Resta – 1:26.322

18) Charles Pic – 1:26.633

19) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:26.917

20) Max Chilton – 1:27.303

21) Jules Bianchi – N/A

22) Felipe Massa – N/A

Q2

The times again tumbled throughout Q2, going from 1:35s to 1:23s in a matter of minutes.

The decision to switch to slick tyres was first made by Giedo van der Garde, and quickly copied by the other teams. The Caterham driver managed to qualify an impressive 15th place, ahead of Pastor Maldonado.

Jean-Eric Vergne made it into Q3 for the first time this season, while Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean were frustrated to be knocked out of Q2. Valtteri Bottas stayed out on intermediate tyres too long, and it resulted in him being only 14th.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:18.331

12) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:18.344

13) Romain Grosjean – 1:18.603

14) Valtteri Bottas – 1:19.077

15) Giedo van der Garde – 1:19.408

16) Pastor Maldonado – 1:21.688

Q3

The track had dried sufficiently for all drivers to start on super-soft tyres as Q3 began. After drivers’ first round of laps, Sebastian Vettel was on provisional pole.

Fernando Alonso changed tyres in the final few minutes, but he struggled massively to put temperature into his tyres. He eventually got a fast lap together, but it was only good enough for 6th place. Kimi Raikkonen was similarly not quick enough for the pole shootout, taking a quiet 5th position.

While both McLaren drivers made it through to Q3, they didn’t impress in terms of pace. Sergio Perez took 7th, while Jenson Button was 9th, behind Adrian Sutil’s Force India.

It was therefore a clear-cut Red Bull vs Mercedes shootout, with Vettel taking first blood. However, a set of searing laps from both Rosberg and Hamilton locked out the front row, with Vettel and Webber being forced to settle for row 2.

 

Rosberg takes surprise Bahrain pole

For the second race in a row, a Mercedes driver will start from the front spot on the grid. This time, it was Nico Rosberg who took the honours, as Lewis Hamilton struggled with less pace and a gearbox penalty.

Sebastian Vettel is in a prime position to attack from 2nd place on the grid, while the Ferraris are 3rd and 4th. Penalties for Hamilton and Mark Webber have elevated Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil to 5th and 6th places. Here is what happened in qualifying:

Q1

Thankfully, we didn’t see a repeat of what happened in China, as most drivers partook in the majority of Q1.

Fernando Alonso had noteworthy pace on the hard compound tyres, going faster than medium-clad Sebastian Vettel. It was immediately apparent that Lotus’ pace had slid away, as Kimi Raikkonen struggled to keep his car on track under braking, repeatedly locking up and going off the track.

Both Williams drivers set the exact same time to a thousandth of a second, but Maldonado set his time later, so he was demoted further down the order, and was eventually knocked out of Q1.

Charles Pic put Caterham ahead of Marussia for the first time this season, while Esteban Gutierrez will start from 22nd after a penalty from last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Drivers knocked out of Q1:

17) Pastor Maldonado – 1:34.425

18) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:34.730 (+ 5 positions)

19) Charles Pic – 1:35.283

20) Jules Bianchi – 1:36.178

21) Giedo van der Garde – 1:36.304

22) Max Chilton – 1:36.476

Q2

Paul di Resta put Force India firmly in the spotlight, initially leading proceedings, and eventually taking 4th place in Q2.

Romain Grosjean was all set to partake in Q3, until a mistake on his final Q2 lap put him under pressure. Jenson Button was all too willing to pounce, and was audibly delighted on the team radio afterwards.

Sergio Perez yet again failed to make the cut, while Nico Hulkenberg demonstrated Sauber’s lack of pace this weekend.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Romain Grosjean – 1:33.762

12) Sergio Perez – 1:33.914

13) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:33.974

14) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:33.976

15) Valtteri Bottas – 1:34.105

16) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:34.284

Q3

A quick lap by Rosberg at the start of Q3 was enough to state his intentions. Alonso and Hamilton duly slotted behind in the first set of lap times.

All 10 drivers went out on track for the final 5 minutes, providing a closely-fought battle for pole. Only Jenson Button ended up not setting a time, the McLaren making a mistake on his sole lap.

Alonso also aborted his final run, leaving Vettel and Hamilton to chase the second Mercedes driver. After Nico improved his lap time again, Vettel could only get within a quarter of a second, while Hamilton could only muster 4th place.

Felipe Massa qualified 6th, but has been elevated to 4th because of other drivers’ penalties. He will start on the hard tyre, interestingly, and it will be fascinating to see how he matches up to teammate Alonso tomorrow.

The Force Indias were 7th and 8th, and Kimi Raikkonen had no pace whatsoever in Q3, a full second off Rosberg’s time.

Times from Q3:

1) Nico Rosberg – 1:32.330

2) Sebastian Vettel – 1:32.584

3) Fernando Alonso – 1:32.667

4) Lewis Hamilton – 1:32.762 (+ 5 places)

5) Mark Webber – 1:33.078 (+ 5 places)

6) Felipe Massa – 1:33.207

7) Paul di Resta – 1:33.235

8) Adrian Sutil – 1:33.246

9) Kimi Raikkonen – 1:33.327

10) Jenson Button – No time set

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.

2012 final driver rankings: 7th – 3rd

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

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

7th – Jenson Button

Previous ranking: 12th

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

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

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

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

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

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

6th – Nico Rosberg

Previous ranking: 7th

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

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

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

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

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

5th – Nico Hulkenberg

Previous ranking: 13th

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

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

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

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

In contrast to Paul di Resta’s terrible end to the season, Hulkenberg has done his career the best possible boost. A switch to Sauber may be viewed as a move sideways, but I think it might just pay off.

4th – Sebastian Vettel

Previous ranking: 4th

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 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.

Rosberg heads Bahrain practice 2 while Force India pack up early

Rosberg was comfortably ahead of the Red Bulls

Rosberg was comfortably ahead of the Red Bulls

Nico Rosberg led second practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix, but the main story of the day was Force India packing up early for safety reasons.

After a team bus was caught up in a petrol bomb attack on Wednesday evening, the team has decided to leave the paddock early, in order to avoid the planned protests later on in the evening. It is expected that they will return for qualifying tomorrow, however.

Rosberg’s time of 1:32.816 was 4 tenths faster than Mark Webber, with Sebastian Vettel another 3 tenths back. Michael Schumacher had a near miss with Vettel near the end of the session at turn 10, but both cars emerged unscathed, with the Mercedes going 5th.

Despite leading proceedings, Rosberg warned that Mercedes’ tyre overheating issues were worse than ever:

"We have to analyse things. In general, conditions are probably the worst they
have been here with the tyres overheating.

We learned a lot and we are looking much better than maybe we would have thought. 
But we need to see where we are. We are having to make changes because out there 
it's very unusual - conditions are very tough."

Times from FP2:

 1. Nico Rosberg          Mercedes              1:32.816            35 
 2. Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault      1:33.262  +0.446   26 
 3. Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      1:33.525  +0.709   28 
 4. Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes      1:33.747  +0.931   26 
 5. Michael Schumacher    Mercedes              1:33.862  +1.046   31 
 6. Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1:34.246  +1.430   28 
 7. Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari        1:34.411  +1.595   34 
 8. Fernando Alonso       Ferrari               1:34.449  +1.633   31 
 9. Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault         1:34.615  +1.799   32 
10. Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari        1:34.893  +2.077   34 
11. Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:34.895  +2.079   29 
12. Felipe Massa          Ferrari               1:34.941  +2.125   29 
13. Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault         1:35.183  +2.367   33 
14. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:35.229  +2.413   26 
15. Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault      1:35.459  +2.643   38 
16. Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault      1:35.913  +3.097   32 
17. Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault      1:35.968  +3.152   35 
18. Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault      1:36.169  +3.353   30 
19. Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth     1:36.587  +3.771   32 
20. Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth     1:37.803  +4.987   33 
21. Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth          1:37.812  +4.996   28 
22. Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth          1:39.649  +6.833   27
23. Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes  N/A                 0
24. Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes  N/A                 0

Chinese Grand Prix analysis: 2012 set to be a classic season?

After three different race winners in as many races, it is clear that the order has never been tighter at the top. With Mercedes seemingly getting over their tyre degradation issues, and Sauber and Lotus chasing the hells of the frontrunners, I feel there are as many as 8 potential race winners this year – 5 of them yet to show their full potential.

But back to the present situation. Nico Rosberg’s first win shows that he is finally ready to challenge the big boys, and with Mercedes looking more of a dominant force, we could be in for a classic season.

Nico joins Keke in F1′s most exclusive club

A long-overdue win for Rosberg means that he is the third son of an F1 driver to win a race himself. However, in the other two cases (Jacques Villeneuve and Damon Hill), their fathers’ lives had already been cut short, both in car-related accidents.

With Nico having become the 103rd Grand Prix winner in F1 history, the focus will now move to see can he challenge for the world championship.

It’s certainly not out of the question. Red Bull’s RB8 is a troubled car, and McLaren have fumbled their advantages far too many times already. With an innovative DRS system, as well as the most powerful engine on the grid, they must capitalise on their pace in the following few races.

Tyre degradation is less of an issue – after each pit stop, the mechanics checked Nico’s tyres for excess wear, but Rosberg had it perfectly under control. It was a well deserved win, and he can certainly go further.

Massa bashing: Round 3

Respected journalists are now calling him a “waste of petrol”. I can’t disagree with them – a 13th place is nothing short of dismal.

The most stark fact is that, aside from the three slowest teams – every single driver on the grid has scored points except for Massa. He brushed off his first two awful races, and called the Chinese GP the start of his season, but has instead proven himself to be even more of a joke.

Fernando Alonso slipped down the order after running wide near the end of the race, but still managed to score points in a difficult situation. Massa’s only notable feat was holding up half the field for several laps.

The hype over Sergio Perez’s prowess in Malaysia has died down, and many are looking to the end of the season for him to replace Massa. For many, that can not come soon enough.

Sauber becoming a credible threat?

One of the biggest surprises so far this year is the Sauber’s excellent pace – going completely against my predictions before Melbourne.

Perez’s race pace in Malaysia, combined with Kobayashi’s 3rd place in qualifying, shows that the team are going places. They have scored their best qualifying and race results ever (as an independent team), and it is apparent that they may take on the big guns.

Each of the Sauber drivers is ahead of one of the Lotus drivers, to give you an idea of their form. Kobayashi scored their first ever fastest lap, to wrap up their excellent few races.

It will be extremely difficult for the Hinwil squad to keep up with the frontrunners, but we will see how they fare in the next few races.

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