This is the second article out of 4, ranking all 28 drivers from this season. This section includes drivers such as Felipe Massa, Kamui Kobayashi and Jaime Alguersuari.
18th – Felipe Massa
The Pirelli tyres brought no improvement to Massa's form
Previous ranking: 14th
Review from previous ranking: “Ferrari need a second driver who can consistently take podiums, not struggle for 6th.”
The one thing I find more frustrating than Felipe Massa is those who keep praising him despite his disastrous pace. Every single year, we are promised a return to form by the Brazilian, and every year is a let-down.
This year, it was the Pirelli tyres that were to catapult Massa to the top, which of course never happened. While teammate Fernando Alonso took 10 podiums, one of which was a win, Massa was never higher than 5th.
A clear sign of his ineptness at the Ferrari was in India, where he was the only driver to find trouble with the kerbs – and did it twice. as well as this, he was not blameless in the spat with Lewis Hamilton – turning into the McLaren in India was ill-judged to say the least.
The best indicator of a driver’s pace is their performance relative to their teammate, and Massa didn’t even get half of what Alonso won. Even Mark Webber, who had a shocking season by his standards, was able to beat this.
Renault and Ferrari have, in recent times, shown that it is entirely plausible to end a driver’s contract prematurely. Why they haven’t done this with Massa yet, we’ll never know.
17th – Bruno Senna
Senna's first race was ruined by his own hand
Previous ranking: 24th (2010 half-way rankings)
Review from previous ranking: “Senna’s potential is still unclear.” (2010 half-way rankings)
After spending 2010 lingering at the back of the grid, the Senna name was thrown into the midfield of the grid, after Nick Heidfeld was given the boot. So far, Bruno’s impact has been unconvincing to say the least.
He qualified an excellent 7th at his first race of the year in Spa, but bottled it at the first corner. A pair of points were scored at Monza, but that was the only top 10 finish of the season.
Despite this, he showed interesting flashes of pace, generally being faster than Vitaly Petrov, and driving well at his home race in Brazil, before clashing with Michael Schumacher – the first time since 1993 that those two surnames have collided.
As the Renault and its radical front exhausts fell apart, it became clear that Senna was unable to demonstrate his prowess. I’m unsure as to his full potential, but many feel that despite the circumstances, he should have performed better in 2011.
16th – Vitaly Petrov
A single podium was the only high point of Petrov's season
Previous ranking: 9th
Review from previous ranking: “It will be up to Petrov to take the majority of Renault’s points this year.”
As the Renault car became more and more hopeless, Petrov began to falter, and was being worryingly out-paced by new recruit Senna by the end of the year.
A podium in Australia was undoubtedly the standout moment of the year, but there wasn’t much to talk about after that. In Malaysia, a mistake by Petrov resulted in a spectactular launch into the air, which was the last race the team had any chance of racing at the front.
Apart from a 5th place in Canada, he was only able to snatch 9th and 10th places throughout the year, and only had 3 points more than Nick Heidfeld – who missed the last 8 races.
It was an improvement from 2010, but not improvement enough to keep his seat for next year, and I can’t complain about that.
15th – Sebastien Buemi
The wheels came off Buemi's season in the second half
Previous ranking: 16th
Review from previous ranking: “Of Ricciardo impresses at HRT, then Buemi may still be under pressure for the race seat in 2012.”
After the unceremonious dumping of both drivers, Toro Rosso have indicated that they have had enough of their drivers. Buemi and Alguersuari tussled for the lead in the team throughout the season, but ultimately the better driver came out on top.
Sebastien had the upper hand in the first few races, adapting well to the Pirelli tyres. He was able to out-qualify Alguersuari, and conserve his tyres better in the races. However, when Jaime turned his season around, matching pace from Buemi was nowhere to be seen.
It must be considered that he suffered more than his fair share of technical problems, but the general consensus is that Buemi should have achieved more after 3 years in Toro Rosso, which is considerably more than what many other drivers got.
14th – Kamui Kobayashi
A difficult second half of the season for Kobayashi
Previous ranking: 6th
Review from previous ranking: “Kobayashi continues to punch well above his weight with scintillating drives.”
The fans’ favourite overtaker suffered a disappointing second half to the season, while his teammate took the limelight.
The first half of 2011 was spectacular, with Kobayashi finishing in the top 10 7 races in a row, something that neither of the Mercedes drivers could achieve.
However, his qualifying pace began to falter alarmingly, and teammate Perez began to take control. Finishing the season with 2 points finishes was impressive, and helped him end the season with double what Perez achieved. However, it must be considered that Sergio missed out on two races which I feel he would have performed well in.
Overall, it was a decent season, but improvement is still necessary for Kobayashi.
13th – Jaime Alguersuari
A spate of points-scoring finishes was not enough for Alguersuari
Previous ranking: 12th
Review from previous ranking: “Alguersuari came very close to being replaced, but several good drives have rescued his career.”
Not good enough, I’m afraid. An impressive improvement came in the second half of 2011, but Alguersuari was still dropped at the end of the year.
A series of 18th-to-points runs were entertaining to watch, and a pair of 7th places in Monza and Korea were the high points for Jaime. Qualifying 6th in Spa was also an excellent performance, before he was cruelly taken out by Bruno Senna.
In the end, he was comfortably ahead of his teammate, where he deserved to be. However, holding up Vettel in Korean practice did him no favours with Red Bull, and earned him an severe dressing-down from Helmut Mark0 (which I’ve heard will be featured in the F1 review DVD).
Whether this politics hurt his chances at retaining his seat, we’ll never know.
12th – Nick Heidfeld
Heidfeld was a casualty of Renault's demise
Previous ranking: 11th
Review from previous ranking: “Reliable driving has helped him in the races, but a lack of raw pace is holding Nick back.”
A surprise ditching by Renault saw Heidfeld out of a drive halfway through the season. Because of this, we will never know how he was to handle with the deteriorating R31.
A magnificent start in Malaysia, as well as holding up the McLaren drivers, saw Nick take a well-deserved podium. As the Renault slipped down the order, Heidfeld was able to take as many 7th and 8th places as he could. He was taken out on the first lap in Germany, and an exploding sidepod took him out in Hungary, which proved to be his last race.
I’m still confused as to why Renault bothered dropping Heidfeld, considering Petrov could hardly amass his points total with an extra 8 races in hand. He was a safe pair of hands, and consistently got the job done, aside from a calamitious error at the Nurburgring.
His main weakness was dire qualifying, which principal Eric Boullier was particularly angry about. Still, I feel that Renault was worse off without Heidfeld.
11th – Heikki Kovalainen
Kovalainen far exceeded the car's potential
Previous ranking: 19th
Review from previous ranking: “It will be up to Kovalainen to secure 10th place in the Constructor’s Championship for the team.”
With HRT and Virgin constantly falling further behind, and Jarno Trulli proving lacklustre, it was always going to be up to Kovalainen to prove Lotus’ worth.
I admit that I had nearly given up on Kovalainen after his dismal years at McLaren – he recently said that those two years had drained all his confidence. In that light, going back to basics was the best possible move for Heikki. With little pressure around him, he has been able to re-invigorate his racing spirit.
Whenever a midfield car faltered, it was Kovalainen who snatched the opportunity to move into Q2, which he did three times. He absolutely demolished his teammate in every sector – qualifying (16 successes out of 18), and races, where he often finished half a minute ahead of Trulli.
A 13th-placed finish in Monza secured 10th for Lotus in the constructors’ championship. With luck, the team soon to be known as Caterham can finally improve to the midfield, with Kovalainen the driving force of the squad.