2012 final driver rankings: 25th – 16th

As is the case every 6 months, I do a brief ranking of the current batch of F1 drivers, based on their performances this season.

This article will deal with the bottom 10 drivers on the grid, and over the next week several more posts will detail my rankings. Let’s start with a familiar face at the bottom of the rankings:

25th – Narain Karthikeyan

Previous ranking: 26th

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

Business as usual for Karthikeyan, as you can tell.

It took him until the Italian Grand Prix for him to even out-qualify his teammate, and in most other situations he was over a second off the pace.

In every single race where the two of them finished, Narain was always the one who was left behind. He was completely unable to develop the struggling HRT car all year, instead all duties were offloaded to Pedro de la Rosa.

His only claim to fame in 2012 is needlessly clashing with and holding up Sebastian Vettel twice. How he continues to be hired by HRT consistently amazes me.

24th – Jerome D’Ambrosio

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote:  N/A

It’s a little unfair to include D’Ambrosio in this season’s list. The only race he took part in was badly hampered by a malfunctioning KERS unit.

Without that, he might have finished in the points – Monza is the one place where you really don’t want a KERS failure. But there’s not much else to say about him – it was only one race, after all.

23rd – Timo Glock

Previous ranking: 20th

Previous quote: “He continues to struggle to make an impact in a hopeless car.”

Unfortunately, while Glock can fail to make progress without criticism, he has failed to hold off even his own teammate, and that could end his F1 career.

Timo did have some impressive drives this season – he did well in the season opener, and absolutely excelled in Singapore, a track that he clearly loves.

But although this looks good on paper, the performances of rookie Charles Pic were enough to cast doubts over the German’s future. Personally I don’t think it’s a talent issue, it’s that Glock is completely bored at the back of the grid.

Two excellent podiums in 2009 show that he’s a great driver, but he cannot show his potential at the back of the grid. Will the midfield teams listen to this? It’s uncertain, but the driver market is closing up so fast it may not even make a difference. Glock may have raced his last laps in Formula 1.

22nd – Vitaly Petrov

Previous ranking: 22nd

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

A dull and uninspired first half of 2012 did him no favours, but the final few laps of Interlagos may have saved Petrov’s drive for 2013.

In a 3-team battle where every cent counts, Petrov’s 11th in Brazil gained millions in prize money for Caterham. Even out of just gratitude, his chances for a drive next year have been vastly improved.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While he improved noticeably towards the end of 2012, his performances up to then were unimpressive and lagging behind Heikki Kovalainen.

It’s unclear then whether we will see him on next year’s grid. With his raft of sponsorship money seemingly draining away, Petrov’s final gambit for Caterham may have been for nothing.

21st – Jean-Eric Vergne

Previous ranking: 19th

Previous quote: “So far I have been unimpressed with Vergne’s performance.”

Like I said last time, Toro Rosso’s decision to oust Alguersuari and Buemi is still puzzling – what new things are Ricciardo and Vergne bringing to the table?

Jean-Eric boasts a 6-point surplus to his teammate, but his absolutely atrocious qualifying form is a huge setback. Being knocked out of Q1 in the majority of races is embarrassing to say the least.

Does this mean that he has been completely out-classed? No. But it means that Toro Rosso will now overlook him while they search for Mark Webber’s eventual replacement in the future. Like it or not, Toro Rosso’s young driver programme will ditch both of these drivers if they fail to show race-winning prowess.

While he is talented, I doubt that Jean-Eric will be able to hold onto his seat after 2013.

20th – Daniel Ricciardo

Previous ranking: 15th

Previous quote: “Ricciardo hasn’t underperformed, but has still struggled to cement his place in Formula 1.”

A fabulous qualifying performance in Bahrain was enough to convince me of Ricciardo’s talent. However, a first-lap mistake put an end to what could have been an even better race.

Unfortunately, that was the only chance Daniel was given all season. Several 9th and 10th-placed finishes were scraped whenever he could manage, but otherwise a lacklustre Toro Rosso car held him back.

I’m a fan of Ricciardo, but it’s crystal clear that another mundane season in the lower midfield will effectively end his career. Daniel will need to make a step up to survive through into 2014.

19th – Heikki Kovalainen

Previous ranking: 16th

Previous quote: “Kovalainen is doing all he can – now it’s up to the team.”

Times change very quickly in Formula 1. Where Kovalainen was the driving force of his team 6 months ago, he is now at risk of losing his seat for next year.

An impressive first half of 2012 was enough for him to get on top of Vitaly Petrov, but the Russian’s 11th place in Brazil has put Heikki’s spot under threat. Couple this with Caterham needing more sponsor money, and the future is grim.

It’s disappointing that these off-track factors have influenced Caterham, but Kovalainen was also not as strong in the second half of this season as he was the first. While he continued to pip his way into Q2 whenever the opportunity arose, he became outclassed on several occassions by Petrov.

I’d like a race seat for Kovalainen next year, but it may just be out of his reach.

18th – Pedro de la Rosa

Previous ranking: 23rd

Previous quote: “He has performed well, and deserves to be retained for another while.”

I’ll happily admit to under-ranking De la Rosa in previous articles. His presence at the HRT team is possibly the only thing that has kept the team afloat this year.

Having been burdened with the task of developing the woeful F112, he held on throughout the year, pulling the car home to an impressive 8 finishes in a row at one point. He also completely destroyed teammate Narain Karthikeyan across the entire year.

Still, the fall of HRT was apparent with a few weeks to go in the season, and De la Rosa’s hopes for next season were all but gone by then. It is very unlikely that we will ever see him again in the paddock, and his expertise will be sorely missed.

17th – Bruno Senna

Previous ranking: 14th

Previous quote: “Rather quietly, he is the more complete driver of the Williams team.”

Bash Pastor Maldonado as much as you/I want, he’s an extremely fast driver who can win races. It is clear that Bruno Senna is neither of those.

Bruno began the season impressively, taking consistent finishes and a healthy supply of points, despite missed opportunities. However, in the second half of 2012 he has been totally outclassed by his teammate, and has not exploited the full potential of the Williams FW-34.

The 14-point gap between the two should be much more pronounced, if Maldonado hadn’t crashed out of many points-scoring opportunities. Senna has been outqualified by Pastor 15 times this year, and rarely catches up to him in the races.

While consistent with his finishing results, a general lack of pace is the largest issue for Senna at the moment.

16th – Charles Pic

Previous ranking: 21st

Previous quote: “Pic will have to up his game if he expects to be in F1 in 2013.”

And up his game he did. Pic improved more and more as the season progressed, so much so that he will be moving on to Caterham this year.

Charles held 11th in Brazil for a significant portion of the race, before he was dispossessed of it by Vitaly Petrov. He set the fastest time in FP2 in Belgium, although to be fair he was a full minute off the dry pace!

What’s more impressive is how he held firm against his more established teammate, Timo Glock. Despite being regularly outqualified (14 times), Pic was able to finish ahead of Timo 5 times in the 13 races where they both finished.

Combining this with his decent GP2 form, and Pic is definitely a driver to look out for in the future.

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