2012 final driver rankings: 15th – 8th

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

Part 2 includes drivers from Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and Lotus.

15th – Pastor Maldonado

Previous ranking: 18th

Previous quote: “He drives like a complete thug. And that’s why I have absolutely no respect for him.”

I make no secret of my dislike of Pastor Maldonado, but an impressive turnaround in the second half of the year has improved his image somewhat.

As everyone is well aware by now, a brilliant win in Spain was marred by needless collisions and constant penalties. After that, a 9-race streak without points fuelled rumours that Pastor wasn’t fast without aggression.

Still, three points finishes in the final 6 races was able to keep him ahead of Bruno Senna, and after staying out of more crashes, had a quiet end to the season.

Maldonado has been retained for next year, but his drive was rarely under threat, with so much PDVSA backing. What worries me is that without any pressure for him to calm down, his antics at the start of 2012 will appear again. Adding in the fact that Pastor never apologised for his ridiculous driving, and his criminal record hasn’t been wiped clean just yet.

14th – Romain Grosjean

Previous ranking: 6th

Previous quote: “He has hugely impressed me with his remarkable pace and raw talent.”

What should have been a strong finish to the season turned into a nightmare, as Grosjean crumbled under mounting pressure.

Many argue that the worst point of his season was Spa, where he tipped Lewis Hamilton into a first-lap pile-up, earning him a 1-race ban. However, I think that ramming Mark Webber in Suzuka hurt him the most, as he was clearly rattled by constant criticism from fellow drivers. He was never the same after that.

He then clashed with Pedro de la Rosa in Brazil, failing to see that the HRT was turning into the final corner.

His future with Lotus is now in doubt, having earned severe criticism from boss Eric Boullier. However, I think that his good form up to  Hungary should be enough to keep him in the sport. Three decent podiums, as well as nearly winning a race, shows that he is talented enough to mix it at the front. The issue is whether he has the confidence to do that any more.

13th – Paul di Resta

Previous ranking: 11th

Previous quote: “Di Resta will still need to up his game if he is to remain on top at Force India.”

Oddly enough, just as Di Resta’s season began to slide near the end, teammate Hulkenberg’s picked up. It was this unfortunate timing that marred Paul’s decent season.

His two best races were in Bahrain and Singapore, using superior strategy to out-pace most of the field. However, once news broke that he was not to be promoted to a faster team, his pace slipped, and Di Resta almost dropped off the radar.

A 9th place in Abu Dhabi, his only top 10 finish in 6 races, was not enough to hold off Hulkenberg in the points standings. It isn’t representative of Paul’s pace though, as his 2010 form proves that he has the talent to push for podiums in a midfield car.

It’s expected that he will be retained by Force India, and for him to bounce back in 2013.

12th – Mark Webber

Previous ranking: 3rd

Previous quote: “On the face of it, Webber’s having his best season yet.”

There are two ways of looking at Webber’s 2012 season. One way is by looking at the Monaco and British Grands Prix, where he fully asserted his authority on the rest of the grid. And the other way is by looking at the other 18 races.

As is the case every year, Mark slides away from teammate Sebastian in the points standings the further the season progresses. This year, Webber managed to lose 112 points to Vettel in only 10 races. This disastrous form is completely overlooked by his occasional dominating win, and I can’t figure out why.

Surely Webber can’t be satisfied with this. He has no hope for winning the world championship with such hopeless form – only 2 podiums in 10 races, in what was, at the time, the best car on the grid.

Can he bounce back from this? Sure, but only when he flops at the end of the season as per every other year. I’m being harsh on Mark here, but the fact is that despite his protests, he is the perfect number 2 driver to partner Vettel.

11th – Michael Schumacher

Previous ranking: 9th

Previous quote: “Keep your eyes peeled, lest we see the return of the Schumacher of old.”

Michael is quoted as saying that in his comeback, he learned how to lose. It’s a nice way of putting what was a disappointing return to Formula 1.

Did we see the “Schumacher of old”? No. But we saw a more mature driver towards the end – perfectly demonstrated when he allowed Vettel past in the dying laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix. He knew his time was up, and passed the baton to the younger generation in a beautiful way.

Michael was extremely unlucky in the first half of the year, being robbed of podiums by ill-timed mechanical failures. The second half saw less issues, but a drop-off in pace from the Mercedes W03 eliminated all hopes of a powerful end to his career.

Schumacher will be missed, but ultimately his return was a poor choice.

10th – Sergio Perez

Previous ranking: 8th

Previous quote:

While astounding drives early on cemented him a drive with McLaren, a poor end to 2012 signals that Perez may not be completely ready for his big break.

We are all aware of Sergio’s outstanding drives in Malaysia and Italy, but he will need to perform this well every race in order to justify his McLaren drive. Granted, his 66 point tally could have been higher – seeing as he finished 11th 5 times.

Could he have done better though? Sergio suffered a huge drop in form once he had signed for McLaren, and spun out of a good position while battling Lewis Hamilton in Japan.

I’m unconvinced about Perez’s hopes for a future F1 title, but we will have to wait and see.

9th – Kamui Kobayashi

Previous ranking: 10th

Previous quote: “Despite differing results, I would still regard both Sauber drivers as being nearly equals in talent.”

Despite being completely overshadowed by his teammate, I was still impressed with Kamui Kobayashi this year.

A podium in his home country was clearly the standout performance, while strong performances in Spain and Abu Dhabi propelled him up the standings. Unlike Perez, Kobayashi’s pace didn’t falter when the Sauber car struggled, taking 25 points in the last 6 races, compared to Sergio’s 0.

Another underrated drive was qualifying 3rd in China, behind the Mercedes drivers. To me, it’s a travesty that Kamui has been dropped, despite scoring only 6 points less than his McLaren-bound teammate.

Encouragingly, he has amassed over €2m in fan donations for a drive next year, and I am hopeful that we will continue to see him on the grid.

8th – Felipe Massa

Previous ranking: 17th

Previous quote: “In a championship-leading car, Massa lies 14th, in between a Force India and a Williams.”

Felipe Massa is the success story of the 2012 season, bouncing back and nearly outperforming Fernando Alonso in the closing stages.

He deservedly earned massive criticism for over two years of rubbish driving, but credit is due where it’s due, and in the last few races, Massa has been superb. 10 points-scoring finishes in a row is well deserved.

He has also firmly secured his future with the Scuderia, by diligently allowing Fernando Alonso past in Austin qualifying (through a penalty), and in the dying laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix. Alongside his improvement in form, he has won himself back into favour with the team.

This bodes a question though: Will his form continue into 2013? I have an inclination that it will, but it remains to be seen how Felipe will (or won’t) play a role in Fernando’s title challenge.

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