2013 half-way driver rankings: 22nd – 14th

As I do every 6 months, I rank this year’s F1 drivers and their performances so far this season.

This first part will rank the drivers from 22nd place all the way up to 14th. Let’s start with a driver who has had more than a few moments of criticism:

22nd – Max Chilton

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

Perhaps it’s a little unfair to view Chilton as only a pay driver – some decent wins in GP2 confirm that he’s a competent driver, but at this level he is simply outperformed week after week.

In all instances where both Marussia cars finish a race, Max is beaten by Jules Bianchi on every occasion. He is more than half a second off his teammate in qualifying, and rarely shows any promise in the races.

It is extremely difficult for Caterham and Marussia drivers to show talent in their own little tussle at the back of the field, but it’s still clear that there are many drivers waiting in the wings that are better than Chilton.

21st – Esteban Gutierrez

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

Many fans were disappointed to see Kamui Kobayashi forced out of a Sauber drive, and weren’t any less pleased when they saw his replacement. So far, Esteban Gutierrez hasn’t shown a single commendable performance so far in his F1 career.

I don’t expect him to outperform Nico Hulkenberg on many occasions, but the only time he has done so – the Spanish Grand Prix – was when Hulkenberg was forced to pit six times. Aside from this, Esteban has failed to score a single point, and is almost a second slower in terms of qualifying lap times.

Considering how much Nico struggles in the 2013 Sauber, it is unlikely that we will see drastic improvement from Gutierrez any time soon. But that could call time on his F1 career rather quickly – Robin Frijns is threatening to break onto the F1 scene, and if he can amass some decent finance, Esteban will be out of a job before he knows it.

20th – Felipe Massa

Previous ranking: 8th

Previous quote: “In the last few races, Massa has been superb. 10 points-scoring finishes in a row is well deserved.”

Sometimes I feel that praising Massa is pointless – every time he performs well for a few weeks, he promptly falls off a cliff and crashes into anything solid for months to come. For Ferrari to hold onto him for 2014 would be a travesty for potential world champions across the F1 grid.

His two retirements this year have been not only his fault, but embarrassing to watch as well. After two similar shunts into the wall at Monaco, he somehow managed to spin away from the first corner at the Nurburgring, on only lap 4 of the race. Much like the other drivers at the back end of the rankings, he has failed to beat his teammate in a single race in 2013.

There is absolutely no reason for him to be retained at one of the top Formula 1 teams. There is a cavalcade of drivers – Hulkenberg, Riccardo, Perez, Sutil, Grosjean, Bottas, Bianchi, Frijns, Da Costa, Vandoorne – that would be able to perform a supporting role to Fernando Alonso better than what Felipe is currently doing.

It seems that both Massa and his dwindling number of supporters are still living in the past, convincing themselves that the 2008 season can be repeated. But the sport has moved on, and so should Ferrari.

19th – Giedo van der Garde

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

Faced with the unpopular stigma of bringing sponsorship money to secure his F1 drive, Giedo van der Garde has performed decently enough in a car miles off the midfield pace.

Qualifying an excellent 15th on the grid for Monaco, and finishing there, did his reputation no problems whatsoever. Another 14th-placed finish in Hungary is Caterham’s joint best finishing position so far in 2013. Having said that, his teammate Charles Pic certainly has the overall edge on the Dutchman. Pic has out-qualified and out-raced Giedo more often this year, and therefore Van der Garde is looking less likely to hold his seat into 2014.

Another few performances like Monaco would more than likely secure his drive for next year. But that’s easier said than done – the Caterham is increasingly slow compared to teams like Williams and Toro Rosso, and breaking into Q2 looks less and less likely after every race weekend. Van der Garde certainly has a challenge on his hands.

18th – Pastor Maldonado

Previous ranking: 15th

Previous quote: “A brilliant win in Spain was marred by needless collisions and constant penalties [later in 2012]. After that, a 9-race streak without points fuelled rumours that Pastor wasn’t fast without aggression.”

Aside from a spin in Melbourne, Pastor’s crashing record in 2013 is surprisingly clear. But unfortunately there isn’t much else to say about his year, as he’s struggling to hold off rookie teammate Valtteri Bottas.

A single points-scoring finish isn’t much to report about either, since it came from the late retirement of Nico Rosberg in Hungary. Compared to Bottas, their performances are relatively close – Maldonado is beaten in terms of qualifying positions, but certainly has the edge in the races.

Considering the massive paychecks that PDVSA are throwing at Williams every year, Maldonado’s drives aren’t exactly setting the world on fire. But they could do a lot worse in terms of driver-picking, and now that he seems to have settled down a little, an interesting fight with Bottas is on the cards for the rest of 2013.

17th – Charles Pic

Previous ranking: 16th

Previous quote: “Pic is definitely a driver to look out for in the future.”

Considering that his move from Marussia to Caterham looks increasingly like a sideways step, Charles Pic hasn’t done too bad a job in 2013.

More often than not, he leads Giedo van der Garde in qualifying and races, and has a decent 14th-placed finish in Malaysia as well. There’s not too much to be said after that – Pic and Van der Garde can only drive so well with such a slow car. Still, Pic certainly deserves to be retained for 2014, if he can keep up his current form.

16th – Jules Bianchi

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

After cutting short Luiz Razia’s 0-race F1 career out of sheer luck, Jules Bianchi has performed superbly well in 2013 with the sub-par machinery he is dealt with.

As expected, he has crushed Max Chilton in every qualifying session and race where possible. A 13th-placed finish in Malaysia is Marussia’s best finish of 2013, and is even able to out-drive Giedo van der Garde when the car lets him.

Such is his commendable performances that Ferrari are eyeing him up, not for a jump to the Scuderia just yet, but to have him mature in a midfield team before having him possibly partner Fernando Alonso. In fact, Bianchi’s drives this year are almost comparable to Alonso’s year with Minardi in 2001. All Jules needs is a brilliant performance in Suzuka, and his career’s all set to take off.

15th – Valtteri Bottas

Previous ranking: N/A

Previous quote: N/A

As much as I was pleased by his excellent qualifying in Canada, there haven’t been many other brilliant drives from Valtteri Bottas so far this year. But when you consider he’s only 10 races into his Formula 1 career, his out-driving of Pastor Maldonado is all the more impressive.

Taking 3rd on the Canadian Grand Prix grid, only behind Vettel and Hamilton, cannot be understated. Unfortunately, the Williams car gave him no pace that Sunday, and not a single point has been earned by the young Finn so far in 2013. Much of it is down to the car, as seen by Maldonado only scraping a single point out of good luck in Hungary.

The question is how much more Bottas can improve before hitting the limit of the Williams team. It remains to be seen how much the Fw35 can improve over the summer break, and this may make or break Valtteri’s 2013 campaign. Despite what many would like to believe, drivers can only do so much when they are held back by sub-par machinery.

But at the very least, Bottas has been a competent and superior replacement to Bruno Senna. That much is enough to earn him praise.

14th – Romain Grosjean

Previous ranking: 14th

Previous quote: “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.”

I’d have loved to be able to praise Grosjean’s excellent Hungarian Grand Prix win, laud him as a future world champion, and leave it at that. Unfortunately, this is Romain Grosjean, and a screw-up was almost mandatory. After botching a probable win, Romain has some serious explaining to do if he is to remain at Lotus for 2013.

There’s no doubt that Romain hasn’t shaken off the “crash kid” stigma just yet. A needless clash with Jenson Button in Hungary showed that after almost three years in F1, he still hasn’t learned the dimensions of his own car, never mind how to navigate it around someone else’s. With someone like Kimi Raikkonen as a teammate, Lotus need to sit back and judge whether having someone like Grosjean as a teammate is even necessary. While the Finn has 134 points to his name, Romain has only 49, as a result of his own incompetentness.

He has extremely good pace when he’s on form, we already know this. Both the Bahrain and German Grands Prix saw calculated, cool driving from the Frenchman, and combined with some searing pace from the Lotus E21, earned him two well-deserved podiums. But his atrocious spatial awareness does his reputation no good whatsoever – just look at his hilariously bad Monaco Grand Prix weekend to see what I’m on about.

Yes, he’s a fast driver, but that means absolutely nothing without the mental capacity to not bin the car every second race. As I said before, Lotus need to have a good long think about whether a driver like Grosjean is required for a team that’s aiming for consistent finishes and the constructor’s championship.

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