Archive: Adrian Sutil

It’s time to eat humble pie. Before the season began I wrote a couple of posts outlining my pessimism for the prospects of Force India and their new driver Paul di Resta. I think it’s now fair to say that I was wrong on this!

The “midfield battle” for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship looks like being one of the tastiest of the year. Force India have shown themselves to be one of three strong contenders for this “best of the rest” position.

Each of the five teams above this sixth place battle have won at least one Championship in the previous five seasons. So the sixth place finisher can genuinely be proud of their achievement.

Although Williams have disappointingly — but quite comprehensively — dropped out of this battle (at least for the time being), each of Sauber, Toro Rosso and Force India have plenty of cause to be optimistic for the year ahead.

Sauber

Sauber’s success is as a result of a tasty mixture of a decent chassis, combined with two punchy drivers and a willingness to take strategic risks.

Who can fail to have been impressed by Sergio Pérez? In Australia he outsmarted everyone by managing to make the Pirelli tyres last much longer than everyone else. With a brave one stop strategy, Pérez took a hugely commendable seventh place. Never mind that the Saubers were disqualified due to a technical infringement. Pérez had put himself well and truly on the map.

His scrappy Chinese Grand Prix, in which he earned two drive-through penalties, demonstrated that he still has plenty to learn. I wouldn’t say he’s a star of the future in the Vettel mould. But as a Kobayashi-style midfield wunderkind, Pérez surely has a promising future ahead of him.

Meanwhile, Kamui Kobayashi has been his usual feisty self. He collects a handful of points at a time while wowing the crowds with his audacious overtaking moves.

With James Key in place at Sauber, the team has come a long way since the darkness of winter 2009-2010. And you can only see that situation improving over time.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso have perplexed many by opting to retain its two drivers Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari. Particularly when you consider that the talented Daniel Ricciardo is waiting in the wings, it is odd to offer Buemi a third season.

Neither Buemi nor Alguersuari have been particularly impressive so far. Retaining them goes against the supposed concept of Toro Rosso has a driver development team, the final link in the Red Bull Junior Team sausage factory before being rubber-stamped to drive a bona fide Adrian Newey machine.

However, it has to be said they have done a commendable job so far this season. Toro Rosso clearly have a car with promise, with its radical sidepods paying dividends. When you consider that Toro Rosso weren’t even designing their own chassis a few years ago, this is pretty impressive.

A strong qualifying in China underlined the potential of the car, even if they didn’t quite have the race pace to keep grasp of the top ten positions. I thought Toro Rosso would run out of steam. In fact, if anything, they are getting stronger.

Force India

But I thought Force India would be even further behind. I thought they were a spent force. They started the 2010 season in a strong position, but after losing technical staff throughout the season they slipped further and further down the grid. I struggled to see where an upswing would come from.

Well, wherever it has come from, it is there for sure. OK, so their points finishes in Australia were inherited as a result of Sauber’s disqualifications. And the Chinese Grand Prix failed to yield any points.

But what is striking about Force India’s first three races is the sheer consistency of their performances. A ninth place finish, two 10ths and two 11ths bode well. They look like being strong contenders to grab a few points in every race.

Most impressively of all, their faith in Paul di Resta has been generously rewarded. While I poo-pooed the idea of a DTM driver coming into F1, there is no denying that di Resta has done the business.

The greatest thing is that di Resta has achieved this with great maturity and consistency. He is certainly showing the relatively plain Adrian Sutil — now entering his fifth year in F1 — just how it is done.

Exciting battle in prospect

It is too early to say if Force India can continue to challenge for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship. To my eyes, it seems as though Sauber have the upper hand here, although Force India can well expect to beat Toro Rosso.

What Force India can certainly take heart from is the fact that they definitely have not dropped out of the midfield. They are not being caught by, for instance, Lotus.

That is certainly a lot more than can be said for Williams, the team that narrowly beat Force India to sixth last year. That Force India have managed to avoid Williams’s fate is evidence enough that they are still a force to be reckoned with.

It is a cliche to say, but it’s true — predicting a team’s performance on the basis of testing form is a mug’s game. Just ask Mr Sniff Petrol.

But one thing I am pretty sure of is that Force India have taken a step backwards. Force India’s 2010 was a story of unfulfilled promise.

At the start of the year, they were firmly the best of the midfield bunch (with the exception of Renault, who managed to compete with Mercedes to be viewed more as a front-running team). But by the end of the year they had fallen firmly behind Williams, and slipped into the clutches of Sauber and Toro Rosso.

When I watched the season review DVD over winter, one of the things that surprised me was how good Force India were at the start of the season. I had totally forgotten. By the end of the year they were so underwhelming and failing to finish ahead of Williams — over whom they had a respectable lead at mid-season — cemented that sense.

Nevertheless, they finished seventh in the Constructors’ Championship. That is a very good result by the team’s recent standards. The team that was Jordan, then Midland, then Spyker before becoming Force India has not had such a good year since 2002.

Of the team’s four owners in recent years, Vijay Mallya is the one who has turned the team from the grid’s tailenders into a serious midfield force. He deserves great credit for that.

But it seems that as soon as this was achieved, the whole project ran out of steam. During last season, the team seemed to suffer from an exodus of staff. Most notably, James Key moved over to Sauber, who now look set to leapfrog Force India having made great progress during 2010 and a promising winter of testing. Another clutch of staff moved to Lotus, another team that looks to be on the up.

This sense that Force India have lost ground in the midfield battle was summed up for me in comments made by Adrian Sutil last week:

Looking at Sauber and Williams, they started last year a bit worse than they finished.

Over the winter they have done a good job and look quite strong, also Toro Rosso have made a step and are in this group who look very close together. Going into the top ten will be a tough goal.

Adrian Sutil has singled out Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso as ones to watch. But those are precisely the three teams that make up the midfield group that Force India were leading one year ago. It strikes me as a long-winded way of saying “Force India look crap”. Sutil has expanded on those thoughts this week, urging his team to find more speed.

But it’s difficult to know where that speed will come from. On the outside, it seems to me that Force India has peaked. The energy they had in late 2009 and early 2010 has gone, and I don’t see them moving on the way up any time soon.

Let me start off by pointing out that I would really like to see Paul di Resta do well in F1. It is always good to see fresh blood and I am a big fan of his cousin, Dario Franchitti.

But I have found Paul di Resta’s route into F1 curious. Why does Paul di Resta deserve to have a race seat when, for instance, Daniel Ricciardo doesn’t? Why, indeed, should he get the nod for a Force India race drive over the team’s reserve driver, Nico Hülkenberg who secured a pole position last year?

Unconventional background

Paul di Resta is coming into F1 having been in DTM for the past four years. There is no doubt he is a great racer — fools don’t win the DTM championship. But DTM is not known for ushering stars of the future into F1.

It is more well-known as a home for former F1 racers whose career is on the wane (Ralf Schumacher, David Coulthard), former stars of the future who never quite made it into F1 (Gary Paffett) and drivers that specialise in racing touring cars.

One driver who has made the step from DTM to F1 is Christijan Albers. His F1 career lasted for two and a half years, largely without success. He was dropped by Spyker midway through 2007 after escaping from the pitlane with his fuel hose still attached proved to be a gaffe too far.

Euro Series success

Paul di Resta first attracted the attention of F1 bosses as a result of the success of another driver. Back in 2006, Paul di Resta competed for the Formula 3 Euroseries championship against Sebastian Vettel. Di Resta won.

But it was Vettel who managed to make the step up to Formula 1 the following season. Having already impressed as BMW’s third driver, and he stepped in for one race to deputise for Robert Kubica following the Pole’s huge crash in Canada. Later that year, he got a race drive for Toro Rosso, and it wasn’t long before he was being hailed as an “inevitable future world champion”.

As big wigs looked to Vettel’s route to F1, it was noticed by Mercedes bosses that he was beaten in F3 Euro Series by Paul di Resta. Mercedes resolved to line him up for a race seat, initially at McLaren. In the meantime, di Resta raced for Mercedes in DTM.

Attention switched to getting him a race seat at Force India in 2009. But progress was slow again as they opted to retain their existing lineup of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella. Meanwhile, since buying the Brawn team, Mercedes focus has switched to having a German-only driver line-up.

In the run-up to 2010 the Paul di Resta hype was curiously quiet as Force India secured the services of Vitantonio Liuzzi instead. But as the season got going, it became increasingly clear that Force India wanted him to race in 2011.

But on what basis?

Protracted junior career

Paul di Resta’s protracted junior career may have set back his F1 career overall. Any comparisons with Sebastian Vettel based on F3 performances from five years ago are now irrelevant. Vettel now has a wealth of F1 experience that di Resta lacks.

At 24, Paul di Resta is relatively old for an F1 rookie these days. All of F1’s most successful drivers in recent years started their careers much earlier. Of the recent world champions, Sebastian Vettel’s first race was as a 19-year-old, as was Fernando Alonso’s. Jenson Button was 20, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher were 22. Kimi Räikkönen was 21, having made the leap directly from Formula Renault UK!

Paul di Resta is by no means too old to become an F1 rookie. But having a long — or indeed a successful — career in junior categories has not been shown to help create a great F1 driver.

All of the champions of the last decade progressed rapidly through the junior ranks. Vettel and Button made the leap straight from Formula 3. Hamilton efficiently strode up the ladder virtually one season at a time. Alonso had one season the Euro Open by Nissan (which today is World Series by Renault), and one season of Formula 3000 to his name.

Perhaps encouragingly for di Resta, Michael Schumacher for one raced more than just single-seaters before entering F1. Schumacher joined F1 after competing in the World Sportscar Championship. But he did not hang around there for four seasons, as di Resta has done in the DTM.

Time will tell

It remains to be seen whether or not Paul di Resta’s relatively unconventional route into F1 will pay off. There is, of course, no right or wrong way to go about a racing career. But I don’t see a great deal of evidence to suggest that di Resta will succeed in F1. I hope I’m wrong.

You can read part 1 of my mid-season rankings, where I assess the bottom half of the grid.


6. Force India

Force India have come along way in the past couple of years. From being perennial tail-enders, they are now solid midfield runners and can regularly expect to beat the likes of Williams, BMW Sauber and Toro Rosso. Vijay Mallya has succeeded where Alex Schnaider and Spyker failed.

A question mark remains over the driver lineup. I still find Adrian Sutil rather unimpressive. In his fourth season, surely we should be seeing more. And Vitantonio Liuzzi, while showing flashes of excellence, has generally failed to live up to expectations.

Force India also need to be careful that their progress up the grid does not come to a shuddering halt, with a mass exodus of their technical team having occurred this year. James Key has moved to assist in Sauber’s resurrection, while Mike Gascoyne has poached some of his ex-Force India colleagues to join him at Lotus. Looking at the five teams that are ahead of Force India in the Constructors’ Championship, it is difficult to see how they can make much more progress.

5. Mercedes

It hasn’t quite gone to plan for Mercedes. Seemingly fed up with McLaren, the manufacturer opted to buy the Brawn team that was so stunningly successful last season. Then, in a crass marketing stunt, they signed Michael Schumacher with much fanfare. Well, it’s all been a bit of a damp squib.

The car has not met up to expectations, and I have heard rumours that Ross Brawn is not too happy with the way Mercedes run the show (who knows if there is truth in that though).

For my money, Mercedes must have the worst driver line-up with the possible exception of Sauber. Nico Rosberg is relatively well rated. But let us face it — we all know there is still a question mark as to how good he really is. Meanwhile, it was clear to me from the very start that Michael Schumacher would be rusty, and his performances has fully justified my view.

It would have been much better for both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher if a more sensible driver was chosen. Schumacher could have kept his dignity in retirement; Rosberg could have learnt from a genuinely solid and reliable barometer. Someone like Nick Heidfeld, perhaps. Or, you know, Jenson Button or Rubens Barrichello…

4. Ferrari

It has similarly come apart for Ferrari. Although they showed promise at the start of the season, with a win in Bahrain (even if they didn’t quite have the outright pace). But since then the story has been one of a slow but steady decline as the season has progressed, as Ferrari have failed to keep up the pace of development, and as the Championship has increasingly focussed on Red Bull and McLaren whose cars are far superior.

The drivers have to take their fair share of the blame too. Fernando Alonso has been making many more mistakes than usual, and he is not as enjoyable to watch as he used to be. A worrying development for the person I consider to be the best driver of the past decade. Meanwhile, after a relatively bright start in Bahrain, Felipe Massa has seemed off-colour for most of the season.

3. Renault

They may be fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, and, yes, they have the fifth fastest car. But I have elevated Renault in my rankings because it is an astonishing comeback.

It is incredible to think that just a month ago, the Renault F1 Team was mired in the quite unsavoury scandal that became known as ‘crashgate’. Having lost its sponsors and its star driver in addition to its team principal and technical director, you would expect 2010 to be a rebuilding year for Renault.

But the rebuild was swift. The team has rebranded to focus on its racing heritage, feeling less like the team that descended from Benetton. It has a steady new boss in the shape of Eric Boullier, who I think is doing a fantastic job. And its new star driver, Robert Kubica, looks set to become the team’s long-term centrepiece.

Kubica is doing really well just now and seems happy — by his standards at least! Vitaly Petrov is a fair bit off his pace, but he has not disgraced himself in my view. It should be remembered that Petrov is the only rookie among even the midfield teams, never mind front-running teams — so he should be given a bit of room to breathe and develop.

2. Red Bull

Red Bull should be number 1 on this list. This ought to be their year. They came out this season with easily the fastest car. Their car is still easily the fastest car. They have two of the best drivers on the grid.

Unfortunately, the last little bit — professionalism, cohesion, restraint — that takes all these ingredients and turns an operation into a championship winning Formula 1 team is missing. If it isn’t some kind of reliability problem, it is a strategy goof, or the mother of all mismanagements.

Just now, Red Bull remind me of where McLaren were at a few years ago. Unable to control team mates. Bizarre strategy calls. Constantly walking into traps that they set up for themselves. Somehow conspiring to hoof it over the bar in the face of an open goal.

The statistics illustrate it well. Out of ten races, Red Bull have had nine pole positions, but have had just five wins. They lag behind McLaren in both championships. For a team that has what is probably comfortably the quickest car, Red Bull have managed to immensely stuff it up so far.

1. McLaren

McLaren have not been without their troubles this season. At the start of the season, it was clear that their car was not as quick as they would have liked. But the way they are dealing with it is the opposite to Red Bull, and that signals to me that they have learnt a lot from their difficult period in the mid-2000s.

As with Ferrari, they were scuppered by poor tactics during qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, severely compromising their race. Yet they still salvaged a fair points haul. Jenson Button did the same again at Silverstone a couple of weeks ago. Even when it goes wrong, McLaren sort it and get it right. McLaren is now more agile and astute in its strategy calls than it was two or three years ago.

Martin Whitmarsh has done an outstanding job to plug the few gaps in McLaren’s abilities that Ron Dennis left behind. Now McLaren are a formidable force that should never be underestimated.

McLaren’s pace of development alone makes them stand head and shoulders above the rest. The high-profile failure of their new blown diffuser at Silverstone is only really notable because it is so unusual for a new McLaren part to go wrong. Other teams have this sort of difficulty all the time. Witness the various botched attempts to adopt the F-duct, another part of the McLaren package that makes it the best of 2010 so far.

Then there are the drivers, who are both on song. Despite various figures constantly trying to goad them into a bloody deathmatch, they appear to get on like a house on fire.

Witness the difference between the McLaren team mates and their Red Bull counterparts at Turkey. McLaren’s drivers had a misunderstanding, but instead of blabbing to the media or making silly hand gestures, the drivers sorted it out with a quick chat after the race. Very professional. Lewis Hamilton’s and Jenson Button’s approach is a very healthy approach to racing all round.

That is what makes them championship winners, and today’s championship leaders. That is why McLaren are still the best team, even when they don’t necessarily have the best car.

In my previous article about the post-Bahrain backlash, I noted that I thought the main reason why people felt that the race was boring was down to something fully within Bernie Ecclestone’s control. It is the most important thing to the vast majority of fans, although in the rush to blame the presence of heavy fuel loads or front wings or whatever personal hobby-horse they have, many people have forgotten about the television coverage.

FOM feed the world

Nowadays, the “world feed” carried by every broadcaster for almost every race is produced by FOM, run by Bernie Ecclestone. (The only exceptions at the moment are the Monaco and Japanese Grands Prix, where the world feed is produced by Télé Monte Carlo and Fuji Television respectively.) This is generally a very good thing.

Until a few years ago, races were covered by local broadcasters, meaning that the quality of the coverage could vary quite wildly from race to race. I always remember the Japanese Grand Prix being particularly bad because so much time was spent on board with a below-average Japanese driver trundling around doing very little.

This situation was not helped by the fact that the quality of this standard feed was deliberately stunted while Bernie Ecclestone attempted to launch a premium digital television service, F1 Digital+. “Bernievision”, as it was called, was a very good product.

There were lots of innovations that improved the quality of the coverage, including some smart systems that could detect when an overtaking manoeuvre or a crash was about to happen. You can see this in action here, when the coverage automatically cuts to the on-board camera of Jacques Villeneuve just before he crashes into Ralf Schumacher during the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.

Unfortunately, the main problem with F1 Digital+ was that it was ahead of its time. The adventure began in 1996, at an impossibly early stage of the development of interactive television. There were teething problems in the early days, including an incredible clanger at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, where the “superior” product managed to completely miss the biggest crash in F1 history! But they learned over time and there were innovations aplenty. With the broadcasters struggling to make any money with it, the service was closed down in 2002.

Since then, the technology on which F1 Digital+ was based has been used on the standard world feed, which FOM have gradually taken over from the host broadcasters. This has brought about a noticeable improvement in the quality of coverage since 2004. Broadly, the pictures have been better. Incidents have been caught live more regularly, and replays have been shown quickly. The information displayed on the on-screen graphics has also improved considerably.

But after reaching a peak in quality three or four years ago, FOM’s coverage has stagnated. Many times, innovations have been brought to the coverage, only to be used sparingly, and eventually disappear.

For instance, whatever happened to the tyre temperature indicators that were used once or twice a few years ago? Why do we no longer often see the graphics comparing the telemetry of two drivers racing side-by-side? What has happened to the thermal images?

Why don’t FOM buy some of those awesome super slo-mo cameras instead of just using the ones in Germany? Why is line comparison only ever used during practice, and even then not very often? Why isn’t more use made of the graphics that show the position of drivers on a map of the circuit?

The poor usability of FOM’s new graphics

Things are not totally stagnant at FOM though. At Bahrain, they unleashed a new set of graphics. It has to be said straight away that they are very good looking, and with a few tweaks will work very well. However, at the moment there are some major flaws with them.

The font appears to be a version of DIN. This is a bold, clear and readable font.

However, FOM have made a mistake by choosing to display the drivers’ names in all uppercase. It is known that all-uppercase is more difficult to read. Often readers look at the shape of words rather than the individual letters. This is much more difficult when capital letters are all the same height and many are roughly square-shaped. It is thought that it may even increase the amount of time spent reading by as much as 20 per cent.

Then there is the odd slanting of the lower-third graphics. I see what they are trying to do, by echoing the slant of the Formula 1 logo. But while it looks stylish, it is pretty painful if you want to actually try and read it!

Example of FOM's new graphics

As you can see, unlike a normal table, the text is not aligned to allow for easy comparison of figures down the column. Instead, you have to read down and to the left. Slanting is one thing, but if you are going to slant one way, slant towards the right! We read from left to right. Effectively reading from right to left (and then switching back to left to right to actually read the information!) is completely counter-intuitive. I know Bernie Ecclestone is keen to take Formula 1 to new markets in Asia, but making us read from right to left really is going a step too far!

The graphics also animate on rather extravagantly. This is particularly irritating with the graphics that update as each driver crosses the line. Each driver’s name and time now takes a while to animate on. But when cars are passing through so quickly, this is vital reading time lost. The new graphics really are a bad case of style over substance.

Example (a rare one) of FOM's tower graphics There was also a large outcry over the fact that the ‘tower’ graphics — which display a list of positions down the left hand side of the screen — appear to have been done away with. Although the tower made a couple of appearances during the race, it really is much more useful during qualifying, where positions change much more rapidly.

During the commentary, Jonathan Legard mentioned that the BBC had received plenty of complaints about the disappearance of the tower, although the content of the world feed is beyond the BBC’s control. For commentators to start bemoaning the poor quality of the world feed once again shows how much of a backward step FOM have taken lately.

On the plus side, there were a couple of interesting new additions as a result of the renewed emphasis on the speed of pitstops. The pitstop time graphic now shows the length of time spent in the pitlane as well as the amount of time spent stationary. However, the stationary time displays only after the driver has exited the pitlane. Why not reveal this first?

They also get the thumbs up for finally switching the lap counter so that it counts up rather than down. I generally like the new graphics, but they have some major flaws just now. With a bit of tweaking, it will look great and work well. But I do wonder what FOM were thinking of when they made some of these decisions.

Too much action was missed

But, of course, the design of the graphics is small beer compared with the actual pictures themselves — and it is here that I think FOM are particularly letting themselves down just now. A few years ago I was amazed at how much action they caught live. Today, I find myself with difficult believing how little action they catch — and how few replays they show.

For instance, what actually happened to Karun Chandhok? We know he binned it, but how? All FOM showed us was his slightly smashed-up car. A replay of the event was never shown. Did their cameras completely miss it?

Moreover, the BBC’s post-race ‘forum’ showed several replays from the on-board channels that brought to light much more action than FOM showed us. Nico Hülkenberg’s first lap was rather eventful, but FOM showed very little of it.

Another on-board shot, not shown on the world feed, revealed how Felipe Massa squeezed Lewis Hamilton early on in the lap. This was totally missed by FOM, and caught all viewers, and even apparently the pundits, by surprise when the BBC showed it later.

And why were viewers never given the full story of the mêlée caused in the midfield as a result of Mark Webber’s blue smoke on lap 1? And, for that matter, why was so little attention paid to the recoveries by Adrian Sutil and Robert Kubica, who made their way back up through the field following that lap 1 incident?

I have to admit that I am baffled. The race was allegedly “boring”, so there was plenty of time to show replays of interesting incidents, but clearly the opportunity was passed up. Why?

The whole style of FOM’s product has become rather stale, clinical and formulaic as well. While a few years ago the feed contained interesting shots of the cars and the circuit. Now there is a greater emphasis on wide shots of the venue. While these shots are attractive, they do not showcase the race.

The coverage of last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a prime example. There were so many wide shots that it was often difficult to pick out the cars. It felt like most of the time was spent looking at the giant sparkly hotel that looks a bit like a rude sex toy rather than the race itself. And the final lap lunge by Jenson Button on Mark Webber was missed by the cameras!

You can see the moment on this video, at 2:30. Also watch out for when the cars out out of shot when Robert Kubica is battling with Sébastien Buemi at around 1:40, so we don’t properly see what Kubica really did.

It is worth noting that the FIA obviously thought that FOM had done such a good job of producing an uber-slick but ultra-dull feed that they awarded the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix an award for the best television coverage. I thought it stuck out as a particularly poor performance from FOM. It was another triumph of style over substance. I guess they were trying to trumpet this new grand prix, when it was widely recognised to be an underwhelming circuit that produced a rather dull race.

When will HD finally come?

I feel as though FOM have almost given up on improving the television product. F1 is supposed to be the most technologically advanced sport in the world, yet it is still not even broadcast in HD. It is probably the last major sport in the world to only offer an SD feed, and before you know it 3D will have come along by the time F1 goes HD.

Fuji Television are prepared to produce an HD feed for the Japanese Grand Prix (although this is only shown in Japan). I also noticed people praising the Japanese GP coverage for its interesting shots and pretty solid coverage. But Fuji were once universally recognised as one of the worst of the host broadcasters back in the bad old days.

Fuji really have upped their game in the past couple of years. It is notable that we can actually now compare Fuji with FOM and say that Fuji may actually be better. Certainly, Fuji provide a welcome breath of fresh air to F1 coverage when every other race is presented using the formulaic approach that has increasingly been taken by FOM.


Screengrabs nicked from stefmeister. If you are as much of a geek as me about both Formula 1 and television presentation, I highly recommend the F1 coverage thread on Digital Spy.

25. Nelsinho Piquet

I don’t think there is much need to justify why I have placed Piquet at the bottom of the list. Suffice it to say that I hope he never races competitively again.

24. Sébastien Bourdais

Sébastien Bourdais spent the 2008 season explaining that we should wait to judge him until the return of slicks in 2009. Slicks came in 2009. He has been duly judged.

23. Romain Grosjean

I feel a little bit sorry for Romain Grosjean. He was thrown into as difficult a situation as it is possible to imagine. Having done no testing whatsoever, he became Renault’s second driver just in time for a massive scandal involving Renault’s previous second driver to envelop the team. He didn’t perform very well, but they were exceptionally difficult circumstances in my view.

22. Kazuki Nakajima

I thought Nakajima did a good job in 2008, but 2009 was a huge disappointment. His main achievement of the season was to qualify an admittedly impressive 5th place for the British Grand Prix. However, his race was poor and he finished 11th. Way to hoof it over the bar.

21. Jaime Alguersuari

As with the other drivers who were expected to hit the ground running mid-season, Alguersuari was disadvantaged by the fact that he had done no testing. It may also be said that he was brought into F1 too quickly by the impatient Red Bull driver development juggernaut. While he was British F3 Champion of 2008, he was having a moderate season in World Series by Renault and may have befitted from some extra time to develop his skills away from the intense spotlight of F1. As a result, Alguersuari spent a lot of his time crashing or being rather unspectacular.

20. Adrian Sutil

I do wish Adrian Sutil could show us something — anything — that would once and for all conclude that he fully deserves a place in F1. He does show flashes of potential, but contrives to throw his chances away. He could have had a decent points finish in China if he had been more careful in the worsening weather conditions. And he has gained a reputation for being involved in a lot of needless crashes. His crash with Nick Heidfeld in Singapore following a needless spin was particularly unnecessary. This was made all the worse by the fact that he pulled off a frighteningly similar manoeuvre in Japan at the following race. His performance in Belgium looked poor in comparison with his team mate who battled for the win all race long. The main saving grace was a fourth place in Italy.

19. Luca Badoer

Yes, Luca Badoer was massively disappointing as the substitute for Felipe Massa at Ferrari. However, as I have written before, he had a harder job than anyone else on the grid, being expected to become instantly competitive after 10 years away from racing. Given the circumstances, I think Luca Badoer performed quite admirably. It is not as though Fisichella could do much more in that Ferrari — and he didn’t have the excuse of being out of practice for a decade.

18. Sébastien Buemi

I think Buemi did a decent job overall in 2009, although it’s difficult to remember any real stand-out moments. He should have another year in F1, but ought to show more in 2010 in order to justify his continued presence on the grid.

17. Heikki Kovalainen

2009 was another disappointing year for Heikki Kovalainen. The Finn was totally outclassed by his team mate all season long, and never looked like a driver who deserves to be driving for a team as good as McLaren. He seems competent enough, but clearly lacks the hunger and seems incapable of putting in a truly great performance.

16. Vitantonio Liuzzi

Liuzzi made his long-overdue return to the cockpit in a Force India this year. He did a great job at his first race back in Monza, but was slightly disappointing for the remainder of the season. 2010 will be a very important year for his career — it’s make or break time for Liuzzi.

15. Kamui Kobayashi

Kamui Kobayashi was notable for being the one rookie who grabbed your attention. He had only two races, but he made a huge impression on the F1 world. He was ballsy and aggressive, and provided some hugely entertaining racing, particularly against Jenson Button! The downside to this was that he overstepped the line once or twice, particularly when he caused a crash with Nakajima in Brazil. I also doubt whether the driver that races for Sauber in 2010 will show the same hunger. In these two races, Kobayashi had nothing to lose and so took the necessary risks. In 2010 it might all be very different.

14. Giancarlo Fisichella

At the beginning of the season, Giancarlo Fisichella continued in the trajectory his career has generally taken — downwards. The season began ignominiously when he missed his pit box in Australia. There were even rumours that Force India were less than impressed, and were looking to replace him. Then came the rumours that Ferrari were looking to Fisichella as the replacement for the struggling Luca Badoer. Bang on cue, Fisichella put in one of the drives of his life. With his Force India car on song at Spa, he really should have won the race were it not for the kers of the Ferrari car he was about to step into. Once he’d secured his dream drive for Ferrari, it was back to business as usual as he lurched from disappointment to deeper disappointment.

13. Robert Kubica

Robert Kubica was unable to shine this year in the difficult BMW car. Matters were not helped by his height, which was a major disadvantage when BMW tried to run with kers. He took a while to score his first points of the season, and was behind his team mate in the Drivers’ Championship all year. The main consolation was a superb second place finish in Brazil. I hope that Renault can produce a good car for him next year — he deserves a better chance than this.

12. Nick Heidfeld

It was a difficult year for Nick Heidfeld. The BMW car was a massive disappointment and it must have been quite a demoralising season for Nick Heidfeld. Nevertheless, he managed to grab a handful of points, including a second place in the curtailed Malaysian race. He also did a better job at scoring points than Robert Kubica. I deeply hope Heidfeld gets a drive for next season.

11. Jarno Trulli

For a long time, I have disliked Jarno Trulli. However, grudgingly, I have to admit that he did a fairly good job in 2009, despite the Toyota team’s best efforts to throw it all away. Two third place finishes near the start of the season reflected the performance of the car. But his second place in Japan was truly impressive.


Come back tomorrow to read my top ten.

I must confess to being rather perplexed by Toyota’s stance in the driver market over the past couple of months. It may be correct that neither Jarno Trulli nor Timo Glock have the potential to truly set the world alight. But neither are they complete disasters. In fact, they are both rather competent.

Even though he has a tendency to fade away during races, Trulli is very quick over one lap and brings with him a wealth of experience that very few alternative drivers would be able to offer. He has also had a couple of highly impressive results this year, including an convincing 2nd place in Japan. But, fair enough, he’s a poor racer, so I could understand Toyota ditching Trulli in favour of another experienced driver or an exciting young talent.

But to, at the same time, appear to be absolutely desperate to also get rid of Timo Glock seems absolutely bonkers to me. Glock’s real talent remains to be seen. He has never won a race, and he tends to qualify poorly — but often races extraordinarily well. In this sense, he is almost a mirror-image of Trulli.

It is worth remembering, though, that Glock is still relatively young and therefore has a lot of potential to improve. I thought his 2nd place finish in Singapore was a hugely promising sign, in addition to some other impressive performances this season.

Yet, Toyota appear to be totally nonchalant about his potential, even on the back of that result in Singapore. Ever since then, they have contrived to replace him with Kamui Kobayashi, a Japanese Toyota protégé but an unknown quantity. He supposedly had a cold in Japan, so was replaced during Friday Practice at Suzuka. But no-one saw that Glock had much of a sniffle.

Then, since his qualifying crash the following day, he has been forced to sit out as a result of “cracked vertebrae”. But eyebrows are raised as Glock happily walks around the place. Phantom colds and injuries — it is almost as though Toyota’s doctor has been slipped a tenner to fabricate reasons for Glock to sit out the rest of the season.

Of course, Glock’s impact was mighty hefty, so he could well be injured and sitting out as a precaution. But it is very convenient that it should open the door for precisely what Toyota appear to have wanted, which was to put Kobayashi in the car ASAP.

Toyota have been in a strange position during this year’s Silly Season. They have been positioning themselves rather oddly. Experienced journalists are reading between the lines and saying that it’s because they will not be in F1 next year, despite having committed until 2012 by signing the Concorde Agreement. This is further underlined by the fact that Williams’s engine deal with Toyota has been terminated a year early.

Joe Saward has an excellent post today analysing the situation. Toyota leaving F1 is the worst-case scenario. The best-case scenario seems to be having a reduced budget next season. Since at least September, there has been talk of the Toyota F1 team having a massively slashed budget for next season.

For a number of months, Toyota boss John Howett has been talking down the chances of Jarno Trulli racing for the team next season. The claim is that Trulli is asking for too much money.

Why a team that is so low on money would go on to court Kimi Räikkönen of all people remains to be explained. Räikkönen has openly scoffed at the offer, by ruling out every team bar McLaren as a destination for next season. Quite right too. Räikkönen would be better off driving a bus than driving a Toyota F1 car.

No doubt Räikkönen is a better driver than Jarno Trulli or Timo Glock. Despite question marks over his motivation, at least Räikkönen has proved that he can do it. But let us face it — Toyota are living in a dream world if they think they can attract a driver of Kimi’s calibre for a cut-down price.

I was flabbergasted to read what John Howett had to say about his current drivers, who I think have done a good enough job this season:

We like Timo very much, he did a great job, but still we have a car that is more regularly capable of being on the podium and much closer to the top this year. We are not delivering, and there are things beyond the team and the chassis itself.

It is not difficult to decode Howett’s message. Don’t blame the car, blame the drivers. That is despite the fact that Toyota — in their eight seasons in Formula 1 — have never even looked close to having a car capable of winning an F1 race.

I also think that it is a bit rich of Toyota to complain about its drivers. They have always behaved a bit strangely when it came to their drivers. This is the team that did away with the promising partnership of Mika Salo and Allan McNish after just one season, for no good reason. This is the team whose most sophisticated driver choice was to hire a boy called Ralf then parade around the place saying “Schumacher drives for us!”, which at least pleased the marketing men.

Jarno Trulli is rightly miffed about John Howett’s stance.

Now I don’t know whether Toyota really wants to retain me or not. And with someone trying to denigrate me through the press… I’ve read many incorrect things about me. I haven’t spoken with the team about my contract for at least two months. So, either someone is playing dirty or maybe this person has been misquoted. But I keep calm and good.

Meanwhile, while Timo Glock has been lying in his “sick bed”, negotiations with Toyota for a drive next season are said to have completely collapsed.

So what are Toyota playing at? Do they seriously believe that replacing known quantities such as Trulli and Glock with the likes of Kobayashi, Nakajima or Sutil will pave the way for a more successful future? If so, I am sure they are the only ones in the world who believe it.

If Joe Saward is right, and this is all a final desperate attempt for the Toyota F1 employees to keep the gravy train running, they are surely only ensuring a bigger death a year or two down the line.

If Toyota leave, good riddance I say. Throughout their entire existence, I have found them to be easily the least likeable team on the grid by a long shot. Their behaviour this season has only further underlined my impression that Toyota is an entity that has no place in F1 and wouldn’t succeed in a million years.

I love the Brazilian Grand Prix. It is a unique circuit — not only anti-clockwise, but uniquely short in the same way you might think of Spa-Francorchamps as being uniquely long.

It is also special because it has now comprehensively replaced Suzuka as the proper place to settle a World Championship, particularly due to its useful time slot. It is on prime time on European television. That is another unique aspect of Brazil, due to the lack of North American races this year.

So it was most fitting that Jenson Button managed to seal the deal in Interlagos, even when it seemed further out of his grasp than ever. A disastrous qualifying session sent us off the scent. The only saving grace was that Vettel’s was almost as bad. But his main rival Barrichello was on pole at his home race.

Unfortunately for Barrichello, he never gets any good luck at Interlagos, even when he is doing well. I will never forget the tragedy of his car breaking down in 1999 while he looked like he could win the race driving for Stewart. His bad luck struck again.

After a strong first stint which he led with relatively little challenge, he somehow managed to lose the plot by failing to push hard enough at the start of his second stint, handing the lead to Mark Webber. Later in the race came his tangle with Lewis Hamilton, which resulted in a puncture for Barrichello.

(Apparently Lewis Hamilton can’t go to Interlagos without having an eventful time. Hats off to him for ploughing his way up to a 3rd place finish from 17th on the grid.)

In normal circumstances, therefore, we would normally be talking about Mark Webber’s fabulous win. And Pink Peril was right to point it out in the comments to my previous article. Mark Webber did a great job — the one person who managed to do well in both qualifying and the race.

He certainly had a better weekend than the Red Bull driver who needed it, Vettel. It was suspected that Red Bull would do well thanks to the “testing” Webber was able to do at Suzuka. Sadly we didn’t see much of Webber’s race because the television cameras were more focussed on the Championship protagonists.

As for the Championship winner, Jenson Button, I would say he had the race of his season — possibly even the race of his life. It really is as though his bad qualifying performance gave him the kick up the backside he needed. I read one story today which said that after his poor qualifying, he texted his mum to say, “Don’t worry mum, we’re going to kick some butt.” She replied, “Good, go and kick some butt.”

It was as though a barrier had been passed. Button was no longer defending his lead, as he had been since the start of the season. The tide had turned so far that he now had to attack to win. And attack he did!

His aggressive and ballsy driving was captivating to watch. He was already 9th by the end of lap one. Once the Safety Car period was over, he was ready to line up Romain Grosjean, and in the process took a risk by going round the outside. I thought Grosjean did a solid job when racing side-by-side for two or three corners against Button. Button put a lot of faith in the inexperienced Grosjean not to do something silly. But both came out of the fight looking good.

Within a lap, Button got past Kazuki Nakajima in a rather risky move at the Senna S. Several laps later, also into the Senna S, he finally got past Kamui Kobayashi who was in his first race. After that, as the pitstop strategies shook out, Button found himself looking good.

There has been some criticism of Kobayashi’s driving, particularly weaving in the braking zones. Certainly he pushed it too far later on in the race when he was involved in a high-speed accident with Nakajima. But his defensive driving against Button impressed me and suggests that Kobayashi has promise, even though he wasn’t particularly good in GP2 (like Nakajima).

While there was some decent racing going on for most of the race, the majority of the action came on the first lap which was rather crazy. My theory is that they just decided to do a Wacky Races thing because it was on prime time.

First there was the accident which brought an end to the races of Adrian Sutil, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. Alonso was so placid about it that the BBC’s commentators did not even notice him at first. He just trudged nonchalantly into his lift. I sense that he really has just been going through the motions, awaiting his big chance in a red car before exerting himself once again.

Little wonder Alonso went by unnoticed, because Jarno Trulli was running up to Sutil and gesticulated in quite a threatening manner. I am struggling to remember the last time I saw a driver so angry. It looked like it was going to turn into this sort of moment!

I am struggling to see what Trulli was so worked up about. Maybe Sutil could have left Trulli some more room, but I think Trulli was optimistic trying to overtake him there anyway. And it is not as if Sutil drove into Trulli. In fact, before Trulli loses control of his car you can see Sutil clearly make an attempt to steer away from Trulli to give him more space.

It was a racing incident in my book. But the accident that resulted was quite a high-speed one, which I guess is why Trulli was so rattled.

Then there was the pitlane fire, when Heikki Kovalainen drove off with the fuel hose still attached. It wasn’t Kovalainen’s fault — he was instructed to leave, but the fuel hose was still attached.

I really am confused as to why we get so many more of these incidents these days. I can’t remember ever seeing a driver leaving with his fuel hose still attached until Jenson Button did it at Imola in 2006. Since then there have been several, from Christijan Albers (who was effectively sacked for it), to Massa in Singapore last year and Alguersuari in Singapore this year, to Kovalainen now. And I’m sure there are one or two more that have slipped my mind.

The increasing frequency of these incidents is quite alarming, particularly when so much attention was given to Ferrari’s pit lane incidents in 2008. Surely teams and drivers must be more aware than ever of the possibility, and it is just bizarre that it keeps on happening over and over again now.

Massive, massive kudos to Kimi Räikkönen for driving through the fire which resulted from Kovalainen’s premature pit box exit. The fuel was more or less being sprayed into his face, and flames briefly exploded all around him. Yet he kept his foot down and kept driving.

After the race, he said his eyes were still burning! Yet he plodded on. As far as I’m concerned he could have been blinded by that sort of thing. He must have huge balls. And people say he doesn’t have motivation.

One last thing to mention — Robert Kubica. He finished 2nd, his best result of the season, after starting 8th. He had a great restart when the Safety Car pulled in — he was right on top of Nico Rosberg and passed as soon as he could. I am sorry that Kubica has not been able to show more of his talent this year. I hope Renault can build him the car he deserves.

Next we head to the brand new circuit in Abu Dhabi. The last time the Championship was decided before the final race of the season was in 2005. Then we were treated to one of the best Grands Prix there has ever been, the breathtaking 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. Maybe the same end-of-term atmosphere can spice up Abu Dhabi, which aside from the gimmicky pitlane exit looks like it will be another bland Tilke operation.

This won’t take long.

First of all, it is worth pointing out just how awesome Sebastian Vettel was at Suzuka. At this “drivers’ circuit” which suited the Red Bull car down to the ground, Vettel was untouchable.

An error meant that instead of the normal on board channel, the BBC broadcast the on board camera of Vettel only for a large part of the race. Although this meant being unable to see any other cars on board, it provided an opportunity to watch an up-and-coming master at work. I can tell you he was definitely pushing hard, and to my mind he almost lost his car at Degner 2 twice. And they are only the moments I saw.

Vettel’s awe-inspiring dominance was in stark contrast to the other three Red Bull drivers in a weekend that promised so much. Even the Toro Rosso, which has been at the back for almost all of the season, looked like it had awesome pace. Unfortunately, its two rookie drivers both made a bit of a hash of things multiple times each throughout the weekend, meaning the potential came to nothing.

Webber also had a tough weekend after a big crash in Saturday Practice which left him with no car to qualify with. Having started from the pitlane, he then suffered a litany of problems forcing him to pit three times in quick succession. As a result, the race ended with one Red Bull dominating, and the three others footing the result sheet.

Beyond that, there is not much to say about the race. Jarno Trulli did a good job, which he does once or twice a year. But it’s not the sort of thing that would impress me enough to hire him. Maybe the new Lotus team will think differently.

For my money, the best action of the race came from Heikki Kovalainen. Firstly, there was his tangle with Adrian Sutil which appears to have divided opinion. I think it was a racing incident — Sutil was probably too optimistic to go for it, but Kovalainen was probably too eager to close the door abruptly having left it wide open in the first place.

But if that was a bad move from Kovalainen, he more than made it up with his gutsy and opportunistic overtaking manoeuvre on Giancarlo Fisichella while they were both coming out of the pits. I let out a yelp and probably woke up half the street at that time of the morning, as I thought it was going to end up as a huge accident. In the end, it turned out well for Kovalainen and I was left impressed. It is the only ballsy thing I can ever remember him doing. But it’s probably too late to save his career at an established team.

It says a lot about the state of F1 at the moment that the biggest talking point of the weekend was the way penalties were dealt with. Eight drivers were penalised after qualifying. Most were for ignoring yellow flags after Sébastien Buemi’s accident, another was for blocking and others changed gearboxes and chassis.

This left the entire world scratching its head as to what the actual grid might be. Apparently several permutations were doing the rounds, while the FIA decided to sleep on it and published the grid just hours before the race began. Seemingly this is not a case of the Random Penalty Generator — it all seems above board, with the grid having been determined as it should be by the letter of the law. But clearly this is a system that fails the fans. We watch qualifying to find out what the starting grid will be, only to tune into the race finding that the stewards have changed it.

Then there is the case of the investigation into Nico Rosberg failing to observe the lap delta times under Safety Car conditions. It transpires that Rosberg was unable to know what his target time was because the message was overridden by a low fuel message from the standard ECU. Given that McLaren Electronic Systems designed the ECU, my first thought was that this was a particularly elaborate way of penalising McLaren for the incident.

In all seriousness though, this just sums up how Formula 1 has been swallowed up by an officious governing body more interested in rules than racing. The Safety Car rules have become so ridiculously complex in the past few years, mirroring the crisis that hit qualifying a few years ago when several formats were tried out in quick succession.

I suspected that Nico Rosberg knew he was guilty of driving too quickly under Safety Car conditions when he conducted an evasive interview on the BBC after the race. When questioned, he would only say that he didn’t gain an advantage. When asked if he was within the rules, he only said “I definitely did what I should do”.

As it transpires, he probably had good reason to be coy given that it seems as though he simply did not have the information that should have been displayed, even if it meant he technically broke the rules. In that light, it is fair to let Rosberg off on this instance, but he shouldn’t even have been in this position in the first place.

Now we are left with the tantalising prospect of Sebastian Vettel making a Räikkönen-esque comeback. James Allen says that a mental block has been passed, with Vettel now within 16 points of Button with two races to go. That is closer than Räikkönen was with two races to go in 2007.

It still seems like a long shot, but if the momentum is going anywhere it is not towards Button. All of a sudden, the pressure looks like it’s all on Jenson Button.

There is not a great deal to say about the racing at the Marina Bay Street Circuit this weekend. With the novelty of the night race concept having worn off, Singapore’s street circuit revealed itself to be on a par with Valencia’s in terms of on-track boredom.

That is not to say there aren’t a few talking points. Even though the race was quite insipid in many ways, there is little insipid about the podium. Lewis Hamilton put in a solid, though uneventful, performance to take a well-deserved second win of the season.

But I was most interested to watch the interview with his team mate, Heikki Kovalainen, after the race. Amid the latest rumours that Kimi Räikkönen is heading back to McLaren, Kovalainen is on the back foot. He needs to put in better performances in order to prove to McLaren and other teams that he deserves to be employed. But his demeanour after the race said it all — he sounded like a driver who realised he had been found out. 7th isn’t really good enough when the car is capable of winning.

Full credit must go to Timo Glock for finishing second. It is true that he largely inherited this position as a result of the woes of drivers in front: drive-through penalties for Rosberg and Vettel, and brake failure for Webber. But he was there to capitalise, having done well to qualify sixth when quite frankly to my eyes the car looked horrible on Friday. His team-mate Trulli, meanwhile, finished a lowly 12th.

Fernando Alonso obviously likes the circuit and scored the best result of the season at the same point where Renault’s fortunes turned last year. The Renault hasn’t looked capable of finishing on the podium all season. And Alonso has seemed strangely off-key to me this year. But he did it this time round, and caused a stir by dedicating his podium finish to Flavio Briatore. Some are interpreting it as a parting shot; others the human reaction of a man who has lost the boss who helped make him successful.

Whatever, it seems increasingly clear that his move to Ferrari for 2010 has been secured, with the rumour mill frantically suggesting that an announcement will come at Suzuka this coming weekend. Perhaps that is the reason why Alonso’s fire in the belly has returned to allow him to finish third.

Then we come to the title protagonists. Red Bull had another nightmare weekend which has pretty much hammered the last nail into the coffin for their championship hopes. All four Red Bull cars seemed to be suffering from brake issues, with such a failure making Webber’s race end in the barrier. Vettel could have had a much better result were it not for a drive-through for speeding in the pitlane, something which Vettel is adamant he has not done. In that context, fourth is a pretty impressive result for him.

As for Brawn, they salvaged something from what threatened to be a disaster. It seemed to be an up and down weekend for them. They seemed happy on Friday, but Button began complaining vociferously during Saturday Practice. Then both Brawns struggled in Qualifying, culminating in Barrichello’s session-ending crash. Ross Brawn declared qualifying to be disastrous.

As it was, they put in an okay performance during the race to finish 5th and 6th. Most importantly, Brawn have practically sealed up the Constructors’ Championship.

Meanwhile, Jenson Button has extended his Drivers’ Championship lead for the first time since Turkey. He edged further ahead of Barrichello by just one point, but with just three races to go, it looks like a tall order if anyone is to overhaul Button’s 15 point lead.

Maybe that makes the Championship boring now, which is perhaps why my eyes glazed over during that period in the middle of the race when nothing seemed to be happening. It has been an interesting season, but not an exciting one. Fair enough — we have had plenty of exciting seasons over the past few years and were perhaps overdue a dodgy one.

I am very much looking forward to the next race at Suzuka though. F1 finally returns to this classic circuit after three years, and it will surely provide a better class of show than the gimmicky Marina Bay circuit.

Just a final word about Adrian Sutil. What a chump. Fair play to him for trying to overtake someone, but his was a foul-up of Coulthard-esque proportions. Indeed, the entire incident was reminiscent of Coulthard’s attempt to overtake at Valencia last year.

But from my perspective, Sutil’s attempted move on Alguersuari was never on in a month of Sundays, and his determination to keep the throttle floored while in a spin was a stupid move when there was oncoming traffic. You have to feel sorry for Nick Heidfeld, who had his amazing run of consecutive finishes brought to a cruel end by a driver who should know better. Sutil’s $20,000 fine seems hefty, but I don’t feel much sympathy.