This is the second part of my mid-season report on the drivers’ performances so far. Read the first part here
11. Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel is now widely regarded as one of F1’s hottest young talents. While some still have their doubts, I am in the camp that fancies Vettel for at least some kind of moderate success. Time will tell whether he is the new Alonso. In the meantime he needs to get into a better car, fast.
The young German has endured some tough times at Toro Rosso. Although the chassis is effectively the same as Red Bull’s, and the lump is a Ferrari, obviously the team (formerly Minardi, remember) is not quite up to the job in terms of preparation. Also, the team raced with a year-old car for the first five races. So Vettel did well to qualify 9th in Australia. When he got his hands on the new car he did a great job to salvage what was a rotten weekend by finishing an excellent 5th at Monaco. Another highlight was qualifying 8th in Britain.
10. Rubens Barrichello
The most experienced F1 driver of all time still has some life in him yet. If anything, he seems to be on the up. His most recent result was a solid 3rd place in the treacherous conditions of Silverstone, which could well have been 2nd were it not for a pitlane blunder. That follows a pair of back-to-back points finishes in Monaco and Canada.
This season has not been without its faults. Notably, he threw away a decent race result in Australia by running through the red light in the pitlane and getting disqualified. However, he has amassed a haul of 11 points so far this season in what is generally considered to be a terrible car. Barrichello currently stands in a highly creditable 10th position in the championship.
9. Heikki Kovalainen
I have to admit that I have been disappointed in Kovalainen so far this season. It is true that he has had a horrendous, Webber-esque run of bad luck this season. You can mention the wheel problem in Spain which caused a horrific accident, the electrical glitch at Monaco, the puncture in Turkey and the Safety Car in Australia. All of these and more have thwarted Kovalainen this season.
And yet, when he has not had so much bad luck, he has not really looked on the pace. I still don’t understand why he was so far off the pace in Canada. And he simply could not cope with the wet conditions in Silverstone anything like Hamilton could. Yes, he took pole position in Silverstone. But I think the fact that people applaud him for grabbing pole position in the fastest car says it all.
Ron Dennis says Kovalainen needs to be re-built after his year at Renault. Let’s hope the process doesn’t take too long.
8. Fernando Alonso
For Alonso’s many fans in Spain, this season must be difficult to endure. It is painful to see such a great driver not have the equipment he needs to get results. The Renault is, by all accounts, a terrible car. Alonso should therefore be commended for grabbing the odd result here and there. 4th in Australia and 6th in Turkey and Britain are his highlights of the year. It looks like his chances of getting a podium this year, never mind a win, are very slim indeed.
I really like Alonso, so it’s sad to see him in this situation. I sense that Alonso is rather down in the dumps about this situation and is rather nonchalant about Renault ever improving. He has lapsed in concentration a couple of times this year. And when he’s been on the attack he has sometimes curiously lacked judgement, such as when he crashed into Heidfeld trying to overtake at the Grand Hotel hairpin — a move that was never going to stick in a month of Sundays.
7. Jarno Trulli
It is unusual for me to praise Jarno Trulli. I thought he was finished, really. But this season he has had some very strong results, outshining Timo Glock almost all of the time. He gained a podium in France completely on merit (McLaren penalties notwithstanding), and it could well have been 2nd if Kimi had been called in with that dangerous flapping exhaust like he should have.
Trulli’s season has not been error-free. In fact, he seems to be making a habit of spinning a lot. But that is during practice when it doesn’t matter. Come race day, he is prepared to pick up the points. He has only retired once all season, and that was in the first race and due to an electrical failure. Trulli is not the greatest of drivers, but he looks to be bang on form right at the moment despite his advancing age.
6. Nick Heidfeld
Nick Heidfeld has endured an unusually difficult season. His qualifying performances in particular have been off-colour, as he grapples with a sudden inability to get heat into his tyres properly. He has worked hard to sort out the problem though, and his latest qualifying session has seen an upswing when he qualified 5th (compared to an average grid position this season of 8.22). That was the first time all season he has out-qualified team-mate Robert Kubica.
Despite a generally disappointing season so far, Heidfeld has not been without his moments. A well-deserved 2nd place in Canada was ruined only by the fact that Kubica won the race. He finished second in the horrendous conditions at Silverstone, and another second place was amassed in Australia. He is a solid 5th place in the championship, just ten points behind Kubica — which is much less than you might think.
5. Felipe Massa
Massa had the worst possible start to the season when he spun in two races in a row. This prompted questions about his ability to drive without traction control. Commendably, under immense pressure, he turned up the wick at the Bahrain Grand Prix. This prompted a run of great results: two more wins, a 2nd and a 3rd. Only an errant 5th place in Canada ruined the run. That put him right back into contention, as he was able to capitalise on the mistakes and misfortunes of Räikkönen and Hamilton.
But his performance in Britain left a lot to be desired to say the least. Massa has never been the strongest of wet weather drivers, but he was positively embarrassing in Britain. When Webber spun, the Australian ploughed his way through the field. Massa just trundled round at the back. Massa went on to have four more spins.
Massa seems to be good enough when it’s all going his way. But if there is the slightest problem, he seems unable to cope with it.
4. Mark Webber
While his team-mate David Coulthard has been having a tough time of it in the midfield, Mark Webber has grabbed the (Red) Bull by the horns and collected serious handfuls of points. His bad luck has finally evaporated and the numbers say it all: five consecutive points finishes (a personal record), along with an extra one in France. A best result of 4th doesn’t top Coulthard’s podium, but Webber now has the consistency that Red Bull need to collect those precious championship points.
Webber is now the only driver of the midfield that you can reasonably expect to be battling for the points race-in, race-out. An awesome front row grid slot in Silverstone underlines the fact that Webber is in great form at the moment and can reasonably be described as the ‘best of the rest’ behind BMW.
3. Lewis Hamilton
It’s been a very topsy-turvy season for Hamilton. He has had some amazing high points — the unexpected win in Australia, and dominant wet-weather performances in the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix and his home race at Silverstone. But the low points have been very, very low. He suffered the world’s most embarrassing incidence of fat fingers in Bahrain and proceeded to crash into the back of Alonso, so impatient he was to make his way through the field. His crash in the pitlane in Canada was simply unforgivable. And a so-so performance in France led to the British media to heap the criticism on top of him.
This year Hamilton has a great chance of winning the championship. He just needs to cut out the silly errors and he will be unstoppable. He is finally showing the signs of maturity that demonstrate that he will be able to do this.
2. Kimi Räikkönen
Like Hamilton, Räikkönen has made his fair share of mistakes this season. He looked incredibly off-colour in the season opener in Australia and also in Monaco. This has led to yet more speculation about his future, as it is said his heart is no longer in Formula 1 and the motivation has gone.
Nonetheless, it is notable that even in Australia and Monaco he finished 8th and 9th. Some F1 drivers at the back would give their right arm for those positions to be their worst performances. His one and only retirement in Canada was not his fault, as it was caused by Hamilton crashing into the back of him in the pitlane. You also have to applaud him for bringing a very sick car home in 2nd in France. Räikkönen simply cannot be written off and he has a great shout of winning his second WDC in a row.
1. Robert Kubica
I think we should give this man a nickname: Robot Kubica. He is simply flawless! Well okay, not quite flawless. He spun off in the wet conditions in Silverstone. But many drivers did, and Kubica was effectively driving a car that he had never driven before.
Apart from that, his only DNF was in Australia where he was crashed into by Nakajima. His other worst performance is a 5th place in France where BMW struggled with set-up. He had an awesome win in Canada, the first time a non-Ferrari-or-McLaren car has won a race for almost two years. The record is topped with two 2nds and a third. He has outqualified his team-mate 7–1. In short, Robert Kubica is amazing. And he is the only driver who I can genuinely say would deserve to win the WDC on current form. What a shame he probably won’t manage it.