2009 mid-season driver rankings: part 1

I can hardly believe it — this three week break marks the mid-point of the season. As such, it is a good opportunity to take stock, have a little look back and see how the drivers are doing.

20. Sébastien Bourdais

Last year he asked us to wait to judge him, and see how he performs on slick tyres. They were supposed to suit them better. But there is no real perceptible improvement in his performance. In fact, he may even be worse than last season. Bottom of the pile for me.

19. Adrian Sutil

This is his third full season in Formula 1 and we still haven’t seen what the hype was about. Sutil has not really come close to repeating the few flashes of promise we have seen during his career. The one moment was during the Malaysian Grand Prix when he was running as high as 6th — before spinning off (admittedly in treacherous conditions). After three years, I think we should have seen a bit more by now.

18. Kazuki Nakajima

The disappointment of the season. He spent much of 2008 within touching distance of his fancied team-mate Nico Rosberg in the Drivers’ Championship. You might have expected him to improve this year. Instead, we are seeing a more lacklustre Nakajima who has failed to score a point. Indeed, he is yet even to finish in the top 10 all year.

One of the real head-scratchers of Nakajima’s season include successfully completing 77 laps at Monaco, only to crash on the final one. A chink of light was in sight when he qualified 5th at Silverstone, only to drop like a stone through the field during the race, eventually finishing 11th (which is still his best of the season).

17. Nelsinho Piquet

Nelsinho Piquet’s season is unfolding in much the same way as last year did — a bit lacklustre in general, but with a couple of half-decent results here and there. This year’s Renault does appear to be a bit of a shed, but he has once again been comprehensively beaten by his team mate.

But given that Alonso is, in my view, the best driver since Schumacher, it’s an unfair comparison. Maybe it’s better to note that Piquet has indeed beaten Alonso once (albeit in Britain, where Alonso was chronically held up by an ailing Heidfeld). But Piquet has more to do if he wants to remain in F1 for a third year.

16. Sébastien Buemi

We should be careful when judging Buemi just now. He is the only rookie in the field. And we have seen some stunning rookie performances in recent years — Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Robert Kubica. So in that sense, at the moment Buemi looks a bit more plain than he may turn out to be in the long run.

In fact, I would say that it is a good thing that Buemi’s season so far has consisted of anonymity rather than idiocy (although crashing into Piquet in Monaco can be filed under ‘idiocy’). Plus, he has collected a few points, though we should bear in mind that he inherited two of them in Australia thanks to the joined-up brain-fade of two drivers in front of him. One slightly worrying thing is that he seems to have become worse as the season has progressed, but that may be a blip.

15. Heikki Kovalainen

Kovalainen races this season in difficult circumstances. His car is among the worst on the grid, and to add insult to injury his team-mate is a well-hyped World Champion. Even taking this into account though, Kovalainen’s performances have, in general, failed to meet expectations.

He started the season off with a first-lap crash in Australia, then unaccountably spun off on lap one in Malaysia. At the other end of this half of the season, he has been involved in a silly scrap with Sébastien Bourdais in Britain, and an unforced spin into the barriers at Monaco. A relatively good performance in China hasn’t made up for the rest of his poor season.

14. Timo Glock

Glock is another driver whose season began well, but has rapidly faded away towards the mid-point of the season. Unquestionably, his Toyota car has lost any advantage it had at the start of the season. But his team mate Jarno Trulli continues to make the most of the situation, and Glock’s season has been oddly anonymous.

He can be relied on to collect a steady haul of points when the car is up to it, but signs of his talent are reticent in revealing themselves. A super performance in treacherous conditions in Malaysia is the only notable moment of his season that I can think of.

13. Nick Heidfeld

Nick Heidfeld’s season has been greatly constrained by his poor equipment. On the plus side, he has scored more points than Kubica, mostly thanks to a haul gained at the shortened Malaysian Grand Prix. He finished 2nd there but if the race ran to full distance he certainly wouldn’t have been that high up. Indeed, he was lucky to even be there after what was, in truth, a flaky performance.

At least this year, unlike last year, he is beating Robert Kubica. But the design of the car does not disadvantage him as much as it does Kubica.

12. Robert Kubica

How the mighty have fallen. From challenging for the Championship in 2008, today Robert Kubica languishes at the arse end of the table, having just scored his first points in Turkey. To add insult to injury, he has already used up six of his allocated eight engines. In fairness, most of it isn’t his fault. By all accounts, his BMW car is awful, and it’s not helped by the fact that it was designed around a kers that was always going to disadvantage a driver of his size.

My overriding memory of Kubica’s racing this season has been his fight with Vettel at the front in Australia. That was back when the future still seemed bright. Mario Theissen said he would have won if he didn’t get tangled up with Sebastian Vettel. There was good and bad in that performance from Kubica, which maybe says it all about his season.

11. Giancarlo Fisichella

I am not the greatest fan of Giancarlo Fisichella. Indeed, if I was in charge at Force India, I wouldn’t have given him a race seat. He started the year badly too, after embarrassingly missing his pit box in Australia, an incident that is said to have tried the patience of his team to the limit.

Aside from incidents like this though, you sense that Fisichella is squeezing the maximum out of the Force India car this year. Given that this is a team on the up, that could mean he will be scoring points soon. He has come close twice already this season (unlike Sutil), with commendable performances in both Monaco and Britain.


  1. Toro Rosso is the worst car on the grid, but Bourdais has two 8ths, Williams is argably around 4th or 5th car every race so far and Kazuki hasn’t score once (and more often than not has failed at ever being a contender), so how Bourdais is ranked 20th? It’s not a defense of him as all three second season drivers are underperforming and doing little to justify keeping there seats, but at least he actually has scored twice in a worst car than either Nelson or Kazuki. If I’d do a ranking like that I’d probably go (from worse to better) Kazuki, Nelson, Heikki, then Bourdais.

    Speaking of Toro Rosso drivers, it’s curious that Buemi had a decent start in the asian races (better than anyone expect actually) and has being very underwhelming now that we hit the european tracks he supposedly to know better.

  2. Hi Filipe, thanks for the comment.

    I’m not sure I agree that the Toro Rosso is the worst car on the grid. They have more-or-less the same chassis as Championship-challenging Red Bull, and they have a Ferrari engine in the back of it. I think the poor performance of the Toro Rosso is largely down to the drivers, which is why I put Bourdais last (at least Buemi has the excuse of being a rookie).

    I hear what you’re saying about the fact that Bourdais has scored points. But it is so easy to score points these days. Bourdais is actually 16th in the Constructors’ Championship, above only the Force Indias, Piquet and Nakajima.

    I wasn’t sure if I should place Nakajima above or below Sutil. In the end I decided Sutil should be lower because Nakajima has at least done a couple of interesting things (such as qualifying 5th) while Sutil has more than an extra season under his belt.

    You bring up an interesting point about Buemi’s performance at the Asian races. I wonder if the fact that he is familiar with the European circuits is actually putting him off. He will have learned how to drive these circuits with a GP2 car, which may have given him a false idea about the requirements of these circuits in an F1 car.

    We saw something similar with Lewis Hamilton in his first season. He was good in the European rounds, but it was only when he visited tracks he didn’t know — Montreal and Indianapolis — that he started winning races.