Ranking the No. 2 Drivers Most Likely to Beat Their Teammates in 2014

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2014

Ranking the No. 2 Drivers Most Likely to Beat Their Teammates in 2014

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    Among the most fascinating aspects bound to shape the 2014 Formula One season are the inter-team battles.

    This season, no driver is fighting for pride alone. Some are fighting for their places in the sport while others, at the opposite end of the scale, are aiming to reach the very top of it.

    At Ferrari, we have the clash of the titans between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, with their legacies set to be defined by how this season unfolds. At Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel now has a team-mate who might just be willing to talk to him. And at McLaren, they have taken the bold step of pairing a rookie with a world champion for the first time in recent years.

    Here, from the least to the most likely, we focus on which so-called No. 2 drivers could upset the man on the other side of the garage and become their team’s prime focus.

11. Max Chilton

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    Max Chilton’s record of becoming the first rookie to finish every race of 2013 has been criminally underestimated in some quarters. However, the fact that he only outqualified team-mate Jules Bianchi on only one occasion and finished ahead of him only twice in 2013 highlights just how inferior the British driver is to his highly-rated French counterpart. 

    And although Chilton is bound to improve following his debut season, Bianchi is likely to have progressed to a higher level of skill and, more importantly, confidence.

    While Bianchi is regarded by some as a future Ferrari driver, Chilton—although worthy of a second season in 2014—is likely to tumble out of the sport before long.

10. Daniel Ricciardo

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    Having replaced Mark Webber at Red Bull for 2014, Daniel Ricciardo now has one of the hardest jobs in sport—being team-mate to Sebastian Vettel. The four-time world champion will expose every weakness of Ricciardo, who has a reputation for being a strong qualifier but little more than a competent racer.

    Ricciardo’s one-lap pace would have been handy had Red Bull produced a front-running car in 2014 for him to act as rear-gunner for Vettel, but the team’s near-disastrous pre-season preparations means the Australian could remain in the midfield area he grew to know as home during his Toro Rosso tenure.

    Red Bull’s struggles, on the other hand, could provide Ricciardo with a chance to go under the radar and have an extended period of time to adjust to life at the team. But as McLaren proved with their handling of Sergio Perez in 2013, there is nowhere to hide when you’re team-mate to a world champion.

9. Marcus Ericsson

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    Marcus Ericsson’s uninspiring record of only three race wins in four years of competing in GP2 suggests the Swede is far from ready for a F1 debut—and that’s before you bear in mind that he will spend his rookie season driving what is the slowest and most-difficult-to-handle car on the grid.

    Although the 23-year-old’s learning curve is bound to be steep, Kamui Kobayashi’s presence on the other side of the garage could offer Ericsson a glimmer of hope of achieving inter-team supremacy.

    Kobayashi’s lairy style and tendency to get involved in incidents with other cars could be to the benefit of Ericsson, whose sole target—perhaps like fellow GP2 graduate Max Chilton in 2013—will be to get to the chequered flag unscathed.

8. Esteban Gutierrez

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    With a largely underwhelming car and Nico Hulkenberg as his teammate, Esteban Gutierrez had very little chance of establishing himself at Sauber in 2013. The Mexican, though, showed gradual improvement as the year progressed, scoring his first F1 points at Suzuka as his race results grew in consistency and promise.

    Gutierrez, with a rookie season under his belt, is bound to make another leap in performance in 2014, but how will he fare against Adrian Sutil, his experienced new Sauber partner?

    Despite being prone to the occasional bout of clumsiness, Sutil remains a valuable commodity for a midfield team like Sauber thanks not only to his personal sponsorship funds, but also his technical feedback. That technical feedback, after all, is what helped Sutil see off Jules Bianchi in a head-to-head for the second Force India seat in 2013.

    And if Sutil managed to fend off a driver as talented as Bianchi, what hope does Gutierrez have?

    The German’s underestimated ability to consistently score points within the fringes of the top 10 is not one that you could argue is currently shared by Gutierrez, who must treat consistency as key to stand any chance of beating Sutil.

7. Sergio Perez

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    Having been harshly dumped by McLaren to make way for Kevin Magnussen, Sergio Perez—driving for a third different team in four years since his F1 debut in 2011—has a point to prove this season.

    The Mexican’s new employers, Force India, have gone on record to express their satisfaction with Perez, with deputy team principal Bob Fernley recently telling Edd Straw and Sam Tremayne of AUTOSPORT about his new signing's mature approach.

    Alongside a driver of Nico Hulkenberg’s capabilities in what currently appears to be a front-running car, 2014 will decide whether McLaren were justified or wrong to give up hope on the 24-year-old so soon.

    But with Hulkenberg having built his career on outperforming the cars of midfield teams and catching the eyes of the leading outfits in the process, expect Perez to live in his team-mate’s shadow in 2014.

6. Pastor Maldonado

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    Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean, Lotus’ 2014 drivers, have experienced similar problems since making their full-time F1 debuts in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

    Their aggressive driving styles are, at best, thrilling to watch, but the need to impress has often seen them both cause unavoidable on-track incidents.

    Grosjean, with the help of a sports psychologist, overcame his weaknesses in 2013 to often emerge as the only threat to Red Bull’s nine-race winning streak, and the onus was on Maldonado to follow a similar path in 2014.

    However, the team’s new Renault-powered car is likely to see Lotus drop from dark horses to backmarkers for the foreseeable future at least. Unless Grosjean’s fall to the midfield sees a return of his old habits, the slightly more raw Maldonado should play second fiddle to the much-improved Frenchman.

5. Kimi Raikkonen

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    With a couple of world champions on board, just who is the No. 2 driver at Ferrari?

    It is a question that the team wanted you to ask yourself in 2014, with the signing of Kimi Raikkonen providing an extra headache for Fernando Alonso. And although Raikkonen’s presence at Ferrari could mean he beats Alonso off-track, what chance does he have of beating Alonso on the circuit?

    It is common knowledge that both Raikkonen and Alonso, now in their mid-30s, no longer possess the sheer speed they did at their peak, but their race craft remains as strong as ever.

    Interestingly, both Alonso and Raikkonen both suggested over the winter that the 2014-spec F1 cars would not require drivers to significantly alter their styles, but it is the former who has appeared to have adapted better to the sport’s new era so far.

    Raikkonen’s specific need for precise steering from his cars may also prove to be a significant difference in his battle with Alonso, whose versatility allows him to adjust his own style to suit any car in almost any conditions.

4. Daniil Kvyat

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    Daniil Kvyat is perhaps the driver under the least amount of pressure in 2014.

    When Daniel Ricciardo’s move to Red Bull was announced last summer, it was expected that Portuguese driver Antonio Felix da Costa, the obvious choice, would fill the vacancy at Toro Rosso. That the team instead opted for Kvyat, the 2013 GP3 champion, indicates just how highly rated the Russian is by the Red Bull hierarchy.

    At the tender age of 19, Kvyat will be expected to use his rookie year as a chance to get to grips with F1 and will be required to match team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne.

    Vergne, meanwhile, is among those under the most pressure in 2014. After missing out on the Red Bull drive to Ricciardo, Vergne appears to be a dead man walking—especially when you consider that no Red Bull young driver graduate has been given more than three seasons to impress at Toro Rosso.

    Unless Vergne dramatically outperforms the STR9 and Kvyat over the course of the season, the Russian—who has nothing to lose in 2014—will emerge victorious at Toro Rosso.

3. Nico Rosberg

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    Nico Rosberg has emerged as a strong contender for the 2014 World Championship in recent weeks as it has become ever clearer just what is required for a driver to succeed under this season’s new regulations.

    Rosberg’s success against Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in 2014 is as dependent on how the 2008 world champion adjusts to the sport’s new demands as Rosberg’s own adaption.

    While Hamilton is known to be inflexible in his approach of going flat out, the more methodical Rosberg combines intelligence and technical understanding, which aligns perfectly with the requirements of 2014.

    However, although Hamilton carries a certain naivety and arrogance in both his persona and driving style, he is no stranger to the pressures of fighting for the title—something Rosberg is yet to experience in his nine-year F1 career.

    How the German handles that, in what could be a head-to-head battle for the crown between the Mercedes pair, will be decisive.   

2. Kevin Magnussen

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    That McLaren tried to put Kevin Magnussen in a Marussia for 2014 before signing him for themselves suggests that the team had reservations over how the 21-year-old would adapt to F1.

    Magnussen’s promising performances in pre-season testing, however, have shown that the team’s hierarchy needn’t have worried.

    Although suggestions that Magnussen could replicate Lewis Hamilton’s performances during the latter’s rookie season with McLaren in 2007 are exaggerated, there is a real possibility that the Dane could arrive on the F1 scene and immediately beat his team-mate.

    Jenson Button’s lack of outright pace compared to the sport’s other leading drivers, as well as his hyper-sensitivity to car setup, tyres and track conditions—which can be a disadvantage as much as it can be a positive—could work handsomely in the favour of Magnussen.

1. Valtteri Bottas

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    For a driver as highly rated as Valtteri Bottas is by Williams—who clearly know what makes a good driver—it would be nothing short of disastrous for the Finn’s career prospects if he were beaten by Felipe Massa in 2014.

    Although Massa’s freedom from Ferrari will allow him to enjoy a sense of resurgence and drive with more flamboyancy than at any stage since 2009, thus making him a potential danger for Bottas, the Brazilian’s best days are now surely behind him.

    After measuring well against Pastor Maldonado in an uncompetitive car during his rookie season in 2013, Bottas has been rewarded with a car that will begin this season as the second fastest on the grid.

    It is crucial that he makes the most of the opportunity.