Driver Report Card: Part One
It seems like only yesterday that F1 fans, drivers, teams and all involved in the sport were gearing up for the season opener in Bahrain. After 4 races and almost a quarter of the season already past us, we look at those who have performed, and those who haven’t quite lived up to expectations in the first of a three part series…
Jenson Button - Mclaren
Quite predictably, Jenson Button was being written off by 95% of the paddock when news broke that he had signed with the Woking squad. The experienced Brit has shown flashes of speed aligned with the necessary composure to win World Championships before 2009, especially during the relatively successful Honda years between 2004-2006. Perhaps it is the all-action style and natural speed that Lewis Hamilton has exhibited since 2007 that persuaded people of his inevitable trouncing of said team-mate. However, as the more cultivated Button commented in China, it’s not just about raw speed but also being consistent and conserving the car. In that respect, Button has excelled over Hamilton so far.
Nico Rosberg - Mercedes GP
Imagine being in the shoes of Nico Rosberg on the 22nd of December, 2009. You are an established driver with a long career ahead of you and backing from some of the biggest names in the sport. You have just signed for the dominant team of the previous season, and things are looking up. You then hear that your team-mate will be a 7 time World Champion with 91 race victories to his name, compared to your 0. It would be an almighty understatement to assume that Nico Rosberg was surprised; but to have performed as he has done so far, is nigh on perfection in his eyes. He is comfortably beating the best driver the sport has ever seen (statistically speaking), and is lying second in the championship after a solid and consistent run of race results. If Mercedes can develop their car at a steady rate, what price an unexpected and under-the-radar title win for the German?
Fernando Alonso - Scuderia Ferrari
The Spaniard has been quiet this season. There have been no front page headlines, no unexpected results and no under-par performances. That is because Alonso is probably the most complete driver on the grid; we expected a win (he duly delivered in Bahrain, albeit with a slice of luck), we expected fantastic drivers (56 laps of Sepang with practically no clutch) and we expected the aggressive Alonso to be back (his drive from the back in Melbourne, as well the now famed Massa pitlane incident in Shanghai). Whilst the inclement weather has hampered Ferrari somewhat, a return to dry conditions in Europe could see Alonso pounce yet again. Do not write him off.
Lewis Hamilton - Mclaren
If the World Championship was decided by media consensus, Lewis Hamilton could afford to have skipped the first half of the season (at least according to UK rags). The 2008 champion was expected to have wiped the floor with Jenson Button at Mclaren this season, when infact the opposite has been the case. Hamilton has put in sterling drives to make up for various mistakes so far, from a poor qualifying performance in Melbourne to a monumental weather forecasting misjudgement in Sepang. In comparison with Button however, Lewis has lacked the foresight to make split-second race-winning decisions such as Button’s to switch to intermediates in Australia or to remain on slicks when light rain fell in Shanghai. Hamilton can be happy at what he has achieved so far, but with a little more experience and savvy thinking, he can become even better.
Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull Racing
A bag of missed opportunities for the young German. He has had the fastest car by some margin and is one of the fastest drivers, and he sits 5th in the drivers’ standings. Events have transpired against Vettel from mechanical issues to poor weather affecting race strategy. Yet it is the reaction to the changeable conditions in the past 3 races that have led to the Red Bull demise (by their lofty standards) in Australia and China. Perhaps the team as a whole and especially Vettel (who is still only in his 3rd full season) lack the last bit of experience that can win World Championships. This assumption may have to be revised come October, but for the time being, Vettel and his team have not been able to take advantage of their situation.
Felipe Massa - Scuderia Ferrari
The Championship table after the Malaysian Grand Prix had a somewhat artificial look about it. It showed Felipe Massa ahead of Fernando Alonso. This was despite Alonso beating his team-mate in Bahrain, being stuck to his gearbox for most of the Australian Grand Prix after spinning on the first corner and placing him plum last, and despite setting a lap time in Malaysia half a second quicker than Massa despite not being able to downshift. The Brazilian has certainly been consistent, but as has been the case for most of his career, he appears to be lacking a killer instinct and a no holds barred approach to racing. Would Alonso have allowed Massa to pass him into the pitlane?
Robert Kubica - Renault
Robert Kubica appears to be stuck in the same position he has been in since 2007. He is a potential title winner, in a solid but not spectacular piece of machinery. The Pole has achieved one podium and a string of good results in a car that was not expected to challenge the front four teams, which is creditable itself. However, despite Renault’s aggressive development programme, they simply do not have the resources of Ferrari, Mclaren, Red Bull and Mercedes and consequently, Kubica will not win the drivers’ championship in 2010. There have been rumours of a possible Ferrari deal in 2011, a move which would finally allow us to see the unrestrained potential of Kubica. For the moment, he is performing superbly in a confined environment.
Mark Webber - Red Bull Racing
Another driver that seems to have found himself in a familiar position. It is fair to say that Webber’s younger team-mate has outperformed him so far in 2010. A brilliant pole position in Sepang aside, Webber has failed to impress with his mistakes such as the Q3 lap in Bahrain, punting Hamilton off in Melbourne and letting Vettel sneak by at the first corner in Malaysia. An immensely likeable person, the first part of the season may have knocked him psychologically. It’ll be interesting to see if he can produce the speed and consistency to beat who many see as the next Michael Schumacher.
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