Adrian Sutil - Force India
It’s been a quiet start to the season for the half-latino driver. Noises coming out of Force India in February suggested that they had designed a top car, and they have shown flashes of potential with the German driver. Questions must be asked as to whether they have already peaked due to the relatively smaller budget they have, but it’ll be interesting to see how they fare on low downforce circuits such was their surprising pace at the back end of 2009. Expect the odd podium for Sutil before the season ends.
Michael Schumacher - Mercedes GP
What can one say? By his own admission, Schumacher’s season so far has been frustratingly average. The Spanish Grand Prix is perhaps the most important of Schumi’s season, as we will be able to discern whether or not his famed ability to drive around problems is still there. A revised chassis should help his cause somewhat, and it is too early to judge the success of the German’s comeback; we must wait at least a full season. He can only get better from here.
Vitantonio Liuzzi - Force India
The talented Italian surprised most people last year when he ran solidly on his Force India race debut at Monza before retiring. However, this form has not been apparent so far in 2010. Whilst gaining a couple of points finishes in Bahrain and Australia, he has not generally threatened his teammate who is considered a talent, but not a world-beater. With Paul di Resta banging on the door of a full-time driver, Liuzzi will have to put in some impressive performances to guarantee himself a seat with Vijay Mallya’s team.
Vitaly Petrov - Renault
On the other hand, this number two driver has surpassed expectations. The latest GP2 graduate has driven admirably after his first four races in Formula One, and has signalled what is perhaps a new era in the way racing is perceived in F1. His two-lap battle with Hamilton in Malaysia was thrilling as it was potentially dangerous, either a signal that both of these ex-GP2 race winners are still using their go kart mentality, or that the “undergraduate” class of motor racing has fostered a sense of super competitive driving which is now translating into the generally calmer racing philosophy of Formula One. Either way, Petrov has held his own and is sure of a successful future in the sport if he carries on this form.
Rubens Barrichello - Williams
What a fall from grace for the likeable Brazilian. A year ago, he was hanging onto the coat tails of the championship leader in an utterly dominant piece of machinery. This year, he is 55 points down and languishing in 13th in the drivers standings. Nevertheless, with the car that Barrichello has at his disposal, he cannot expect to be doing much better. Williams have produced another distinctly average car, yet the Paulista driver has gained praise from all within his team (including his teammate) for his pace and technical input. You can’t fault Rubens for effort, yet it is a sad way for him to end what has been a relatively successful career.
Jaime Alguersuari - Scuderia Toro Rosso
The youngest driver in the paddock, Alguersuari has been on top form this season. He burst into life in Sepang with a brave drive which included making mincemeat of Nico Hulkenberg, as well as holding off the seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher for more than 20 laps in Melbourne. The Barcelona ace scored points in only his 11th race in Malaysia, it would not be surprising to find him fighting at the front of the grid within 5 years. Keep an eye on him.
Nico Hulkenberg - Williams
In similar fashion to his veteran teammate, it is hard to judge Hulkenberg’s true potential due to the car he has been given. Considering he has won everything he has entered post-karting, we can assume that he is very adaptable and contains a fair bit of raw speed in his armoury. His cause hasn’t been aided by the fact he has had a single points finish, and has been caught up in first lap incidents in two of the four races so far. However, someone with his apparent potential will be given time in the sport to prove his worth. Give this one a season or two.
Sebastian Buemi - Scuderia Toro Rosso
It is an indicator of how the Swiss has gone so far that most people will remember him for being the driver whose wheels exploded at 200mph in China. Praised for his combative showing in Sepang, including an out of control but clean pass on Rubens Barrichello at Turn One, he has been off the radar and hasn’t picked up a single point. Buemi could be heading the same way as Kazuki Nakajima if he is not careful. A promising first season followed by an underwhelming second could see him sweating for his place come the end of the season.