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F1: 4 Drivers Who Should Lose Their Seats in 2012

Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2011

F1: 4 Drivers Who Should Lose Their Seats in 2012

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    2011 has been a season of few surprises—the current top 10 of the Championship is the same 10 I'd have picked back in March, albeit in a slightly different order.

    No one has stood out as a future great, but several drivers have done quite the opposite and have produced little to show they deserve to keep their current seat for 2012.

    F1 is a competitive environment—Force India have more drivers than seats, Williams have a wealth of options, and half the grid would sell their soul for a go in a Red Bull or McLaren.

    Not to forget the hundred and one sponsor-kids circling even the likes of Virgin, hoping to buy a place on the grid in exchange for a sidepod or rear wing.

    Some seats are more coveted than others, and as such keeping hold of one should be somewhat more difficult.

    Few drivers deserve the boot after just a season or two to prove their worth, and younger drivers have been ignored. Today it's experienced drivers in the spotlight.

    I can think of four, so let's begin.

Mark Webber

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    In his defence, life can't be easy at Red Bull. The team have made it clear for a long time now that Vettel is their golden boy and Webber an afterthought. 

    One gets the impression Mark could win every race in a season, and rather than celebrating, Christian Horner would go on TV and tell him off for bullying poor little Sebastian.

    That said, the question remains: Is he really good enough to occupy a seat at Red Bull, with so many younger, possibly quicker drivers queuing up behind him?

    Yes, he's a No. 2. Yes, the car is most likely designed around Vettel's driving style, and much like the long line of Michael Schumacher's teammates, Mark has to adapt himself as best he can. And yes, you can blame some of it on his appalling starts.

    But zero wins in the best car is the sort of form you'd expect from a one-armed monkey, not a seasoned veteran with 173 Grand Prix starts to his name.

    Mark has dropped the ball badly in 2011 after a very strong 2010. The gap to Vettel has widened alarmingly, and for whatever reason he no longer gets anything like as much from the car as he used to.

    It's hard to dislike Mark Webber the man. But Mark Webber the driver no longer warrants a seat at Red Bull.

Rubens Barrichello

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    Sooner or later we all have to slow down, put our feet up and have a rest. This message never got through to Rubens Barrichello, and I for one was always pleased it hadn't. But maybe now it really is time to call it a day.

    Not because he'll be 40 next year, but because he's just not fast enough anymore.

    In 2011 Barrichello has barely outqualified or outraced his rookie teammate Pastor Maldonado, who himself hasn't set the F1 world alight. The car is a poor one, and even the many years of experience Rubens has doesn't appear to be of any use in development.

    Only luck (and the intervention of Lewis Hamilton at Monaco) has left Barrichello ahead of Maldonado on points.

    He's had a long and eventful career and has raced alongside several generations of drivers. Only seven teams have started more races. But sadly, Rubens no longer justifies his seat at Williams.

Jarno Trulli

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    Another old hand with a long career behind him, Jarno Trulli was known throughout his racing life as something of a one-lap specialist, and the multi-car "Trulli trains" held up behind him during the race were a longtime favourite of mine.

    Quite how he's reversed his one-lap excellence into being outqualified 14-2 by Heikki Kovalainen—the worst record on the grid—is a mystery.

    Or maybe it isn't. Like Barrichello, Trulli seems to be losing pace, and at the age of 37, it looks like it's time to call it a day.

    Imagine being presented with a bowl of dog food after a week-long starvation. Not perfect, not really what you wanted, but... well, you'll still eat it. That's what a seat at Lotus is. Especially to a younger driver, it's an opportunity to show what you can do.

    Trulli is doing little with the seat, and he isn't driving for his future anymore. The car would be better off in the hands of a young guy who could maybe, just maybe, really stand out and earn himself a top drive.

    Jarno would be better employed as a test and development driver, helping a youngster learn the ropes and using his years of experience to try to get the car up to speed.

    I've always been a fan of Trulli—if I ever have a son, he'll be lucky to avoid a lifetime of having "Jarno" as a middle name—and remember thinking he was set for great things back in 1997. But that never happened, and now he's going downhill.

Felipe Massa

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    Felipe Massa almost won the Championship once. But after that, he's fallen away from the pace.

    Maybe he never recovered properly from his awful accident in qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix. Maybe he's disheartened by the knowledge he's a confirmed No. 2 to Fernando Alonso.

    Or maybe he was flattered by the car (and a lazy Kimi Raikkonen) before the Finn was replaced by the Spaniard.

    Whatever the reason, in 2011 so far his teammate Alonso has 212 points, one win, and seven further podiums. Massa has 98 points and has not finished higher than fifth.

    Of course we'd expect Fernando to beat Felipe. But that form, in the car he has at his disposal, just isn't good enough.

    He knows that, and Ferrari know it, too. He'll nonetheless retain his seat for 2012 according to Ferrari bosses, who perhaps feel an emotional bond with the man who has driven their cars since 2006. 

    Or more likely, he's kept because he's a pliable No. 2 for Alonso. Few teams would risk pitting another top driver against the Spanish star after the battles he and Lewis Hamilton had at McLaren in 2007. And Ferrari aren't known for their policy of having two top drivers.

    Even so, after the season he's just had (and let's be honest, 2010 wasn't much better), he no longer deserves a seat in a top three car.

Reflections

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    I had to resist a lot of temptation to put Michael Schumacher in here. He escaped by showing flashes of occasional brilliance—something he can still do. And perhaps, probably, because he's Michael Schumacher. 

    He'll always deserve a seat in F1 after what he's achieved. If he was sat in a Ferrari going eight seconds a lap slower than his own son at the age of 60, I couldn't say he deserved the boot.

    Nick Heidfeld escaped as he doesn't currently have a drive to lose, while I've still got sufficient faith in Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen to leave them where they are. The rest need no explanation.

    Back to the four I mentioned. Where would they go?

    In the cases of Trulli and Barrichello, I couldn't place them in Formula One race seats next season.  Their time is up, and neither will achieve great things again. Their opportunities should be given to others. 

    I doubt either would retire from motorsport completely and wouldn't rule either out of DTM or a crack at Le Mans when they do finally hang up their single-seater helmets.

    Massa... he'd probably slot into a lesser team, maybe even replace Barrichello at Williams as their "experienced driver."  He might have been a race-winner years ago, but he just isn't that guy anymore. 

    And Mark Webber. He's still a good driver, of course, but I'll always consider the top seats to be those deserved by the top drivers. He'd do a good job for any midfield team, and no doubt many would be waiting with contract offers if Red Bull did decide to say goodbye.

    But that's fantasy F1. Three, perhaps all four of them will remain exactly where they are in 2012, and hopefully at least one will prove me very wrong.

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