F1 2008 Driver Reviews, Part One: The Bottom Five

Daniel ChalmersSenior Analyst IDecember 29, 2008

In my review of the drivers of 2008 I will be ranking them all in order of how well I think they performed, along with a summary and analysis of their season.

In Part 1 we look at the bottom five drivers according to my rankings.

We start off with poor Adrian Sutil who I put in last place.

20. Adrian Sutil

Championship Position- 20th

Race Starts- 18

Raced laps- 687

Wins- 0

Pole Positions- 0

Fastest laps- 0

Podiums- 0

Points- 0

Season highlight: Driving a stunning race to fourth at Monte-Carlo in the wet.

Season lowlight: Having it all taken away by Kimi Raikkonen coming out of the tunnel.

When you are in a car that props the back of the grid, its always going to difficult to make an impression in these end of season rankings. When you are at the back the main task is to beat your team mate. In 2007 Sutil did this and showed his potential throughout the season. However his team mates (Albers, Winkelhock and Yamamoto) didn’t provide him much challenge. It wasn’t a useful comparison for onlookers to judge his performance.

In 2008 Giancarlo Fisichella was Sutil’s team mate. Fisichella provided Sutil with his first real yardstick. If he thrashed Fisichella then team managers would stand up and take notice. Anything less then chances are they wouldn’t. The paddock’s impression of Fisichella had gone down after a poor three year stint with Renault, so anything but Sutil beating him would be a poor reflection on Adrian.

Unfortunately Sutil didn’t have a very strong season and Fisichella proved to be very tough to beat. In the first half of the season Fisichella was easily the better driver. Fisi was generally around 0.2 to 0.3 seconds quicker. As the season progressed Sutil improved and was on level terms with him. He was never comfortably ahead (apart from Monte-Carlo), as Fisi had been over him in the first half of the season. Over the full course of the season he was beaten by a driver not many people rated anymore.

Sutil’s biggest problem was with the control Bridgestone tyres. His aggressive driving style didn’t work with the Bridgestones. He hasn’t been able to adapt to them fully and get the most speed out of them. Although he managed to change his style a bit in the second half of the season with successful results. In the wet the driving style required from the intermediates and extreme wets is alot different, and Sutil adapted far better in these sort of conditions.

Monaco was his highlight of 2008. He started at the back but worked his way through the field with an effective one stop strategy. He was upto fourth position until Raikkonen lost control of his car behind and it was game over. This was Sutil’s only points opportunity.

It may have been no points but Monaco 2008 may have proven vital for Sutil’s F1 career. The race showed that he did possess a good level of talent when the car and conditions were to his liking. The drive caught the attention of everyone. It may have well secured his Force India drive for 2009.

He has another chance to show that he is a good driver. On Slick tyres his aggressive style may be rewarded so could help his chances. Had he been forced out of the team finding a path back to F1 would have proved very hard indeed.

So overall it’s not been a great season for Sutil. Being outclassed by an older driver isn’t a good thing for an aspiring young gun. His main achievement this season is remaining in F1 for 2009 and nothing else. 2009 is his absolute final chance to impress.

19th Nelson Piquet Jr.

Championship Position- 12th

Race Starts- 18

Raced laps- 776

Wins- 0

Pole Positions- 0

Fastest laps- 0

Podiums- 1

Points- 19

Season highlight- Taking a lucky second place at Hockenheim.

Season lowlight- Qualifying slower than a Super Aguri in F1 debut.

Nelson Piquet Jr. had has a very hard introduction to Formula One. He showed at times that he was potentially a quick driver, but didn’t show it as often as he needed to in 2008.

Adapting to the pressures of Formula One has been very hard for him, and getting anywhere near team mate Fernando Alonso has been near impossible for him.

His debut in Australia was an absolute disaster. He qualified slower than a Super Aguri and in the race was around four seconds off the pace in periods of the race. This was the driver who said that Lewis Hamilton was nothing special, and that he could do as well given a quick car too. Melbourne gave him a huge reality check, and taught him that Lewis Hamilton may have had some talent afterall.

In practise sessions his pace was very often not far off Fernando’s. His main problem was simply getting the lap together in the dying moments of a qualifying session in order to progress. The Renault in the first half of the season in particular was very inconsistent and a bit of handful. For a rookie driver trying to get a bit of confidence, it doesn’t make life any easier.

His first set of qualifying results were very poor: 20th, 13th, 14th, 10th, 17th, and 15th. His race pace was solid at times but when you start so far down its hard to make progress. As the current F1 saying goes “you race where you qualify.”

By France Piquet started to make a bit of progress. He qualified ninth and finished seventh in the race to get his first points of the season. Germany was his best moment of the year. Despite qualifying badly in 17th place a Safety Car came out at the perfect time for his one stop strategy, and he elevated into the lead. He couldn’t keep Hamilton behind him but he was fast enough to stay ahead of Massa.

At the front of the pack he seemed more at home and demonstrated his strongest race pace. There was alot of luck involved in this result (at the time of Glock’s heavy shunt he was only ahead of the Force Indias) but he took the chance. Plus it gave Nelson a much needed boast in confidence and earned him a bit of praise for the first time.

Piquet then backed it up with a great result in Hungary by finishing in sixth.

Then for the next few races Piquet seemed to slip back to his old self again, and didn’t have another strong race till Japan. This was by far his best drive of the season. He qualified 12th and used a one stop strategy very effectively and had a good run to fourth position. He also got the fourth fastest lap of the race.

Everything seemed to come together in this race. However as Flavio said after the race, that’s the least that's expected from every race. Piquet should have been doing this at the start of the season, not round 16 of 18.

Overall Piquet scored 19 championship points and finished 12th in the championship. He was a long way short of where he should have been. He continued to struggle in qualifying all season but his overall race pace improved as the season went on. He made too many silly errors in the first half of the season, but this also improved in the second half of the season.

Piquet’s record compared to Alonso was woeful. He was the only driver to get beaten in qualifying 18-0. This might have been against a two times world champion, but it is still an unwanted stat on a driver CV.

His flashes of pace show that there is some potential, but these instances were far too rare. Performing when there is alot of pressure on (particularly in the current qualifying format), and confidence in general were two of Piquet’s major stumbling blocks. He simply has been very slow to adapt to F1, and has much to learn still.

Does he deserve a second season? In my opinion he is very lucky to have a second season. Many teams would have told him to close the door on the way out. Piquet must have done a great job in convincing Flavio (or was it somebody else doing the convincing? Piquet Snr or Mr Alonso perhaps?).

Throughout his career he has done alot better in his second season in a series so this may be a good omen for next season. He needs to dramatically improve if he wants to sustain a career a Formula One.

18th Jenson Button

Championship Position- 18th

Race Starts- 18

Raced laps- 936

Wins- 0

Pole Positions- 0

Fastest laps- 0

Podiums- 0

Points- 3

Season highlight: Finishing sixth in a race of attrition in Spain

Season lowlight: Making silly errors in Monaco and Silverstone when strong points finishes were possible.

2007 was a tough year for Jenson Button. As it turned out 2008 was going to turn out to be an even tougher season.

The new Honda wasn’t much of an improvement and work was given up on the car very quickly. This means that the car just got worse as the season went on.

Jenson Button made a decent start to the season. He qualified an impressive ninth in the Bahrain GP and drove a good race to sixth in the Spanish GP. This is as good as it got in 2008, and Button didn’t score any more points for the rest of 2008.

He had two big chances to earn great results but failed to take either. In the damp conditions in Monte-Carlo he was extremely quick. In the wet Saturday morning practise session the timing screens showed that he was seconds faster than anyone else on the track. This shows that despite being stuck with a dog of a car that he is still a very talented driver.

In the race he had a collision with Nick Heidfeld very early on and lost parts from his car. This ended any chance of a big result which had been possible. Jenson was perhaps trying too hard to get a result he desperately wanted. He know chances would be few and far between for the rest of the season.

The wet race at Silverstone was another opportunity. Honda had fitted extreme wet tyres at exactly the right time whereas as other teams didn’t even bother. The move worked brilliant and it took team mate Rubens Barrichello to third place. Jenson on the other hand went off at Bridge corner soon after and retired. That was another big opportunity lost.

The rest of the season was a big uphill battle. Just getting out of the first qualifying session was very difficult. Over the whole season he only got past the first session nine times and got into the top 10 shootout only once. As the season drifted on Jenson Button seemed to get less motivated and was quite negative about the whole situation.

He had a car with no chance of scoring points and a car his driving style didn’t work with. Jenson Button is one of those drivers who really finds it difficult to get extra speed out of a car with big problems. We saw the same thing when he was given that awful Benetton in his second season in 2001.

As his future at the team was safe for 2009 he didn’t really have any reason to fight hard. As the season wore on every race just became a case going through the motions, and leaving with absolutely nothing.

Over the season Rubens Barrichello had the clear edge over Jenson. He was able to extract a bit more from the car and seemed more motivated as he was fighting for his career in F1.

Jenson Button won’t look back at 2009 with many happy memories but he should have performed a bit better than he did, along with putting more effort in (particularly in the latter stages of 2008).

Now that Honda has left F1 he may end up with no seat for 2009 afterall. Life can’t get that much worse. If he ends up having to seek a seat from another team, his 2008 form isn’t exactly a strong selling point. Unless someone takes over the Honda team his F1 future is looking pretty bleak indeed.

17th Giancarlo Fisichella

Championship Position- 19th

Race Starts- 18

Raced laps- 810

Wins- 0

Pole Positions- 0

Fastest laps- 0

Podiums- 0

Points- 0

Season highlight: Qualifying 12th in Monza

Season lowlight: Not being able to get any points finishes

Giancarlo Fisichella was hired by the team to provide much needed experience to help move the team forward. Overall he drove very well during the 2008 season, but it wasn’t enough to win any points for the team.

Fisichella seemed to crack under the immense pressure when driving for a top team. He didn’t get the results that he should have achieved whilst driving for Renault. Fisichella has always managed to get giant killing results whilst driving slower cars, where there is far less pressure to get results. Fisichella felt more at home at Force India throughout the year. Fisichella had already had two stints with this team under the Jordan name.

In the first half of the season he adapted to the car very well and out-drove Adrian Sutil.  He got very close to making the second qualifying session in the first part of the season. He was two tenths away in Australia and only four hundreths away in Sepang. In the races he was very competitive too. In Malaysia he was running comfortably in the midfield. Had the car have been a bit faster Fisichella could have challenged for points.

Unfortunately as the season went on the car drifted off the pace and this opportunity didn’t come. However Fisichella was positive and drove his socks off for the whole season, whilst contributing heavily to the development of the car.

In the second half of the season Sutil had caught up with Giancarlo but it was even between them at worse for Fisichella. Giancarlo more than held his own against a young gun everyone up and down the paddock rated highly. Fisichella didn’t peak as high as Sutil (Sutil’s run to fourth in Monte-Carlo) but over the whole of the season he was the quicker driver.

Probably Giancarlo’s best moment of the season came in Monza when he qualified 12th in the rain. He was also very close to making it to the top 10 shootout. Fisichella also ran third for a while in Singapore after a Safety Car turned the race on its head.

Fisichella deserved some points after his performances this season. He gave it his absolute best and extracted every last tenth from the Force India. Beating Sutil was also a notable achievement, and came as a surprise to some who thought Fisi was past his sell by date.

So all in all a decent season for Giancarlo Fisichella and he more than deserves his 2009 drive.

16th David Coulthard

Championship Position- 16th

Race Starts- 18

Raced laps- 812

Wins- 0

Pole Positions- 0

Fastest laps- 0

Podiums- 1

Points- 8

Season highlight- Finishing on the podium in Montreal

Season lowlight- Being involved in a tangle in his last F1 race.

David Coulthard will have many memorable seasons when he looks back over his career. 2008 though will certainly not be one of them.

Coulthard only finished twice in the points and rarely matched team mate Mark Webber. Qualifying has always been David’s biggest heachache in his career and this continued to be the case in 2008. When you are up against a qualifying expert such as Mark Webber life can only get worse. David was beaten in qualifying 16-2 by Webber. David Coulthard is a very handy racer and often made progress in races, but with it being hard to overtake it made scoring points very difficult.

In the first half of the season in particular he seemed to be a magnet for incidents. In Australia he got taken out by Felipe Massa who tried an ambitious move. David Coulthard had been on for a points finish in Melbourne. Coulthard was on for points in Spain until Glock hit him and caused a puncture. Coulthard could have finished sixth or seventh in that race. In Monaco he lost control in the rain and hit the barrier.

In Sepang and Istanbul he finished one place off the points. In the first half of the season nothing was going his way. He wasn’t up to the pace and he was having opportunities taken away from him through incidents. Nothing/or nobody was going to let him get on the scoreboard.

Montreal was the only real highlight of DC’s last season in F1. In a typically crazy Canadian GP he made use of the Safety Car and drove a very mature race to third position behind the two BMWs. There was alot of luck involved but it was a decent and a deserved result.

At Silverstone DC announced his retirement from F1 racing. Again in Silverstone he got himself involved in another incident. For the rest of the season DC struggled in qualifying and didn’t have very strong races. He didn’t look the driver he once was at the peak of his career. Maybe in the second half of the season part of him had already retired? He got one last bite of the points in Singapore, again thanks to the right timing of the Safety Car.

It would have been very appropriate for DC to get a great result in his final GP but it wasn’t to be. The race merely summed up what had probably been the worse season of his racing career. He struggled to 14th on the grid in qualifying and then got involved in a Turn One incident.

Simply nothing went right for Coulthard in 2008. He was either off the pace or getting himself into costly collisions. 2008 just wasn’t Coulthard’s year and not a great way to end what has been a glittering 14 year career.

He will remain as a consultant to the Red Bull team in 2009.

In Part Two we will look at the next five drivers according to my 2008 driver rankings.