Ranking the Early Contenders for 2014 Formula 1 Driver of the Year

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2014

Ranking the Early Contenders for 2014 Formula 1 Driver of the Year

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    Who are the early contenders for driver of the year?
    Who are the early contenders for driver of the year?Clive Mason/Getty Images

    It seems like it just started, but nearly one-third of the 2014 Formula One season is already over. At this point, we have a reasonable idea of who is doing well and who is not, without one or two outlier performances skewing our perceptions (McLaren in Melbourne, anyone?).

    Therefore, we have ranked the top five early contenders for driver of the year.

    The criteria include:

    • Position in the Drivers' Championship
    • Performance relative to teammate
    • Performance relative to general expectations
    • Strength of car (bonus points if you get a Marussia into the top 10)

    With that in mind, here we go...

Honourable Mentions

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    Bottas has been impressive all season for Williams.
    Bottas has been impressive all season for Williams.Clive Mason/Getty Images

    There are several drivers who have impressed so far this season, but they just missed the cut here.

    Daniil Kvyat, who turned 20 at the end of April, has scored points in three of his first six F1 races. He is tied in the drivers' standings with his more experienced Toro Rosso teammate, Jean-Eric Vergne, and the young Russian has not looked overwhelmed at all during his rookie campaign.

    Jules Bianchi has not had a spectacular year overall—he was last in the championship until Monaco—but his incredible performance in the principality to score Marussia's first-ever points gets him an honourable mention.

    With Kimi Raikkonen leaving for Ferrari, Romain Grosjean became the team leader at Lotus this year and was looking to build off a strong finish to the 2013 season. Instead, Lotus missed the first preseason test and has struggled to catch up. Still, Grosjean has dragged his car into eighth place at the last two races, while his teammate, Pastor Maldonado, has not yet threatened to score.

    Valtteri Bottas was the closest, of these drivers, to making it into the top five. The 24-year-old Finn has almost twice as many points as his new teammate, Felipe Massa, and finished fifth in Australia and Spain. His first podium finish does not seem far away.

    And now, the top five contenders, so far, for driver of the year...

5. Nico Rosberg

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    Rosberg beat Hamilton in Monaco.
    Rosberg beat Hamilton in Monaco.Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Yes, Nico Rosberg leads the championship, but it's only because a power-unit problem ended Lewis Hamilton's race in Melbourne. In the five races where the two Mercedes drivers have gone head-to-head on the track, Hamilton has come out on top four times.

    In Monaco, Rosberg secured pole under questionable circumstances and held on for the victory—but he has not been better than Hamilton this year. Still, it's hard to ignore two wins and four second-place finishes in six races, even if the Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid is head and shoulders above every other car.

4. Fernando Alonso

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    Alonso's only podium so far this year came in China.
    Alonso's only podium so far this year came in China.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Fernando Alonso has sort of flown under-the-radar this season, yet he is third in the Drivers' Championship. The Ferrari F14 T does not look like a race winner, and Alonso has only finished on the podium once this year, but the Spaniard is getting the most out of his car.

    Meanwhile, Raikkonen, who was brought in to challenge Alonso, has struggled mightily. Alonso has more than three times as many points as his teammate and has beaten the Iceman in all six races this season.

    If Alonso does decide to leave Ferrari at the end of this year, his stock is only going to rise.

3. Nico Hulkenberg

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    Hulkenberg finished fifth in Bahrain.
    Hulkenberg finished fifth in Bahrain.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Nico Hulkenberg has switched teams for each of the four seasons he has been an F1 race driver, and each year, he puts up fantastic results.

    He is still seeking his first podium, but Hulkenberg has scored in every race this year and currently sits fifth in the Drivers' Championship. Although his Force India teammate, Sergio Perez, did find the podium in Bahrain, Hulkenberg is outscoring the Mexican 47-20.

    A podium this year is nearly certain for the German, and it is only a matter of time before he finds himself with a top team.

2. Daniel Ricciardo

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    Ricciardo finished third in Monaco.
    Ricciardo finished third in Monaco.Andrew Hone/Getty Images

    Daniel Ricciardo faced a daunting challenge coming into the season. He had never had a car capable of racing near the front of the pack, and suddenly he was paired with four-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel.

    The 24-year-old Australian has more than held his own, though. In fact, he has significantly outperformed Vettel for most of the year.

    In six races, Ricciardo has finished on the podium three times (although he was disqualified in Melbourne) and in fourth place twice. He is fourth in the Drivers' Championship and leads Vettel by nine points.

    Red Bull may not be where they want to be relative to Mercedes, but Ricciardo has far exceeded expectations so far this season.

1. Lewis Hamilton

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    Are you not entertained? Hamilton wins in Spain.
    Are you not entertained? Hamilton wins in Spain.Associated Press

    There should be no surprise about the clubhouse leader for driver of the year. Hamilton has won four of six races so far this year and has not made any mistakes, even in the races he did not win.

    In Australia, Hamilton qualified on pole, but engine gremlins ended his race early. In Monaco, he may have qualified on pole if not for Rosberg's suspicious misadventure at Mirabeau.

    Yes, he has the best car, but, like Vettel last year, he has driven the best car flawlessly.

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