Formula 1's Driver Power Rankings After 2015 Japanese Grand Prix
There are no perfect 10s in this week's Formula One driver power rankings, but the somewhat-dull 2015 Japanese Grand Prix still featured a handful of top-class drives.
Lewis Hamilton extended his world championship lead with a commanding victory, making up for an average qualifying performance by overtaking team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg at Turn 2 on the opening lap.
Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas will also have been relatively happy with their results. On paper, we'd expect the top Ferrari and top Williams to finish third and fifth, respectively—and that's exactly where they ended up.
Nico Hulkenberg and Max Verstappen had cause to celebrate, too, as did Pastor Maldonado—but it's unlikely Fernando Alonso joined them in raising a glass.
The Spaniard drove well and finished higher up the order than he should have in the uncompetitive McLaren. But it still wasn't good enough for points, and his comments on the team radio made it clear that his frustration with Honda has reached the boiling point.
Jenson Button probably—but quietly—feels the same way.
With 14 rounds down and just five to go, the F1 circus now heads to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix on October 11. Last season's race was a stinker—let's hope the drivers can make this year's edition worth watching.
Here's how they currently rank.
Note on Driver Power Rankings
These rankings should not be confused with the championship table.
Rather than looking solely at how many points each driver has, these rankings take into account race results, qualifying, each driver's overall performance and how drivers stack up against their team-mates. The relative pace of each driver's car is factored in, as is the identity of his team-mate.
For each race weekend, every driver who took part is awarded a score out of 10. The sum of these scores across the previous six races is given on each driver's slide and determines the driver's ranking.
As we're more than six races into the season, drivers will be dropping points from races earlier in the year; this, coupled with a very tight field, may result in large fluctuations.
All position changes are relative to where the driver was in the previous set of rankings, published after the Singapore Grand Prix and available here.
Rosberg took a rare pole position and drove well to recover to second after being pushed wide at Turn 2.
Pastor Maldonado also deserves some credit. Not only did he avoid the kind of first-lap melee he'd often find himself in the middle of, but he also drove well to score his first points since Austria.
And surprisingly, Marcus Ericsson—despite having a less-than-wonderful weekend—has the same number of points as the 10th-place driver. But in the event of a tie, someone has to miss out. On this occasion, he's that man.
10. Jenson Button
Jenson Button normally drives well in Japan, but his car didn't let him do that this time around.
He was knocked out of qualifying in Q1 after a mix-up over engine modes ruined his first flying lap, and yellow flags hampered his second. He gained two places due to penalties for other drivers and started 14th; Fernando Alonso also moved up two spots to 12th.
The 2009 world champion made an average start, gaining two places on the opening lap, but he was under attack as soon as DRS was activated. Felipe Nasr and Max Verstappen went to either side of Button on the run down to Turn 1; both got through, relegating the Brit back to 14th in an instant.
Button opted to run the slower, hard-compound tyres for the middle stint, and then he switched to the quicker mediums for the sprint to the flag. But his plans were ruined when Marcus Ericsson, whom Button had held up for the whole second stint, undercut him at the final round of stops.
In the dirty air of a slower car—Ericsson was now on hards—and with no straight-line speed, Button was stuck. Daniil Kvyat caught up and pushed Button down to 15th, and then Daniel Ricciardo swept by as well.
Button crossed the line in 16th, a lap down on the winner. It was his worst-ever finishing position at Suzuka—but then, the MP4-30 is the worst car he's even driven, so we can't be too surprised.
He's a new entry in 10th.
9. Nico Hulkenberg
Hulkenberg bounced back from a poor Singapore with a fine display of race pace.
As has often been the case of late, he qualified 11th on the grid—a position he has occupied at four of the last five grands prix. A grid penalty for causing a collision at Marina Bay dropped him down to 13th; team-mate Sergio Perez qualified and started in ninth.
Hulkenberg made a good start and, as some of his rivals were busy avoiding Massa and Ricciardo, he slipped down the inside of Carlos Sainz Jr into Turn 1. Sainz came across as he tried to avoid Perez, but Hulkenberg kept his nose in, mounting the kerb and escaping unscathed.
When it all shook out, he was up to eighth—and he quickly demonstrated he had the pace to fight the two Lotus cars up ahead. Romain Grosjean was running sixth, while Pastor Maldonado was immediately ahead of Hulkenberg in seventh.
Force India realised he wouldn't be able to make a pass stick on the track, so they pulled their man in early, aiming for the undercut. Lotus responded the following lap, bringing in Grosjean, but a very quick out-lap saw Hulkenberg emerge ahead. Maldonado also came out behind the VJM08—the German was up to sixth.
Hulkenberg then settled in for what he later described as a "lonely race," staying ahead of the Lotuses through the second pit stop phase and crossing the line in sixth.
It was a fine display, but he falls a spot to ninth.
8. Valtteri Bottas
Valtteri Bottas regained his status as the top Williams driver after a fine outing in Japan.
He qualified an impressive third with a best Q3 lap of one minute, 33.024 seconds—less than half a second down on the polesitter. Team-mate Felipe Massa was fifth, a further three-tenths slower.
Bottas got off the line well but appeared to bog down in the second phase, allowing Sebastian Vettel through on the run down to Turn 1. But the two Mercedes were fighting up ahead, and when Rosberg was pushed wide at the second corner Bottas swept through and back into third.
The famously unflappable Finn survived several pressure laps from Rosberg and then made an early first stop in a bid to stay ahead. It looked to have worked when Bottas remained in front after both had stopped, but less than a lap later, he seemed to switch off at the entry to the chicane.
On brand-new tyres, Rosberg seized the opportunity and stuck one up the inside; Bottas tried to respond but couldn't move across in time and was pushed down to fourth.
Kimi Raikkonen was next in line to have a go at Bottas, and he slipped by using the undercut at the second round of stops. The No. 77 driver crossed the line in fifth.
Fifth is where a Williams—the third-fastest car around Suzuka—"should" have finished, so Bottas will be content with the 10 points. But there was definitely an opportunity to do better.
He's up two spots to eighth.
7. Sergio Perez
Sergio Perez couldn't quite recover from his first-lap trip across the gravel.
The Mexican did a good job on Saturday, making it through to Q3. He was unable to set a lap due to the red flag caused by Kvyat, but he was classified in ninth. Team-mate Nico Hulkenberg could only manage 11th.
But all his hard work was undone going into the first corner. After a fairly good launch off the line, Perez had to avoid the slowing Massa and jinked to the inside. Entering Turn 1 he was on the outside of a three-abreast scrap with Hulkenberg and Sainz, but he didn't even leave space for one car as he went for the apex.
Sainz—the meat in the Force India sandwich—had nowhere to go and collided with Perez, sending him skating across the gravel on the outside. A first-lap stop left Perez 37 seconds down on the race leader and with a mountain to climb.
He set about the task admirably, showing promising pace as he caught the rear of the midfield. After making the last of his three stops, Perez emerged into a tight scrap with Button, Ericsson and Kvyat.
Button was quickly dispatched, but Ericsson proved a tougher nut to crack. The 10 laps Perez spent stuck behind the Sauber cost him any chance of a points finish, and he crossed the line in 12th.
Perez is down two places to seventh.
6. Romain Grosjean
Grosjean enjoyed a much-needed drama-free race in Japan.
He continued his single-lap dominance over Maldonado, outqualifying his team-mate for the 13th time in 2015 with an impressive lap of 1:33.967. Maldonado could only manage the 13th-fastest time.
An average start saw Grosjean move up to sixth after Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa hit trouble on the opening lap. A shade quicker than Maldonado—who had risen to seventh—Grosjean maintained the position until the opening round of stops.
Hulkenberg had been lurking behind the Lotus duo, and Force India called him in for his first stop on Lap 9. The Enstone team instantly responded by bringing in Grosjean, but he emerged from the pit lane behind the VJM08.
Grosjean had a quiet race thereafter. He, Maldonado and Hulkenberg had almost identical pace; the gaps between them only really changed during the second round of stops.
The Frenchman finished seventh, picking up points for the first time since his Spa podium.
He remains in sixth.
5. Max Verstappen
Verstappen had to really work for his points for the second race in a row.
He was classified 15th in qualifying after making it through to Q2 and then grinding to a halt with an electrical issue before he could set a time. That was bad enough, but a grid penalty for parking on the racing line dropped him to 17th. Carlos Sainz Jr qualified 12th and started 10th after penalties.
Verstappen didn't make a great start but gained a handful of places as other drivers hit trouble. He overtook Button in the first stint and emerged from his first stop in a net 12th place; this became 11th when Kvyat pitted for a second time.
Only Fernando Alonso's McLaren stood between the Dutchman and the points, and it was soon dispatched with the aid of DRS into Turn 1.
Switching to the medium tyres for the final stint, Verstappen emerged in 10th, 14 seconds behind hard-tyre shod Sainz. He quickly cut the gap after a brief battle; Sainz seemed to give his team-mate an open goal into the chicane; Verstappen gratefully accepted the opportunity and dived through on the inside.
He spent the remaining laps in a race by himself and came home in ninth, the final car on the lead lap.
Verstappen drops a place to fifth.
4. Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso drove very well at Suzuka—but his Japanese weekend will be remembered for what he said rather than what he did.
He qualified 14th with what he described on the team website as "probably the best lap of my career around Suzuka"—which speaks volumes about how bad the McLaren-Honda is. Team-mate Jenson Button was eliminated in Q3 after being delayed by yellow flags.
The Spaniard started 12th after other drivers took penalties. He didn't get off the line especially well but avoided the first-corner incidents to end the opening lap in ninth. Unfortunately, his weak power unit didn't give him a chance to stay there.
Sainz breezed past, down the pit straight in the Renault-powered Toro Rosso, and Alonso was heard on Sky Sports F1's live TV coverage calling the situation "embarrassing" (via Pete Gill and William Esler). Marcus Ericsson also got through.
Alonso regained 10th at the first pit-stop round and did well to stop Kvyat getting past. He then held off Max Verstappen for several laps, but the Dutchman eventually overtook down the pit straight. This sparked off Alonso's angriest team-radio message of the day, comparing the Honda engine to those used in F1's main feeder series:
"GP2 engine. GP2. Arggh!"
Having vented at least some of his anger, Alonso emerged from his second stop in 11th. On the hard tyre he was quicker than Ericsson in 12th and opened up a gap as faster rivals were stuck behind the Sauber.
Some of them got through near the end of the race, but Alonso had enough of a cushion to hold them off and take an unlikely 11th—just 13 seconds away from a point.
He's up three places to fourth.
3. Daniel Ricciardo
Ricciardo had a weekend to forget in Japan.
He outqualified team-mate Daniil Kvyat for the ninth time in 2015 to qualify seventh. Kvyat was classified 10th after making it through to Q3 but failing to set a lap time due to his heavy crash.
Ricciardo made a great start and aimed his car between those of Raikkonen and Massa. He had sufficient momentum to get past both, but neither he nor Massa gave each other space; Ricciardo's left-rear wheel touched the Brazilian's front-right, giving both punctures.
The long, slow limp back to the pits for fresh rubber cost Ricciardo dearly, and by the time he was up and running again, he was over 80 seconds down on the race leader.
Making two sets of hard-compound tyres last the whole race, Ricciardo slowly but surely dragged himself up to the rear of the midfield. But reaching the points-paying positions was always going to be too much of an ask, and he trailed home a disappointing 15th.
A good recovery, but he deserves at least a bit of the blame for the incident that ruined his race.
He's down one place to third.
2. Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel returned to his usual spot at Suzuka.
He qualified fourth with a best Q3 time of 1:33.245, almost seven-tenths down on polesitter Nico Rosberg. Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was sixth, just over a tenth slower.
A decent getaway saw Vettel enter Turn 1 ahead of Bottas, who had started third. It got even better as the two Mercedes' fought for the lead; Rosberg was pushed wide and Vettel swept by into second.
The first stint was relatively uneventful for the four-time world champion—he edged clear of third-placed Bottas but could only watch as Lewis Hamilton disappeared up the road. After his first stop, things got more interesting as Rosberg began to close.
Vettel held off his countryman for the full stint—indeed, Rosberg didn't even try to overtake—but Mercedes went for the undercut and called their driver in for an earlier second stop. Ferrari tried to respond, but it was already too late, and Vettel was down to third.
He stayed surprisingly close to Rosberg for the remainder of the race but never seriously looked likely to attack. Vettel crossed the line less than a second behind for his 10th podium of the season.
He's down one place to second.
1. Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton extended his championship lead with a dominant race-day display.
He qualified second on the grid with a time of 1:32.660, missing out on pole by just 0.074 seconds after a slightly scruffy lap. It was only the second time in 2015 he had been outqualified by Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton got a good start and pulled alongside his team-mate on the run down to Turn 1. Rosberg had the better line and looked to have pulled ahead, but Hamilton didn't give up and dived down the inside into Turn 2.
His trajectory was only ever going to take him to one place—the outside of the corner—and Rosberg was pushed wide, dropping to fourth as Hamilton took the lead.
The lack of TV coverage of his car would suggest the rest of the race was nothing more than a trouble-free cakewalk, but Hamilton later revealed to BBC Sport that a number of lock-ups had left him struggling with huge vibrations for 15 laps.
But this issue didn't slow him down enough for anyone behind to mount a challenge. Once the offending tyres were swapped for new ones, Hamilton set a lap more than a second quicker than anyone else managed and then cruised to the chequered flag to win—having led every single lap.
Hamilton is up two places to first.