Wow, talk about a midseason turnaround in 2011 for F1. In case you missed it, last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix was arguably the most exciting race of the season, with constantly changing weather conditions, plenty of wheel to wheel racing, and topped off by a clinical demonstration of race and tire management by winner Jenson Button. We’re officially past the midway point of the season, which also means F1 is on a 4 week summer hiatus. Seems like a perfect time to hand out some midterm grades…
Sebastian Vettel : A+
How could one not give him top marks? With 8 pole positions, 6 race wins, and podium finishes in all but one race, it’s safe to say he’s been on top of his game. More importantly, his lead in the Drivers championship standings continues to grow with each race, having gone from 77 last week to 85 after Hungary. So what if he hasn’t won in the last three races? At this point in the season for someone in his position, it’s about winning the war, not the battle. Which makes the criticism floating around lately on his inability to drive in traffic somewhat petty and frivolous. Don’t let his recent performances mislead you, however, Vettel will still be in the hunt for race wins, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes at least two more before season’s end. Regardless, barring a season ending injury, he will be this year’s Drivers Champion, and the youngest ever back to back World Champion and first to do so since Alonso accomplished the feat back in 2006.
Mark Webber: C+
At first I thought maybe I’m being a bit harsh on the Aussie considering he’s in 2nd place in the DC and one of the best equipped drivers to challenge Vettel’s supremacy this season. But after looking at his race results factoring in his qualifying performances, it’s safe to say Webber has underperformed and underwhelmed. In only three races has he finished in a higher position from his starting spot on the grid, and he’s failed to convert all three of his pole positions into race wins. His most impressive drive this season was his 3rd place finish in China after inexplicably qualifying 18th, but someone in his position should be driving for race wins. Nonetheless, he’s still a favorite of the fans and in the paddock, and will almost certainly be racing again for Red Bull next season. So let’s give him a cheer, aussie, aussie, aussie, oy, oy, oy!
Lewis Hamilton: A-
Of all the drivers on the grid, Hamilton has been the most exciting to watch this season, if not also the most erratic. His aggressive driving style paid off for him with epic wins at China and Germany, but also bit him in the butt at Monaco and Canada. He probably should have won at Hungary, if not at least finished 1-2 with Button, but his in-hindsight premature decision to switch to intermediate tires, along with his drive through penalty for nearly driving into Paul di Resta, ruined any chance of a podium finish. Of all the drivers in the grid, he seems the most determined to fight to the end, even if it means driving his car off the track instead of finishing the race. Which is precisely why he is beloved by racing fans.
Jenson Button: B+
To be fair, Button could easily be #2 in the DC, but a bit stop bungle at Silverstone and a hydraulic failure at Germany ruined his chances of earnings solid points in both races. His two race wins at Canada and Hungary were master class sessions of racing in changeable track conditions, but in truth he’s been the slower, if not less exciting, driver to his teammate Hamilton. But he also has the hottest girlfriend/wife in the paddock, so in the end he’s always a winner.
VA VA VROOOM!
Special commendation to the British outfit for constantly making upgrades to their car after a difficult preseason, for allowing their drivers to race each other along with the rest of the grid, and for stepping up as the strongest challenger to Red Bull.
Fernando Alonso: A-
The Spaniard is renowned for his relentless drive to push his car to the max, which is not exactly a glowing endorsement of this year’s Ferrari F150. His win at Silverstone was a welcome reprieve to F1 fans from Vettel’s consistent dominance, and he should be able to challenge for race wins for the rest of the season, which is all that he really he has to race for. Another win at home soil at Monza would be a nice gift to the tifosi, vamos, or andiamo!
Felipe Massa: C
Everyone’s favorite underdog is having another forgettable season, all you have to do is look at the DC standings as evidence of his lack of pace this season. The real question is Massa’s future at Ferrari, he has one more year left under contract, and it seems unlikely that he’ll be there after 2012. If he does leave, there’s no obvious choice as to where he’ll go, but his replacement is a little more clear cut. Expect to see Robert Kubica in a red jumpsuit in 2013, assuming he doesn’t completely chop off one of his arms in another freak rally or gasoline fight accident.
Oof, it’s been admittedly difficult to watch the most successful driver in F1 history struggle to match teammate Nico Rosberg’s pace, let alone the rest of the grid. His near podium at Canada was the biggest highlight so far of his comeback, which is a far cry from his years of dominance at Ferrari. He has one more year left on his contract with Mercedes, but the German outfit seems years away from challenging at the front on the grid.
Of all the top drivers on the grid, Rosberg is one of the most forgettable, despite his edge up on his legendary teammate. Wait a minute, who was I talking about?
Paul di Resta: B
Special gold star to the Scottish rookie, who at times this season has outdriven his teammate Adrian Sutil, who is no slouch. Will he able to leverage his strong drives this season into a seat with a top team? The race seat opening at Mercedes after Schumi’s pending retirement seems like the most obvious choice, at this point it’s all about baby steps for Coulthard 2.0.
Their whopping 4 constructors points this season is the lowest of all the established teams, and a far cry from their glory years in the 80s and 90s. Not exactly what you want the year after you issue an IPO. Their switch to Renault engines next year should provide a boost, but it’s going to take a near miracle for Williams to return to strength anytime soon.
The races after the summer break are some of my favorites of the season, with Spa, Monza, and Suzuka coming up. With eight races to go, the question for this season remains, which driver, if any, will rise to challenge Vettel’s throne to the F1 kingdom? I beseech the drivers on the grid to be epic, for much is at stake, but in the end, only one can claim thou has come in 2nd place in the DC! Excelsior!