The 2016 F1 Half-term report – Part 2

With the front runners already having received their grades, it’s time for the midfield contenders to be assessed. Here’s how the drivers from Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso and McLaren have fared.

8Valtteri Bottas

Grade: C
2015 position: 5th
2016 standing: 7th

It’s widely understood that Bottas held talks with Ferrari last season, but Ferrari weren’t willing to pay the reported £10m that Williams were demanding, so Bottas had little option but to stay with the team for a fourth straight season.

Bottas has been a consistent points scorer for Williams this year, and has once again achieved his customary standout drive in Montreal, but despite that, I still am not convinced that he’s showing enough to progress any further up the grid.

He started the year being outpaced by Massa, and then missed out on big points in Bahrain after a coming together with Hamilton. From there on, his results have improved but there’s still been the odd race where I feel he has gone ‘missing’.

Admittedly, his cause hasn’t been helped by Williams’ recent slide down the pecking order, but I think Bottas really needs to come out fighting in the second half of the season to show any potential future employers what he’s really capable of.

7Felipe Massa

Grade: C-
2015 position: 6th
2016 standing: 9th

I’ve always been a fan of Felipe Massa, and I feel that his career was rejuvenated after his move to Williams. However, I can’t help but feel that the time has now come for Felipe to move on (just like Mark Webber did) before his performances start to taint his reputation.

You could argue that during their time has teammates, Massa’s performances have probably put a dent in Bottas’s hopes of joining Ferrari. After all, there were whispers last year that Ferrari weren’t impressed by Bottas’s inability to dominate the ex-Ferrari man.

This year, however, Williams have taken a step backwards, but so has Massa. Just one point scored since Monaco has seen Massa slip to ninth in the drivers’ championship, with Bottas scoring 29 during the same period, including a podium in Canada.

With Williams seemingly courting Jenson Button for a drive next year, Massa’s relaxed demeanour in recent interviews suggests he is moving on, and he knows it.

6Sergio Perez

Grade: B+
2015 position: 9th
2016 standing: 8th

Sergio Perez’s stock is rising steadily, and once again, he has been the man to deliver whenever Force India have had the pace to reach the podium.

After a slow start, Force India’s season came alive when the team introduced an upgrade package at the Spanish Grand Prix. A solid seventh place for Perez was followed by a stunning podium in difficult conditions in Monaco, and then again in Baku just two races later.

With further points in Canada, Britain and Germany, Perez now sits in eighth place in the drivers’ championship, 15 points clear of his teammate.

It’s a testimony to how well Perez is driving that he has now begun to be linked with top teams once again. Rumours are circulating that he may leave Force India at the end of the season, with Williams and Renault rumoured to be interested.

5Nico Hulkenberg

Grade: B-
2015 position: 10th
2016 standing: 10th

Another solid season so far for Nico Hulkenberg, but surprisingly, he’s still searching for that elusive first podium. Only three drivers in history have now competed in more Grands Prix without a top three finish, and that is a tag Hulkenberg needs to shake off as soon as possible.

What’s more frustrating for Hulkenberg, is that his teammate has finished on the podium twice this season already, and Perez’s third place in Baku was his fourth podium finish during their three years as teammates.

The problem for Hulkenberg is that the longer that big result eludes him, the smaller his chances of moving to a top team become, and very few drivers his age get that promotion without having a few standout results on their CV.

With Force India catching Williams for fourth in the constructors’ championship, i’m optimistic that we’ll finally see Nico get that long overdue first podium in the second half of the season.

4Carlos Sainz

Grade: B
2015 position: 15th
2016 standing: 11th

After the disappointment of seeing his former teammate Max Verstappen earn promotion to the senior Red Bull team, Carlos Sainz has responded in remarkable fashion.

It went under the radar at the time, but his sixth place finish at the Spanish Grand Prix (the scene of Max Verstappen’s victory) was his best ever result, and he followed that up with further points in Monaco and Canada.

With points in eight of the 12 races so far, Sainz has already far exceeded his tally for the whole of last season and sits on the cusp of the top 10 in the drivers’ championship.

Sainz has added consistency to the one-lap pace we’ve previously seen, and with the young Spaniard already confirmed to stay with Toro Rosso for next year, don’t be surprised to see him move to a top team for 2018.

3Daniil Kvyat

Grade: D
2015 position: 7th
2016 standing: 14th

I really feel for Daniil Kvyat. After a solid first year at Red Bull, he will have started the season optimistic of securing a first Grand Prix victory, and further enhancing his reputation in the sport. The reality, however, has been quite different. He smashed into Vettel at his home race, was demoted back to Toro Rosso, penalised for a collision in the Monaco Grand Prix and has endured an absolute nightmare ever since.

Whatever your opinion of Kvyat’s ability, the stats since the Spanish Grand Prix tell a brutal story of just how badly the Russian’s confidence has been rocked. Sainz has not only out-qualified Kvyat 6-2 but has out-scored him by a staggering 26 points to 2.

Kvyat appeared dejected after his Q1 exit in Germany and snapped at a journalist who questioned whether he would remain with Toro Rosso after the summer break. I have no doubts that Kvyat will see out the year, but he desperately needs to find his form if he is to stay in F1 beyond this season.

2Fernando Alonso

Grade: C+
2015 position: 17th
2016 standing: 13th

A horrific high-speed crash at the opening race in Melbourne was probably not the way Fernando Alonso had intended to start the season. Fortunately he was able to walk away, but the FIA deemed it a risk to let him race in Bahrain so he was forced to sit that one out on medical grounds.

Since returning to the cockpit, Alonso seems motivated and his performances have reflected that. A strong sixth place in the Russian Grand Prix was followed by an impressive fifth in Monaco. More points at the Austrian Grand Prix means Alonso has almost as many points as McLaren scored in the whole of last season.

As results have improved, so has Fernando’s mood – at least compared to last year. With McLaren making progress and setting their sights on fourth in the constructors’ championship, I’m expecting one or two special performances from Alonso in the second half of the season.

1Jenson Button

Grade: C
2015 position: 16th
2016 standing: 15th

The speculation about Jenson’s future started even before the first race this season, and that heightened when stand-in Stoffel Vandoorne out-qualified him and scored the team’s first point of the season in Bahrain. Jenson wasn’t bothered by that though, and neither should he. He’s a World Champion after all.

The highlight of his season so far was probably fifth on the grid at the Austrian Grand Prix, and the subsequent sixth place finish that followed, but it’s Jenson’s consistency that has long been his trademark.

Points for Button in five of the eight races since China have helped McLaren move to within three points of Toro Rosso – a team they finished 40 points adrift of last season.

It’s clear that McLaren are improving and Jenson is driving well, and with new rules for 2017, next year’s cars may be much more to Jenson’s liking. Williams have expressed an interest in signing the former champ if McLaren decide to take up their option on Vandoorne, but I’m sure there is more to come from JB in the second half of the season.

And that’s a wrap for part 2 – join us for the third and final installment when we delve into the lower reaches of the F1 World Championship tables, with a look at the final eight drivers in our half-term report!