Given we’ve now had the first four races of the season, this seems like the perfect time to have a look at how the drivers have performed during the flyaway races. We’ve even got some rather funky tables for your perusal.
Those who thought Hamilton would smash Button into the middle of next week have been sorely (and thankfully) mistaken. Button’s 3-1 record in qualifying and two race victories speak not only of his pace but also his experience and sound decision making. While it seems clear that Hamilton is the faster driver in terms of raw pace, there’s really not that much in it and certainly not enough to compensate for Button’s tyre management and greater racing nous. Both drivers appear to be getting along swimmingly and are quick, although we here in the Sett think there could well be tears before bedtime. Our one hope is that Hamilton’s ‘experimental’ facial hair clump will have been removed by the time the circus gets to Spain. Either grow a beard or don’t. Stop messing around.
*Thanks to Gilly for pointing out my error.
The stats above don’t really speak to the difference between the two drivers. Alonso has been quick. Massa hasn’t. It’s really as simple as that.
While it’s great that Massa is back after his dreadful accident last year, the question that keeps popping into your correspondent’s brain is this: if Massa hadn’t had his accident last season, would he still be at Ferrari this season? You can’t really sack a seriously injured driver, can you? On his day, he can be very quick, as demonstrated by his championship challenge in 2008 and the fact he’s held up Alonso in a couple of races this season. However, is he quick (and clinical) enough to drive for one of the top teams in F1, especially one with such high standards as Ferrari? Probably not. Alonso, for his part, has looked every inch the driver Ferrari thought they were employing and won’t (barring any hissy fits, anyway) be going anywhere else for a while.
No surprise with this one really. Webber’s a great chap and a quick driver, but Vettel’s just that little bit quicker. Actually, in all honesty, he’s quite a bit quicker, which he’s shown in all four races thus far. Now that Red Bull have mastered the art of having a quick car (well done for that, by the way), they just need to understand how to a) make it last a race distance and b) react better to inclement weather or unexpected occurrences. Fundamentally, whichever driver is quicker is going to have a great chance of winning the world championship at the end of the season. Our money (and anyone else’s who’s not mental) should be on Vettel.
One of the stories of the season thus far. Rosberg has done very well with the machinery he’s been given, whereas Schumacher’s been rubbish. Your correspondent wrote in the Mercedes team preview that Rosberg was on a hiding to nothing – lose to Schumacher and he’d have been beaten by a returning 41 year old, beat him and he’d have beaten a washed up former champion. However, much like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, Rosberg’s found a third way: beat Schumacher so convincingly that you look good whatever happens. Good on him. Schumacher will (obviously) be hoping that the planned updates for Spain help his reported traction problem and get him closer to Rosberg. He’s got to come good sooner or later, no?
One of the teams who’ll be happiest with their car and their drivers. Although Kubica has out qualified and outraced Petrov in all the first four races, the Russian has improved markedly, diced with Lewis Hamilton and proved he deserves his place in F1 this season. Although he started…slowly, he’s improved in the last couple of races, as confirmed by his seventh place finish in China last time out. Kubica, in contrast, has shown why he’s so highly regarded on the grid, out-driving the car in nearly every race and generally being ace. He’s got one of those miserable looking faces though. Cheer up, Robert, you might even get to drive a Ferrari next season.
Possibly the most improved team on the grid this season. Sutil has become a regular fixture in Q3 and out qualified Liuzzi in every race weekend thus far, demonstrating the raw pace balance of the team. That said, what really matters is race results and both have had good performances this year, leading to a 2-2 draw. Liuzzi’s seventh in Australia and Sutil’s fifth in Malaysia are the ones that spring to mind immediately, as well as both drivers being able to mix it with the bigger teams (seemingly thanks to a slick aero package and Mercedes supplied grunt). Liuzzi, having started the season with some top ten momentum, has retired from the last two races so will doubtless be looking to at least finish in Spain. Sutil, having only bettered his qualifying position once in the first four races, will be looking to avoid moving from “quick but crashy” to the mantle of “the next Jarno Trulli”.
It’s a battle of experience vs. youth in the Williams team this season. Even though your correspondent’s grandfather would often say that a good young ‘un would always beat a good old ‘un, his words of wisdom are being challenged by the age-defying Rubens Barrichello. With only one retirement between them (Hulkenberg in Australia), the cars have shown admirable reliability. However, the more telling statistic may be that of their combined eight starts, the drivers have bettered their grid slot in the race on only two occasions. That said, in terms of the team dynamic, can anyone think of a better team mate for Hulkenberg in his first season than Rubens? Sure, he can go a bit mad on occasion, but the depth and breadth of his racing knowledge should make Hulkenberg treasure the experience and may help him go on to be as special as people seem to think he can be.
A game of two halves in Toro Rosso, with Buemi better in qualifying (by an average of two places a race) but Alguersuari completing a whitewash in the races. While some (alright, most) of that may have been down to Buemi’s three retirements out of four (although he was classified in Bahrain), Jaime has still been performing well on circuits he hasn’t raced on before. Returning home to Spain and to a circuit he knows, he’ll be hoping to make it five from five. Buemi, on the other hand, just needs some more luck to convert his good qualifying performances into solid race finishes. One of the most interesting team mate battles on the grid this season, especially given Red Bull’s propensity for ditching drivers.
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Anyone who’s read this column or the raw pace league table regularly will know that Sauber aren’t exactly flavour of the month. Here’s a flavour of the comments thus far: “uninspiring”, “dull” and “good for insomniacs everywhere”. After the first four races, both Sauber drivers have emerged with a grand total of zero points, being the only established team to share that dubious honour with the newbies. The most telling statistic is that of the eight race distances started between them, Kobayashi and de la Rosa have managed one finish (de la Rosa’s twelfth in Australia). In most races, all but one in fact, it’s been not a battle of pace but of who’s travelled furthest. By your correspondent’s calculations, Kobayashi’s completed just nineteen racing laps in four races. Nineteen. Astonishing. To be honest, it’s too early to start picking winners; they need to be given a half decent car first.
Easily the strongest of the new teams and with a significant upgrade apparently coming in Spain, the Lotus drivers must be feeling quite smug. Kovalainen’s had the best of the early season action, level with Trulli in qualifying but just edging it during the races. It’ll be interesting to see how the upgrades affect the driver balance of the team or whether either driver can get close enough to the back of the established pack to challenge. It’s important for both drivers to win the team mate battle to put themselves in the best position for any ‘bigger’ race seats going next season.
When your only real competition is your team mate, it makes it ever more vital to perform. Although much of the season will be a learning experience for the team and the drivers, it’s imperative for each of them to beat the other. That said, the early season figures are pretty meaningless to be honest – both drivers have done well, with Badger having a definite soft spot for Chandhok, but when your results are measured on whether you finish, rather than your speed, you know you’ve got a way to go.
Definitely the team with the funniest reliability issue so far this season (an undersized fuel tank, for those with their head under a rock). The drivers have been quick on occasion, but have too often suffered from mechanical gremlins. Glock is the faster of the two, as demonstrated by the qualifying stats, but a record of one race finish (di Grassi in Malaysia) in eight starts is simply not good enough. When the car stops behaving like it’s made from bits of twig and old pigeon feathers, the drivers may have a chance to compete properly.
Driver of the first four races
This time is a little different… in that you, our lovely readers decide on who should be crowned as the Hot Rod of 2010 so far. Head over to our Hot Rod Poll and cast your votes – the 2010 ‘Hot Rod So Far’ (catchy!) will be crowned before the race on Sunday.