Badger’s driver preview continues with a number of familiar faces alongside Petrov and Hulkenberg…
Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso, 16th): Buemi is still only 21. This means he’s got youth on his side, as you’d expect from a Toro Rosso driver. Last season was his first in F1, picking up six points in total through four points scoring positions, clustered at the beginning and end of the season. Before F1, his second place in the 2008 GP2 Asia Series was achieved while battling other such F1 luminaries as Romain Grosjean, Vitaly Petrov, Bruno Senna, Kamui Kobayashi and Karun Chandhok. The fact he achieved his place in F1 prior to all of these drivers should be a matter of pride, although Red Bull will be looking for him to push on in his second season if he’s to be retained in the future. Season aim:- Beating his teammate should be the primary objective. If someone gets moved out of Toro Rosso, he’ll want to make sure it isn’t him.
Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso, last eight races of the 2009 season): Alguersuari is young. Very young. Still only 19 (until after Bahrain, anyway), he’s a testament to Toro Rosso’s willingness to put youngsters in their cars. Sadly for Jaime, he failed to score a point for the team last season after replacing Sebastian Bourdais, which is probably the reason official confirmation of his seat for this season took an age to come through. The team will doubtless be looking for a significant improvement this season, unless he’s to go the way of Scott Speed and Bourdais and be dropped mid-season. Season aim:- Beating your teammate has to be the primary objective of any racing driver. Alguersuari will have some grace period given his mid-season entry into the team, but will need to show signs of improvement.
Driver to back: Buemi. With a full season under his belt and points finishes last season, he’ll be the man to beat in the team.
Vitantonio Liuzzi (Force India, last five races of the 2009 season): First of all, a confession. Your correspondent was dismissive of Liuzzi in the Force India team preview and was taken to task by one of the site’s regular readers (and commenters). He pointed out that Liuzzi wasn’t actually all that bad and was, in fact, quite good. While still not completely convinced by his merits, this is a big season for Liuzzi. After a complete pre-season and provided he’s got a half-decent car underneath him (Force India does seem to have been improving), then it’s up to him to show he can deliver consistently on the big stage. Season aim:- Prove he’s quick and consistent enough to deserve his place in F1.
Adrian Sutil (Force India, 17th): Remarkably, this will be Sutil’s fourth season in F1. They grow up so fast nowadays, don’t they? He has a reputation for being quick but crashy which is probably the right way round. If he was slow but consistent he’d probably not be in F1 and he’d also not be quite so much fun. Good in the wet (always a mark of a good driver), he’ll be hoping to add some level of consistency to his armoury, and will hopefully gather some points in the process. Season aim:- Time to really progress. He’ll be casting eyes towards bigger teams for next season, if he’s not to stay stuck in the lower midfield for the rest of his career.
Driver to back: Sutil. If he managed to get rid of his ability to disengage his brain, he should be quick enough to beat Liuzzi.
Robert Kubica (BMW, 14th): Last season wasn’t kind to Kubica; the car was, quite frankly, rubbish. After 2008’s fourth place in the championship and his maiden race victory, he’d doubtless have been hoping to push on strongly. As it was, BMW pulled out of the sport, he joined Renault, who were then themselves taken over (well, 75% of them was…), leaving him with a decision to make. As it was, he’s chosen to stay with the team and will be hoping his decision won’t backfire. He’s another driver who will presumably be casting admiring glances elsewhere should this season go as badly as the last one. Season aim:- Outdrive the car, hope for some decent points finishes and be Fernando Alonso to Petrov’s Piquet.
Vitaly Petrov (newcomer): Backed entirely by his Dad and some of his friends, Petrov is with Renault solely due to the financial muscle he can bring to the team. Described by our own Jimmy Von Weeks as having spent “three and a half years being distinctly average”, he’ll have to buck that particular trend if he’s to avoid being embarrassed by Kubica. Let’s just hope this generation of pay drivers are better than the last. Season aim:- Enjoy it. Try not to make any embarrassing mistakes and generally keep out of trouble.
Driver to back: Kubica. No justification needed.
Rubens Barrichello (Brawn, 3rd): One of the elder statesmen of F1 (he started in F1 in 1993), Barrichello is a part of the F1 landscape. Generally regarded as being a Good Guy, he showed some of his impetuous streak last season while claiming Brawn favoured his teammate and future World Champion, Jenson Button. This merely showed the competitive fires within him weren’t yet out and he enters yet another F1 season at Williams after performing a direct driver swap with Nico Rosberg. Season aim:- Use all of his technical know-how and racecraft to help both Williams and his new teammate Nico Hülkenberg to fulfil their potential.
Nico Hülkenberg (Newcomer): In contrast to his teammate, Hülkenberg is one of the youngest drivers on the grid and comes with a big reputation. Fresh from winning last season’s GP2 in his first season, he should have more than enough raw pace to compete with his older, more experienced teammate. Williams will surely be hoping they’ve got The Next Big Thing on their hands. Managed by Willi Weber, he’s surely got the right man directing his career. Season aim:- Show why he’s so highly regarded by beating Barrichello and making a statement of intent for the rest of his F1 career.
Driver to back: Hülkenberg. This is a close one, but he’s a talent and, once he’s got to grips with the team and the racing, he should have enough to beat Barrichello.