2012 Driver-by-Driver Review


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25. Pedro de la Rosa
Pedro finished behind his team-mate in the Championship, but this was an effect of the countback situation HRT live with. He usually outqualified Karthikeyan. A notable performance was at Monaco where he outqualified the Marussia of Charles Pic before being eliminated by suffering a close encounter with Pastor Maldonado. He would also outqualify Marussias in Canada, Bahrain and Japan. In the latter, he was able to outqualify Caterham's Vitaly Petrov as well. So he showed well for a 41 year old, but his F1 career has now surely ended.

24. Narain Karthikeyan
It was one hell of a surprise when Narain Karthikeyan was resurrected to take the HRT seat again for 2012. This time, however, he did last the season. He usually started last, but was less conspicuous for his obstruction of the leaders than he was in Valencia last year, for example, with one notable exception. Most notably he helped Alonso's title tilt by hitting Vettel in Malaysia and blocking him in America, but frankly being called a "cucumber" by the three-time World Champion is the sum total of the impressions the Indian left in 2012.

23. Jerome d'Ambrosio
The aggregation of collisions from Romain Grosjean culminating in him nearly decapitating Fernando Alonso at Spa gave Jerome d'Ambrosio his chance at Monza. It was a difficult situation, and d'Ambrosio sadly floundered. He qualified 15th and finished the last of the established team finishers, but it is scarcely fair to judge the Belgian on one appearance.

22. Heikki Kovalainen
It is sad to see Kovalainen so far down the order when he was usually the first of the newish teams' drivers to finish. However, he was not there in the attritional races which count. He had more difficulty this year fighting Vitaly Petrov than he did against Jarno Trulli; he was outqualified more often. Sadly, that suggests his level has stayed similar since 2009, and whether any of the midfield runners take a chance next year is debatable. But he can take heart from a Q2 adventures, qualifying 16th in Bahrain and Valencia.

21. Charles Pic
Although Marussia seem too happy to get rid of their second driver at the end of the season, it is difficult to argue they have not improved each time. Pic was generally closer to Glock than d'Ambrosio or di Grassi were, but is the only one of the three to not beat the German in the Championship. However, he is the first to secure a second year; he'll be off to Caterham for 2013. He failed to deny his new team 10th in the Championship in Sao Paulo in scoring Marussia's second 12th place of the year. Tended to be beaten by Glock in races, sadly.

20. Timo Glock
For the first time since 2004, Glock has beaten a team-mate in the Championship. In qualifying, it had seemed that Pic was closer to him, but when he beat Kobayashi and Hulkenburg home for 12th in Singapore, a track where he ran well in his Toyota days, the German was ready to beat his team-mate and Petrov. He didn't stay ahead of the Russian, but had enough to beat his team-mate. A third year of anonymity for Glock; it does seem a waste of everyone's time having him pootling around in a Marussia when he could still be successful elsewhere. DTM, maybe!

19. Vitaly Petrov
With his vast pool of money running out, it looks like this is the last we'll see of Vitaly Petrov. His 11th place in Brazil stands as Fernandes' best ever result and secured the green and yellow team the 10th place windfall for the third year in a row. Showed up Jarno Trulli's pathetic attempts to match Kovalainen in 2010 and 2011, which frankly is all we can measure him on. Had some very good days in comparison to his team-mate, which maybe says more about Kovalainen than him. Good luck for the future, Cyborg!

18. Daniel Ricciardo
It is amazing to think Ricciardo lost to his team-mate in the Championship. He outqualified perennial Q1 loser Vergne all year and generally beat him in the races. From Hungary to India there was an excellent run of 5 points finishes out of 7 and real promise was shown. Sadly, he finished no better than 9th, limited by his machinery and the "wrong" good days. His 6th place qualifying position in Bahrain is by far the best Toro Rosso did all season. Another year is merited; there are Red Bull seats up for grabs in 2014 and Ricciardo is in with a shout.

17. Jean-Eric Vergne
To beat a team-mate in the lowest scoring team, it requires just 4 finishes in 8th place. JEV was not at most qualifying sessions, meaning the remaining slot in Q1 usually went to him. He is the only one of the established team drivers not to make his way into Q3. His mastery of changable conditions in Malaysia and Brazil bodes well, including a bizarre and successful commitment to dry tyres in a monsoon at Sepang, and his ability to take chances when presented, in Belgium and Korea may well mark him out, for good or ill, as the next Jenson Button. He needs to get better in qualifying though!

16. Bruno Senna
Williams produced a race winning car in 2012, which was difficult to believe looking at Bruno Senna's results. A best placed finish of 6th in the rain at Sepang was a result of an excellent drive, but it was not backed up. That he was considered consistent and less accident prone of the Williams pair merely serves to highlight Maldonado's inconsistencies. He was often apt to sneak into the lower half of the top 10 in the race, though he made only one Q3 appearance all year, compared to Maldonado's 13. He just is not good enough for this level, I'm afraid.

15. Pastor Maldonado
Perhaps the clearest case of wasted potential over a season in modern F1 history. It all came together for Maldonado on one day in Barcelona, a magnificent win after a closely fought battle with Fernando Alonso on the latter's home turf. The next race (in Monaco) saw an utterly amateur performance from the Venuzuelan, picking up a grid penalty in FP3 and finishing the race at St. Devote rear-ending an HRT. He qualified for Q3 on 13 occasions, but finished in that Top 10 only 5 times, throwing away likely points through collisions, most notably the podium in Valencia he lost into the side of Hamilton. "More speed, less trouble" appeared on his helmet; you have to hope its his motto for the future because if he can cut out the mistakes he has a chance of a bright future in F1. Carry on like this, and he'll be out the door when PDVSA stop funding him.

14. Paul di Resta
Di Resta is the anonymous midfielder du jour. His performances in Bahrain (6th) and particularly Singapore (4th) were excellent, but most of his races finish in the 7th-12th range; he's consistent but does not particularly excel. He only retired the car once, in the wet in Brazil, but he was shown up somewhat by the Hulk over the late stages of the season; a 13 point lead after Singapore was whittled away to a 17 point deficit, and meant his second season in F1 ended with a defeat to his German team-mate like the first. He's a decent driver, he's extremely consistent, but he doesn't seem to have that je ne sais quoi.

13. Michael Schumacher
It all looked so promising after qualifying in Melbourne. 4th on the grid, ahead of Rosberg, could this be the year Schumacher's comeback sparkled. Sadly, it was not to be. A dizzying array of retirements meant he had only 2 points going into Valencia, when he finished in 3rd to record his only podium of the three years. His "pole" lap at Monaco showed signs of the old Schumacher, but the new Schumacher had somewhat scuppered that by picking up a grid penalty in Spain. The second half of the season was forgettable for Mercedes, Schumacher's reputation will survive best if we forget the three years of his Mercedes-Benz dalliance.

12. Kamui Kobayashi
Kobayashi finally achieved what he'd been threatening to do for 3 years, and reached the podium in Suzuka to equal Japan's greatest result. There were also unconverted but promising qualifying performances in China and a front-row start at Spa. He was beaten narrowly by a team-mate who has now hit the high life (finishing dead level on CTA Team-Mate Prediction). There was an excellent 5th place in Germany too, which became 4th when Vettel was demoted from his podium berth. But, really, in this year's Sauber, scoring in every other race (roughly) is not quite good enough. However, it would be a loss to F1 if we don't see Kobayashi lining up in 2013.

11. Nico Hulkenburg
Up to Singapore, it had been difficult to see why Hulkenburg was tipped as a future champion. OK, scoring in about half the races for Force India was a good effort and 4th in Spa was excellent, but he'd not shown Championship material. In the last 6 races, the Hulk turned it up a notch or two. A consistent run of excellent mid-points finishes interrupted only by a first lap outage in Abu Dhabi, an excellently consistent run. And topped off with a performance in the Brazilian GP which saw him challenging the McLarens for the race win. He lost the race, to finish 5th, when he crashed into Lewis Hamilton trying to pass him for the lead - but let's not lose sight of the fact he was trying to pass Lewis Hamilton for the lead! This late burst pulled him past his team-mate, and has raised expectations for his third season with his third midfield constructor.

10. Sergio Perez
Perez announced his candidacy for a chance at the top by chasing down Fernando Alonso in the wet in Malaysia. One mistake cost him, but again, let's not lose sight of the fact he was the quickest man on track. Two more podiums followed, in Canada and Italy down to excellent tyre calls. As soon as the ink dried on his McLaren contract it all went to pot though, allowing Kobayashi to finish only 6 points behind. He was not consistent this season, but he did reach higher highs than the other midfield runners. Whether he can take that good form (and particularly excellent tyre calls) to McLaren with him is another question, his story of three great races has to add sixteen good ones to succeed at a top constructor. Expect a race win, though!

9. Nico Rosberg
The plaudits for beating Schumacher have dried up, and Rosberg has had a season where he's somehow disappeared. OK, the run of retirements and Mercedes troubles at the end contributed, but between the 3rd and 14th races he finished out of the points only twice. This run was started, of course, by a moment we can never take away from him, his excellent first win at Shanghai, where Schumacher's retirement was irrelevant to him because he was ahead. There would be only one other podium, in Monaco when Mercedes should have won the race, but there was a decent and consistent amount of point scoring, although maybe not the amount of points he should have been getting. Next year, his team-mate will be Lewis Hamilton, so he'll need to raise his game.

8. Romain Grosjean
When Grosjean qualified 3rd for the first Grand Prix of the season, it looked like a new man had arrived in F1 compared to the one who'd left. He started the season generally outqualifying Raikkonen, and he earned himself a triumverate of podiums including a brilliant 2nd place in Montreal. He picked up his 96 points from 10 finishes, which is not a bad average at all. But it was not enough finishes! He was a "first-lap nutcase" according to Mark Webber, and it is difficult to disagree. A string of accidents culminating in a near decapitation of Fernando Alonso in Spa got him a ban for Monza. And all these DNFs looked particularly bad when compared to his consistent team-mate. He could have won a race, maybe at Valencia or Montreal, but whether he'll be successful will be decided by his ability to reach the end of the first lap pointing in the right direction.

7. Felipe Massa
At the start of the season, it looked increasingly like Felipe Massa wouldn't even reach the end of 2012, so abject were his performances, especially compared to his guilded team-mate. The second half of the season, however, has seen 10/10 top 10 finishes, podiums at Suzuka and Interlagos and him outqualifying Alonso twice in a row. His podium in Interlagos is especially impressive since he gave up any chance of success to be Alonso's wingman in that Grand Prix; starting the first lap challenging Button for 2nd place and ending it backing Webber into Alonso's clutches. The pace improved pretty much as he was announced as 2013's driver, which suggests that he got a boost from regaining Ferrari's confindence. Confidence is the big word for Felipe; if he's confident, he's good; the last part of 2012 suggests he could at least get closer to Alonso in 2013.

6. Mark Webber
How to assess Mark Webber? He looked excellent in his two wins in Monaco and Spain, but only scored 2 podiums elsewhere, both at the height of the RB8's powers. Most of his points came from 4th-8th places. Finishing 6th in a Constructors' Championship winning car speaks volumes for the competitiveness of the season and the depths of talent of the drivers (beaten as he was by every World Champion since 2005) but doesn't show Webber off in the greatest light. However, barring an unfortunate retirement in Austin, he may have beaten both McLarens. He was far closer to Vettel for the most part than Alonso was to Massa, and as I have said he won two races. I think his mocking comment to Red Bull in 2010 will come to define his career in the eyes of others; he is "not bad for a Number 2 driver".

5. Jenson Button
Button was the winner of the first and last races of the season. From Hockenheim onwards his run was: 2, 6, 1, DNF, 2, 4, DNF, 5, 4, 5, 1. That is typically consistent Button, if he was placed a little lower than the car deserved in some of those races. His run of form from Bahrain to Britain was poor. While Hamilton wasn't winning each of those races, he did win one and did not look quite so much like a fish out of water, like Michael Andretti. How did this easy-on-tyres driver spit out so many tyres in Montreal as his team-mate won; how did he not get past Kovalainen in Monaco even through the pit window? This even more frustrating when you consider his dominance at Melbourne and Spa. You have to say, by Button's 2004, 2009 or 2011 standards this was a poor season, and as McLaren team leader for 2013 he has to improve.

4. Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton finishing 4th in probably the fastest car? And he had personally a good season? Sounds rather contradictory. Few in F1 history have had the bad luck and suffered more from others' errors than Hamilton this season. We don't know what his pace was like when he should have had pole in Barcelona, nor whether Schumacher would have caught him on the last lap in Valencia, or where he'd have finished at Hockenheim or Spa or Yeongam. We do know he lost victories in Abu Dhabi and Singapore, and a certain podium at Interlagos. That this is an inexhaustive list of his woes speaks volumes. His 7 podiums this year were 3 third places in the first three, and then his 4 excellent wins (which could easily have been 7). A lot has been said, but you can't help but feel sorry for a man whose performance level over the year deserves much, much better.

3. Kimi Raikkonen
There was a time when a car driven by Kimi Raikkonen was a failure waiting to happen. Not any more. He is the man who finished every race, and all but China in the points. He was the king of the 5th - 7th region but also got on the podium on 7 occasions. He rarely outqualified his team-mate but was scarcely beaten by him even on a raceday where Grosjean actually finished. The highlights, aside from his calm-headed attempt to use the old Interlagos circuit to get back on track being thwarted, were of course his near misses in Sakhir and Budapest and of course his first victory for three years in Abu Dhabi. He showed he is still a force, although now far more consistent than before, and he showed that his comeback is more Lauda than Jones.

2. Fernando Alonso
They said Ferrari could not launch a title challenge. They said the F2012 was too slow. Well, in Australia, Alonso was praised for coming 5th in an inferior car; in Malaysia, feted for winning in the wet. In truth, the Ferrari was only ever the best car on the infrequent occasions that the track was moist. In a season of perpetual damage limitation, Alonso came within 3 points of winning the title, despite the two races at the ultimate drivers' tracks - Spa and Suzuka - ended by turn One. His form was truly wonderful - of his last 14 finishes, 12 of them were podiums and the other two were fifths (one of those in Montreal when his team cost him another podium). In short, he had one of the best tilts at overcoming a poor-ish car in recent F1 history, due to his incredibile consistency and ability to get himself repeatedly standing on the lower two steps of the podium.

1. Sebastian Vettel
So here we are again. Sebastian Vettel, World Champion. This time it only required 5 wins, including 4 in a row in the Asian autumn. Before that he had, in truth, been unremarkable. He left Budapest behind Webber in the Championship table. But it was his drive from midfield at Spa to finish 2nd in the absence of Hamilton and Alonso that kick-started his season. Red Bull's failure at Monza left him in a poor position to chase Alonso down, and he was lucky to gain the momentum from Hamilton's car failure in Singapore. However, those 200+ laps in the lead were Vettel at his untouchable best. Calling Vettel lucky to get back to 3rd place from a pit-lane start in Abu Dhabi has merits, but no-one else had managed to pick up 21 places on a Sunday since 1983. And though he couldn't win in Austin and was lucky to get away with a hefty whack in Brazil, he was the World Champion. And he, and his excellent Red Bull team, deserve all the plaudits. It takes more than just a good car to dominate the way Vettel does on his good days; taking 100 points from 4 races at such a crucial time in the season takes a level of concentration and mental fortitude that only a champion could have.
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