So, in Championship order, starting with 6th place…
Was 2010 the breaking of Felipe Massa? Following his return from injury, the popular Brazilian scored five podiums on his way to 6th in the Championship; however he was roundly trounced by new teammate Fernando Alonso in every way. So much so, there must now be lingering questions as to how long Massa will remain with the Italian team.
Of course, there was that denied victory at the Hockenheimring, but one Swallow does not make a summer and after that infamous result, Massa seemed to drift into sleepwalking mode. More points finishes came in the latter stages of the season, but the Brazilian’s pace always seemed shy of his Spanish compatriot.
Should he not improve next year, Massa may find himself on the sidelines and with a move to any of the other top teams unlikely, the 29-year-old may be about to fall down the Formula 1 ladder.
For a driver that came painfully close to the title in 2008, that is one hell of a fall.
In 2011, Nico Rosberg became the first teammate to beat Michael Schumacher over an entire season. It was clear that the 25-year-old stepped up a gear this season, following four middling seasons at Williams and this year he did just that.
Three podiums in the first half of the year is scant reward for a team that won the Constructor’s title in 2009 (then known as Brawn Grand Prix), but with Red Bull on the march and the Ferrari / McLaren foursome recovered after a poor year in 2009, the wins did not seem to be on the cards.
Admittedly, it is still difficult to assess exactly how good Rosberg is and while he did beat Schumacher, he must be acutely aware that this is not the Schumacher of old. Indeed, Rosberg’s last couple of seasons reads like a litany of 4th, 5th and 6th place finishes – it is entirely possible that the German driver has found his limit amongst the current field.
One wonders how long before Robert Kubica will have a car worthy of his talents. The 26-year-old Pole rarely made any errors (again) and scored points on a regular basis. While that may not be a surprise, he often did it by beating better teams.
For much of the year, Kubica had the best of the Mercedes drivers and occasionally beat the title contenders too. There were podiums in Australia (2nd) and Belgium (3rd), but Monaco was a race he could have won had his start been better, while another 2nd place went awry when his wheel fell off at Suzuka. Kubica may have finished 8th in the points standings, but he was and is a top-three driver on merit alone.
Where Kubica goes next could be dependent on how serious Group Lotus are about their Formula 1 effort, but in the meantime the rumours of him moving to Ferrari refuse to go away and if they do come to fruition, the Pole should be able to match Fernando Alonso – if not beat him outright.
Oh dear. While 2010 was not the necessarily the disaster that some make it out, that fact remains that Michael Schumacher had a rather tough time. Up against a rather unproven teammate, it was thought that the 7-times World Champion could sweep to instant victories, yet as the year rambled, expectations were downsized, with the Mercedes team blaming difficult front tyres.
Prior to the season, Schumacher was a potential Champion – that later became a race winner, before claims of potential podiums were touted. Schumacher achieved none of these, instead picking up three 4th places and several other points finishes.
There were flickers of the old brilliance at Monaco and Spa-Francorchamps, while the German looked much better in the last few race weekends; yet at the same time, the 41-year-old looked completely out of his depth in Singapore. The absolute low-point of the year – and for the whole season – came at Hungary, where Schumacher attempted to squeeze the quicker Williams of Rubens Barrichello against the pitwall at nearly 200mph.
Schumacher needs a vast improvement next year or otherwise get out of the way and let a younger driver have a go. He will be hoping the Pirelli tyres come to his aid.
After eighteen years in the top flight, you’d think Rubens Barrichello would be ready to leave, yet not only is the Brazilian driver not about to retire, he seems ready to carry on for years.
Although he fell down the order somewhat, Barrichello had probably one of his finest season’s in Formula 1, as he gelled quickly with both his Williams team and young teammate, Nico Hulkenberg. The season started with a relatively difficult FW32, but a good deal of the problems were solved as the year went on; however the Cosworth-powered machine still appeared to have issues at the beginning of races.
The 38-year-old secured some solid point scores during the season, including 4th at Valencia; however many will remember his year for when he held Schumacher out to dry in Hungary – quite simply the best overtaking manoeuvre this year by a long shot. A sheer ballsy move that will be remembered for years to come and just another reason as to why Barrichello absolutely deserves to be in Formula 1.
Although Adrian Sutil could not replicate his 4th place from the 2009 Italian Grand Prix, the 27-year-old was able to bring a new found stability to his drive.
Instead of the occasional flash of brilliance overshadowed by yet another accident, Sutil brought his VJM03 home for points finishes on a regular basis, although he appeared to drop off in the very late stages of the season.
Not yet solidified for next year, his 2010 performance should be more than enough to confirm his seat at Force India; however whether Sutil and Force India can hold this consistency is a bigger question.
It is easy to forget that a mere fifteen months ago, Kobayashi’s potential Formula 1 career was heading towards the scrap-heap.
Although he won the 2008-09 GP2 Asia Series title, the Japanese driver had two poor seasons in the Main Series, finishing 16th on both occasions, taking only one sprint race win. Until his Formula 1 début for Toyota at Interlagos at the tail end of 2009, Kobayashi’s name was not really on anyone’s lips. Two very brash performances later – including a points score at Abu Dhabi – and the 24-year-old found himself with a drive at Sauber following Toyota’s eventual withdrawl from Formula 1.
Yet for Kobayashi, 2010 did not start well. Six retirements in the first eight races left the Sauber man lingering near the tail end of the Championship; however several excellent performances in the second-half of the season was enough to secure 12th in the table. A stellar performance at Suzuka showcase exactly why Kobayashi became a fan favourite late on in the year, as he continually sliced through the field and into the points.
Kobayashi returns to the Sauber stable in 2011, but this time as the primary driver. That he will probably score points due to fiery drives is not in question; whether he yes possesses the knowledge and ability to lead a team, while also helping to develop a car is something entirely different.
If he can, then he and new teammate Sergio Perez should be able to give the Swiss team some solid reward; however if it is too much too soon, then Sauber could find themselves in great difficulties.
Russia’s first Formula 1 driver, Vitaly Petrov did not have the easiest of 2010’s. Placed alongside Robert Kubica – probably one of the finest drivers on the grid today – Petrov panicked on occasion, but still put in some brilliant drives when under pressure from other drivers.
Ironically, two of his best races may have helped to decide the Championship. During May’s Turkish Grand Prix, Petrov held a fuming Fernando Alonso at bay for much of the race, before being hustled out of the way by the Spaniard with a few laps remaining – Petrov eventually set the fastest lap around the Istanbul circuit (albeit on fresh tyres and low tanks). More importantly, Petrov had a race long battle with Alonso in the final Grand Prix of the year in Abu Dhabi, holding the Ferrari driver up enough to lose him the World Championship.
Petrov also starred in Hungary where he took 5th place, following up with a solid 9th in Belgium. Indeed, Petrov pulled off one of the best overtakes of the season at Spa-Francorchamps, as he swept around the outside of both Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg at the top of the Kemmel straight and into Les Combes.
Petrov will return to Renault alongside Kubica next year, but may need to add consistency to his obvious speed should he wish to remain on the grid in 2012.
When Nico Hulkenberg took the GP2 Championship with ease in 2009, many assumed that the German would take that form directly into Formula 1, as lewis Hamilton had in 2007.
Sadly, it did not quite happen for the 23-year-old, but Hulkenberg did make quite a good impression this season. The Williams car appeared to be blighted by difficulties when weighted with fuel, causing it to fall backwards at the start of each race; however when on empty tanks, it could potentially be one of the quicker machines on track.
Hulkenberg struggled for points finishes early in the year, but once July came along, he found his stride and a number of top-ten finishes too. A brilliant pole position in Brazil was the icing on the cake.
However despite his good late run, the German finds himself without a drive for 2011, his seat alongside Barrichello now taken by new GP2 Champion (and former GP2 teammate) Pastor Maldonado. As of now, a reserve seat is on the cards for next year, although it has been rumoured that Hulkenberg is trying for a drive with Force India.
It started so well for the 29-year-old Italian. Two points finishes in Bahrain in Australia gave Vitantonio Liuzzi are very solid start, but things made a turn for the worse once on Malaysian soil.
As the Force India team fell backwards during the season, Liuzzi scored only four more times and was generally outpaced by teammate Adrian Sutil; however poor luck also plagued the Italian’s form.
If not an ill-working F-duct, then there were suspension failures and unfortunate collisions with Heidfeld (Singapore), Massa (Japan) and most memorably with Schumacher in Abu Dhabi.
Liuzzi does have a contract for 2011, but with young new DTM Champion and Force India reserve Paul di Resta waiting in the wings, even that contract isn’t awfully secure.
It is difficult to really classify Sebastien Buemi’s season. While the Swiss pilot appeared to start the season well enough, by year end he was being outpaced by teammate Jaime Alguersuari; although at that stage Toro Rosso had fallen behind the mid pack, making point scores difficult.
The stand-out memory of Buemi this year was when he wheels were shorn of his car during practice in Shanghai. Indeed Buemi has had two years at the top level and bar the 2009 Chinese Grand Prix, he has not featured that often. His races, while occasionally decent have far too often been quite anonymous and therein lies Buemi’s pressure point.
Waiting on the sidelines is World Series by Renault Championship runner-up, Daniel Ricciardo – yet another Red Bull prodigy. It has rumoured heavily that Ricciardo will take one of the Toro Rosso seats at some point during 2011 and of the drivers within the Italian squad, Buemi appears to be the most vulnerable. This is an unfortunate position for Buemi to find himself in. With their two relative youngsters behind the wheel at Toro Rosso, the team struggled to develop their STR05 and while Ricciardo is an excellent racer, he may not be what Toro Rosso need should they wish to move up the field.
If anything, the team need experience and that will only come if they keep both Buemi and Alguersuari in their present seats, but may not be the priority right now. That’s sad, as it may result in Buemi being without a drive, before he had an opportunity to truly blossom.
Pedro de la Rosa
A driver of Pedro de la Rosa’s experience should not have been whipped for pace by a rookie teammate, but the Spaniard always seemed to be chasing the speedy Kobayashi.
There were, of course, problems outside of de la Rosa’s control, particularly with regard to engines, but it was not until the second-half of the year that the Sauber driver saw the chequered flag more often. In the end, one points score wasn’t enough (7th in Hungary) and de la Rosa was fired by Sauber following the race at Monza.
De la Rosa is currently doing test work for Pirelli, something that could make him a valuable commodity next year. There have been rumoured discussions with Hispania for a race seat, but nothing is confirmed as of yet.
‘Quick Nick’ replaced de la Rosa for the final five races, but while Heidfeld was certainly faster than the Spaniard, he was still someway shy of Kobayashi’s pace.
There were points finishes in Japan and Korea, but his other three races were hardly spectacular. With Sergio Perez signed to the second Sauber seat for 2011, it is difficult to see where Heidfeld ends up, but at this stage another reserve spot appears to the most likely result.
2010 may be the year Jaime Alguersuari came of age – to a degree. The 20-year-old pulled off one of the most stunning moves of the season by taking Nico Hulkenberg around the outside of Sepang’s fast turn 5 sweep.
Alguersuari did start the year on the back foot, but by the time he had began to get the better of teammate Sebastien Buemi on a regular basis, Toro Rosso had fallen well behind the development race.
There were only three point scores throughout the season, but it must irritate that the Spaniard secured three consecutive 11th place finishes in the final spell of races.
Hopefully Alguersuari’s improvement will continue through next year.
From a top of the pack team like McLaren, to a new untested squad at new-Lotus, 2010 was a massively important season for Heikki Kovalainen. Indeed the Finn, partnered at the reborn team by veteran Jarno Trulli, secured the results that gave Lotus Racing their top-ten position in the Constructor’s Championship.
Japan gave the 29-year-old a 12th place finish, while in Australia and South Korea, he brought the Cosworth-powered machine home 13th. While he was level for the most part with Trulli in qualifying throughout the year, Kovalainen clearly had the better pace in the races themselves.
There appears to be some good momentum with the Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne run team, as it appears Kovalainen is a solid part of that team as well. That is, of course, as long a Red Bull isn’t somersaulting over his roll hoop bar or his car doesn’t catch fire.
Jarno Trulli’s fourteenth year in Formula 1 was the first in which he scored no points, yet considering his position in the field with Lotus, that isn’t all bad.
While the qualifying pace was obviously still there, the Italian still has the ability to sleep walk through Grand Prix and it was this that occasionally let teammate Kovalainen sleek off into the distance. A 13th place finish was the highlight of Trulli’s season, although he will not wish to be reminded of his rather silly attempt to pass Karun Chandhok in the final laps at Monaco. The Italian also suffered from persistent hydraulic problems throughout the year, which scuppered a number of Grand Prix efforts.
Trulli will be 37-years-old next July and questions as to how long he will remain in Formula 1 thereafter. Should he leave, it will be interesting to see who Lotus line up in his place – two names that have been mentioned so far are the aforementioned Chandhok and Bruno Senna. Speaking of which….
For all the talk of Kamui Kobayashi, surely one of the most impressive rookies in recent years must be Karun Chandhok. In a dire Hispania machine that had painfully little downforce, the Indian driver secured two 14th place finishes (Australia and Monaco) and one 15th place finish (Malaysia) – three results that were the keys to Hispania’s classification over Virgin in the Constructor’s Championship.
Financial difficulties saw the 26-year-old dropped following the British Grand Prix, although the already popular Chandhok became even more celebrated following his occasional stints in the BBC commentary box with David Croft and Anthony Davidson.
His cool performance and calm attitude in Bahrain, where he jumped into his just built car despite it never having a shakedown was simply stunning.
While few expected Bruno Senna to replicate his famous uncle’s exploits, it is probably unlikely that the Brazilian thought his year would be as difficult as it eventually was.
Senna originally seemed likely to replace Barrichello at Honda for the 2009 season, until the Japanese giant pulled out, leaving Senna with little to do. As is well known, Ross Brawn bought the team, holding onto Barrichello and his experience. Midway through last year, Adrian Campos was awarded a spot on the grid with his Campos Meta-1 proposal, but even that disappeared amidst a large financial hole.
Once the team, now Hispania, were ready it was clear that they were well off the pace and while Senna posted several decent results, the fat remains he retired of eight occasions and at Silverstone, he was replaced last minute by reserve pilot Sakon Yamamoto.
Senna struggled somewhat during qualifying and was often outpaced by all three of his team mates, yet in race conditions the Brazilian held himself quite well. Indeed over long stints, Senna set a very reasonable pace. Whether it’s enough to keep him in Formula 1 remains to be seen, but it’s doubtful he would ever want to drive that Hispania machine ever again.
Lucas di Grassi
On paper, Lucas di Grassi finished the season one place ahead of Timo Glock, but realistically, the Brazilian was trounced his more experienced teammate. A 14th place finish in Malaysia at the start of the year being di Grassi’s sole highlight, but that was matched by the low-light of his warm-up lap crash at Suzuka; although whether it was a driver mistake or car issue still raises some eyebrows.
Something that has been quoted often this season is di Grassi’s quality as a development driver, but in a team with few resources working on a car already well off the pace, there was little that the 26-year-old old could realistically achieve.
Had he been closer to Glock in both qualifying and race pace, then di Grassi may have had a shot at the Virgin drive again for 2011, but as of last week, the Brazilian was released from his contract and replaced by Jerome d’Ambrosio. A reserve seat may still be arranged for next season.
It must have been difficult for Timo Glock to find himself without a drive following Toyota’s withdrawl last year, but thankfully the German found himself in the lead car at Virgin.
There was no chance of Glock repeating the pair of podiums he achieved with the Japanese team, but the German gained much respect thanks to some startling drives. Indeed, the greatest shame was in the inaugural Korean Grand Prix, when Glock was torpedoed by Sebastien Buemi while running 11th – a result that would have given Virgin a top-ten spot in the Constructor’s Championship.
Other than that, it must have been a difficult time for the former GP2 Champion. In a car that was easily faster than both Hispania’s, but not quite close enough to the Lotus pair, often meant there was little on track progress once the red lights went out.
Glock is obviously a quality driver with the potential to win Grand Prix, but at 28 he may be nervous as how long he’ll have to wait to get a winning car. Certainly Virgin will struggle to provide a winning machine in the next few years, if ever.
In the ten years that Sakon Yamamoto has competed in car racing, he has won only two races (once in Japanese Formula 3 in 2004 and again in Japanese Super GT a year later) and it was clear that at the struggling Hispania squad, he was never going to add to that grand tally. Indeed, there were plenty of telling sighs when Yamamoto replaced first Bruno Senna and then Karun Chandhok at Hispania.
Yet for all the criticism and anonymous runs, the 28-year-old did not fare quite as badly some anticipated he might. When running alone in races, his pace was inconsistent and regularly slower than those at the same level; however when in a battle with another driver, the Japanese driver performed surprisingly well. Stand out contests include solid fights against Grassi (Monza) and Glock (Suzuka), where he held the more stable Virgin machines at bay for long periods of the race.
On occasion, he had the better of teammate Bruno Senna, but the Brazilian had just enough to break the former-Super Aguri driver on longer runs.
Yamamoto was replaced by Christian Klien for the final two races of the season, so the chances are, he will not grace Formula 1 again; although I do remember saying something similar when Yamamoto disappeared originally at the end of 2007. Time will tell where he ends up next.
It is very difficult to judge a driver on just three appearances, especially when those races were at the wheel of a difficult and downforce-less Hispania machine. Ever since he was dropped by Red Bull in 2006, Klien has been on the fringes of the top level in the guise of test and reserve driver for Honda (2007) and BMW Sauber (2008-2009).
The Austrian was signed up by the Hispania team in May, taking up the role as Friday morning driver at Barcelona and later the Hockenheimring. That later became a race seat when Yamamoto fell ill with “food poisoning” in Singapore, before Klien out-and-out replaced the Japanese driver for the final two races.
As much as Klien showed Senna around in practice and qualifying, the Brazilian generally had the upper hand in the races, although car failure and various problems hampered the Austrian in both Singapore and Brazil.
Whether Klien has done enough to resurrect his career remains to be seen, but right now a reserve seat appears to his best option. Certainly, there is virtually no talk of Klien being offered a drive for 2011, although a return to Sportscars has not yet been ruled out.