2011 Driver Ratings: Part One

By on Saturday, December 3, 2011

Karthikeyan raced in his home event

With the 2011 season slipping into the past, we take a look back at how each driver fared this season.

28 | Karun Chandhok | Team Lotus

Signed as Team Lotus’s test driver pre-season, Chandhok was expected to take place in the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, as well as the Korean Grand Prix for preparation. Sadly for him, Tony Fernandes decided that it was too risky to give a seat to Chandhok for India due to the fight for 10th in the championship. However, part of that decision may have stemmed from Chandhok’s relatively unimpressive performance in Germany. He qualified 21st, eight tenths down on Kovalainen. He was happy with his qualifying as he had said he had never driven the car on low fuel before, and given he spent 2010 with HRT, was probably amazed by the levels of downforce in the T128! The race was slightly disappointing as he finished two laps down on Kovalainen, although early technical problems hindered his progress. A couple of spins dented that progress as well. Aside from Germany, Chandhok made numerous appearances in free practice for Team Lotus, although circumstances often conspired against him, usually mechanical issues or inclement weather. Unfortunately, he was also the first person to crash this season as he embarrassingly lost control of the car exiting Turn 4 at the Australian Grand Prix, less than a minute into FP1. Occasionally popping up into the commentary box for BBC Five Live, or even on BBC1’s coverage, Chandhok has found himself relatively popular with fans for his punditry, although the man himself will be hoping for a full time seat in 2012. Whilst that seems a long shot, his media work – seemingly hundreds of interviews – in the build up to the Indian Grand Prix undoubtedly helped the sport in the country and he should be praised for his efforts in that department.

High point: Being announced as racing in the German Grand Prix

Low point: Crashing in FP1 in Australia, less than a minute into the session

De La Rosa was a last minute replacement for Perez

27 | Pedro De La Rosa | Sauber F1 Team

McLaren’s test driver was called into action in Canada after Sergio Perez felt unwell following his massive accident in Monaco. The 40 year old Spaniard qualified 17th, a respectable three tenths behind Kamui Kobayashi. In the race, De La Rosa made good progress and was running 9th. However, a collision with McLaren team mate Jenson Button saw him require a new front wing and he ended up 12th. De La Rosa’s appointment raised questions about the merit of Sauber having a reserve driver who firstly, wasn’t at the grand prix and secondly, was never going to be used anyway.

High point: Being announced as an HRT driver for 2 years, not bad for a 40 year old!

Low point: Losing points in Canada after front wing damage

26 | Narain Karthikeyan | HRT F1 Team

Every year over the silly season, an eyebrow or two is raised when it comes to the announcement of a driver. This season, when HRT announced Narain Karthikeyan there were a few groans and mutterings about an F1 seat wasted. However, Karthikeyan proved to be no slouch against Tonio Liuzzi and despite finding himself at the back of the grid, this helped him to pick up a record of the only man to ever finish 24th in a Formula One race, in Valencia. Made way for Daniel Ricciardo for the second half of the season, although there was no doubt a proud moment when he raced in the inaugural Indian Grand Prix.

High point: Racing in the inaugural Indian Grand Prix

Low point:  Being replaced by Ricciardo

Trulli's season was fairly dismal

25 | Jarno Trulli | Team Lotus

Not a vintage season. The Trulli train is now all but a distant memory, after he was annihilated by Heikki Kovalainen in qualifying throughout the season. He finishes ahead of Kovalainen in the championship through dint of two thirteenth place finishes in Australia and Monaco, although his performances have largely been disappointing. Struggled for much of the first half of the season with power steering problems and a fix for Hungary seemed to lighten his mood. Whether that was just because he was back in the car after being replaced for Germany, who knows. Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne must see some benefits in retaining Trulli for 2012, because few others do.

High point: Helping Team Lotus to 10th in the championship

Low point: Being replaced by Chandhok

24 |  Vitantonio Liuzzi | HRT F1 Team

After stints with Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Toro Rosso and Force India breeded little success, Liuzzi moved to HRT for 2011. The 30 year old Italian was between a rock and a hard place in all honesty: beating Karthikeyan would have been a certainty for someone of his supposed calibre, being beaten would have been potentially career crippling. Didn’t qualify in Australia, although his 13th place in Canada was crucial for the team, as they finished ahead of Virgin for a second successive season. Made one of the best starts in F1 history as he rose from the back to the top 10 in a matter of metres in Monza, although that was because he slid out of control across the grass and wiped out three other cars. Does he deserve another chance? Probably not. But you just know he’ll end up somewhere.

High point: Running as high as 9th in Monza for a brief second…

Low point: …what happened after that brief second.

Jerome d'Ambrosio impressed on occasions

23 | Jerome d’Ambrosio | Marussia Virgin Racing

F1’s first Belgian since the 1990s performed much better than many expected. His junior formulae records weren’t awe inspiring, yet his transition to Formula One was smooth. However, when you have Timo Glock in the other car, grabbing people’s attention is always going to be difficult. Outqualified Glock on  few occasions and took a pair of 14th place finishes, which sadly wasn’t sufficient enough to beat Liuzzi. In the MVR-02, anonymity is always going to be a likelihood and that proved the case, with the TV cameras only on him at the negative points. For example, his heavy crash in Montreal and the embarrassing spin in the pits in Hungary. Better than Lucas di Grassi, but he finds himself out of a seat for 2012.

High point: Beating Glock in Q1 in China

Low point: Crash in practice in Canada set him back a fair amount

22 | Daniel Ricciardo | HRT F1 Team

After outings for STR at the start of the season, many expected Ricciardo to slot in at Red Bull’s junior team. However, Jaime Alguersuari pulled his socks up when it mattered and Sebastien Buemi was also doing too well for Helmut Marko to throw the book at him. Therefore Ricciardo ended up at HRT alongside Liuzzi, a good barometer as Red Bull knows the capabilities, or rather lack of, of Tonio. Kept the car out of the wall and retired twice through mechanical problems. Started outqualifying Liuzzi and outracing him too. Good job in a terrible car.

High point: Taking the fight to the Virgin cars

Low point: Retiring in Abu Dhabi after a strong race

Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado struggled

21 | Rubens Barrichello | Williams Cosworth

In 2009, Barrichello won two races on his way to 3rd in the championship. 2011, however, was a complete disaster. At the first race of the season you would have guessed he was the rookie after going off at the start and taking out Nico Rosberg, although improvements followed. Collected four points from Monaco and Canada simply by staying out of the barriers and managed a string of mediocre results after that. Qualifying lap in Brazil was fairly spectacular in a dog of a car, although it was perhaps the only high point of a season in which he failed to make Q3. He did finish ahead of his team mate in the championship, although many think this was one season too many for the likeable Brazilian.

High point: Qualifying 12th in Brazil

Low point: Crashing in practice in Japan

20 | Pastor Maldonado | Williams Cosworth

It is rather difficult to judge drivers sometimes. Hulkenberg trounced Maldonado in GP2 2009, Barrichello saw of a steadily improving Hulkenberg last year and this year the feeling is that Maldonado held the upper hand over Rubens. Nevertheless, it was a slightly disappointing season for the Venezuelan, who as expected, decided to litter race tracks of the world with pieces of FW33. Caused the Williams mechanics more work than necessary and swipe at Hamilton at Spa was silly for a driver known for his erratic temperament. Deserves high praise for his sensational Monaco performance, although he needs to raise his game in 2012.

High point: The first 95% of the Monaco weekend

Low point: The last 5% of it

Bruno Senna raced from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards

19 | Bruno Senna | Lotus Renault GP

Unexpectedly turned up at Renault pre-season and was introduced as one of many test drivers for the Enstone based team. When Nick Heidfeld was sacked and Romain Grosjean was insistent of not wanting to repeat his 2009 disaster, Senna was announced as racing for the team from the Belgian Grand Prix. Qualified in the top 10 although clattered into Alguersuari at the start, which was disappointing. Took his first points after a 9th place finish in Monza, but as the season progressed the R31 simply became slower. Failed to capitalise on a good qualifying in Brazil after a run in with Schumacher, although his pace over the races he competed in was promising. He joined an ailing team having not driven the car since February and, on the whole, held his own against Vitaly Petrov.

High point: Qualifying 7th in Belgium

Low point: Dismal weekend in Abu Dhabi

18 | Timo Glock | Marussia Virgin Racing

One of the best pictures of the season epitomises Glock’s 2011 season. Exiting the Eau Rouge complex at Spa, Timo Glock’s car tries to escape from him in the damp conditions, causing Glock to correct the slide and continue on his way. Pre-season testing indicated that Glock was consigned to another year at the back and so it proved. Hauled the car up far higher than it belonged on occasion, although the chances of points were near zero and mechanical problems blighted much of his year. Brazil was his nadir, having qualified last and being the first driver to retire when the wheel fell off. Another character building season; he deserves a good car next year because of his commitment behind the wheel.

High point: Probably when he found out Nick Wirth had been sacked

Low point: ‘Catastrophic weekend’ in Brazil

Sebastien Buemi's future is uncertain

17 | Sebastien Buemi | Scuderia Toro Rosso

Buemi’s third season in F1 yeilded a few strong results, although as the season progressed he increasingly came under pressure from his team mate. Such is the high pressure at Toro Rosso, his mechanically inflicted retirements in India and Abu Dhabi left him almost in tears. Finished 11 points behind Alguersuari and was by far the unluckier of the two. However, having usually held the upper hand in qualifying, his conversion from the grid to the chequered flag was sometimes below par. No outstanding drives spring to mind, meaning that Buemi runs the risk of anonymity and dropping off the grid unless he can work wonders soon. It was his best season in F1, as he improved on 16th in 2009 and 2010 to end the year in… 15th.

High point: Strong drive in difficult conditions to finish 8th in Hungary

Low point: 3 retirements in the final 5 race – none his fault.

Felipe Massa: too focused on Hamilton in 2011?

16 | Felipe Massa | Ferrari

After last year, it was difficult to see Massa’s form getting worse. However, that’s exactly what has happened. In a car that was harder to get results out of than the F10, Massa struggled and failed to finish in the top four all season. The last Ferrari driver to complete a full season without a podium was Didier Pironi in 1981. Massa’s performances ranged from poor (such as in Spain) to the comical (like in India). The first trio of races suggested some promise, as he outraced Alonso in China. However, a run of poor results followed before Canada kicked off a string of points finishes ranging from 5th to 9th. Season’s nadir came in India where he twice broke his suspension on the ‘sausage kerbs’ yet failed to take the blame for it. Clashes with Lewis Hamilton initially stemmed from Lewis’s over exuberance, although as the season progressed you sensed that it was Massa that was increasingly paranoid and focusing on Lewis. They’ve put their differences behind them now, but Massa must raise his game in 2012.

High point: 3rd on the grid and only 0.2s off pole in Canada

Low point: The entire weekend in India

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Next week: Part Two


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