2011 Driver Ratings: Part Three

By on Thursday, December 8, 2011

Parts One and Part Two are still available on F1Zone.net, but we now take a look at the best drivers of 2011.

Sutil stepped up after a slow start to the season

8 | Adrian Sutil | Force India

It may have taken five seasons, but Adrian Sutil has finally turned into a proper Formula One driver. 2010 ended in fairly dismal fashion, and the start to 2011 was little better as many were slowly becoming impressed with his rookie team mate. Became the first victim of overambitious use of DRS with a spectacular high speed spin in qualifying in Australia, although aside from that he was surprisingly consistent. Retired just twice all season and only one was of his own doing as he touched the wall in Canada. Survived the Monaco pile-up to bring home 7th place, setting in motion a sequence of results that saw him score every other race, including a stellar 6th at home. Pulled away from the rest of the midfield at the end of the season as he complicated Force India’s driver decision for 2012 by finishing 9th in India and 8th in Abu Dhabi. At the final weekend in Brazil, he was sensational all weekend and finished a deserved 6th. 9th in the championship marks his best season in Formula One and it would be a crying shame if he wasn’t on the grid in 2012.

High point: Fast throughout the weekend in Brazil

Low point: Retiring in Italy when points were on offer.

Photo credit: Mercedes GP

7 | Michael Schumacher | Mercedes GP Petronas

He may not have scored many more points in 2011 than 2010, but Schumacher’s second season since his return showed far more promise. His qualifying performances compared to his team mate were poor throughout the season, but more often than not he made up for it through scintillating starts that frequently saw him gaining three or four places on the opening half lap. However, he still found himself getting involved in scraps too often: with Petrov in Valencia, Kobayashi at Silverstone and his airborne incident with Perez in Singapore. Despite that, on race day he was sometimes superb. His drive back through the field at Spa gave a reminder of the Schumi of old, while his performance in Canada deserved a podium as he dragged the W02 to places it didn’t belong and only slipped back when the track dried and the frailties of the car were unmasked. He tended to match Rosberg in the races in terms of his pace, although his lack of consistency cost him 7th in the championship. Will he continue on beyond 2012? Only he knows that. Next year will be crucial both in terms of the kind of car Mercedes can deliver and the extent to which Schumacher can utilise it.

High point: Starring in the epic Canadian Grand Prix

Low point: Miserable Turkish Grand Prix gave the critics plenty of ammunition

Rosberg needs a winning car in 2012

6 | Nico Rosberg | Mercedes GP Petronas

It was difficult to choose who the ‘best of the rest’ was in 2011 as nobody really starred. Whereas Robert Kubica and Nico Rosberg shone in 2010, very few outside of the top three teams (well, top two and Fernando Alonso) stood out on a regular basis. For Nico, 2011 was slightly disappointing as while the W02 appeared a better car than the W01, this didn’t necessarily translate into better results. Rosberg finished in the points fourteen times, but never higher than fifth. The season started terribly as a collision with Rubens Barrichello in Australia and high tyre wear in Malaysia saw him arrive in China with nothing to show on the scoreboard. However, a shrewd strategy in China saw him leapfrog to the front where he stayed until his strategy turned out to not be as shrewd as first thought. Stunning lap in Istanbul saw him start from 3rd on the grid – the only time a Mercedes driver featured in a top 3 press conference all season – although he tended to slip back in the races. Much of that however was due to the W02 being capable of mixing it with the Ferrari’s on Saturday, but very rarely on Sunday. Only retirement after Australia came in Monza where he was a victim of the Tonio Liuzzi Express and the reduced wear of the Pirelli tyres assisted Mercedes in the second half of the season. Still no wins after six seasons, but it’s not through a lack of trying.

High point: Leading the Chinese Grand Prix

Low point: Utterly anonymous race in Malaysia.

After 18 attempts, Webber was victorious in Race 19

5 | Mark Webber | Red Bull Racing

As Sebastian Vettel stormed to a huge lead in the title race early in the season, Webber struggled. A damaged chassis at his home race saw him take a lowly 5th, before a KERS failure in Malaysia saw him lose ten places at the start. He fought back to 4th, but then had to do it all again at the next race after another failure saw him starting in 18th. Webber may have been consistent in 2011 (finishing in the top 5 in every race bar Monza), but he was nowhere near Vettel for much of the season. Indeed, Vettel had notched up six victories before Webber even managed to lead a lap. Confessed that he never got to grips with the Pirelli tyres at the start of the year which ultimately put him firmly on the back foot. Took three pole positions, but bad starts blighted his season to the extent that he even lost the lead at the start in Germany and Britain: two of the shortest runs to Turn 1 throughout the entire season. Set the most fastest laps this season and finally ended his win drought that extended back to Hungary 2010 in the last race of the season. You get the impression that Helmut Marko is keen to promote a young driver to Red Bull as soon as possible, so Webber will have to up his game in 2012.

High point: Superb fightback in China to go from 18th to 3rd

Low point: Tangle with Massa in Monza led to his only retirement of the year

4 | Lewis Hamilton | Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

Hamilton was triumphant in three races...

‘Bubble’ is a word that Lewis Hamilton wants to get rid of after his self-confessed worst season in Formula One. Troubles in his personal life often saw him cut an isolated figure as his season swung from the highest highs to the lowest lows. The high points included victories in China, Germany and Abu Dhabi: all memorable for varying reasons. His superb pass on Vettel in China, his close battle with Alonso in Germany and his assured, controlling drive in Abu Dhabi. However, his swashbuckling driving style left him playing catch up in a few races as his tyre usage was high, causing him to slip to 8th in Malaysia. Aside from his victory in Germany, the middle part of his season was utterly forgettable. A qualifying strategy in Monaco went disastrously wrong, leaving him just 9thon the grid and mired in traffic. Having collided with Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado, he went on a post-race rampage in his TV interview with the BBC, making several ill-advised comments. Collision with Jenson Button in China did little to quieten the

...but was too error prone throughout the year

critics and his performances in Hungary (where he made an incorrect tyre choice and spun) and Belgium, where he spectacularly crashed out after not seeing Kamui Kobayashi, led to some calling for action to be taken. Calmed down in Italy as he was very careful when fighting Schumacher, although he returned to accidents in Singapore when he collided with Felipe Massa. Massa and Hamilton found themselves on track together too often in 2011 and it was frequently Lewis who was more to blame for their collisions. Made up with Massa after the Brazilian Grand Prix, having retired with a gearbox problem, but it was a season to forget for the Brit. The last few races of 2011 suggested that the old Lewis was back and many F1 fans will hope that he will learn from his ‘character building’ season, take note of how Sebastian Vettel conducts himself, and return with new confidence ready to fight for the title in 2012.

High point: Stunning Q3 lap in Germany set the motion for victory the next day

Low point: Poor performance on and off track in Monaco

3 | Jenson Button | Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

Button began 2011 slowly but ended it being seen as McLaren’s new Number One. Not bad for a man who was predicted to get annihilated by his team mate. Drive through penalty in Melbourne limited him to 6th, while poor performances in Turkey and Valencia saw him finish in the same position. However, he could have won in Monaco and then did win in Canada. For those who watched it, his victory in the 4 hour race will go down as one of the most memorable in F1’s sixty year history. Poor run at home continued when his wheel was not attached properly, while a hydraulics failure in Germany left him 5th in the championship.

Button took victory in Hungary. Photo credit: Hoch Zwei

However, victory in Hungary – his 200th race – kick started his season and he finished off the podium just once, in Korea. Was frequently Sebastian Vettel’s nearest challenger as he finished runner up in Italy and Singapore. However, the highlight of his season came at his ‘second home race’ in Japan, where he took an assured victory, his first without the intervention of rain for over two years. Finished the season a deserved second in the championship and his performances in 2011 cast aside doubts that he lucked into the 2009 title. With three years left on his McLaren contract and a new found performance, there’s no reason why he won’t be able to fight for a second crown next year.

High point: Controlled drive in Japan to take his third win of the year

Low point: Poor performance in Germany before a mechanical retirement.

Alonso took just a single win in 2011

2 | Fernando Alonso | Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari didn’t give Alonso a car anywhere near capable of fighting for the title, but he did his best in every race. Disappointing start to the season meant the title was always out of the question, although a superb drive in Silverstone suggested that Ferrari had overcome their woes. However, it turned out to be his only victory of a fairly miserable season. Nevertheless, aside from China, he was always there. Always giving 100% and outperforming the car. Sensational qualifying lap in Spain resulted in 4th on the grid, and an amazing start saw him lead the opening stint. The fact that he ended the race one lap down in 5th only highlighted how good his qualifying and start really was. Made a similarly brilliant start at Monza to send the Tifosi mad, although he soon slipped back. The 150 Italia was a car that could not get close to the front in qualifying – Alonso started 5th a total of nine times in 2011 – but Alonso always maximised the car’s potential on a Sunday. Once again, he left Felipe Massa in his shadows as he finished 4th in the championship. Deserved to go home with an FIA trophy, but it wasn’t to be. He is perhaps one of a select few of drivers that is able to perform in a car that isn’t the best, so he’ll hope that Ferrari can build a car capable of winning the championship for the first time in several seasons.

High point: Sole win of the season at Silverstone

Low point: Anonymous race in China left him a lowly 7th

1 |Sebastian Vettel | Red Bull Racing

Before starting with the superlatives, let’s get one thing straight: Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 season was not perfect.

However, in a season containing five world champions and new gadgets such as DRS, KERS (Vettel did not have the device in 2009) and the unpredictable nature of the Pirelli tyres, Sebastian Vettel 2011-spec is the closest you will get to perfection.

Sebastian Vettel winning the Belgian Grand Prix. Photo credit: Red Bull GEPA

Qualifying is where Vettel reigns supreme. He claimed 15 pole positions – a new record – and you could supply evidence to suggest that he could have taken the remaining four. While seeing the red number one next to Vettel’s name became a given on Saturday afternoons, some of his laps were sensational, but often forgotten because of the fact they’re sensational every week. His lap in Melbourne destroyed the opposition, while he always seemed to pull it out of the bag when McLaren thought they had beaten him, the best example of this coming in Japan, where he stole pole position by nine thousandths of a second.

He was extraordinary on Saturdays, but he lost little of his performance on Sundays. The main criticism of Vettel in 2010 was of his overtaking skills and the inability to convert pole position into victory. While he took four less wins than poles, he silenced his critics with assured performances throughout the season, obliterating the opposition and making great champions such as Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso look ordinary, while team mate Mark Webber – a very good driver who ran him close in 2010 – was made to look distinctly average.

Pass on Alonso in Italy was stunning

His eleven victories were delivered in different circumstances. Some, such as Turkey and India, saw him scamper off into the distance to remain uncatchable. In others, he had to defend his lead. He did so expertly in Spain and then a week later in Monaco.

One crucial area where Vettel was strongest in 2011 was his understanding of the tyres. A characteristic of the Pirelli tyres was that the faster you went, the quicker they wore; something that didn’t happen with the Bridgestone rubber. Vettel dealt with this better than anyone else, perhaps helped by the fact that he was the only driver to visit Pirelli’s factory at the end of 2010, quick to steal a march on the opposition having only just wrapped up his maiden title.

The #1 will stay on Vettel's car in 2012

An area in which detractors are keen to wag their fingers at is the fact that Vettel is perhaps not as good as his rivals when overtaking. There are several reasons for this. The first is that he is frequently as the front, so does not need to pass his rivals. Another is that the inferior top speed of the RB7 means that it is difficult for him to draw alongside another driver. However, Vettel’s early season wins came about because of crucial passes at key moments. For example, passing Button on his out lap in Melbourne, passing Felipe Massa in the pit stop phase in Malaysia and then passing three cars in one lap after his pit stop in the Spanish Grand Prix. Despite that, the critics remained. However, he subsequently drove around the outside of Rosberg at Blanchimont during the Belgian Grand Prix. If that wasn’t enough, his move on Fernando Alonso at Monza was sensational. He forced Alonso to defend into the chicane, enabling him to gain superior acceleration approaching Curva Grande. Alonso gave Vettel a gap as wide as an RB7 and Vettel took it, taking to the grass at 200mph and not backing out. Even with a massive points lead, he was taking no chances. His ruthlessness was also shown at the start in Japan, putting Button on the grass. World champions don’t take prisoners.

There were a few off days, such as his home race in Germany where he was off the pace all weekend and unusually erratic in the race. However, he still salvaged fourth. Only retirement of the season came in Abu Dhabi after a puncture and his four crashes in practice throughout the year didn’t hold him back.

The RB7 was perhaps not as strong a package as the RB6, yet Sebastian Vettel annihilated his opposition. 2 world titles, 21 wins, 30 pole positions. Oh, and he’s only 24 years old. Good luck trying to stop him next year folks.

High point: Stunning move around the outside of Fernando Alonso at Curva Grande during the Italian Grand Prix

Low point: Underwhelming performance at his home race

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