In a year as incredible as 2012, ranking the 25 drivers who took part in the races is a tricky challenge, but it’s one we’ve decided to do anyway. The end of season rankings have become a fixture on F1Zone.net over the last couple of years and there have been a few controversial placings. The competitiveness of F1 2012 means this year will probably be no different. In Part Two, we rate those on the fringes of the top eight…
A case of second season syndrome for di Resta? There were highlights, such as sixth in Bahrain and a brilliant fourth in Singapore as well as a fairly strong start to the season. Missing out on a top seat for 2013 was a big blow, doubly so with the McLaren and Mercedes line-up seemingly settled for another couple of seasons. He scored only two points across the last six races while team mate Hulkenberg stood out to end the season in a disappointing manner.
14 | Nico Rosberg | Mercedes
Rosberg’s season consisted of one outstanding race, one very good one and eighteen where he was utterly anonymous. His win in China was sheer class, but his second place in Monaco will always be shadowed by the fact that he was actually beaten in qualifying by Schumacher. And therein lies the problem of Rosberg’s year; despite what the points tally says, Schumacher was more than a match for his team mate. He was nowhere near the elder German in low grip or wet weather conditions and didn’t finish in the top ten in the last six races; his worst run since 2006. Every driver has a difficult year at some point in their career, so let’s hope 2012 was the case for Rosberg. He’ll need to up his game in 2013 with Lewis Hamilton arriving at the team.
13 | Michael Schumacher | Mercedes
So this is it. The seven times world champion ends his final season in the sport in an ignominious thirteenth place in the championship. In a sport as black and white as Formula One, it’s impossible to declare Schumacher’s return to the sport as a downright failure. He still took a podium this season and was the fastest man in qualifying in Monaco, at the age of 43. To highlight the age gap between F1’s most successful Germans, Schumacher could quite feasibly be Vettel’s father, making Schumacher’s achievements all the more impressive. Schumacher’s early part of the season was dogged by misfortune when the car was strong and when the reliability improved, the W03 was firmly rooted in the midfield. There were dismal races, notably in Spain, Hungary and Singapore, where his mistakes were downright embarrassing. More importantly than results is the man himself; after taking a break in 2006, Schumacher feels more comfortable with his own life. Let’s just hope he stays away from bikes.
12 | Pastor Maldonado | Williams F1 Team
Oh, how he is frustrating. Maldonado is undoubtedly one of the fastest drivers in Formula One over a single lap, as proved by his qualifying record throughout the season. But he made far, far too many errors in the race that cost Williams a bagful of points: the last lap error in Australia, a shambolic weekend in Monaco, his refusal to be patient in Valencia and the jump start in Belgium being the most high profile errors. He should be looking at a points tally double what he actually has, after all, for the pace he showed in 2012, guess how many times he finished in the top ten? Just five. He did calm down in the last part of the season – although he still shunted in Brazil. 25 of Maldonado’s 45 points came in just a single race yet for all of the criticism hurled at the Venezuelan, that performance in Barcelona was utterly outstanding. Then he went to Monaco and appeared (although he resolutely denied it) to drive clean into Sergio Perez after the Mexican had held him up in practice. It’s just not acceptable behaviour. Maldonado’s nationality has helped him to acquire a berth in the sport, but 2013 will be his third year in Formula One. With Valtteri Bottas arriving in the other Williams, it’s going to be a defining year for Maldonado. His pace is there, but he needs to deliver results on a consistent basis.
11 | Kamui Kobayashi | Sauber F1 Team
For all of the assertions that because he is Japanese, Kobayashi is a kamikaze/banzai driver only goes to emphasise the stereotypes that circulate the F1 world. Kobayashi does make mistakes, like other drivers, but he is probably the most talented F1 driver to emerge from Japan; if anything, some of the hopeless Japanese drivers of the past have put off sponsors from getting associated with another driver from the Far East. Kobayashi isn’t a driver who has the outright pace of someone like Maldonado, but he’s still a very talented racing driver who is a genuine asset to a midfield team. His drive in Japan was calm and composed and his qualifying record against McLaren-bound Perez is sound. The C31 was a strong car and he perhaps didn’t utilise the machinery to its full potential, but his qualifying laps in China and Belgium were exemplary, with neither race yielding a strong result through no fault of his own. Kobayashi’s performances in 2012 varied wildly and with the rules remaining fairly stable next year, it’ll be interesting to see what Hulkenberg and Gutierrez can do in 2013.
10 | Romain Grosjean | Lotus F1 Team
Grosjean’s performances in 2012 could lead you to believe that two people drove the car throughout the year. There was the driver who took three podiums, beat Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying and walked around beaming. Then there was the driver who made such astonishing errors. Perhaps it was cruel for Mark Webber to brand Grosjean a ‘first lap nutcase’ after the Japanese Grand Prix, but the Australian does have a point. Grosjean has outstanding pure pace, he can race well, but he just has a lack of judgement. Aside from the Brazilian Grand Prix, where he hit an HRT in qualifying and crashed out in the rain, all of his issues arise from errors on the opening lap of the Grand Prix. Races in Malaysia, Monaco, Britain, Belgium and Japan have all been compromised by first lap accidents. It would be grossly unfair to blame the French driver for causing every incident, as sometimes in attempting to avoid trouble, there’s an overly cautious attitude that can lead to a different form of trouble! Japan was such an example. Like with Maldonado, it is a frustrating aspect of Grosjean’s driving: he has the pace to win races (the cruel alternator failure in Valencia was a great drive) but that is counterbalanced by mistakes. Grosjean’s style was similar in GP2, although it is fair to point out that 2012 was Grosjean’s first proper year in the premier division. He will be embarrassed by some of his errors, especially his public chastising after Belgium, but he is one of the most talented drivers to grace the sport in terms of pace. It would be a shame if his temperament cost him a long term future.
9 | Felipe Massa | Ferrari
Felipe Massa’s 2012 season was nowhere near as bad as some are keen to make out. But even the greatest Massa supporter cannot deny that his first three races were absolutely awful. His pace was nowhere near Alonso’s in qualifying and utterly diabolical in the races. But Massa bounced back and has shown comparably strong pace since Monaco, finishing outside of the points in only Valencia (not his fault) and Germany (completely his fault). With a team mate of the calibre of Alonso – not to mention Ferrari building the team around the Spaniard – Massa fared well in the second half of the season. A strong drive in Singapore was followed by a deserved podium in Japan, setting up a series of good results, which culminated in another podium in Brazil. Massa’s pace at the end of the season suggested Ferrari’s faith in him for 2013 is justified, although it’s important to remember that unlike some teams, Ferrari want a dutiful number two to Alonso. If Ferrari want to build positively on 2012, they’ll need Massa firing on all cylinders from the opening round of the season, not from Round 6. Nevertheless, an improvement on 2011 – once he got going.
Next week: Part Three – F1Zone.net’s Top 8 drivers of 2012.