The 2014 Formula 1 drivers' half-term report
As F1 breaks for the summer, which drivers are top of the class and which ones have plenty of work still to do?
By Pete Gill, James Galloway and Mike Wise
Last Updated: 04/08/14 8:46am
In current Drivers' Championship order as of the end of the Hungarian Grand Prix, here's how 2014 has been so far for Nico Rosberg through to Kamui Kobayashi...
Position – 1st; Points – 202; Best result – 1st (x4)
Even if there are plenty of doubters still to be won over, it’s already been a monumental 2014 for Nico Rosberg in which he has become a household name across the world, become a serial winner, and led the World Championship for all but two weeks in mid-May. Access to the best car in the field is a handy bonus, of course, but the stand-out feature of Rosberg’s year so far has been his determination to make the most of what’s at his disposal. From harnessing the car to borrowing his team-mate’s set-up and then capitalising on his bad luck, Rosberg has, in sporting parlance, left nothing out there.
Even Rosberg’s mistakes have frequently played to his advantage, most noticeably in Canada, when he missed the chicane with impunity, and most controversially, when his error brought qualifying in Monaco to a convenient halt. It’s those mistakes – he made another, barely acknowledged, while leading in Austria – which have arguably betrayed his true level and the suspicion remains that, for the time being, his performances are currently transcending his team-mate. But at this stage of proceedings it’s hats off to a driver who has been performing at a level few had anticipated. Rating: A–
Position – 2nd; Points – 191; Best result – 1st (x5)
Still the most divisive driver in the field, still – arguably – the fastest, and still very much in the hunt for the World Championship despite his well-documented travails and unreliability issues. At times this season, Hamilton has been ferociously quick, thrashing the opposition in both Malaysia and China, before fending off Nico Rosberg for victories in Bahrain and Spain. Yet it’s the travails which have defined Hamilton’s year, the off-track squabbles, the occasional bouts of foot-in-mouth disease, and the frequent unreliability of his fast but fragile W05 the inevitable focus of attention. Controversy is a permanent shadow.
Four successive comebacks from either the back of the grid or the lower reaches of the top ten in Austria, Britain, Germany and Hungary find Hamilton just 11 points off the summit at the summer break. He’s made mistakes along the way but in the process of completing 50 or so overtaking moves in those last four events that’s to be expected. As he concluded in the post-race press conference at Budapest: “Obviously I've got the pace, got the ability, just really whether or not the car holds up.” If it does, there will surely be no stopping him after the break. Rating: A–
Position – 3rd; Points – 131; Best result – 1st (x2)
Well, we knew he was quick, but who knew Daniel Ricciardo was quite this good? While some accused Red Bull of taking the easy opinion in promoting one of their own to the seat alongside Sebastian Vettel, Ricciardo’s performances since joining the big time have consistently gone above and beyond what even the team’s hierarchy could surely have expected. Vettel, we know, hasn’t been on his A-game so far as he gets to grips with F1’s new generation of cars, but it’s Ricciardo’s stunning form which has turned up the heat on the quadruple World Champion to a greater extent than it might otherwise have been with someone else in the car.
In a season of such dominance by one team which isn’t your own, Ricciardo’s pair of victories in Canada and especially Hungary are all the more commendable and the qualities shown on both of those occasions as he charged to unexpected wins – consistent pace, impressive tyre management and, most notably of all, bold and incisive overtaking moves when it mattered – have made the paddock sit up and take notice and mark the ever-smiley 25-year-old out as surely a future World Champion in the making. The surprise star of the season without question. Rating: A
Position – 4th; Points – 115; Best result – 2nd
Alonso’s Ferrari career has, for some time now, almost seemed a parody of the film Groundhog Day in its predictability. Far more often than not, the Spaniard turns up at a race weekend, qualifies around about where the car’s performance should place it (which tends to be about row three of the grid) and then drags out a better result in the race. Hungary was yet another case in point, with the record appearing well-and-truly stuck – the needle set to repeat until either the Scuderia up their game or Alonso gets fed up and leaves (which he could conceivably do in 2016).
Having to punch above his weight week in, week out continues to do wonders for his reputation, with even Luca di Montezemolo cooing public words of appreciation on Monaco GP weekend (“Fernando is the best driver in the world, who always gives 200% in the races,” the President announced after Alonso had pondered why he was receiving so much praise from just about everywhere except his own team) but you do wonder how much longer he can continue like this. “I prefer to have no respect and to win more trophies," was how Alonso put it himself in June. Rating: A–
Position – 5th; Points – 95; Best result – 2nd (x2)
Daniel Ricciardo aside, it’s Valtteri Bottas who has been the stand-out of F1’s new generation so far this season. Much like Red Bull’s new recruit, Bottas has suddenly found himself pitched in at the sharp end but has grabbed his chance and risen to the challenge – a response that has, in truth, surprised even fewer paddock sages than Ricciardo’s own rise to prominence. Not yet 25, Valtteri nevertheless has a mature, calm approach to go with his huge talent and although his early laps in Melbourne betrayed this somewhat, he’s hardly put a foot wrong since and established himself over the vastly more experienced Felipe Massa.
Those podium finishes in Austria, Britain and Germany have naturally proved the highlight, but is there more to come? The (straightline) speed and power of Williams’ FW36 suggests that Spa and particularly Monza should be its natural habitat, and Bottas’ appearance on the top step would be wholly deserved. Rating: A–
Position – 6th; Points – 88; Best result – 3rd (x2)
F1’s new dawn has presented a stark new reality for F1’s quadruple World Champion. Not only has Sebastian Vettel seen Red Bull usurped by Mercedes at the top of the pecking order, but his new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo has arrived with boundless enthusiasm, taken him on from within and, so far, beaten him. It’s not uncommon in sport for sustained periods of success to be followed by a results hangover, and having been an outspoken critic of F1’s new sound and feel at the start of the year, it seems Vettel has at least been partly affected.
Certainly, the struggle marrying his driving style with the very-different RB10 following the ban on blown diffusers, and the spate of reliability problems which have consistently hobbled his car, mean Vettel’s season has failed to gain any real momentum. Recent grands prix have suggested that the 27-year-old is starting to get there – he has now outqualified Ricciardo in three of the last five – but Germany stands as the only race this year where he has beaten the Australian when both cars have made the chequered flag. There have still been some very good days - his surge through the field in Spain being a case in point - but with chances of a record-equalling fifth straight world title all-but mathematically gone already, Vettel’s challenge between now and Abu Dhabi is to reassert his superiority at Red Bull. Rating: C+
Position – 7th; Points – 69 points; Best result – 5th (x4)
The 2014 season already represents the best of Nico Hulkenberg’s F1 career and every passing points-paying result the 26-year-old delivers prompts further questions as to why he still hasn’t been rewarded with one of the grid’s most coveted seats. Indeed, such is the familiarity of Hulkenberg’s name in the top-ten these days, that it was something of a shock to see the German in the wall at the Hungaroring after a tangle with Force India team-mate Sergio Perez.
Hulkenberg’s nine to two qualifying, and 40-point, advantage over Perez - a talented driver in his own right - is an impressive record so it was probably all the more galling for the former Sauber and Williams man that it was the Mexican who delivered the team’s first podium finish in five years in Bahrain after coming out on top with him in a wheel-to-wheel duel. An F1 rostrum therefore remains elusive for Hulkenberg but surely his consistency will eventually be rewarded. Rating: B+
Position – 8th; Points – 60; Best result – 3rd
McLaren’s second year in the wilds of F1’s midfield mean the regular wins and podium finishes Jenson became accustomed to in his first three years at Woking remain elusive, but the 34-year-old continues to be the team’s Mr Reliable and deliver more consistent points-paying results than another young team-mate, this year Kevin Magnussen, whose Sunday form is more up and down.
If, as the Constructors’ Championship would suggest, the MP4-29 was only the sixth-fastest car in the field over the course of the first 11 races, then Jenson’s eighth place in the Drivers’ Championship comfortably ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa, Force India’s Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen reflects well on the job he's doing. Still, Ron Dennis’s eye-opening “try harder" remark emphasised that the 2009 title winner’s position at the team for 2015 is not yet certain and surely the big question as McLaren weigh up their driver options ahead of the return of Honda is whether they are measuring their team leader’s form against the rookie Magnussen or a higher bar of their own choosing. Rating: B–
Position – 9th; Points – 40; Best result – 4th
Finally released from the pressure cooker of Maranello, Felipe is appearing to enjoy his new life at Williams, while the Grove team themselves have not been shy in showering praise on the contribution the veteran Brazilian is making to their revival. However, rather like the latter years of his Ferrari career, Massa’s results have been inconsistent and increasingly overshadowed by a team-mate, in this case Valtteri Bottas.
Four big race-ending crashes – three on the first lap and one on the last – mean the massive 55-point difference between Bottas and Massa in the standings at the summer break isn’t a completely accurate portrayal of their respective speed in the FW36 so far. Yet while Massa hasn’t been found at official fault by the stewards for any of the four accidents, such repeated misfortune can’t exclusively be explained as a serial case of ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time’. Still, the 33-year-old’s first pole in six years in Austria, and subsequent admission afterwards that he had thought in the past that such days had passed him by, was one of the most heart-warming events of the season to date. Rating: C+
Position – 10th; Points – 37; Best result – 2nd
On the plus side, a few encouraging glimpses – starting with second place on his debut and most recently with fourth on the grid at Hockenheim - of the star quality widely predicted at the time of his appointment.
On the discouraging, the fact that the predicted ‘phenomenal pace’ has failed to materialise, ensuring that Button, never renowned for boasting outright speed, has out-resulted Magnussen on both days of a race weekend this year. It’s been good from Magnussen, but no more than that, and the enthusiasm so evident in his step during the winter has lost its spring. The holiday will do him good. Rating: B–
Position – 11th; Points – 29; Best result – 3rd (x1)
If Sergio Perez ever wants to catch the attention of another top-line team then he’ll need to improve on the results he’s produced so far this season. His podium finish in Bahrain shines like a beacon compared to almost everything else he’s done, while his performances have also been bested – consistently so – by team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.
Hulkenberg has, of course, been banging his head against F1’s glass ceiling longer and harder than any of his contemporaries, yet on the strength of the 11 races they’ve had together at Force India, not only does the denial of the German’s claim to a top seat appear even more wrong-headed, but so does McLaren’s decision to hire Perez. The feeling is that while Hulkenberg should be destined for bigger and better things, then Sergio has found his level. Rating: B–
Position – 12th; Points – 27; Best result – 6th
As symbolism goes, a slamming door dislodging the ‘Kimi Raikkonen’ sign marking the Finn’s territory in Ferrari’s Melbourne paddock quarters sums it up fairly well. Kimi had just returned to his sanctuary after explaining why qualifying for the Australian GP hadn’t gone quite as he’d hoped; you can only assume they’ve since had the sign superglued on because Raikkonen’s return to Maranello has been rather fraught. Struggling with an F14 T that lacks power, yet delivers the grunt it does have in too aggressive a manner, the former World Champion has managed a best result of sixth place. And with Fernando Alonso as a team-mate – the Spaniard has been predictably remorseless, beating Raikkonen at every race so far - you can understand Kimi’s desire to be left alone. It’s probably the only hiding place he has during a race weekend.
Raikkonen’s gripe this year has been his car’s handling, particularly under braking and on corner entry. “I hate it when there is no front end on the car,” he summed up recently. "And right now, if we sort out the front end we lose the rear and it is trying to balance it out - and somehow get it working.” By the looks of it, however, Raikkonen did get it working better in Hungary - so perhaps the second half of the season will be different. Rating: C
Position – 13th; Points – 11; Best result – 8th (x2)
Half-way through his third season in F1 and Jean-Eric Vergne remains probably the grid’s biggest enigma. While unable to hold a candle to Daniel Ricciardo for qualifying pace across their two years as team-mates, Vergne was only outscored by the Australian by a solitary point, the same driver who is now showing up four-times World Champion Sebastian Vettel at the senior Red Bull squad. Now this year, while 20-year-old Daniil Kvyat has earned the rave reviews on the other side of the garage, Vergne leads the Russian rookie on both Saturday and Sundays.
However, given Kvyat is giving away plenty of experience to his 24-year-old team-mate, the feeling is Vergne should be doing a little bit more. Still, the Frenchman has suffered four mechanical-related DNF from the unreliable STR9 so far – one of which came as a particularly heavy blow when running strongly from seventh on the grid in Monaco. The kind of quietly impressive weekend Vergne enjoyed in Hungary – eighth on the grid and ninth at the chequered flag – is probably what is required to keep the energy drinks firm’s young bulls from the 2015 door. Rating: C+
Position – 14th; Points – 8; Best result – 8th (x2)
While a certain reigning World Champion might quibble with him, Romain Grosjean can probably lay claim to the title of being the hardest done-by driver following F1’s rules overhaul. Having taken the best part of a year to shake off the “first-lap nutcase” tag that Mark Webber unceremoniously christened upon him, thanks to a string of accomplished podium-finishing drives in the second half of 2013, Lotus’s fall from grace means the Frenchman has had to dramatically realign his race weekend targets.
Still, while his 2014 form hasn’t been completely without blemish – his embarrassing spin out from behind the Safety Car on cold tyres in Hungary being the starkest case in point – Grosjean’s stock remains high. The 28-year-old has completely dominated his intra-team duel with Pastor Maldonado - only once has the Venezuelan outqualified him so far – and delivered all eight of Lotus’s points. Indeed, given the machinery at his disposal, the Q3 lap which took him to fifth on the grid in Spain will probably stand as one of the qualifying efforts of the year. Rating: B–
Position – 15th; Points – 6; Best result – 9th (x2)
The way some people were talking when Toro Rosso announced that Daniil Kvyat would jump straight from GP3 into F1, you’d think they were handing a toddler the controls of a 747. ‘But there’s so much a driver has to keep tabs on with these new cars, how will the kid cope?’ So far, he’s coped admirably, if not excellently - and for all manner of reasons. Not only has Kvyat managed the step up in power with aplomb, he’s also had no problem adjusting to the techniques associated with driving the new generation of hybrid cars, with their energy recovery and brake-by-wire systems and fuel flow considerations. Perhaps there really was something in the notion that an F1 rookie would cope simply by having no point of reference?
And what has made his emergence all the more impressive is how Renault’s problems limited his pre-season running. Still only 20, Kvyat scored points on his debut in Australia and has continued to impress since, to the extent that he’s already being spoken of as a long-term replacement for Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull. The Russian’s emergence is reminiscent of Kimi Raikkonen’s leap from Formula Renault to F1 back in 2001; on the strength of what we’ve seen so far, there’s nothing to suggest that Kvyat can’t maintain the same stellar momentum. Rating: B++
Position – 16th; Points – 2; Best Result – 9th
Uniquely amongst the field, Jules has achieved an outstanding result for both of the F1 teams he’s driven for this term. For Marussia, Bianchi’s ninth-placed finish in Monaco is by far and away the highlight of their four years in the sport, a priceless result, and their first score in F1. For that alone, Bianchi’s season must be considered an overwhelming success.
Yet his personal success story goes much further than that, stretching out to a near-deserted Silverstone in the week after the British GP when he stood in for Kimi Raikkonen on the second and final day of the July test and promptly set a time which bettered anything the Finn had produced in the previous seven days. With Raikkonen seemingly locked into the doldrums and unable – or at least unwilling – to confirm he will stay on for 2015, it hardly takes a leap of imagination to foresee that lap of 1:35.262, one of 89 Jules completed without any discernible error that Wednesday, as a potentially career-turning effort. Rating: B+
Position – 17th; Points – 0; Best result – 11th (x2)
Having been forced to bat away speculation that his drive was under immediate threat on the eve of the summer break, it’s fair to say that Sutil’s switch to Sauber hasn’t yet come anywhere near expectation for either party. The off-the-pace and evil-handling C33 hasn't looked at the races since the start of pre-season and, trying his best to muster some extra competitiveness out of it, Sutil has probably had as many spins as anyone since then.
Of the six drivers who have yet to register a point in 2014, Sutil has come closest with a pair of 11th-place finishes, the latter of which in Hungary suggested that Sauber are finally making some steady progress and could yet score some points this year. The 31-year-old looks the better bet to do so, but will better-funded drivers be in the car before the season is out? Rating: C
Position – 18th; Points – 0; Best result – 11th
Despite often propping up the Q1 timesheet on Saturdays, Marcus Ericsson headed into his first F1 summer break ahead of four of his fellow scoreless drivers in the championship – including Caterham team-mate Kamui Kobayashi. Results countback at the back of the field can often be a little misleading, though, given one out-of-the-ordinary result can distort the general season-long picture and Ericsson’s unusually-high 11th place finish from Monaco does so in this case.
Still, coming as close as anyone in the team’s five-season history to breaking their points duck is a feather in Ericsson’s cap and likely to be as good as it gets for either Caterham driver in 2014. With Monaco the exception rather than the rule, the Swede has been involved in a number of spins and crashes – including his big accident in Hungary – but in mitigation the CT05 is far from the easiest beast to tame. Rating: C
Position – 19th; Points – 0; Best result – 12th (x2)
Seemingly lurching from one disaster to another, Pastor Maldonado’s first half-season at Lotus has given the Venezuelan’s critics, of whom there are many, repeated fresh ammunition to decry his driving abilities. In some instances, heavy criticism of the PDVSA-backed man’s performances has been fully warranted – most thought he was fortunate to have received no harsher sanction than penalty points and a grid drop for flipping Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber in Bahrain – while he has been conclusively outqualified and outraced by team-mate Romain Grosjean.
However, while plenty of fun is had at his expense, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Maldonado’s 2014 plight at the same time either, given repeated technical failures on his E22 have left him starting from 20th or slower on the grid on five occasions. With such an underpowered and ill-handling car at his disposal at the best of times, race-day progress is always going to be hard and incidents, inevitably, more likely. Still, while his position at the team may have already been confirmed for 2015, driver as much as team really needs a much-improved run from here. Rating: C–
Position – 20th; Points – 0; Best result – 12th
It’s often the second year of a driver’s F1 career which proves the decisive one in determining whether they have a long-term future in the sport, and sadly for Esteban Gutierrez at the moment, Sauber’s struggles are preventing him from showcasing how much progress he has really made since his underwhelming rookie year.
Certainly the 22-year-old is proving far more of a match for his second German team-mate, Adrian Sutil, than the first, Nico Hulkenberg, although the Mexican blew his chance of scoring what remain elusive points for the recalcitrant C33 when he smacked the inside of the Rascasse at the Monaco GP. With Telmex behind him, his position at Hinwil appears more secure than Sutil’s at present, however nothing can yet be taken for granted. Rating: C
Position – 21st; Points – 0; Best result – 13th (x2)
It’s an unpopular line to take but there’s been an unheralded evidence this year that Max is a far better driver than his many critics suggest. Then again, given the strength of the opprobrium Chilton has suffered since his entry into the sport, that isn’t saying much.
Still, the fact remains that although he trails Jules Bianchi in head-to-head terms in both qualifying and the races, he has beaten the Frenchman three times on a Saturday in 2014 and on four occasions a day later. And given that Bianchi may well be driving a Ferrari next season, that really is saying something. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that Chilton is a bottom-line driver and must be assessed as such. His performances matter but not as much as his pay. Add them together and Max, for all his faults and inadequacies, is a driver who has started the year in credit. Rating: B–
Position – 22nd; Points – 0; Best result – 13th (x 2)
Both Caterham and Kamui could already be forgiven for wondering if their marriage was worth the aggravation (and, from Caterham’s perspective, the opportunity lost of not appointing a driver with a larger budget). The Caterham has, surely, fallen below Kamui’s expectation and his performances have, perhaps, fallen short of theirs. A proven point-scorer at Sauber, Kobayashi’s failure to trouble the scorers in the first half of 2014 is nine-tenths due to the crippling inadequacies of the machinery at his disposal.
His comprehensive out-driving of Marcus Ericsson is a trenchant response to any criticism. And yet, and yet. Kobayashi was brought in by Caterham to provide a maverick’s quality. Just one result, one priceless result, will vindicate their financial gamble, but as yet there’s been no spark to lift a team crying out for a good news story. Rating: C+